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Ruoff Mortgage Homestand Preview: June 4-9

Cubs welcome in Whitecaps for first June homestand
June 3, 2024

Heading into a brand new homestand with back-to-back series wins under their belt, the South Bend Cubs are looking to begin putting the finishing touches on a strong finish to the Midwest League’s first half, before beginning a playoff push this summer. South Bend just took four of six games

Heading into a brand new homestand with back-to-back series wins under their belt, the South Bend Cubs are looking to begin putting the finishing touches on a strong finish to the Midwest League’s first half, before beginning a playoff push this summer.

South Bend just took four of six games away from the Quad Cities River Bandits at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, after winning four versus the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on the last homestand. The series in Davenport included the Cubs setting a new season high on runs with 15 on Wednesday, and also matching a season best 14 hits that night as well.

This week’s opponent, an old rival. The West Michigan Whitecaps are in town, Midwest League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. West Michigan and South Bend played for years and years against each other in the East Division, and unfortunately we have only seen the Whitecaps in most years on one occasion since moving divisions, however this is always a fun one.

Back in 2018, Yu Darvish pitched on June 25 against the Whitecaps in rehab fashion. And in June of 2024, Jefferson Rojas and the Cubs play host to West Michigan for the only time they’ll see one another this year, pending a meeting in the Midwest League Championship Series.

West Michigan is currently in the same position as South Bend, in chase mode. The Whitecaps are a very good first half 27-24, and three games back of Lake County in the East. West Michigan is right in contention, and a good week means they may separate from the the middle of the pack that has built up there lately. All of Great Lakes, Lansing, and West Michigan are 27-24. It’s certainly a tight race down the stretch in the East, and the Cubs will try and play spoiler.

An exciting part about this week’s series is the fact that two of the more dominant arms we have seen in the Midwest League the last few weeks will both pitch twice. Nick Dean will start for the Cubs on Tuesday and Sunday, more on him later. Right-hander Jaden Hamm has been nothing short of amazing for West Michigan. The former 5th-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State has posted a 0.96 ERA into 10 starts, and will pitch twice on Tuesday and Sunday, both against Dean.

Hamm gave up a single run in the month of May in 17.1 innings. He threw five innings during that stretch twice, was limited to a single inning on May 23, before tossing three shutout against Great Lakes last week on May 29. By the way, he’s only 21-years-old.

A guy that is much older than 21, but still shoving, is righty Michael Bienlien. The 26-year-old, originally from Hawaii, was a draft pick of the Tigers way back in 2019 out of North Carolina State. Quite a bit of longevity for a former 24th-round selection. Bienlien has pitched at least one game in West Michigan every season since 2019. This year is no different, and he’s been remarkable. 12 outings, and a 0.46 ERA. He has saved three games, batters are hitting .143. Yeah, this guy has been great. Granted, he did pitch in two Triple-A games this year, and his ERA there was 12.46. Still, he has been West Michigan’s best reliever.

At the plate, a guy we saw last year with West Michigan here at Four Winds Field continues to shine, and that’s outfielder Roberto Campos. He’s just 20-years-old, but has got a .284 average with three homers and 28 RBI. Last season in four games, Campos had four hits, and three RBI. He’s a power right-handed bat, and South Bend pitching will have to be cognizant of him.

Players to Watch on South Bend…

Nick Dean, RHP: As my broadcast partner Max Thoma put it last homestand, you best not mess with the dean. It’s as impressive of a two-game sample that we’ve ever seen from a starting pitcher with the South Bend Cubs what Nick Dean has done. Back-to-back victories, 10 combined scoreless innings, three hits, one walk, six strikeouts. Incredible. Dean came up from Myrtle Beach ready to work, and don’t forget his last outing there he posted 5.2 shutout frames. 15.2 consecutive shutout is not easy to do no matter where you’re talking from. Dean has really shown quite the comfortability of his mix of pitches. The slider plus a 12-6 curveball has been a ferocious combo. Add two variations of the heater, and his vanishing changeup, and you’ve got a guy who has been so tough to figure out for both lefties and righties. His last outing against Quad Cities, he was an out away from posting three perfect innings, He was able to fight around a couple base hits, and stifled any rally the River Bandits tried to put together. Again, he throws twice this week, Tuesday and Sunday. That is gonna be must watch, after you also add the layer that the guy pitching against him comes into this series with a 0.96 ERA.

Parker Chavers, OF: Not only has become a key figure in the South Bend Cubs Tik Tok game due to his mockery of other’s answers, Parker Chavers is finding his swing again just in time for the summer. Chavers has got the good stuff going as he’ll take a 5-game hitting streak, plus a 9-game on-base steak into this week’s series against West Michigan. He has also played some terrific outfield over the last number of weeks, including last week at Quad Cities where the wind was breezing a different direction every single day off the Mississippi River. Chavers is batting .429 over his last five games, and he looks comfortable. Last year before he got called up from Myrtle Beach, Chavers crushed 11 home runs and drove in 54. Now that the playing time is more consistent here at the start of June, if Chavers can bring some of that power and reliable play that he is known for to the bottom of the order, South Bend’s lineup is just going to be stacked for the second half of the year.

Ed Howard, INF: Speaking of bottom of the order, Ed Howard has been in beast mode. The former first round pick of the Cubs has had a long road back since that scary hip injury in 2022. But this is the best Howard has looked since that point. We are seeing power, strong contact, opposite field ability, his always great defense, and him being aggressive on the bases too. When you’re hurt, people just don’t know fully what a guy is going through. Every single part of the game had to be redeveloped by Howard to get back to the player he knew he could be. And every single skill in the game required a new set of training and proper conditioning to get back to. What you do to run the bases is going to be different than hitting, same thing with playing the infield. Now, we can just focus on Ed Howard playing baseball, instead of anything in the rear view mirror. He had eight hits this last series in Davenport, pair that with three consecutive multi-hit games, and he is now riding a 7-game on-base streak. Howard also became the fourth player this season to have a four hit game for the Cubs, joining Jefferson Rojas, Pedro Ramirez, and Rafael Morel. Keep an eye on Ed, this is the first time in years that he has had an entire spring to get ready for a summer. Get ready.

Schedule and Probables…

Tuesday, June 4 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Jaden Hamm vs RHP Nick Dean

Wednesday, June 5 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Dylan Smith vs RHP Sam Armstrong

Thursday, June 6 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Colin Fields vs. RHP Will Sanders

Friday, June 7 - 7:05 PM ET: LHP Joe Miller vs. LHP Drew Gray

Saturday, June 8 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Carlos Marcano vs. RHP Nick Hull

Sunday, June 9 - 2:05 PM ET: RHP Jaden Hamm vs. RHP Nick Dean