The Rundown: Happ Primed for Breakout, Rizzo Remains Sidelined, Cubs Remain COVID-Free So Far
Maybe it’s because trades will probably be difficult to pull off, but it’s been quite some time since fans and sportswriters have complained about the Cubs lacking a decent centerfielder. Perhaps Ian Happ is the reason for the silence, though.
.@ihapp_1 tees off. pic.twitter.com/vIDug2Mi6J
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 15, 2020
Happ was having a fantastic spring before MLB went on its pandemic-forced hiatus, going 13-for-27 with two home runs and 11 RBI in Cactus League games. Happ’s performance in Arizona was especially encouraging after he closed last season with an equally terrific September.
In the final 25 games of 2019, Happ slashed .311/.348/1.021 with six taters and 17 RBI. More importantly, the Cubs played .571 baseball in games which he started. Big things have been expected of “Happer” since last season ended, with many projecting 2020 could be a breakout year for the outfielder and second baseman.
‘‘I took my end of the season last year into spring training,’’ Happ said at the start of Summer Camp. ‘‘I took that confidence, took how much I believed in myself, into spring and had a great spring, and that’s what I’ll do here. I’ll take the confidence that I built in spring training and really try to carry that over.”
Happ has also been one of the more accessible players since the pandemic started, co-hosting a podcast while selling coffee to raise money for charity. If anything, that’s a clear indication that he has matured a great deal heading into his fourth season with the team. His confidence is almost infectious. If Happ can stay locked in this season, he could propel the Cubs to a postseason berth.
Cubs News & Notes
- Happ is a fan of Wrigley Field’s piped-in ballpark sounds.
- Anthony Rizzo is still listed as day-to-day as he deals with inflammation in his rib cage that is responsible for his achy back.
- The clock is ticking on Rizzo’s return from the back problems that have plagued him since the start of camp.
- Though it has been widely speculated that Yu Darvish will be named the Cubs’ Opening Day starter, first year manager David Ross has yet to officially announce his choice. Kyle Hendricks has had the best camp of all starters so far and Jon Lester might be the sentimental choice.
- It’s playoffs or bust for Ross this season.
- The Cubs have exercised an “abundance of caution” since camp began. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they remain the only team in the league without a known positive test among its players and coaching staff since intake testing began more than two weeks ago.
- Backup catcher Josh Phegley has been on a tear during the team’s intrasquad games and he hit his third home run yesterday. If Rizzo misses time, Phegley may be a lock to make the team because Victor Caratini would need to play first base.
- Willson Contreras has been swinging a hot stick, too.
- Tyler Chatwood had a day he’d probably like to forget. I’m sure he’s grateful he won’t have to face the Cubs’ potent lineup once the season starts.
- Reliever Duane Underwood Jr. might be someone to keep an eye on this year. He also seems primed for a breakout campaign (subscription to The Athletic required).
- Former Cubs pitcher Sergio Mitre has been arrested in Mexico. He was originally taken into custody on drug possession but is also being investigated over the death and possible sexual assault of his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter. The 39-year-old journeyman also pitched for the Brewers, Marlins, and Yankees.
Find Your Inner Hero
Blue Jays reliever Ken Giles shows that just doing what’s right, and leading others while doing it, can be an heroic trait.
“I want to set a good example, just washing your hands, wearing a mask. It’s going probably to be the new normal, but I want to be an example, like it’s not going to be that bad.” Ken Giles on playing this season, #BlueJays pitching and his future: https://t.co/KcKxa5HADm
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) July 16, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
Batman and Robin were advocates of masking up going all the way back to 1966.
Sliding Into Home
I had another esophageal episode last night, so I’m going to remain on a liquid diet until I have my procedure Saturday morning. In trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I sometimes frustrate myself. Believe it or not, the bigger issues are easier to handle because I know my liver is bad and it’s a slow process, etc. Not being able to eat solid foods is akin to having a swarm of pesky gnats follow you everywhere. It can be more than a little demoralizing when the neighbors are grilling steaks and you’re sucking down some Ensure.
Odds & Sods
Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler used a Wiffle-ball pitching machine with a turbo setting to stay prepared while players were away from camp. The manufacturer claims pitches can be fired at speeds from 35 mph to 140 mph. I think we all want one now, right?
MLB News & Notes
Cincinnati infielder/outfielder Derek Dietrich, who tested positive for COVID-19, has been cleared to join the Reds and was added to their 60-man roster.
Tigers starter Matthew Boyd had a coronavirus scare of his own after helping an injured man.
It appears right-handed starter Zack Godley will sign with the Red Sox.
Of teams that did not play in the 2019 postseason, the Rangers, Reds, White Sox, and Padres are among the best-positioned teams to make a run at this year’s playoffs. Don’t sleep on the Cubs, especially if they remain COVID-free.
New White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel has abandoned his wind-up, and has been perfect since camp started. Manager Rick Renteria has had to purposely put runners on base to give the soft-tossing lefty some practice with runners in scoring position.
Because he has an existing condition, Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius indicated he will wear a facemask while playing this season.
Happ was featured in a recent episode of The Offseason.
They Said It
- “We have an opportunity to bring joy to a lot of people that are home through these tough times. But we are all human. If guys start testing positive left and right and this thing gets out of control, I’m sure you see some guys opt out. We’re in a pandemic.” – Anthony Rizzo
- “I definitely had a few conversations where I needed to get my shit together. But those guys, they saw something that they liked and they stuck with me. I really appreciate what they’ve done for me. I’ve been playing this game for a long time and not to give my all, there’s no excuse. That’s what the message was. I have the talent, why not do everything you possibly can to put yourself in the best position to be in the show.” – Duane Underwood, Jr.
- “I need [the stadium noise] as a player, for sure. We played the first two games without it and it was very strange. Just a little too quiet. You could hear everything that was going on.” – Ian Happ
Thursday Walk Up Song
Rock the Casbah by the Clash – One of my neighbors went into a fit of rage yesterday because I wore my black John Baker face covering just to go get my mail. In the midst of yelling and putting her finger in my face for a good 2-3 minutes, she said I looked like a “f***ing Sandinista” so I thought I’d dedicate this morning’s selection to her.
Hey…I’m just jamming to life as we now know it, and have no intention of wreaking havoc on my community or overthrowing my government. In case you are unaware, this song is about the Iranian ban on Western music after zealots seized control of the country in 1979.
She told me “science has proven the facemasks are bullshit.” It still looks cool on me, though.