'It's incredible': Happ's hot stretch, big blast paces Cubs' win

July 10th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- Soon there will be a plaque on Eutaw St. bearing ’s name in honor of the home run he belted on Tuesday night. The blast off the bat of the Cubs left fielder carried over right field, and soared beyond the flag court and out of Camden Yards.

The baseball-shaped plate will have the date and distance of Happ’s shot, but it will not include the context. The home run that Happ launched in Chicago’s 9-2 victory over the Orioles continued his extended run as one of the hottest hitters not only for the North Siders, but across the Major Leagues.

“He's just been on fire now for like two months,” Cubs starter Jameson Taillon said. “He’s just hitting everything hard. He's been carrying us offensively, for sure.”

As the Cubs’ have slowly attempted to pull out of the two-month offensive drought that dogged the ballclub through May and June, Happ was quietly getting his season back on track. It has been precisely the kind of production Chicago has craved, and it has played a role in the team rattling off four wins in the past five games.

The three-run homer Happ delivered off Dean Kremer in the fourth inning broke the game open, giving the Cubs a five-run advantage and backing a strong six-inning effort from Taillon. The round-tripper was the 127th shot to Eutaw St. in ballpark history, and marked the second by a Cub (Jason Heyward on July 14, 2017).

Told that he was joining Heyward – one of Happ’s mentors when he broke into the big leagues – the Cubs’ left fielder smiled. He was also looking forward to getting out to Eutaw St. in the future to see his name added on the walkway.

“That’s a pretty cool tradition in baseball,” Happ said. “And to be a part of that small group is pretty special.”

Entering the night, Happ had a 229 wRC+ dating back to June 15, meaning he was hitting 129% better than the MLB average. The only two qualified hitters ahead of him in the Majors were superstar Shohei Ohtani of the Dodgers and the Twins’ Jose Miranda, who recently matched an MLB record with a hit in 12 consecutive at-bats.

Happ’s recent tear stretches back even further, too.

On May 21, Happ had a .207/.319/.305 slash line. His .624 OPS on that day represented its lowest point of the season (excluding the first two games of the year). Starting on May 22, Happ put up a .281/.395/.615 (1.010 OPS) in his next 41 games (40 starts), leading up to Tuesday night’s game in Baltimore.

“This recent stretch, he's been a big part of our offense,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “The big swings and the big offensive moments in the game for us have really been delivered by Ian. And tonight was no different. That was a huge play to make it a 7-2 game and give you some breathing room. Big swing of the bat.”

Per Statcast, Happ headed into Tuesday’s action with his best average exit velocity (90 mph), expected weighted on-base average (wOBA) on contact (.410) and hard-hit rate (42.5%) since the 2020 season. His barrel rate (12.6%) and barrels per plate appearance (7.4) were his best showings since ‘19.

Overall, Happ’s .813 OPS through 86 games is his best performance since those 2020 (.866 OPS in 57 games) and ‘19 (.897 OPS in 58 games) campaigns. His standout showing in this recent stretch came on the Fourth of July, when Happ launched a pair of three-run homers in a win over the Phillies.

“It's incredible,” said Cubs first baseman Michael Busch, who had a solo homer among his four hits in the win. “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.

“It takes a toll on the pitcher. And I think it provides a little momentum for our lineup.”

It certainly did against the Orioles.

Busch’s first-inning blast got things rolling and the offense built a 4-1 lead by the third inning with an assortment of contributions. Then in the fourth, Happ helped the Cubs pull away with the three-run homer he sent bouncing onto Eutaw St.

“The start that I had to the season wasn't what I wanted,” Happ said. “But it wasn't going to last. To be able to kind of claw back into it and have some really good at-bats, I feel good about that.”