The Cubs have as much offensive firepower as any team in baseball, and even with names like Anthony Rizzo, Willson Conteras, Kris Bryant and Javy Báez, it’s been a group effort to keep things rolling.
The offense has hit a bump in the road as the lineup is still searching to find a rhythm, but the 7-8-9 spots in the order have done their job to contribute. The contributions from the lower-third of manager David Ross’ order have been significant during the shortened season.
“Here in this organization, it’s hard [for pitchers],” Báez said. “Even the guys on the bench are really good. I think most of the time the pitchers have to pick who they want to pitch to. When the guys deep in the lineup respond like that, it makes it even harder for [pitchers].”
Center fielder Ian Happ has made a majority of his starts this season in the bottom of the order, usually hitting ninth. Not only has he been a catalyst for the Cubs, he’s also been the team’s best hitter.
The success has gotten him bumped up in the order the last seven days.
Happ took over the leadoff spot in Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Cardinals and continued to have the same success, going 2-for-3 with two walks and launched his fifth homer of the season in the third inning.
Happ is slashing .313/.439/.627 with five homers, 13 RBI, 14 walks and a team-leading 1.066 OPS. He also leads the team in hits, RBIs and slugging percentage.
“Right now, it’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup. This guy’s swinging the bat really well. His right-handed bats have gotten tremendously better for me,” Ross said last week. “He’s the real deal, in my opinion.”
“I think it takes pressure off the guys up top, and that’s the goal, right?” Happ said. “To be able to get all the way through, put pressure on the pitcher, one through nine, and not let up. I know the first five guys in the lineup are absolute bangers. So to make sure that once a pitcher gets through those five guys, you can’t relax, and they’re still tough [at-bats] all the way through, and you’ve seen that on a consistent basis.”
The production hasn’t stopped with Happ getting moved up in the order. The collection of Heyward, Jason Kipnis, David Bote, Victor Caratini and Nico Hoerner all have had their hands in the success.
The bottom of the order is slashing .255/.350/.418 with eight homers and 31 RBI through Monday. The addition of the designated hitter this season has given the 7-9 spots more opportunities to produce.
“I think that definitely helps with that. I think the way that our roster is constructed, the DH definitely gives us another bat in the lineup that kind of lets us maybe move around positionally a little bit and make some adjustments depending on the pitcher.”
“One through nine, it seems like there’s not really a letdown in our lineup,” Bryant said of the success. “I can’t really remember a time playing for this team where it was really like that, where one through nine, there was just damage one after the other.”