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Why Chicago Cubs manager David Ross continues to stick with Ian Happ in the No. 3 spot

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Nearly every iteration of the Chicago Cubs lineup over the last seven weeks has featured the same player in the No. 3 spot.

Left fielder Ian Happ has been a staple in the middle of the order for manager David Ross as the Cubs (67-61) fought their way back to .500 and are currently third in the National League wild-card position after Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Happ’s offensive numbers are more in line with his 2021 season than the stellar 2022 performance that earned him his first All-Star Game honor and a Gold Glove award.

Through the ups and downs of Happ’s offensive production, Ross has stuck with him in the three-spot. Happ has batted third in 100 of his 123 starts, including in 40 of his last 42. During that stretch, dating to July 6, he is hitting .214 with a .315 on-base percentage while slugging .428. Since then as a team, the Cubs lead the majors in runs, rank fourth in wOBA and slugging percentage, and tied for fifth in wRC+.

Ross cited multiple reasons for continuing to use Happ as their No. 3 hitter: the consistency of his at-bats regardless of outcome, wanting a switch-hitter batting in front of their best player Cody Bellinger, an ability to both get on base and hit for power, and a veteran presence.

“There’s a lot of things that you can look at from a lineup standpoint, but since we’ve been going well, Ian’s been in the three hole,” Ross said Friday. “We’ve been one of the top run scoring teams in the second half in Major League Baseball and we have a top six offense in all of baseball. Why would a mess with that? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it kind of thing, right?”

Ross mentioned Christopher Morel as an option when he’s hot, however, Morel has been in a funk lately and doesn’t generate the same level of on-base consistency Ross wants in front of Bellinger. Jeimer Candelario presents some similarities to Happ’s hitter profile, including being a switch-hitter, but Ross likes how Candelario has thrived in his role since joining the organization before the trade deadline, deepening the lower half of the order.

“What’s it do to the team dynamic? What’s it do to the confidence of a guy? Consistency from a manager and belief in a player never really gets talked about enough and I believe in those things outside of just performance,” Ross said.

“There’s a lot that goes into believing in your guys through good and bad, and Ian has shown me over the time being his manager that he’s going to go through some moments of just not being his best, but he’s going to come out the other side because he’s consistent in his attitude and his work.”

Happ hasn’t felt completely locked in at the plate lately, saying it comes and goes. His home run in Friday’s loss marked his 15th of the year and fifth in August, the most he’s hit in a month this season.

“I’ve had some good at-bats, I’ve hit some balls hard right at people — there’s been a lot of that,” Happ said Friday night. “A little bit frustrating I’m not getting on base as much as I want in the last few weeks. Been walking a lot before that, so that’s normalized a little bit, but I think the last couple days, just having better at-bats, seeing it better, controlling the strike zone a little bit. It’s a good starting point.”

When it comes to lineup construction, Ross described his philosophy as finding a way to win. During Happ’s extended stay as their No. 3 hitter, the Cubs have gone 27-15. For now, Ross has seen enough from Happ and the offense’s collective performance to keep the key spots at the top of the order largely the same.

“Players’ comfort level matters, what’s best for the team matters,” Ross said. “Being a big-league manager is not always just looking at numbers and saying this should make sense. Maybe it just is working and there’s not a whole lot of logic to it and I think that comes from the human.

“The cliché is I’m not managing robots. These guys are human, they have heartbeats. They have thoughts, they have confidence. They have insecurities, things that they worry about, and my job is to try to work through that as best I can and also talk through changes if I think they need to be made.”

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