Under-the radar guys have helped Cubs fly high

The Cubs have made their share of high-profile and high-priced acquisitions in the last several years.

Jon Lester and Jason Heyward were big-money free-agent pickups, and the Cubs held lavish downtown news conferences for both.

Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Schwarber got plenty of ink and airtime when they were drafted. Each has contributed mightily to the Cubs' rebuilding process, and each figured into last year's World Series championship.

But it's often the under-the-radar pickup that can tip the balance between success and failure and get a team over the top.

Case in point is lefty Mike Montgomery, whom the Cubs obtained in July 2016 from Seattle for minor-leaguers Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn. Montgomery was on the mound when the final out of last year's World Series was made.

Two other under-the-radar pickups have made significant contributions this year: outfielder Jon Jay and left-handed reliever Brian Duensing. The Cubs signed both to one-year free-agent contracts last off-season.

"To me that's good scouting," said manager Joe Maddon. "What is good scouting? That's good scouting. For me, that's where the metrics, the sabermetrics, are really important to unearth somebody that really didn't establish himself yet. That's where you do your due diligence, your work. You look at these different items that tell you exactly what this guy's about before he gets to be that guy. I've been around players like that before. To me that is the essence of really good scouting."

Montgomery is the prototype of the shrewd unheralded pickup. The Cubs made a splash last year when they traded for closer Aroldis Chapman, who did help them. But Montgomery got the Game 7 save, and the Cubs have him for the long term.

"Opportunities in the playoffs and big games bring out the best in players," Montgomery said. "It's definitely boosted my career. The staff here and other players here have made me better. I've learned a lot since I've been here. I think that's also part of the natural progression you see. You're never really developed. You're always learning. You're always getting better.

"Obviously you have to have your star players perform. But I think it's the other guys who really provide that extra edge to a team and win a lot of games because of the at-bats Jon Jay puts up. He's got so many big hits, and Duensing's been under-the-radar. He's been excellent out of the bullpen. He's been ready to go every time they called on him. I think that's a huge plus that maybe the average fan doesn't see But us as players on the team, we know it."

Duensing had an 8.10 ERA in April but recovered nicely and has become the Cubs' go-to lefty out of the pen. He has been adept at getting both left- and right-handed hitters out.

"If someone in my position as a reliever, if we're doing our job, no one really should know who we are," he said. "Most times when people are taking about it is because we're not doing our job correctly. I take pride in all those guys having confidence to give me an opportunity in big situations or whatever it may be.

"I didn't really have a role early on, and maybe that helped, too, once I did establish a role. A little bit was Wrigley; I think Wrigley got me a couple times. But I think once I got my feet wet and settled down and trusted myself a little bit that I could get the job done, things turned around and started going well."

Jay appeared in five straight postseasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2011-15. He currently has a line of .295/.375/.375 with the Cubs.

He also has been a good fit in the clubhouse.

"Every team has a different tale," he said. "The teams I've been part of the in the postseason have been just like this, where you're in a battle until the last day. This is kind of what I've been used to and what I've seen. It's been great. It really tests your character. We went through stuff earlier in the year. Everyone was positive. The goals were the same. It's nice to be in this position now."

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  Cubs relief pitcher Brian Duensing gets one out in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. Duensing has been a dependable lefty out of the bullpen and one of the Cubs key offseason acquisitions. Joe Lewnard/, August 2017
Not only did Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery get the final out of Game 7 of last year's World Series, he's been one of manager Joe Maddon's most dependable arms this season, in both starting and relief roles. Associated Press
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