With only one series left before the first half of the season draws to a close, the South Bend Cubs find themselves stuck in a rough patch. They’ve now lost three straight series after dropping last night’s doubleheader against the Lansing Lugnuts, who have now moved ahead of the Cubs in the Midwest League Eastern Division standings.
The Cubs got some excellent hitting from middle infielder Zack Short, who tallied four walks, three hits, three runs, two steals, a double and a solo home run. Infielder Vimael Machin pitched in as well, with a RBI in all three games.
GAME 1: Cubs 3, Lugnuts 2
Both teams’ pitching staffs showed up big in the opener, as it was stuck in a 2-2 tie after twelve innings. The Cubs were able to take home their lone win in the series as Short led off the bottom of the 13th with his solo shot.
The Cubs, who had 10 hits and nine walks as a team, left a lot of opportunities to score on the basepaths. Fortunately, their bullpen combined to hold Lansing to three hits and four walks across eight relief innings, with Pedro Silverio (4-3) working a scoreless 13th to cap it.
Lansing was powered by RBI singles from infielders Mitch Nay and Yeltsin Gudino and though their bats were largely ineffective, their pitching went out for out with the Cubs right up until the end, when Lugnuts reliever Andrew Deramo (0-2) left one over the plate just long enough for Short to send it over the wall.
GAME 2: Lugnuts 8, Cubs 5
Severe thunderstorms turned the last two games of this series into a doubleheader this past Thursday, with each game shortened to seven innings (per Minor League Baseball rules).
The Cubs got off to a great start, leading 5-3 through the first five innings of this game. Then Lansing second baseman Bo Bichette–son of former Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette–led off the top of the sixth with a solo homer, opening the floodgates of a five-run rally that handed victory to the Lugnuts.
Gudino and outfielders Nick Sinay and Rodrigo Orozco also drove in runs as part of the sixth-inning surge, and Lansing reliever Tayler Saucedo (3-2) was on point, scattering a hit and a walk across three scoreless innings.
South Bend got RBI singles from Machin, third baseman Adonis Paula and outfielder Luis Ayala. Starting pitcher Duncan Robinson (5-4), usually very effective, was the focus of Lansing’s wrath in that sixth frame. Robinson was charged with three of the five earned runs the Cubs gave up in that inning alone, with a total of six runs yielded on ten hits in 5 1/3 innings.
GAME 3: Lugnuts 6, Cubs 1
Much to the Cubs’ dismay, Lansing still had plenty left in the tank as they emerged victorious in the second game of the doubleheader, taking the series as a result.
Bichette had three run-scoring hits, and center fielder JP Woodman tacked on a pair of RBI doubles as the Lugnuts seized control of this game early and never let go. Reliever Connor Eller (1-0) picked up the win with 2 1/3 scoreless innings; only one hit marred what might otherwise have been a perfect appearance.
The Cubs got two hits from outfielder Kevonte Mitchell and a RBI single from Machin, but the offense was otherwise stifled as South Bend could only scratch together four hits and three walks. Starting pitcher Erling Moreno (1-1) got absolutely clobbered, with five hits, five runs and three walks yielded in only four innings.
The Midwest League has an unusual playoff format: the top two teams in each of the two divisions at the end of the first half of play qualify for the postseason, the standings reset after next week’s All Star Game, then the top two second-half teams in each division–apart from the first-half qualifiers–get in as well.
In the case of the Cubs (38-28), they currently sit in fourth place in the MWL Eastern Division. The division leaders, the West Michigan Whitecaps, have already clinched their playoff spot. Though it will take some help, the Cubs still have an outside chance at a first-half automatic bid. Here’s how it looks:
2nd Place-Dayton Dragons (40-27) 3rd Place-Lansing (37-27) 4th Place-South Bend (38-28)
Each of these teams plays three more games before the first half concludes on Sunday. Dayton goes on the road against the Fort Wayne TinCaps; Lansing and South Bend will play at home against West Michigan and the Lake County Captains, respectively.
The Cubs will need Dayton to lose at least twice, while sweeping Lake County, to have a shot at moving up to second place, all the while hoping that Lansing loses at least one game.