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2023 Midwest League playoffs coverage

Rodriguez helps Kernels harvest first championship since 1994
September 21, 2023

Championship Series Sept. 20

Championship Series

Sept. 20

The Cedar Rapids Kernels were the team to beat in the Midwest League all season. And the Twins' High-A affiliate made good on that promise by winning its first championship since 1994.

The Kernels defeated the Great Lakes Loons, 7-6, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the series after dropping the resumed Game 2 on Wednesday. In doing so, Cedar Rapids became the first team in the league since the 2018 Bowling Green Hot Rods to win its division in both halves of the season and go on to take the crown.

A second-inning grand slam by Emmanuel Rodriguez gave Cedar Rapids the fuel it needed to stave off a Great Lakes rally in the final frame.

"We go up, 1-0, and we had the bases loaded there and didn't get anything across, and we get the two outs and he has a big, big swing, hits a big home run for us," Dinkelman said. "It was awesome for him to have that moment and energize the team and stadium." Full story

Sept. 20

Loons 4, Kernels 2
A pair of homers -- from Alex Freeland in the fourth inning and Kenneth Betancourt in the ninth -- enabled Great Lakes to force a seven-inning winner-take-all Game 3 in the Championship Series.

Freeland's home run highlighted a multihit night that boosted his postseason slash line to .286/.524/.643.

The game was suspended in the middle of the fifth inning due to rain on Sept. 19 with the Loons up, 1-0. Play resumed the next night and so did Great Lakes' momentum. When the Loons came to bat again, No. 26 Dodgers prospect Yeiner Fernandez doubled in a pair of runs.

It was a pitchers' duel through and through. No. 20 Dodgers prospect Justin Wrobleski struck out six batters while scattering three hits without a walk over four scoreless innings. No. 16 Dodgers prospect Ronan Kopp collected the win after racking up all four his outs all via the K.

No. 30 Twins prospect Andrew Morris fanned seven while giving up one run on three hits without a walk in five frames prior to the game's suspension.

The Kernels had the opportunity to walk off the game -- and the championship -- with two runners on and no one out. But Benobly Robles struck out two in the ninth to seal the victory. Box score

Sept. 17

Kernels 10, Loons 6
In the ninth inning of Game 1 of the Championship Series, it looked like early solo home runs by Emmanuel Rodriguez (Twins’ No. 3 prospect) and Jose Salas’ (MIN No. 17) weren't going to be enough for Cedar Rapids.

The Kernels entered the ninth inning down a run. But with one out and two on, Carson McCusker unloaded on a three-run tater to left field to take an 8-6 lead. Then Rodriguez (MLB’s No. 48 prospect) hit a two-run rocket over the fence in right for his second home run of the day.

All that run production enabled Cedar Rapids to overcome a two-homer game by Dalton Rushing. The Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect smoked a three-run shot to right in the second and a two-run dinger to right-center in the fourth.

It didn't come as much of a surprise that Rodriguez led the way in opener, after he led the club in runs (87), on-base percentage (.400) and OPS (.863) during the regular season. After joining the Kernels in the beginning of August, McCusker lofted seven homers and posted an .859 OPS in 21 games.

A win away from the championship, Cedar Rapids heads home to Veterans Memorial Stadium for Game 2 of the best-of-3 Finals on Tuesday. Box score


Sept. 15

Loons 2, TinCaps 1
Great Lakes completed its Midwest League semifinals comeback by leaning on its pitching staff.

After not allowing an earned run in their series-tying win over Fort Wayne in Game 2, the Loons allowed only one in Game 3, edging out a 2-1 victory.

Starter Jared Karros (son of Dodgers’ Silver Slugger Eric Karros) began the dominant pitching performance by tossing five shutout innings, striking out six while walking just one and allowing two hits. The outing was the latest strong showing for the 22-year-old, who allowed just one earned run over 13 innings after getting called up to High-A in late August.

While it was mostly a quiet night offensively for both squads, top-ranked Dodgers prospect Dalton Rushing hit an RBI double in the bottom of the third to score second baseman Taylor Young. Rushing was solid for Great Lakes all year, posting an .856 OPS during the regular season. He finished 2-for-4, and was the only player on either team to collect multiple hits.

The difference-making run was also brought in via an RBI double, this time by Alex Freeland in the bottom of the fourth. Box score

Kernels 9, Chiefs 3
Scoring nine runs worked so well for Cedar Rapids in Game 2, they followed the same blueprint in Game 3 en route to winning the Midwest League semifinals.

No. 17 Twins prospect Jose Salas led the charge, beginning his three-RBI effort with a run-scoring groundout in the first inning. It was part of a four-run frame that set the tone for the rest of the contest. In the seventh, Salas tripled to drive in two more.

