South Bend Cubs Sputter, Struggle to Get Over .500
The promotion wheel went round and round this week, as Billy McKinney and Wes Darvill moved up from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee. South Bend Cub Chesny Young went to Myrtle Beach along with Pin-Chieh Chen. Meanwhile, back in South Bend, 2B Andrew Ely joined the roster on Thursday afternoon, going 0-3 with a walk.
Ely, a left-handed batter, was a 32nd round pick of the Cubs last year out of the University of Washington. Ely had a solid 2014 for the Arizona Rookie League Cubs and showed some power hitting four home runs in 25 games. He also saw some games at Iowa based on organizational need. Ely should be a solid hitter, but he is better known for his defensive prowess.
Some bad news filtered out late Saturday night as pitcher Jake Stinnett was placed on the 7 day DL with an unknown injury. A replacement has not been called up at the time of this posting. I would love to see Carson Sands come up, but it is more than likely to be Tyler Ihrig who was last seen in Iowa.
Starting Pitcher TBA for tomorrow with Stinnett going on the DL. first pitch at 4:05pmET
— SouthBend Cubs Radio (@SBCubsRadio) May 17, 2015
Meanwhile, back to the weekly recap…
The week started out well with the Cubs taking the first two games of the week on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday saw them lost two games to Lansing. What was strange this week was that, for the first time, the starting rotation sputtered.
On Monday, Jake Stinnett had command issues and gave up four runs, but the offense carried the day and Stinnett got his first low-A win with help of some great relief by Tommy Thorpe and James Farris. On Tuesday, Jeremy Null scattered nine hits over six innings and got the win thanks in part to some great bullpen help in Ryan McNeil and Jordan Minch.
The losses saw Eric Leal give up some uncharacteristic hits and Zach Hedges with early control issues in his loss on Thursday. Hedges was almost out of a jam in the first but errors and a wild pitch did him in for the day. He gave up 7 runs iover 5 innings (4 earned). For Hedges, learning how to pitch out of jams in the future will be a key in his development. He looked to me to be landing short and not extending down the slope of the mound in the first two innings when six of the seven runs were scored.
On Friday night, the losing streak hit three. Trevor Clifton locked horns with one of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects, Grant Holmes. Clifton did well over six innings allowing one run while striking out five. He just did not get any help from the offense as Holmes shut out the Cubs 1-0.
Saturday saw Ryan Williams get spotted a two-run lead in the first before the Cubs tacked on three more in the second, and four in the third. By the fifth it was 10-0. Ryan Williams had to do nothing but throw strikes. In the third and fourth inning, he threw only 14 pitches combined.
The bats of South Bend were potent most of this week. Gleyber Torres continued his great start and Cael Brockmeyer returned on Thursday to go 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs. Jason Vosler, a left-handed-hitting utility player is showing he can get hits going 6 for 16 (.375) on the week. Charcer Burks and Rashad Crawford are showing they are steady forces at the plate and in the field.
After struggling all year, the bullpen looks like it is starting to figure things out. For the week, the six arms combined to throw 20 innings with an ERA of 2.24. To me, Tommy Thorpe looked outstanding Monday night showing a deft touch on a big breaking curve going from 11 to 5 on the clock.
What Does the Team Need to Get over the .500 Hump?
On paper, it sounds easy to diagnose what a team needs. Pitching, defense, and timely hitting are the usual answers. But South Bend is not the usual team. The hitting is solid with Burks, Torres, and Brockmeyer at the top of the order. Rashad Crawford is also solid in the nine spot. In between, it gets pretty streaky.
Jesse Hodges at 5 has a nice power stroke but doesn’t always hit for average. Yasiel Balaguert and Jeffrey Baez at 7 and 8 are streaky as can be despite their obvious power and talent. Currently, they are both under the Mendoza line. The other C/1B/DH spot inhabited by Gioskar Amaya and Justin Marra has been a large disappointment as both are hitting south of .200. On nights when the 5-8 hitters are clicking, this team can pour it on (see Saturday). If they are cold, it can be a long night (See Friday).
The starting pitching, on the other hand, is pretty consistent and dominant at times. Jake Stinnett has some issues with his command, but you can see bits and pieces of why he was a second round pick last summer. Zach Hedges, when his fastball is down, can be a good groundball pitcher. Null, Williams, and Clifton are showing what dominant forces they can be and Eric Leal has to build up some consistency. It is hard for him to get by with a fastball that only reaches the upper 80s most days.
The relief pitching looks better than it has been the last two weeks. With the early loss of Jasvir Rakkar, the closer to Myrtle Beach, the Cubs struggled early on finding their new roles. James Farris has emerged as a possible force and strikeout machine with his late bending/moving fastball.
I think all the elements are there for this team to go on a run. They can get by and stay at or near .500 if two of three parts of the team are going strong. It would be nice, though, to string together a few wins in a row and put .500 in the rear view. With Chesny Young gone, Ely, Bote, and Vossler will now have the opportunities to show what they can do to help the cause.
Overall, this is still a very young and inexperienced team. 12 players were drafted just last year. Hopefully, as the season goes on, their everyday approach (aka The Cubs Way) will begin to take hold as it did for Kane County last year. At 18-18, the first half of the season still has 34 games to go. The Cubs are currently 3.5 games out of a playoff spot. There is still a lot of time to right the ship.