Chicago Cubs: The curious case of Ian Happ

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Perhaps no other player has gone back and forth between the solution to the Chicago Cubs lineup issues and the odd man out as many times as Ian Happ has these last two seasons.

The funny thing about the Chicago CubsIan Happ‘s situation is over the last year or so is not only has he gone back and forth between being one of the guys that Joe Maddon pencils into the lineup and then the next thing you know he isn’t getting the starting nod. But more importantly, when Happ is in the starting lineup, he tends to be inserted into some of the most critical places in the lineup.

The man likes spring

Happ’s pursuit and winning the competition to be the opening day leadoff hitter, his home run on the first pitch of the season and his subsequent strikeout struggles are well documented. You might also remember how impressive Happ was during spring training in 2017.

At the time the Cubs offense was struggling a little bit, and Happ immediately showed off some of his home run hitting ability to jump-start the Cubs offense.

The high cheddar

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Then a scouting report was developed on him, and pitchers started to get Happ out with high fastballs.  Nope. He adjusted to the high fastballs.

Maddon quickly began to rely on Happ’s presence in the lineup. Maddon publicly explained by being able to use Happ as protection in the batting order for Bryant and Rizzo, that freed him up to put Zobrist higher up in the batting order.

Still a factor, but a little less

Ian Happ continued to contribute during the rest of the 2017 season. But eventually, Willson Contreras claimed the clean spot behind Bryant and Rizzo. Then during the 2017 postseason Happ once again seemed to be the odd man out as he only got one postseason start. During the offseason, it seemed likely that one of the Cubs young hitters might be traded. Happ seemed to be one of the most likely candidates for such a trade.

So in a little over a year Happ went from…

  1. Maybe a nice prospect who could be part of a trade package at the deadline
  2. The hot bat that jump-started the lineup
  3. The rookie who couldn’t handle high fastballs
  4. The protection in the batting order for Bryant and Rizzo
  5. The hitter who barely got any at-bats in the postseason
  6. Possibly being traded in the offseason for some much-needed pitching
  7. One of a number of candidates for the leadoff spot in the batting order
  8. Clearly earning the leadoff spot in the batting order
  9. Hitting a dramatic home run on the first pitch of the season
  10. Struggling terribly by striking out way too much this season
  11. Hitting the go-ahead RBI Saturday

Next: What does a long-term Rizzo injury mean?

Happ hasn’t vanquished his strikeout demons. But Happ isn’t having those usual slumps. He is instead balancing a razor’s edge of being the man and riding the pine. It’s a fine line he’s walking. And one he needs to be careful not to walk back to Iowa.