In many ways, Monday's win was the best-case scenario for Billy McKinney and the Double-A Smokies. Their offense pounded out a season-best 15 hits. Their starting pitcher went the distance. Oh, and they wrapped up a win three innings early.
McKinney tripled and matched a career high with four RBIs, Ian Happ belted a homer and plated three as Tennessee routed Pensacola, 12-1, in a rain-shortened six-inning affair at Smokies Stadium.
"That was really nice," No. 6 Cubs prospect McKinney said. "The offense really worked well together, and it was a lot of fun being out there. Our pitcher [Brad Markey] threw great, and we really had a good time. We hit the ball well, and everybody was in sync. It was nice, especially being getaway day. We get to get on the road early tomorrow."
Happ, MLB.com's No. 67 overall prospect, helped get his club started with a monster two-run homer to right field in the third inning, his second since being called up to Double-A last week.
"It was pretty cool to watch," McKinney said. "He crushed that for sure. It went a long way. Right off the bat, I knew it was gone. That's where you've got to kind of just take it all in right there."
McKinney did his part two innings later when he roped a three-run triple to right.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and hopefully put good contact on it," he said. "That's all I was really focusing on, and thankfully I found some green out there."
After Happ lifted a sacrifice fly to right for the first run of a five-run Smokies sixth, McKinney followed Victor Caratini's RBI double to left with a run-scoring single to left. The 21-year-old outfielder matched an RBI total he'd reached three previous times, most recently on Aug. 14, 2014 for Class A Advanced Daytona.
Acquired from the Athletics on July 5, 2014, McKinney is on his second swing through the Southern League and continuing to hold his own in Double-A. Last season, the Texas native batted .285/.346/.420 in 77 games. This year, he's slashing .264/.365/.339 through his first 67.
"I'm learning more about myself every day, learning about my swing, learning about what pitchers are doing, what they're trying to do to me in certain counts and at-bats and situations," McKinney said. "I'm just going out there and trying to repeat a good swing and hopefully hit the ball well."
The top five hitters in the Smokies lineup -- No. 28 Cubs prospect Jacob Hannemann, Chesny Young, Happ, Caratini and McKinney -- combined to go 11-for-17 with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs.
Happ has been on fire at the plate since he was promoted to Tennessee following his selection to the California-Carolina League All-Star Game last week with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. Through four starts, the Cubs' 2015 first-round pick is batting .733 (11-for-15) with three consecutive three-hit games.
"Oh, what a player," McKinney said. "I'm extremely impressed with him. The guy is just a great player, has a lot of feel for the game, plays great defense, and he's been swinging it. It's incredible how well he's been hitting the ball. What a steal the Cubs got getting him where they got him. It's a lot of fun to watch him play."
Smokies starter Brad Markey (6-3) allowed a run on four hits while striking out two over six innings.
Tennessee has won three of its five games since the Southern League All-Star Break last Tuesday, and the Smokies' 12 runs were a season high.
"It's nice going into the second half," McKinney said. "It's a positive vibe and a fresh start. Hopefully, we get on a good streak and keep rolling with it. We've got a lot of very talented players on this team. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do."