Happ carried Cubs offense for much of 2020

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Miami Marlins catcher Chad Wallach kneels by the plate as Cubs center fielder Ian Happ celebrates his solo home run in Game 1 of the wild-card series Sept. 30 in Chicago.

    Miami Marlins catcher Chad Wallach kneels by the plate as Cubs center fielder Ian Happ celebrates his solo home run in Game 1 of the wild-card series Sept. 30 in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/18/2020 5:36 PM

It's accurate to say Ian Happ saved the Cubs in 2020.

In a year when Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber never got rolling, Happ was the offensive star from the time he homered on opening night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What's still in question, though, is if Happ will be the Cubs' best player moving forward or did he just have a hot stretch at a time when few others in the lineup were hitting?

Happ's batting average was .304 on Sept. 7 and he finished at just .258 after slumping in the final weeks. He did produce the Cubs' lone run of the wild-card series with a solo homer.

"I think it's all about making adjustments, right?" Happ said after the playoff series ended. "For me to be able go through a little rough patch the last two, three weeks of the season and be able to come out the other side and have what I felt like was really good at bats the last couple days."

This season continued the storyline that began in 2019, when the Cubs surprisingly sent Happ to Triple A Iowa at the end of spring training. Even before he began the shortened season on a tear, Happ agreed that the minor-league stint made him a better hitter.

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The most noticeable difference was cutting down his strikeouts. Happ struck out in 36.2% of his plate appearances in 2018 and knocked that down to 27.3% this season.

Another good explanation for his 2020 success is he did well against power pitchers, hitting .298 according to baseball-reference.com. Most Cubs hitters struggled to catch up to high-velocity pitches.

On opening night, Happ batted ninth in the order. After a few weeks, he took over leadoff spot from Bryant and ended up batting .239 from the top of the order. That might be more about his September slump than struggling with the leadoff job. Happ talked about the pressure of batting leadoff at season's end.

"(Tough at bats) can pile up on your quick," he said. "You can get 15 at bats in three days where you really don't feel good or the weather was bad. It should even out over 162 -- obviously this year it wasn't going to work out like that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"For me, I'll hit anywhere in the lineup that Rossy (manager David Ross) wants me to. We'll see the way things shape up next year."

Happ didn't have any issues defensively in center field, so it's reasonable to assume he'll return to the same position in 2020. He often shifted to left field late in games, while Albert Almora or Billy Hamilton stepped in as a defensive replacement.

The Cubs' minor-league system doesn't appear to have any position prospects ready to join the big-league club right now. So success from former first-round draft picks like Happ and second baseman Nico Hoerner is sorely needed.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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