The Kane County Cougars, Class-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, have won the Midwest League Championship after defeating Lake County by a 7-2 score Saturday evening at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio. This is the second championship in franchise history for the Cougars, which won the MWL title in 2001 as a Florida Marlins farm team.
This season's Cougars have put the finishing touches on an unforgettable season that included countless awards, accolades and newly-set records within the organization. Through play this weekend, the Cougars' total number of wins this season are the most in Major or Minor League Baseball, with this year's Cougars team displaying a dramatic turnaround from last season's 55-win team.
The Cougars completed an unbeaten postseason, having swept first round opponent Wisconsin, division finalist Cedar Rapids and East Division champion Lake County. The team's 7-0 playoff record, combined with a franchise-best 91-49 regular season, reflect a remarkable 2014 season record of 98-49 (.666 winning percentage). Kane County also set franchise records this season with a 13-game win streak, 2.85 team ERA and 54-17 regular season home record.
The Cougars got out of the gates quickly, putting together an 18-7 record in the month of April. Kane County clinched the Western Division first half championship in June with a 45-25 first half record to punch their ticket for September's postseason. Midwest League Manager of the Year Mark Johnson saw a majority of the team's Opening Day roster move upwards through the Cubs farm system as 11 Cougars players were promoted to Class-A Advanced Daytona during the season. The Cougars lost multiple relievers out of the bullpen as well as their top leadoff hitter in Jake Hannemann to promotions by mid-summer. By August, the Cougars had lost 15 of the 25 players on their April Opening Day roster. Not including Major League rehabilitation appearances, more than 50 players were on the Cougars' roster at one point or another in 2014. Despite a nearly continuous turnover of personnel, the Cougars actually outpaced their first half efforts by winning the second half division championship with a 46-24 mark.
Individual accolades came in bunches for the team throughout the season. At least one Cougars player received a Cubs monthly organizational award as Minor League Pitcher or Player of the Month for four straight months - Will Remillard in April, Paul Blackburn in May, Juan Paniagua in June and Jen-Ho Tseng in July. In May, a pair of Cougars pitchers, Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. A quartet of Cougars (Remillard, Blackburn, Jose Arias and Jordan Hankins) were selected to participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game in June. Five players (Jacob Rogers, Daury Torrez, Jeimer Candelario, Duane Underwood, Kyle Schwarber) were named Midwest League Player or Pitcher of the Week this season.
"Since April, Cougars fans have been treated to a season that was full of numerous on-field accomplishments that we'll never forget," Cougars Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug said. "The support shown by our fans throughout the season has been tremendous. Since our first season in 1991, the fans have always been there for us. We truly appreciate that along with the hard work of our entire front office and seasonal staff as they certainly deserve to celebrate and share in this historic season as well."
"On behalf of the Kane County Cougars organization, we'd like to congratulate the entire team, field staff and Cubs organization for capping off an unforgettable season by winning the Midwest League Championship," Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich said. "Tonight's championship win was the culmination of a season that was filled with terrific on-field play, coaching and perhaps most importantly, a truly unified team."
"We're excited to bring a Midwest League championship home and we look forward to our 25th anniversary season in 2015!" Cougars owner Cheryl Froehlich said. "We'd like to thank the fans for their constant support and enthusiasm for the entire season."
In 2014, a total of 421,971 fans attended Cougars games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. The Cougars' regular season attendance total of 415,571 fans was the 23rd highest in Minor League Baseball and placed the Cougars, a Class-A team, above nearly every other Class-A or Double-A club and among several of the top Triple-A teams.
Last season, the Cougars became the first Class-A minor league team to reach 10 million fans in the history of Minor League Baseball. In the 24-year history of the franchise, the Cougars have been at the forefront of affordable and family-friendly fun. combined with Major League affiliated baseball. Past Cougars who are present-day Major League stars include Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.
"On behalf of all of the Kane County Cougars and Chicago Cubs fans in the western suburbs, we want to thank the entire Chicago Cubs front office staff for providing us with the players and staff to create a season for the ages," added Dr. Bob and Cheryl Froehlich.
The Cougars will depart Ohio and return to Kane County tomorrow morning for the 400-mile trip to Geneva. Fans are encouraged to follow the team via Facebook and Twitter for more details on the team's arrival at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.