Cub fans have to be loving this.
Some players come up with big hits when it doesn’t matter, and disappear when the game is on the line. And some players are just the opposite. Any winning team needs a few hitters that opposing pitchers just do not want to see in the late innings with a runner in scoring position in a close game. Some argue that the ability to produce when it matters the most is not something that can be taught. Whether or not that is true, Cub fans have to be pleased with the clutch performances being turned in by the Tennessee Smokies and Daytona Cubs in the playoffs, where it matters the most. Either the minor league instructors are teaching something right, or the Cubs have some player with that innate ability to be baseball heroes. Either way, the Cubs and Smokies are winning, and that has to be great news for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Cub fans.
Let’s start in Florida, where the Daytona Cubs have now claimed a two games to none lead in the Florida State League finals. One more win, and the Cubs are the champs.
Their latest win, 3-1 over the St. Lucie Mets, again featured a late inning rally. With the game tied in the eighth inning, Elliot Soto drove in Matthew Szczur for the go ahead run. Soto is now hitting .538 in the playoffs. That’s right, .538. That’s two hundred points higher than he hit during the regular season for Daytona, and twice as high as he hit for Peoria.
The pitching has been good for Daytona, and the bullpen especially so. On Friday they turned in five scoreless innings, setting up the late inning heroics for Szczur and Soto.
Now the Cubs go on the road. The rest of this series will be played in St. Lucie, and that series will be just as long as the Cubs make it. They are one win away from going home the champions of the Florida State League. The Cubs will send hard throwing Cuban lefty Frank Del Valle to the mound in game three. His last few appearances in High-A were good, and he was spectacular in Low-A Peoria. Game time is 7:05 Eastern.
A few states away in Tennessee, the Smokies used another huge inning to clobber Chattanooga 10-4. The Smokies trailed 4-0 in the bottom of the second when the offense lit up the night with six runs. The bullpen held Chattanooga scoreless the rest of the way while the Smokies piled on the runs to put the game away.
The RBIs went to the usual suspects… Josh Vitters, Rebel Ridling, Blake Lalli, Steve Clevenger… while three different Smokies each scored twice… Junior Lake, Jae-Hoon Ha, and James Adduci. Every position player who started the game got a hit or scored a run.
The starting pitching of Ryan Searle was not the type of low scoring performance I expected, but the Tennessee bullpen picked up the slack and pitched seven innings of two hit ball for the win. This could mean the Smokies bullpen is a little stretched heading into the game tonight, but if Tennessee can win tonight, they could get a few days off. Win tonight, and they advance to the next round of the Southern League playoffs.
The Cubs will be on the road in Chattanooga tonight, and for the rest of the series. Every Cub fan should be paying attention to this game. Top pitching prospects and potential Cub ace Trey McNutt will be on the mound with a chance to end the series. McNutt’s season has been marred by blisters and collisions, but he did put together a few good starts late in the season as he recovered from the injuries. We haven’t seen too many great performances from McNutt this season; hopefully he will have one in store for us tonight.