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The makeup of the Cubs’ roster this season has enabled manager David Ross to leave Ian Happ alone in left field. There has not been a need to move Happ around. That, in turn, has allowed the outfielder to narrow his preparation with the goal of owning and improving his defense in the corner.
“There's a lot of the everyday reps and reads and familiarity with one spot,” Happ said. “That lets you continue to make better and better decisions, get better reads, understand the way that the ball comes off different hitter's bats and kind of start grouping hitters together. Just playing one spot gives you the opportunity to do that.
“And then, there's a lot of work that's gone into positioning and being in the right spots and understanding if I'm better going in or going back or side to side. That's kind of been a learning process all year.”
It has all added up to the best defensive season of Happ’s career.
In the third inning of Thursday’s game against the Reds, Happ’s improved conviction in his decision-making in left was on full display. He hustled in and made a lunging, sliding catch to rob Nick Senzel of a hit on a ball with an 80 percent catch probability, per Statcast. Three batters later, Happ sprinted to his left, chasing down a TJ Friedl liner in the gap (65 percent catch probability) with another sliding catch.
“I haven't looked at the rest of the league,” Ross said. “But it feels he's played some of the best defensive left field in the league, for me. Hopefully he's starting to get into that Gold Glove conversation.”
Here’s a look at Happ’s defensive metrics this season, compared to last year, at all outfield spots combined:
Defensive Runs Saved
Outs Above Average
Entering Thursday, only Cleveland’s Steven Kwan (16) had more Defensive Runs Saved than Happ (nine) in left field. Happ was third in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (one) among left fielders and fourth in UZR/150 (7.9). He had eight outfield assists (third among MLB left fielders) and only two errors (on fielding plays and not throws).
Happ smirked when asked about the possibility of being in the mix for a Gold Glove.
“Honestly, that's one of those honors that I thought about a lot as a kid when I was playing shortstop -- not as much as a left fielder,” he said. “But, it would be really cool. It’s pretty tough to do when you're playing six spots. It’s a little bit easier when you're getting 1,000-plus innings at one.”
In the wake of Hayden Wesneski’s MLB debut on Tuesday, multiple people around the Cubs raved about the rookie’s composure in a daunting moment. There were plenty of nerves -- the young pitcher said he always feels a wave of jitters before an outing, let alone his first one in the Majors -- but he remained poised throughout a brilliant performance.
One of Wesneski’s tricks? Finding a spot in the ballpark and use it to refocus himself.
“The first time I see a stadium, I just like to look around,” Wesneski said. “I usually like to stand behind the pitcher's mound just to see what the view looks like, and then I find my spot.”
Wesneski, the Cubs' No. 12 prospect, started using this mental method within the last few years. He said his dad suggested it, and the pitcher knows others who do it as well. During his debut against the Reds, Wesneski used the ball at the top of the left-field foul pole at Wrigley Field. Whenever he felt things speeding up, he’d look at that spot, recentering himself and concentrating on the next pitch.
“It just helps me focus for a long period of time and be able to cut it up into periods,” said Wesneski, who struck out eight in five shutout innings on Tuesday. “Instead of thinking, ‘I have to throw five, six, seven, eight, nine innings,’ it’s just, ‘Let's just focus on this pitch.’ And if I get out of whack, it's like, 'OK, reminder. Let's get back to it.'”
Marquee Sports Network will be airing a pair of Cubs Minor League games this week: Single-A Myrtle Beach vs. Carolina at 5:05 p.m. CT on Sunday and Triple-A Iowa vs. Memphis at 12:08 p.m. CT on Wednesday.
Marquee will have another episode of “Road to Wrigley,” featuring live look-ins and analysis for all four full-season affiliates, beginning at 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday.
"He took the mound and I was like, 'Hey, I really liked Scott Effross. Let's see how it goes.' Like, 'Hey, buddy, you have big shoes to fill.' Jokingly, obviously. But to hear all the great things and know what he's capable of doing in words, and then him going out there and competing at a high level, was really nice to see. I think his performance was like, 'OK. All right. Nice job.' We'll continue to see how that plays out. He's got a long way to go.”
-- Cubs manager David Ross, on rookie Hayden Wesneski, who was acquired from the Yankees for Effross at the Trade Deadline
David Ross said this week that he hopes outfielder Ian Happ is in the Gold Glove Award conversation. That got us thinking: How many outfielders have won a Gold Glove in Cubs history?
There is a small tin tucked away in a box in my basement here at home. Inside, I found a pile of ticket stubs from baseball games I attended throughout my youth. From time to time, I’ll pull one out and take a trip down memory lane. Here is today’s ticket to the past.
Date: Aug. 2, 2000
Game: Cubs vs. Rockies at Wrigley Field
Seat: Aisle 215, Row 19, Seat 13
Sammy Sosa launched a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning to propel the Cubs to a 3-2 victory over a Rockies squad anchored by Larry Walker and Todd Helton. Behind a quality start from rookie Ruben Quevedo, Chicago improved to 15-5 after the All-Star break -- its best run through 20 games to start a second half since 1945. The North Siders would then go 15-41 the rest of the way.
From the Chicago Tribune: “Sammy Sosa insisted, ‘I swung too hard on my last swing. So this time, with two strikes on me, I was only trying to make contact ... to get on base.’ Yeah, sure! Sosa took his two-strike 'contact' swing to lead off the eighth inning Wednesday and rocketed the game-winning home run, his 33rd homer of the season, out onto Waveland Avenue.”
There have only been three Gold Glove recipients among outfielders in Cubs history. Right fielders Jason Heyward (2016-17) and Andre Dawson (1987-88) each took home the award twice, while center fielder Bob Dernier earned one in 1984. There have been no Gold Glove left fielders for the North Siders.
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