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Ruoff Mortgage Homestand Preview: May 7-12

Midwest League Player of Week Pedro Ramirez and Cubs set to battle Kernels
May 6, 2024

Fresh off their first series win of the 2024, the South Bend Cubs return home to Four Winds Field with summertime in the 574 on their mind. Finished up with April, South Bend has played their best baseball of the season over the last week, taking four of six games

Fresh off their first series win of the 2024, the South Bend Cubs return home to Four Winds Field with summertime in the 574 on their mind. Finished up with April, South Bend has played their best baseball of the season over the last week, taking four of six games away from the Lansing Lugnuts in Michigan’s capital.

South Bend won the four games, along with their most exuberant win of the campaign on Saturday. Coming back from down two runs twice, South Bend got a three-run home run in the top of the 9th inning from Pedro Ramirez to go up 7-6, and then Grayson Moore closed out the save.

The games that the Cubs lost, on Thursday and Sunday, were both one-run games as well. In fact, down to their last at-bat of both games South Bend had the tying and/or the go-ahead runs on base. So with a couple more hits, it could have been a South Bend sweep. Still, you never, ever, complain about a series win. You’ll take that every single week.

The Cubs are also now in 5th place in the West Division. Out of the cellar, the Cubs leap frogged the Peoria Chiefs, and now match-up with another West Division opponent. The Cedar Rapids Kernels are in town.

Cedar Rapids, still managed by veteran Brian Dinkelman, has been in the Midwest League each year since 2018. Dinkelman has also led the Kernels to the playoffs in every year he’s been the skipper here in the Midwest League. Dinkeman is a very good manager, and you know he’ll have the Kernels ready to play.

The defending Midwest League Champion, Cedar Rapids had an astounding strong regular season in 2023, and return many from that championship squad. The Kernels are 15-11, and there is also a familiar face in the visiting clubhouse that will return home.

Sheldon Reed was picked up by the Minnesota Twins in the off-season via free agency, and is now pitching with the Kernels. Reed started the year at Double-A Wichita, and now calls Cedar Rapids home. Reed had a brilliant South Bend Cubs career. Mixed between 2022 and 2023, Reed closed out the 2022 Midwest League Championship in Eastlake, Ohio, over the Lake County Captains. He recorded those final three outs, and will always be a South Bend legend, after what he did for that team getting so many important outs in crucial frames.

Reed also spent all of last year with the Cubs, appearing in a team high 40 games, recording five saves, and striking out 63 in 53.1 innings. It will surely be weird to see Sheldon in a different Midwest League uniform, but the fans that know what he did for this organization, will definitely show their appreciation when he steps on the rubber.

At the plate, Cedar Rapids is led by former Twins second round pick Luke Keaschall, the former Arizona State man. He is currently ranked as Minnesota’s number-nine overall prospect, and is hitting .284 in 26 games with two homers and eight RBI. For a slugging type player, he also works good at-bats, with 19 walks and 19 strikeouts matching. He has also swiped 11 bases.

Also, Rubel Cespedes has been a nice surprise in the Minnesota org with a .314 average in 24 games. He has hammered four home runs in 23 games, and is not ranked as a top-30 prospect. He has been a nice story, and is a dangerous hitter in this league. Lastly, Jose Salas is a former top-five prospect with the Miami Marlins. He made his Midwest League debut with the Beloit Sky Carp against the Cubs a couple years ago, and he is still a young guy at 21.

Midwest League pitcher of the week Zebby Matthews was called up to Double-A today, so the Cubs won’t have to deal with him. He’s been one of the better arms in the circuit, posting a 1.59 ERA into four starts. This sounds insane, but in 22.2 inning she did not walk a single batter, and struck out 28.

This series may determine which of these two ball clubs is going to have an opportunity to contend in the first half of the season. South Bend and Cedar Rapids are close enough in the standings where if either team wins the series, the middle of the division is up for grabs. Plus, Quad Cities plays Wisconsin this week, and Peoria takes on Beloit. All massive series based on the current standings.

Players to Watch on South Bend…

Pedro Ramirez, INF: How can you not start with the hottest hitter in baseball? Plus, he’s the new Midwest League Player of the Week. Pedro Ramirez over two weeks was 25 for 48 at the plate. That number is almost unfathomable. That’s the type of stuff you put up in MLB The Show. Insane. But what was even more impressive is not just the base hits and home runs, he struck out only once last week in Lansing, and it was his final at-bat of the week. Sure, water will always find its level, but Ramirez finished Sunday going 0/5, besides that, he was unconscious at the plate. Every other day in the series was a multi-hit game, and he also made a couple game changing plays at third base to help preserve South Bend’s 3-0 shutout on Friday night. With Jefferson Rojas having his 17-game hitting streak earlier in the series, it was easy for that shadow of Rojas to sort of cover up what Ramirez was doing for a while; No disrespect to Ramirez at all. But when a guy is contending for a team record hit streak, naturally people are going to gravitate towards that. Ramirez wrapped up his 12-game hitting streak, and is now hitting .365 entering this Cedar Rapids series. He has been tremendous.

Will Sanders, RHP: With every start and each outing, Will Sanders just continues to get better. The fourth round pick of the Chicago Cubs out of South Carolina, Sanders made his professional debut earlier in April, and this has been his first taste of professional baseball after not pitching in an official game last year after being selected. The wheels are no doubt turning and moving better and better each week, and we saw Sanders work through some adversity last week in Lansing, pithing an early morning Education Day game, and finding a way to escape a long 2nd innings where there were two pop ups dropped, and he executed his pitches to only allow one run and limit the damage with the bases loaded. After walking five combined in his first two starts, Sanders has also only surrendered a combined two walks in his last couple of outings. Pair that with 11 combined strikeouts, and you’ve got something rolling. Sanders has also found a much more consistent first strike delivery, getting ahead of hitters more. And that will only benefit him. He’s setting up hitters with that strike-one pitch, and then he can go to either his slider or curve, or even a change-up to lefties to stay ahead. He’ll get to pitch another morning game on Wednesday, with one of those now under his belt in Lansing. Plus, the kids will be cheering for him this time.

Felix Stevens, INF/OF: He’s back on track folks. Felix Stevens had himself a powerful week up in Lansing, clubbing three home runs, including a big left field shot on Sunday afternoon. What was most impressive about Felix’s big, powerful week is how he mashed each homer. The first was opposite field to right, the next was dead center over the tall wall at Jackson Field, and the third was pulled over the left field wall. Stevens has noticeably also changed his batting stance a little bit. He is putting less weight on the back leg, and is also holding his hands and bat closer to the right ear near his helmet. It makes more quicker, more compact swing. His arrival back in South Bend has also given manager Nick Lovullo three viable first basemen on the team. Brian Kalmer, Jonathon Long, and Stevens can all do it. And they can also all be in the lineup on any given day. Stevens can play right field, they can slot Long at third base, and Kalmer and be at first. Those are three powerful right-handed bats all available. And South Bend’s lineup at the moment has no shortage of power.

Schedule and Probables…

Tuesday, May 7 - 6:05 PM ET: RHP John Klein vs RHP Sam Armstrong

Wednesday, May 8 - 11:05 AM ET: RHP Miguelangel Boadas vs RHP Will Sanders

Thursday, May 9 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Andrew Morris vs. TBD

Friday, May 10 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Darren Bowen vs. LHP Drew Gray

Saturday, May 11 - 4:05 PM ET: RHP C.J. Culpepper vs. RHP Nick Hull

Sunday, May 12 - 2:05 PM ET: LHP Christian MacLeod vs. RHP Tyler Schlaffer