Unheralded stars stepping up for Cubs in big way
On a Cubs team packed with players boasting All-Star pedigrees, it’s been the lesser-known names that have stepped up of late.
Matt Duffy, Eric Sogard and Keegan Thompson were barely on the radar for Cubs fans a few weeks ago but they all played a key role in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Pirates.
Duffy knocked in the game-winning run with a pinch-hit, 2-out, 2-strike single in the 7th inning. Thompson picked up his first career MLB victory with 3 shutout innings of relief. And Sogard drove home the Cubs’ 2nd run of the afternoon with a sacrifice fly.
It’s been a big week for Duffy and Thompson, who also delivered clutch performances in the Cubs’ sweep of the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
“That’s just championship baseball,” David Ross said. “It’s gonna take 26 to 30 guys plus throughout the season to contribute. That’s the sign of a well-rounded baseball team. We’re deep on the bench as well as in the field. We know the accolades from the guys that play every day but the role players have really done a nice job of filling in.
“We’ve got a lot of guys hurt. We continue to play sound baseball. We make some mistakes here and there but we continue to have good at-bats, to grind a pitcher, do the little things, stay in a baseball game and on days like today when you’re not able to hit the ball out of the ballpark, singles win. It is a sign of a really good team when you get contributions from everybody. There’s always gonna be a couple guys that aren’t hot and always a couple guys that continue to heat up.
“But the sign of a good baseball team is all the guys contributing in some way, shape or form. J-Hey [Jason Heyward] today with the huge walk left on left and the [stolen base] and scored that winning run. He probably hasn’t been playing to the caliber he wants to or swinging it the way he wants to yet but he does the little things to help us win a baseball game. That’s championship caliber baseball and it takes everybody.”
Thompson has 7.2 scoreless innings to begin his big-league career.
Duffy is now hitting .309 with a .418 on-base percentage this season.
“He’s been huge,” Ross said. “I guess that’s an understatement.”
Duffy flew under the radar in spring training but the Cubs loved his contact bat and professional approach.
Matt Duffy has a .971 OPS with 2 RBI in the 7th inning or later in the last week. pic.twitter.com/PU3DRo0OHd— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 8, 2021
“He’s a baseball player, man,” Ross said. “One of those guys that just does a lot of things well and is very consistent. [He’s] got a lot of trust here. I thought this is exactly who he was in spring. Once he was healthy, he showed his colors — hitting the ball all over the field, having a professional at-bat.
“It really feels like the same at-bat every time he’s in the box — inside the baseball, gives a tough at-bat, is never an easy out, puts the ball in play all over the field, double down the left field line, base hit up the middle, we’ve seen how well he goes to right.
“He’s a really good baseball player that’s been under the radar. He’s dealt with some injuries later in his career and I think this is the type of player that you really enjoy putting in the lineup and feel really comfortable with his at-bats no matter who’s on the mound.”
Saturday’s game marked the Cubs’ 5th straight victory and the 4th such win by 1 run.
“It’s nice to be able to pull those victories out and gain some trust,” Heyward said. “I think it allows you to settle in mentally more and not feel like, ‘alright guys, we gotta score in the 2nd inning otherwise we’re gonna lose this game.’ It’s good to have that experience, it’s good to gel that way and to keep building off those moments.”