First baseman Jorel Ortega had a strong offensive showing as well, driving in a run in the first via an RBI single, and logging the only other extra-base hit (a double) the Kernels amassed.

Both Luke Keaschall (No. 11 Twins prospect) and Noah Cardenas (No. 29 Twins prospect) shined with three hits and two RBIs apiece.

Pitching was solid for the Kernels as well, headlined by C.J. Culpepper (Twins No. 14 prospect), who struck out eight over five innings of one-run ball while only walking one. Box score

Sept. 14

Loons 3, TinCaps 2
Great Lakes utilizes some top-notch pitching to tie its best-of-3 semifinals series against Fort Wayne.

Maddux Bruns (Dodgers’ No. 17 prospect) struck out seven, giving up an unearned run on a hit and three walks over four innings in the start for the Loons.

In came right-hander Juan Morillo for the top of the fifth of a 2-1 ballgame, and he retired all three batters in order. No. 16 Dodgers prospect Ronan Kopp struck out the side in the sixth, but gave up an unearned run on his own throwing error. Coming in with two on and one out in the eighth, Michael Hobbs struck out the first two batters to cap the eighth and the final batter in the ninth en route to a perfect five-out save.

Damon Keith belted a solo homer and Griffin Lockwood-Powell and Yunior Garcia added RBI singles for Great Lakes.

Left-hander Miguel Cienfuegos delivered a solid outing for Fort Wayne, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts over five innings. Box score

Kernels 9, Chiefs 4
Homers by Jeferson Morales and Noah Miller broke Game 2 of their best-of-3 semifinals series open for Cedar Rapids and the Kernels never looked back.

Both moonshots came in the bottom of a six-run fourth inning. After Twins’ No. 17 prospect Jose Salas tied the game with an RBI single, Morales teed off on a three-run shot. Two batters later, Miller -- the Twins’ No. 23 prospect -- plated two with his own dinger.

In the seventh, Jorel Ortega hit a solo homer and Carson McCusker added a two-RBI double for the Kernels.

Meanwhile, Cory Lewis held the course on the mound. The No. 13 Twins prospect gave up one run on four hits without a walk and four strikeouts over four frames. His solid start was reminiscent of what the right-hander did during the regular season, when he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.32 ERA in 13 Cedar Rapids starts after his promotion in early June.

Jimmy Crooks (STL No. 15), Ramon Mendoza, Brody Moore and Francisco Hernandez singled in runs for Peoria. Box score

Sept. 12

TinCaps 5, Loons 0
What started as a pitchers' duel ended in a commanding Fort Wayne win in Game 1 of the semifinals against Great Lakes, thanks in part to the first High-A homer by Samuel Zavala, MLB's No. 94 overall prospect.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the 19-year-old outfielder mashed a 2-2 pitch to right field for a three-run homer to break the game open. In 14 games with Fort Wayne, Zavala had gone just 4-for-51 with six RBIs. The No. 5 Padres prospect compiled a slash line of .267/.420/.451 in 101 games with Single-A Lake Elsinore.

San Diego's No. 27 prospect Nerwilian Cedeño started the scoring with an RBI double in the fourth and Carlos Luis singled in an insurance run in the sixth. The only TinCap with multiple knocks was leadoff hitter Tyler Robertson, who doubled twice.

Starter Henry Baez worked out of a few jams, scattering three hits and five walks while striking out four over four innings. The 20-year-old made four starts for Fort Wayne after being promoted from the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League on Aug. 15.

Justin Wrobleski fanned eight while allowing two runs on five hits without a walk in 5 1/3 innings, for Great Lakes. It was the No. 20 Dodgers prospect's longest start since July 18. Box score

Chiefs 4, Kernels 3
In its first playoff appearance since 2018, Peoria took the upper hand in the best-of-3 semifinals with a victory in the opener.

Right-hander Max Rajcic dominated in the start for the Chiefs, striking out a career-high nine batters while only allowing one run on one hit and three walks over six innings. In 11 starts for Peoria this season, the No. 18 Cardinals prospect posted a 3.08 ERA and 55 strikeouts.

Peoria's Darlin Moquete and Ramon Mendoza both homered while Osvaldo Tovalin singled in a run and leadoff hitter R.J. Yeager picked up a pair of base knocks.

Things got interesting in the eighth when Kala’i Rosario sent the first pitch he saw over the center-field fence to make it a one-run game. The No. 19 Twins prospect racked up career highs and led the Midwest League with 21 homers and 94 RBIs during the regular season for the Kernels. Box score