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Saturday, March 25, 2023

3 questions for the Chicago Cubs to address in the 2nd half, including whether Ian Happ is a player to build around

Less than three months to go.

The Chicago Cubs roster may look very different when the season closes October 5 in Cincinnati. Just past the middle of the season, the Cubs are trending towards a 96-loss record – although that’s before they’re likely to move major pieces by the Aug. 2 trading deadline.

As the Cubs enjoy themselves during a four-game set at Dodger Stadium, there are questions the organization must answer during the second half with an eye on the future.

1. Is outfielder Ian Happ a player to build?

That could be answered in the next three weeks if the Cubs choose to trade Happ, who will be a free agent after next season. The 27-year-old hitter reached that potential this year in a career season. Happ’s offensive production is the most consistent of his six seasons in the big league, and that’s mainly because offense relies heavily on him to produce.

Perhaps his past offensive inconsistencies make the Cubs wary of giving him the kind of money it would take to sign Happ to a contract extension. But combined with his scorching final two months of the 2021 season, he has shown both a transfer and an important ability to get through his terrible first four months of last year.

Sticking – and keeping – Happ in left field has yielded improvements to his defense as well. He is respected at the club and has grown up in a leadership role. He’s hitting less than ever while still drawing walks at the pace of his career. While there are some underlying numbers that might cause concern — a high batting average in play (BABIP), a lower home run rate, and a small increase in ground balls — Happ has given the Cubs a much-needed presence.

The past two years have shown that the organization is comfortable heading into the final year before free agency with its top players. The Cubs need key players to come out of this rebuild, but Happ looks to be the next to face uncertainty over the Cubs’ future.

2. Do the Cubs have the inside pitch that eluded them previously?

The future of the Cubs rotation looks much brighter if right-handed Keegan Thompson and southpaw Justin Steele are the real deal. His performance in the first half was encouraging. Both boast an ERA+ above 100, which is the league average, while southpaw Drew Smyly represents the only other Cubs starter to reach that mark.

The next three months will be a good test for Thompson and Steele as they work through their first full season in the big league and advance the most season innings they’ve pitched in their professional careers. The Cubs, however, need more than they do.

Right-hander Caleb Kilian is expected to have another opportunity in the majors this year after command and walking issues plagued him in three first-half matches. The Cubs are optimistic that right-handed Adbert Alzolay will return from his right shoulder injury at some point. Depending on when he returns, perhaps the Cubs will look to him in a relief role from the multiple starters Thompson thrived on earlier this season. Alzolay got a taste of that at the end of last season when the Cubs were managing their workload.

Development in the minors is also important, although their top starters are still at the lower levels: lefties Jordan Wicks and DJ Herz and right-handers Kohl Franklin have shown good things at High-A South Bend this season. There’s potential in the Cubs system, but part of the long-term view depends on guys like Thompson and Steele being great quality players.

3. Can they learn to turn balanced games into wins?

The Cubs have the talent to fight to the last outing, which is a good quality for any team. Often, though, they fall short with a wellness rally. Coming into Friday, they’ve played 25 games in a run, which is tied for 10th in the major leagues. And only one team played more extra games than the Cubs (11).

The Cubs, however, are 3-8 in extras and 10-15 in one-run games. At some point, they need to take advantage of being in the games and learn how to complete a comeback or hold off the other team. And that may not happen until next year. Part of this is the lack of experience in the big leagues. It also involves the caliber of talent. While the average age of their Cubs hitters is 28.5 years, many of their regulars are in their first year or two playing every day in the majors.

The Cubs only have five position players and three pitchers who remain from the organization’s last postseason team in 2020. Moral victories don’t mean much in the majors, especially for a Cubs fanbase that carries high expectations. Learning to win in the majors can be a process, and so far, the Cubs have come out on the wrong side in close games. Finding a way to change that in the last three months could help your next competing team.

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World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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