Consistently Inconsistent: A Look at South Bend’s Road Woes

South Bend finally won a road game last night and in exciting fashion to boot. After falling behind 5-0, the Cubs used a 3-run double by Gleyber Torres in the sixth to get the scoring started. Torres later scored and it was a 5-4 game. Red hot Yasiel Balaguert tied it in the seventh with a solo HR and David Bote hit the go ahead and game winning solo HR a few batters later. David Garner and Francisco Carillo held Lake County scoreless to get the win and the save.

Gleyber Torres Image MLB Pipeline
Gleyber Torres
Image MLB Pipeline

South Bend is now 21-28 on the year and ometimes it is frustrating to watch. It is, after all, a low class-A team with little experience – most of the team was drafted in 2014. At times, it’s like watching Jekyll and Hyde. It is never dull, but when you start to look at how this team loses, it is surprisingly consistent in its inconsistency.

In April, the SB Cubs were 11-10 on the strength of some great starting pitching and a defense led by Trey Martin in center. Chesny Young hit .315 and drove in 14 runs in his short stint on the team. While the bullpen struggled a bit, the team looked to be on the cusp of having a great season. Gleyber Torres was hot after moving to the two hole and two starters had ERA’s under 1.00. At one point in early May, they were 15-13 and looked like they were ready to go on a roll.

Then, within days, relievers Jasvir Rakkar and Tyler Ihrig were being used elsewhere in the organization. Young and Martin were promoted and off to Myrtle Beach. To replace them, Andrew Ely came to the club for extended spring training to play second and Rashad Crawford moved to center from right. In addition, new relievers were brought in. The team then went 6-13.

In May, the bullpen and the closer position turned around led by James Farris, but the starting pitching collapsed. Jake Stinnett, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton, and Eric Leal have had Mays they would rather forget. The team was 10-18 on the month.

  Hedges Leal Clifton Stinnett Null Williams
April ERA 3.00 2.25 3.09 6.60 0.79 0.46
May ERA 5.72 7.17 3.86 6.00 2.88 1.59

An even bigger disparity in ERA shows up in road games,

  Hedges Leal Clifton Stinnett Null Williams
Home ERA 3.94 4.74 0.90 3.13 0.87 0.00
Road ERA 5.27 4.86 4.60 13.50 3.78 1.97

The young Cubs are 10-18 on the road for the season while going 11-10 at home. And this is a totally different starting staff on the road as evidenced by the chart above. The reasons could be many: maybe they don’t like the mounds, maybe they have different preparation, maybe they don’t sleep as much, or maybe they aren’t eating as well. But the stats don’t lie when they tell us that there is a problem.

As a team, South Bend has a 3.73 ERA on the season, which is eleventh in the sixteen-team league. The team is fourth in batting average (.265), OBP (.315) and runs scored. To date, South Bend has given up 227 runs and scored 226 – a run differential of one. You would think that this team should be closer to .500 than it is.

They just need to be more consistent. They might not look it on paper, but the Cubs actually are when you dig deeper into how they win and how they lose.

How this team wins

The South Bend Cubs, when going well, do three things when they win.

  1. They have solid starting pitching. As evidenced above in the charts, this team can get it done at home. Williams, Null, and Stinnett pitch very well at Four Winds Field. In April four of the starters had ERAs at 3.00 or under and Trevor Clifton was not too far away.
  2. They can hit. Led now by Burks, Torres, Brockmeyer, the newly hot Andrew Ely (.333), and the super-hot Yasiel Balaguert (.562 in his last 8 games), they can put some runs on the board. When they are going well, they string together walks and hits to score runs in bunches. The top half of the order is at or near .300.
  3. The bullpen holds the lead.

How this team loses

When they lose, it is in the same fashion, be it on the road or at home.

  1. They give up early runs. I went back to their 18 losses in May. They gave up 19 first inning runs and 19 second inning runs (9.50 ERA). Those are staggering stats and unsustainable. It is hard to come from behind if your team has a 2-0 deficit every night before the team even bats around.
  2. The bullpen blows a lead. In May, the bullpen had rough go of it. New blood arrived in David Garner, Daniel Lewis, James Norwood, and Brad Markey to replace Ihrig and Rakkar. They struggled mightily. Here are their ERA splits.
  Farris Thorpe Minch McNeil Carillo Garner
April 3.97 4.22 3.18 1.80 5.25 0.00 in 3 G
May 1.13 5.65 5.40 6.00 3.52 6.92
Markey Norwood Lewis
May 4.70 5.40 10.12
  1. Runners get left on base. For most of April and May, it was like there were two teams at the plate. The top half of the lineup was hitting .300+ and the bottom half was not. Now, with the emergence of Balaguert (now at .295), an improved Gioskar Amaya (hitting near.300 in his last 10 games), and Ely, this team is ripping at a pretty good clip. The South Bend Cubs do not hit for power, so they have to rely on stringing together hits, getting walks, stealing some bases, and hitting with runners in scoring position.

Looking ahead, all is not lost at 21-28. The great thing about minor league baseball is that the whole emphasis of the system is on development. Just because a team has a bad month does not mean that the season is over. Soon, the first half will end in the middle of June. Teams can be reborn in the second half; the season gets restarted, everyone is 0-0, and a new hope comes forth where every team can still make the playoffs in the second half.

For South Bend, this is a good thing. They can shake off a bad May on the road and get back to doing what they did in April. They do need to pitch better on the road in the first two innings. The bullpen does need to get stabilized. The bats do need to string together hits. When they do these things, they will win. They have the talent, they just have to put it together.

The Cubs are on the road at Lake County tonight with Jeremy Null on the mound. First pitch is at 5:30 central.

Who’s Hot

Yasiel Balaguert – No one comes close and he will likely get Midwest League Player of the Week honors on Monday. .562 with 3 HRs is a pretty good week.

Ryan Williams – Despite giving up 4 runs on Thursday night (2 in the eighth inning), his ERA is still an outstanding 1.17.

A Sight for Sore Eyes 

Kevin Encarnacion - Photo by Mike Monaco
Kevin Encarnacion – Photo by Mike Monaco

In 2013, Kevin Encarnacion was a highlight reel in action every night in Boise in the field and at the plate. Then, tragically, a car accident in the offseason resulted in Encarnacion suffering burns over fifty percent of his body, including his throwing arm. He was trapped in the car by a seatbelt until a fisherman cut him free with his fishing knife.

The accident almost ended his career. The Cubs stepped up and flew Encarnacion and fellow teammate Jose Zapata from the Dominican to Arizona for treatment.

Last fall, Encarnacion began playing again in instructs after the regular season ended. He was in extended spring training until this week when he made it to South Bend. The 23-year-old switch-hitting outfielder is 2 for 8 in 3 games.  He will play left, right, and likely some DH and pinch hit.


Back to top button