We’ve seen it before and it’s playing out again in the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ leadoff saga. Is Joe Maddon too loyal to some of his favorite guys?
This isn’t the first time Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon drew criticism for sticking with his guys past the point of no return. Last year, Kyle Schwarber batted leadoff to open the season – and continued doing so, despite atrocious results. Eventually, of course, a demotion to Triple-A Iowa ended the experiment.
Now, we’re seeing it play out again. But it appears Maddon learned his lesson. Rookie Ian Happ dominated during Cactus League play, earning the leadoff job out of Spring Training. He promptly rewarded his skipper’s faith with a towering home run on the first pitch of the season.
From good … to really, really bad
Since then, however, Maddon has seemed like an old (albeit optimistic) stick in the mud. Why, you ask? Happ has struck out in nearly 48 percent of his at-bats this season, whiffing 25 times and drawing a mere four walks.
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In the series-opening loss to the Cardinals, Happ simply flailed about the box, half-swinging at garbage pitches. Has this changed Maddon’s relentless faith in his young outfielder? Of course not.
"“ … Gosh, do I really like the way this guy is. He’ll work through it. He’s going to work through it. And I like the plan that Chili has set forth for him.”"
Because let’s just ignore the fact that Happ looks hopelessly lost at the dish right now. For an offense searching for answers, the hard truth is staring everyone but Joe right in the face. Ian Happ, at least for now, is not the guy you want setting the tone for your team. Not even close.
The heir apparent is on this roster
Prior to Happ’s breakout spring campaign, Albert Almora appeared poised to finally get his chance. 2018 looked like the year he would, at long last, start in center field for Chicago. Instead, he’s been a part-time player at best, while Happ garners more ABs than warranted.
Take into account Almora is playing well – when he gets the chance. Per usual, he’s hit lefties better than righties. (Remember, he hit roughly 70 points better against southpaws last season). Heading into action Thursday, he owned a .276/.344/.517 slash line (that’s an .861 for those of you at home).
With only five strikeouts to his three walks (as opposed to Happ’s 25-to-4 mark) – this is a clear-cut decision. Albert Almora’s time has come – at least while his outfield counterpart figures things out with hitting coach Chili Davis.
This offense needs to find its groove. There are a variety of reasons why this is yet to happen. Five postponements, granted, do not help matters. But having a consistent presence at the top of the lineup can’t be ruled out any longer.
Remember ‘you go, we go’? It’s time to embrace that mantra once more.