COMMENTARY | For the first time in 2013, the Chicago Cubs are 20 games under .500 (55-75). Without the surprise contributions of a few players, they'd likely be much further under.
The Cubs will likely continue to fade as a combination of fatigue and arrival of more minor-league talent pressures them further into mediocrity. But when the dust settles, unless something truly terrible happens, 2013 will be seen as a step forward from 2012.
Here are three players who have surprisingly contributed to that improvement:
Junior Lake (.314 AVG, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs, 3 SBs)
Thanks to approximately 27 outfielders getting hurt or being traded, Lake was granted an unexpected opportunity. The results he put out were even more unexpected. The 23-year-old came back to reality after a monstrous first week (.484 AVG, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs), but he has solidified himself as a permanent fixture for the Cubs, barring some unforeseen circumstance.
His defense still has some developing to do but if he continues to hit the way he has, it looks like the Cubs are willing to let him develop at the major-league level.
Chris Rusin (2-3, 2.64 ERA)
Rusin might be the biggest surprise of the second half for the Cubs. In a similar sample size in 2012, Rusin has improved his ERA by almost four runs -- 2.64 versus 6.37 in 2012 -- and has pitched 15 more innings (44 versus 29) in just one more start.
He has only surrendered more than three runs once (four on August 1) and hasn't given up more than two runs in a start since. With Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood more than likely making up the top of the Cubs' rotation next season, Rusin has emerged as a very viable candidate to round it out.
Donnie Murphy (.282 AVG, 8 HRs, 15 RBIs)
The especially surprising thing about Donnie Murphy is that he has a significant sample size of major-league experience that would suggest much different numbers. He sports a career average of .213, only had 18 home runs in 577 at-bats prior to this season, and is now on his fifth team in this his 12th professional season.
Murphy is either a gratuitous case of over-achievement, or it just took him a decade-plus to figure things out at the major-league level. Either way, his streak of success has been fun to watch.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Sports . He is also a senior majoring in Creative Writing.
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