ST. LOUIS — It’s worth noting that when the Cubs celebrated their championship last month, the banner raised behind the bleachers at Wrigley did not say “mission accomplished.”
In fact, the Cubs, who put more 25-and-under starters on the field for Game 7 of the World Series than any other team in history, promised more youth was on the way.
Fast forward to Saturday’s lineup.
“It’s an interesting team we have on the field,” manager Joe Maddon said, “reminiscent maybe of a couple years ago actually when we started breaking some other young guys in. I think it’s exciting here today if you’re a Cub fan. And for our future.”
As if on cue, Ian Happ responded by turning in the Cubs’ most impressive hitting performance of the game — albeit in a 5-3 loss to the Cardinals — after earning a sudden major-league debut because of a recent flurry of minor injuries and illness to lineup regulars.
“He was never overwhelmed by being here today,” Maddon said of Happ, whose two-out, two-run homer off Carlos Martinez in the seventh inning cut the Cardinals’ lead to two, knocked Martinez out of the game and made Happ the fifth Cub in the last 10 years to homer in his debut. “He flew in, his whole family was with him, he walked in and said ‘hi,’ put a uniform on, shook a few hands and hit a homer.”
Happ, the switch hitter who impressed in his first big-league camp this spring, also drew a walk and appeared to single for his first major-league hit in the fifth before a questionable scorer’s decision made it an error on first baseman Matt Carpenter.
“Except for the loss, I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Happ, whose promotion puts the Cubs’ last five first-round picks on the roster and four were in the lineup. Saturday.
“How long is he going to stay? I have no idea,” said Maddon, who expects to be without reigning MVP Kris Bryant (stomach bug) for a third game Sunday and doesn’t know how much time Ben Zobrist’s and Jon Jay’s ailing backs will need to recover.
“It can be short, it can be longer than that. I don’t know.”
Happ, the ninth overall pick in 2015 out of the University of Cincinnati and the Cubs’ No. 2-ranked prospect (Eloy Jimenez is first) entering the season, isn’t trying to look too far ahead.
But he also knows that Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras played big roles in a World Series just a few months after debuting last year.
“That’s kind of been the MO of this team for the last few years, with young guys coming up and helping the club,” Happ said. “I’ve just got to go out and play baseball. If I can do anything to help, that’s what I’ll do.”
The versatile Happ, 22, started in right field and batted second. He also can play left and in the infield.
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, the No. 7-ranked prospect who had a five-game debut last year, also was in the lineup, batting cleanup, after being called up Tuesday.
“These guys are extremely young,” Maddon said. “But one’s hitting second, one’s hitting fourth. That just speaks to their ability level, too. These guys can play.”
Five of the players in the lineup weren’t on the active roster a year ago and none of those five has played a full big-league season yet.
Whether the Cubs ever get to the point of building a significant pitching pipeline in their system, Maddon said even more big-league hitters are coming behind Happ and Candelario.
“And this is a World Series team, right?” Maddon said, also insisting, “I feel good about it. I don’t think we’re going out there with any shortcomings.”
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Ian Happ on Saturday became the fifth Cub in 10 seasons to homer in his major-league debut:
- Kosuke Fukudome 2008 vs. Milwaukee
- Starlin Castro 2010 at Cincinnati
- Javy Baez 2014 at Colorado
- Jorge Soler 2014 at Cincinnati
- Ian Happ Saturday at St. Louis
Note: Willson Contreras homered in his first big-league at-bat last year, but it was his second game.