Catching up with the Cubs: Stroman to return, Happ moves around in the lineup, and More on Pitching.
With a day off yesterday and new series beginning tonight, time for a little catch-up with the Cubbies! A big series win this past weekend, taking two out of three games from the Blue Jays. That's two huge wins over an outstanding Blue Jays team that currently holds the 8th-best run differential in all of baseball at +54, and currently holds the 3rd wild card spot in the American League. The Cubs return home to Wrigley for a five-game homestand, two against the White-Sox and three against the Kansas City Royals.
Stroman Set to Return
Marcus Stroman is set to return on Wednesday versus the cross-town rivals. As mentioned in my last article, if the Cubs want to take the division lead over Milwaukee a healthy/efficient Stroman will be a must! The rotation currently features Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Tailion, and Javier Assad. Stroman did face the White-Sox back on July 26th, he only lasted 3.1 innings while giving up seven earned runs on nine hits, walking three, and striking out four. Storman will be due for a little redemption and who better to do it against than the Southsiders!
A Change In the Lineup
Moving over to the lineup which currently ranks fifth in RBIs (573), a change in the order might be on deck. Ian Happ currently hits third in the Cubs lineup. Happ's slash line on the season is currently .240/.364/.400, there's good with that, but there's also some not-so-good. The .364 on-base percentage is very nice which is better than the league average (.320) and ranks 22nd among all qualified batters. Happ is also walking in 15.8% of his plate appearances which is the highest in his career. Now there is some bad, and that is the .240 batting average and the .400 slugging percentage. Happ also only hit 13HR and 53RBI, seven of those home runs and 34 of those RBIs come from the third spot in the lineup. There is no question that Happ isn't productive at the plate as he gets on base above league average, but the Cubs lineup could be more beneficial and Happ could thrive in a different spot in the lineup. What could that look like? Here's my "make-believe" lineup:
Now I'm not really taking defensive positions into consideration here as, Nick Madgrial will still play third, Bellinger will play in center, and other players on the bench would see playing time. So the main change that I made to the lineup is Bellinger moves up one spot into Happ's original spot and Happ moves down into the nine hole. Happ can act as another leadoff hitter in that spot with his high OBP, and with Happ hitting right behind Tuchman and Hoerner (who also get on-base at a high rate) that gives Bellinger (the Cub's hottest hitter) a chance to knock in another run after the lineup flips over and to hit before the 1st inning ends. So, manager David Ross could benefit the lineup by using Happ's high OBP in another way by putting him in the nine-hole.
Smyly and Assad
Taking a step back to add a little more on the Cub's pitching staff. The Cubs moved Drew Smyly into the bullpen at the beginning of the Toronto series. Smyly made one appearance out of the bullpen in the series, as he went one inning while giving up no runs. Could this mean Smyly converts into a lefty specialist out of the bullpen for the rest of the year? Could he be the Cub's long relief guy? Or are the Cubs just trying to get his confidence back and work him back into the rotation? Well the Cub's pitching coach Tommy Hottovy had this to say about Smyly's appearance via The Athletic.
“Sometimes getting guys in the bullpen in short bursts to kind of reset and get your mind back to attacking the strike zone and simplifying things is the corner you need to turn,” Hottovy said. “Then you realize you’re feeling the success, you’re seeing things play out over time. It’s something we’ve used in the past with guys and something I think can work with Drew in the short term.”
So it looks to be like the Cubs would like Smyly to make his way back into the rotation. That would more than likely mean Javier Assad would go back into the bullpen as the long relief and one of the high-leverage guys. Only time and Smyly's performance will decide if he makes his way back into the rotation.
More specifically on the starting rotation. Assad, who originally filled in for Stroman when he hit the IL would act as Smyly's replacement in the rotation, once Stroman makes his return Wednesday. The right-hander has been one of the top pitchers for the Cubs this season, as he has posted a 3.12 ERA in 60.2 innings of work, while also sporting a 1.2 WAR which is fifth-best out of the Cubs pitching staff. Assads last appearance which was a start against the Blue Jays, went 7.0 innings allowing just 1 run, on 4 hits. If the Cubs decide to go back to Smyly in the rotation, it's important to note that Assad has been really good for the Cubs this season whether that's been as a starter or coming out of the bullpen.
As stated above the Cubs open up a five-game homestand against the White Sox tonight, a day off Thursday, and then the Royals come to town for three games. The starting rotation could be moved around a little with the day off Thursday before the three-game weekend series, so we'll have to wait and see how that shakes out between Assad and Smyly, as Stroman will fill in the "undecided" spot for Wednesday's game. Time will also tell with Ian Happ's spot in the lineup, as Ross may not want to move him in the order due to there not being a whole ton of time to revamp the lineup before the postseason begins, but who knows it's baseball and anything can happen!