Chicago Cubs: Rene Rivera’s ‘lethal’ bat a pleasant surprise

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 02: Rene Rivera /

Who would have thought backup catcher Rene Rivera would be a valuable offensive member of the Chicago Cubs? In his limited roles, Rivera has been just that.

Just gotta give credit where it’s due, but also extend some love to Chicago Cubs‘ catcher Rene Rivera. While the Cubs seem to have a knack for getting the most out of their players, acquisitions, call-ups, that has certainly extended to Rivera.

Never underestimate veteran leadership

Acquired from the New York Mets in late August as a waiver claim pickup, manager Joe Maddon said at the time of the addition:

"“He’s a very good defensive player, very good reputation, and he’s got some pop, too. That veteran presence — the depth it provides is all good stuff. You can’t have enough pitching. You can’t have enough experience depth-wise at [catcher].”"

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Yet, the last thing probably most would have thought was that Rivera’s bat would be pretty good in its own right. So much so, you wonder if he makes the playoff roster should Maddon’s bunch find themselves there.

Well, I think right now, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Right now.

Besides the fact that the Cubs employed the trio of Miguel Montero, David Ross, and Willson Contreras in last year’s postseason, looking at this year’s situation, while Contreras and Alex Avila are your first two catchers, Rivera is another defensive fill-in or even a bat off the bench.

Well, with all the talk about bullpen issues, the Cubs might opt for a position player over another pitcher.

Making the most of it

Rivera, 34-years-old, is an eight-year veteran, and career .219 hitter. Since joining the Cubs Aug. 19, he is batting .353 over 13 games entering Saturday. Rivera hit .230 with the Mets in 54 games and had eight home runs, his most since hitting 11 in 2014 with the Padres.

Rivera, who grew up watching the North Siders with his grandpa in Puerto Rico, caught Kyle Hendricks Aug. 20, and Hendricks was impressed with his new backstop.

"“I told him after the game I think we can work really well together. There were a few sign things, but other than that it was awesome.”"

Probably at least one factor for Rivera catching Hendricks in four of Hendricks’ five outings since the acquisition.

Over his limited opportunities, 34 at-bats, Rivera has one home run, a grand slam, nine RBI, and a .980 OPS. Taking small sample sizes for what they’re worth, Rivera simply hasn’t disappointed at the plate.

Lighting in a bottle

For Rivera, whether it’s a case of being on a better team and having a better lineup around him, or being caught up in the excitement of a pennant chase, he has certainly thrived in Chicago.

Though Rivera’s role will be reduced with Contreras back, Maddon went to the veteran as his defensive replacement Tuesday and Wednesday, while Contreras is eased back into full game action.

Rivera was 2-for-2 off the bench Wednesday, notching two more RBI.

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Similar to a Montero moment in Game 1 of last year’s NLCS, doesn’t Rivera just seem to fit that mold of unlikely heroes? Time will tell.

For what it’s worth, Rivera has only been in one career playoff game, which was last year’s Wild Card game between the Giants and Mets. I think he has a good chance at another crack at it.

What about you, should the Cubs carry three catchers if they make the playoffs?