Ian Happ, Michael Busch Doing Their Best to Carry Cubs’ Mediocre Offense

If you’re not careful, the Cubs might find a way to convince you they’re good enough to buy ahead of the deadline. That’s the first line of my email to Jed Hoyer, but it applies to all the Pollyannas out there as well. In the wake of a series win against a depleted Angels squad, the Cubs went into Baltimore and stomped on the AL favorites with an offensive onslaught that belied their typical production from the last several weeks.

Keying the output were Ian Happ and Michael Busch, a pair of guys who probably shouldn’t be the top producers for a competitive team. Busch hasn’t been this hot since 70s porn, boasting a .341/.419/.549 slash with a 175 wRC+ over the last 30 days bested only by Happ’s 205 mark. One of the team’s several coffee mavens, Happ is proving plenty of folks wrong with eight homers in his last 100 plate appearances.

The latest of those dingers carried nearly 400 feet on the cobblestones of Eutaw Street out beyond the left field wall at Camden Yards. There were two men on base at the time, making this Happ’s fifth three-run homer of the season and third in the last five games. Not bad for a guy who catches as much flak for *checks notes* being a streaky hitter

“I just admire his perseverance and everything he does on a day-to-day so much,” Nico Hoerner shared with 670 The Score’s Parkins and Spiegel Show prior to Tuesday’s win. He’s just one of my favorite teammates I’ve had. To watch his process and the way he responds to things and goes about his work, it’s really cool to see.”

Happ has been the subject of legitimate and what we might kindly call wishful trade rumors for the last few years, even now when his contract contains a no-trade clause. Between all that and the pressure of following several other top Cubs draft picks who came up and led the team to glory, fans tend to have a skewed perception of his performance. Though he seems to endure at least one really rough skid each year, his hot stretches more than make up for it.

After stumbling through the first several weeks of the season, the last month has put Happ on pace for what could be the best year of his career. That will take a more consistent second half, of course, but what he’s been doing lately is impressive to say the least.

“It’s incredible,” Busch told reporters after the game. “He’s just a really good player. He’s driving in runs. He’s just getting on base. He’s having really good at-bats. Even when he’s getting out, he’s having really good at-bats.”

Busch isn’t too bad himself, with team-leading 137 wRC+ and .838 wOBA marks that both rank third among all rookies. And the only two hitters ahead of him on that list (Spencer Horwitz: 174, .948; Kyle McCann: 145, .846) have done so in less than one-third of Busch’s 307 plate appearances. It’s still very early in his MLB tenure and he may be too short to stick at first base long-term, but this looks like exactly the kind of return that justifies parting with pitching prospect Jackson Ferris.

The only problem is that Busch and Happ are pretty much on an island when it comes to carrying the Cubs’ offense of late. Seiya Suzuki‘s 123 wRC+ this year is only nine points behind Happ and is nothing to scoff at, but no other qualified hitter on the team is higher than Cody Bellinger‘s 106 on the season. When we zoom in on the last month, things look a bit worse.

Suzuki has been at a 120 in that span, but Bellinger is even closer to league-average production with a 101 mark. And while Hoerner’s 75 wRC+ should look bad, it’s sparkling compared to the 37 being put up by Dansby Swanson. Miguel Amaya is at 28 and Tomas Nido, who everyone figured had to be at least as productive as Yan Gomes, is at a -4 wRC+ in 32 plate appearances.

Happ and Busch have combined for 2.5 fWAR over the last 30 days. The rest of the hitters with at least 20 PAs in that time are at 0.5, with five of them costing the team wins. Baseball is a very difficult game and players are going to struggle, that’s not up for debate. But the problem with building a team largely around defense up the middle and contact-based hitting is that both the ceiling and the floor are lower than they need to be in order to win a lot of ballgames.

As fun as it is to have a pair of hitters who can seemingly do no wrong, they can’t make up for the general lack of production from most of the lineup. That includes two players who are being paid to produce at far better than a league-average level. And as their respective scorching runs inevitably cool, the Cubs are going to need a few others to step up. If they still think they can compete, that is.

Otherwise, we’ll just have to wait to see whether Owen Caissie, Matt Shaw, and others will get a shot to inject a little energy into this moribund unit later in the season.

Back to top button