The playoff push for the Midwest League Postseason is officially on for the conclusion of the first half, as the South Bend Cubs head east to take on a former division rival in the Dayton Dragons. The Midwest League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds has been on fire since the
The playoff push for the Midwest League Postseason is officially on for the conclusion of the first half, as the South Bend Cubs head east to take on a former division rival in the Dayton Dragons. The Midwest League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds has been on fire since the season began and now possess a 5.5 game lead in the Eastern Division over the Great Lakes Loons.
At Four Winds Field this past week, the South Bend Cubs took another series win over the aforementioned Loons by prevailing in four of six games versus the LA Dodgers affiliate. The capped off a month of May where the Cubs did not lose a single series, and became the first team in the circuit to win 20 games at home in 2022.
The Cubs play their best baseball in Downtown South Bend, and they’ll now try to replicate that on the road in Dayton, Ohio. The Dragons have one of the best starting rotations in the league, but the Cubs come very close. It looks as though that Dayton will be running away with that first half playoff spot in the East, but the Cubs are directly in striking range in the West.
At this time, the Cedar Rapids Kernels have a one game lead on the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers for first place, and the Cubs are just two games back in third place. What is different this season is there’s no longer a wild card spot in each half. To make the playoffs, you must win the division title either midway or at the end of the campaign. After this series versus the Dragons, the Cubs will come home for a pivotal series against Cedar Rapids that can very well decide who will punch their postseason ticket first.
The Kernels battle the Lansing Lugnuts this week on the road, while Wisconsin hosts the Peoria Chiefs. It’s officially crunch time in High-A baseball.
Players to watch on Dayton…
Elly De La Cruz, SS: From a Dragons perspective, there big time threats at the plate starts with the number two prospect in the Reds organization in Elly De La Cruz. The native of the Dominican Republic is only 20-years-old, but he doesn’t play like it. A big tall guy at 6’5’’ and 200 pounds, De La Cruz may have a towering body for a shortstop, but scouts and analysts rave about his ability to play consistent in all three phases of hitting, base-running, and fielding. De La Cruz is hitting .282 in 38 games with Dayton, and has hammered eight home runs with 26 RBI. The strikeout can be an achilles heel though, as pitchers have punched him out 51 times in 149 at-bats. Facing Jordan Wicks twice this week won’t be easy for the young star, but as a switch hitter, De La Cruz is a tough match-up for managers to try and lock down. But the Cubs will also have to try and stop his seven-game hitting streak. It’s a true battle of stars in Ohio this week.
Joe Boyle, RHP: Dayton’s pitching rotation does not have a single lefty in it, but the six right-handers that are a part of it have some dynamic stuff. That kind of filth starts right here with the former Notre Dame Fighting Irishman, Joe Boyle. Typically a late inning reliever with a lethal fastball with the Irish, Boyle was selected by the Reds in the 5th round of the 2020 MLB Draft and immediately was given starter responsibilities. Making his pro debut in 2021 with the Arizona League Reds, Boyle posted an ERA at 0.00 in his first four professional starts. He finished the year with Low-A Daytona and now has racked up even more success in the Midwest League. Boyle’s minuscule ERA this season of 0.53 sticks out first. But his opposing batting average in 33.2 innings is even more mind-blowing. Hitters have managed to bat .058 off of this guy. If there’s one thing that can be a kryptonite type of thing for Boyle, it’s the walks. He has allowed 24 free passes in those 33-plus frames. If the Cubs can be patient facing off against Boyle tonight, as he starts game one, then they can have a chance to add some more crooked numbers to that batting average against.
Rece Hinds, OF/INF: The Dragons roster is loaded with talent and included in that description is another Reds top-30 prospect, Race Hinds. The 2019 2nd-round selection by Cincinnati is a power and contact threat who comes into the series at .279 with his average, six home runs, and 17 RBI. He has also stolen five bases, and now has gotten a hit in four games in a row. Dayton is one of three teams in the Midwest League, however, that has struck out over 500 times. Hinds has been responsible for 55 of those. South Bend’s rotation will have their hands full with the sheer ability at the plate for Dayton, but if they can get the Dragons to chase and go after bad pitches, that can give the Cubs a distinct advantage in this series.
Players to watch on South Bend…
Manuel Espinoza, RHP: We are getting to a point with Manuel Espinoza where it is no longer just a couple good outings on the mound by coincidence. Espinoza’s run in the Midwest League, specifically in the month of May, gives him the number one spot for the Cubs on the Toyota Road Report. The dominance for Espinoza has been so noticeable that it might end up earning him the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month Award. There are some other viable candidates such as Iowa’s Caleb Kilian, plus former South Bend Cub and now Tennessee Smokie Bailey Horn. The consistency has been what has been most impressive though for Espinoza. He finished May with four earned runs surrendered and 23 strikeouts. Batters only hit .158. If he can keep this up, he’ll make it very difficult on the Cubs choosing whether or not to promote the 21-year-old to Double-A.
Yohendrick Pinango, OF: After celebrating the end of his teenage years and his 20th birthday just a few weeks ago, Yohendrick Pinango has started a new decade with the same raw power and flare that has made him into a Chicago Cubs top-30 prospect. There seems to be no sign of slowing down the big man either, also his bat flips are getting more ridiculously fun by the minute. Pinango has now gotten a hit in 13 straight games, and has been on base in 14 in a row. That trails only his teammate Jake Washer, who has a 17 game on-base streak to lead the Midwest League. At the end of the Great Lakes series, Pinango had his batting average at .265 with six homers and 25 RBI. If you’re reading this outside of the South Bend market, you’ll have the chance to see Pinango live on Marquee Sports Network coming up in the Cubs next home series versus Cedar Rapids.
Sheldon Reed, RHP: The newest South Bend Cubs hurler is already earning his keep. Sheldon Reed has been terrific through his first two appearances at the High-A level after dominating through the Carolina League with Low-A Myrtle Beach. Reed has not given up a run all year long in 11 outings. But with the Pelicans he was terrific. Batters only hit .059 off of the former Clemson Tiger and he only gave up two hits. What is wild is that he surrendered two knocks in his Midwest League debut versus the Loons. He kept that ERA perfect though by stranding multiple runners on base. Reed again crushed through his second outing on Sunday with two scoreless frames and zeroes everywhere except for the strikeout column. The back end of South Bend’s bullpen was already strong, but Reed really bolsters what is a big time strength of Lance Rymel’s roster.
Tuesday, May 31 - 7:05 PM ET: LHP Jordan Wicks vs. RHP Joe Boyle
Wednesday, June 1 - 7:05 PM ET: LHP DJ Herz vs. RHP Bryce Bonnin
Thursday, June 2 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Manuel Espinoza vs. RHP Thomas Farr
Friday, June 3 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Kohl Franklin vs. RHP Connor Phillips
Saturday, June 4 - 7:09 PM ET: RHP Daniel Palencia vs. RHP Christian Roa
Sunday, June 5 - 1:09 PM ET: LHP Jordan Wicks vs RHP James Proctor
Catch the entire six-game series in Dayton on Sports Radio 960 AM WSBT, online at wsbtradio.com, or on MiLB.com with Max Thoma on the call.