Raise your hand if you thought either Matt Duffy or Jake Marisnick would be impact players for the Cubs. Keep it up if you thought both would be. Now take it down if you’re related to either of them. And you, yeah, you in the back…take yours down because you’re lying.
Marisnick has been a real shot in the arm for a team that had been getting diminishing returns from Albert Almora Jr., but the real benefit has come with Ian Happ scuffling. In addition to more than capably handling center, Marisnick already has supplied some necessary pop with four home runs. The most recent of those came against Walker Buehler to tie Wednesday’s game in the 5th and was sort of like the moment Rocky made Drago bleed in their epic battle.
With 0.4 fWAR already this season, Marisnick has surpassed the total of 0.3 fWAR Almora accumulated from 2018-20. What’s more, the former Astro and Met has a wRC+ to 162, nearly 100 points higher than Happ (67). It’s also nearly double Marisnick’s career average of 84, which has been boosted by his hot start, so we shouldn’t expect this to continue.
On the other hand, his defense and baserunning will continue to provide value even if his bat cools. Dude is a damn gazelle whose grace on the basepaths rivals that of Kris Bryant going first to third on singles.
Speaking of Bryant, the erstwhile third baseman has been riding high despite not playing the hot corner since 4/20. In that time, he’s made eight starts in left, four in right, and one each in center and at first. Part of the reason David Ross has been able to keep Bryant away from his natural position is the play of Matt Duffy.
Though he could probably walk into Murphy’s Bleachers after a game wearing his own jersey without being recognized, Duffy has provided a contact bat the Cubs have so sorely lacked over the last few years. Only Anthony Rizzo (14.8%) has a lower strikeout rate than Duffy (15.9%) and no one on the team can top the former Giant’s 93.5% contact rate.
He has only swung and missed at a 2.3% clip and he’s easily the Cubs’ most disciplined hitter when it comes to swinging at pitches outside the zone. That’s why he was exactly the right person to dig in with two outs, a man on second, and the Cubs down a run in the bottom of the 11th.
Dodgers reliever Garrett Cleavinger had struck out Jason Heyward and David Bote on seven total pitches, closing both at-bats with sliders. But Duffy figured the lefty would want to get ahead with heat and he was sitting dead red.
“I was a little behind on some fastballs,” Duffy told the media after Wednesday’s win. “So, I thought with Cleavinger, he’s got a pretty good fastball. I thought he would try to get ahead early with that. I had taken some first-pitch fastballs pretty much right down the middle tonight, so I was just kind of looking for that. Tried to hit it right back at him.”
A single right back up the middle scored ghost runner Willson Contreras and appeared to have deflated Cleavinger, who had given up the walk-off single to Bote the previous night. Tony Wolters walked on five pitches, one of which was only a strike because he swung at it, and then it was Rizzo’s turn to play hero.
The incredible at-bat opened 0-2 on called strikes before Rizzo took a high fastball and spoiled two sliders breaking down and away. When Cleavinger tried to fool Rizzo with a fastball away, the first baseman rode it into left for a game-winning single.
It wasn’t a very aesthetically pleasing game, at least not with all the extra-inning shenanigans coming after more of the same in Tuesday’s 7-inning twin bill, but this is the kind of game the Cubs would always win in 2016. There was an unwavering belief with team that they would find ways to come out on top no matter what.
“It’s a huge confidence boost,” Duffy said. “I think it kind of reaffirms what we believe in the clubhouse — that we’re a high-quality team, that we’re capable of doing things like we did against them.”
Now it’ll be a matter of carrying that confidence into a slate of games with teams that shouldn’t be nearly as daunting as the Dodgers. Of course, those are exactly the teams against which the Cubs seem to play their most frustratingly stagnant brand of baseball.
Even if Duffy and Marisnick aren’t likely to keep teaming up on these hero missions all season, their early play is keeping the Cubs in position to contend as some regulars find their groove. Sorry if you were hoping the sky was going to fall a little faster.