Chicago Cubs: Resurgent Jason Heyward is bad news for Ian Happ

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CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 06: Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs hits a walk-off grand slam home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning on June 6, 2018 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won 7-5. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 06: Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs hits a walk-off grand slam home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning on June 6, 2018 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won 7-5. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /
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Like Dunk-a-roos cookies in the ’90s, Jason Heyward’s bat has shown up out of nowhere, much to our delight. While great for the Chicago Cubs, it’s Bad News Bears for Ian Happ.

After signing the richest contract in Chicago Cubs history ahead of the 2016 season, Jason Heyward failed to provide even a modicum of support at the plate. In his first two seasons with the Cubs, the prized outfielder slashed just .243/.315/.353. Well below average by almost every measure.

The 29-year-old was coming off a career year with the St. Louis Cardinals when the Cubs landed him, so the hype around his signing created some expectations that were perhaps a bit too high. Be that as it may, the club was most likely not counting on Heyward to be a top three (or even four) bat in their lineup.

A dependable, slightly above-average bat along with stellar defense would have sufficed. But the team certainly did not foresee him being such a liability with the lumber.

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Heyward seems to have turned a corner, though. At least for now. His recent hot streak at the plate is unlike anything we’ve seen from him during the entirety of his Cubs tenure.

He’s been so good, in fact, that manager Joe Maddon has opted to hit him second in the lineup on a regular basis. This isn’t the first time Maddon has plugged Heyward into the top of the order, but it is the first time we’ve seen him thrive up there.

While a slash line of .276/.337/.414 might not stand out as anything to write home about, it’s a level of play that’s miles above what he’d been doing. His hits aren’t cheap ones, either. He’s coming through in clutch moments. And against top-tier pitching, too.

Grab some bench

With Heyward hitting so well in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, he’ll continue to see regular playing time. This is not good news if your name is Ian Happ. Happ came into the season off a hot spring with high expectations, but he’s struggled more than any other Cubs hitter so far.

He’s still walking at a decent rate; his .356 OBP is more than adequate. But his strikeout rate is absurdly high. He’s currently being sat down on strikes 40 percent of the time. With a .227 batting average, that’s not going to fly.

At a certain point, the lineup is constructed purely with the intent to win. Early in the season, you can play guys who are struggling to try and break them out of a slump. But in an NL Central race that looks like it could be a tight finish, you surrender no advantages willingly.

As far as outfielders are concerned, Happ is the last option on the Cubs’ roster right now. Heyward continues to be successful in the two-spot while Albert Almora has been raking all season.

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All of this is to say the clock is ticking on Ian Happ. Unless he can demonstrate that he’s just as viable an option as Jason Heyward or Albert Almora, he won’t be getting many starts in the outfield. Maybe he’ll ride this storm out. Or maybe he’ll just end up riding the pine.

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