‘What a fitting exclamation point’: Ian Happ finishes 2021 with a flourish
As Ian Happ settled in for the 2-0 pitch from Luis García Saturday night, the Marquee Sports Network broadcast flashed a highlight from last week when the Cubs outfielder clobbered a ball to center field off the Cardinals right-hander.
Less than 30 seconds later, Happ duplicated the feat, sending García’s offering into the batter’s eye in center field for a go-ahead, 2-run, 9th-inning shot.
It was Happ’s 25th homer of the season, a new career high.
That milestone is a perfect indicator of how Happ has turned his season around.
Through July, Happ was sitting on 10 homers with 26 RBI and sported a .180 batting average and .619 OPS.
Those struggles relegated Happ to a part-time role with the Cubs but after the trade deadline, he became a central part of the lineup and was penciled in each day in the middle of the order.
Happ rewarded manager David Ross’ confidence by getting hot, becoming a stabilizing force for the Cubs lineup at a time when the team was finding a new path forward following the departure of the championship core.
In addition to his game-winning homer, Happ also walked twice in Saturday’s game. That gives him a slash line of .291/.364/.587 (.951 OPS) since the first of August with 15 homers and 40 RBI in 54 games.
That’s quite the resurgence for Happ after the way his season started.
“Resliency is a great word,” Ross said after Saturday’s 6-5 victory. “Mental toughness — when you have to kinda dig yourself out of the hole he was in early on. The consistency of the attitude stands out to me on a daily basis — how professional he is. Whether he’s struggling or he’s doing what he’s doing right now.
“What a fitting exclamation point for him to hit a career high in home runs, be a game-winner for us. For a while now, you feel good when he’s at the plate about something good happening. I’m so happy for him and us. That was a big one for us here tonight just as far as the group.”
It was the Cubs’ 70th win of the year and the big game brought Happ’s season OPS up to .759.
The switch-hitting outfielder is still under team control for two more seasons after 2021, so his performance over the last couple months has major implications for next year’s roster.
“I think it’s important for everybody,” Ross said. “Especially for him — that confidence going into the offseason is really powerful as a player. Being in a good headspace and knowing what you want to work on, making some changes and adjustments and seeing that play out throughout the back end of the season is really nice.
“And for us, same thing. When you have your belief about a player but you’re not seeing the results, you question: ‘am I looking at this thing the right way, through the right lens?’ For him to produce and come through on the back side with some really nice numbers and carrying us with some big performances in the second half was nice to see and gave us confidence and myself confidence that’s the player he can be.”
The Cubs will enter the offseason looking to build out the lineup around players like Happ, Willson Contreras and Nico Hoerner.