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Toyota Road Report: May 28-June 2

Cubs to face off in series against River Bandits for third time in 2024
May 28, 2024

A big step in the right direction this past week at Four Winds Field, and an opportunity to deliver some revenge in the week ahead in Davenport, Iowa. The South Bend Cubs picked up their first series victory at home last week over the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. With many of

A big step in the right direction this past week at Four Winds Field, and an opportunity to deliver some revenge in the week ahead in Davenport, Iowa. The South Bend Cubs picked up their first series victory at home last week over the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. With many of the four wins in dominating fashion, the Cubs hope to deliver some more big performances on the road as they take on the Quad Cities River Bandits at Modern Woodmen Park starting tonight at 7:30 PM ET.

The Cubs opened the 2024 season in Davenport, as they did in 2023 as well. Different from 2023, when they swept the River Bandits in three games, the Cubs lost two of three just beside the Mississippi River this year. Still, you have to take that series in April with a grain of salt. The conditions were unlike anything most of us had ever seen with 40 MPH wind gusts coming in off ‘The Big Muddy’, and very cold temperatures.

Still, Quad Cities came to Downtown South Bend later in April and took four of six games away from the Cubs. So, the River Bandits have shown they can definitely play. But now that things are clicking for the Cubs, this series should be a good battle test, especially the fact that the first half will soon come to a close, and we’re about to jump into the month of June.

Quad Cities certainly had a chance to compete for a first half division title early in the season. They got off to a blazing start, but have since dropped back and are now 7.5 games back of the lead held by the defending champion Cedar Rapids Kernels. South Bend is 10.5 back of the pace. As mentioned, the Cubs just got done with the Timber Rattlers at Four Winds Field, and Wisconsin finds themselves a half-game back of the division lead.

Still a lot to play for in all avenues. Whether that’s making a late push for the first half division, or setting yourselves up for a good run when the second half begins.

For the River Bandits, 20-year-old catcher Carter Jensen continues to steam roll the Midwest League with a .295 average, plus four home runs and 17 RBI. Add in 37 walks, and he is a dangerous man at the top of the order. For a catcher, he really can run as well with 11 stolen bases, he’s only been caught stealing once.

Jensen is batting .353 against the Cubs this year. And he also has taken 11 walks versus South Bend.

Slugging lefty Brett Squires leads the team with 25 RBI, and a very good .278 average for a guy that has a ton of power. Squires has also hit Cubs pitching well this season, batting .314 in nine games. Carson Roccaforte usually is the QC lead-off man, and even though he’s only batting .204, he is a menace on the base paths with 15 stolen bags.

Left-hander Hunter Owen will start for the River Bandits in the opener, with righty Ben Kudrna expected in Game 2. Those two guys have been brilliant. Owen made his pro debut against the Cubs in relief on opening weekend, then started against them in South Bend in late April. Kudrna was the opening day starter for QC, and gave up the home run to Jefferson Rojas in his first Midwest League at-bat.

Players to watch on South Bend…

Jonathon Long, INF/OF: With as many Cubs playing so well, it was hard to narrow this down to a short list, but Jonathon Long has found his stroke and is looking like the guy who clobbered seven home runs in 26 games last year after being drafted out of Long Beach State. The difference? Long continues to work really solid at-bats. Pair that with a six-game hitting streak, and the middle of the order power for Long is going to be really fun to watch this summer. He’s batting .368 over his last five games, along with seven RBI in that span, and he has also torched Quad Cities pitching this year. Long is 10/29 (.345) against the River Bandits this season, and keep in mind that was in April when the weather wasn’t really in our favor most of the time. Especially that first weekend. Add to the fact that Long had a scoring call not go his way that first weekend, and he should have an extra double to his credit, and that’s even more juice onto that average this year against Quad Cities. Long will have the opportunity to really be a huge part of this series. Plus, his versatility in the field gives Nick Lovullo all kinds of options on where to play him. He can play both corner outfield spots, plus third and first base.

Yovanny Cabrera, RHP: A guy that doesn’t get enough love in the South Bend Cubs bullpen that deserves way more is Yovanny Cabrera. He is one of the kindest, most friendly guys you will come around, always offers to do stuff for the team, and is a leader among pitchers in the clubhouse. Plus, Cabrera has been rock solid over his last five outings. In his last 7.1 innings, Cabrera hasn’t given up an earned run, and it’s only one unearned run that is on this stat line. How about two hits surrendered in that time too, and seven strikeouts. He has walked six in that time span though. Still, he has found a way to work around those free passes. You truly don’t learn much about players until you see them go through adversity. In the case of Cabrera, the walk numbers may be higher than usual, but he’s getting outs with those baserunners on. So once the command is truly locked and loaded this summer, he’s going to be a huge part of the late inning work done by the Cubs bullpen. Add to the fact that he spend the back-end of 2023 in South Bend, and he totally gets what it takes to be a guy that can get you the final three outs of a game.

Brett Bateman, CF: The South Bend Cubs lead-off man returns to the ballpark where he was on base nine times in three games to begin the season. What a coach’s dream Brett Bateman must be. He shows up everyday ready to work in every scenario. At the plate, in the field, on the bases. He’s the perfect table setter in any order, and he’s got as good an eye as you’re going to get. In the Cubs system, only those like BJ Murray, Darius Hill, and Yohendrick Pinango have anywhere close to what Bateman brings from working as good at-bats as he does. He’s so good in center field too. I’ve always said this year that Brett Bateman plays center different than Pete Crow-Armstrong, and PCA was different from Kevin Alcánatara. To each their own. All three of those guys have their own unique traits of what makes them a good center fielder. In Bateman’s case, he’s got PCA’s speed, with The Jaguar’s first step, and then also the vision of a Cole Roederer. Every good center fielder we have seen in South Bend kind of all have that one trait to add up to how terrific Bateman has been out there. He’s 12/27 (.444) against Quad Cities on the campaign with a 1.188 OPS. We’ll see what he can do at the top of the order this series.

Schedule and Probables…

Tuesday, May 28 - 7:30 PM ET: LHP Hunter Owen vs RHP Nick Hull

Wednesday, May 29 - 7:30 PM ET: RHP Ben Kudrna vs RHP Nick Dean

Thursday, May 30 - 7:30 PM ET: RHP Steven Zobac vs. RHP Sam Armstrong

Friday, May 31 - 7:30 PM ET: TBA vs. LHP Drew Gray

Saturday, June 1 - 7:00 PM ET: TBA vs. RHP Aaron Perry

Sunday, June 2 - 2:00 PM ET: TBA vs. RHP Tyler Schlaffer