South Bend Cubs Thunder Away into First Place

The South Bend Cubs are next to last in pitching in the Midwest League with a team ERA of 3.94. Their starting pitchers have respective ERA’s of 2.52, 3.38, 3.96, 4.75, 4.83, and 6.19. Those stats don’t look very promising. And yet, they have the league’s best record at 27-16. Buoyed by a solid bullpen, the story of the South Bend Cubs to date has been a destructive lineup that scores runs in bunches, works counts, and capitalizes on mistakes.

Currently, the Cubs lead the league with a .271 average and a .345 on-base percentage. The top half of the lineup has been devastating in May, working counts and punishing balls in the zone. Sound familiar? On the Sunday the 22nd, the team finished off starter Thomas Panone of Lake County by making him throw 79 pitches in 2.2 innings. Yes, you read that right, 2.2 innings.

Andrew Ely, Eloy Jimenez, Daniel Spingola, Jesse Hodges, and Ian Rice are all hitting above .300, while PJ Higgins, Donnie Dewees, and Tyler Alamo are all above .275. Only Matt Rose, Eddy Martinez, and Bryant Flete are below .250. Yet, Martinez and Rose still have 4 HRs apiece, trailing team leader Eloy Jimenez who has 7, 5 of which have come in the last week. Donnie Dewees lead the team in RBI, Triples, and stolen bases.

And how’s this for exciting: South Bend has had four walk-off wins already this season.

While the starting pitching looks like it is a concern, it is getting much better. In three May starts, Carson Sands has a 0.56 ERA for the month while Preston Morrison has a 1.93 ERA for May. Adbert Alzolay dropped his May ERA to 2.12 while Justin Steele is improving with every start (3.86 in May) along with Kyle Twomey (3.38 in May). Like any young pitchers, avoiding the big inning has been the issue, especially for Twomey and Steele. Ryan Kellogg is the only starter who has really struggled this month (6.86), but he’s got more than enough time to find his way.

Here are four reasons this team can still get better:

1. Confidence

South Bend is never out of a game and they believe that no deficit is too small to overcome. Once they get into an opposing team’s bullpen, they just slice and dice those relief arms.

2. Eddy Julio Martinez

Martinez had one nice two-week spurt in early May, but he really has not put it together yet. He is adjusting to hitting a certain way, the Cubs way, and is trying to be more selective in his approach. His .219 average is deceptive. He went three weeks before taking his first walk, but he is striking out less this month and walking more (21 Ks in April to 17 in May and 3 BBs in April to 9 in May). It will happen for him. You just have to be patient. For as bad as his average appears, he is third on the team in RBIs and second in home runs.

3. Pitching could be on the way

I originally thought the pitchers would be the stars of the team. That didn’t work out for April, but for May, it has shown true. Some, like Morrison or Alzolay could be promoted later because of their performance and development. The dynamic duo of Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson will do their time in Eugene for a month to six weeks before heading to South Bend, but both should be in Indiana by late July.

4. Most of these guys aren’t going anywhere

Because of the redundancy in the Cubs system, very few players could be promoted after the draft. Because of his age, 19-year-old Eloy Jimenez is staying put to be at the heart of this order for the summer, with Martinez hitting right behind him.

I really like to watch this team work at-bats every night. It’s been tough this past week as the teams they played do not have MiLB.TV. If you do get the chance to watch them, focus on in how they recognize pitches, especially Higgins and Jimenez. Both are excellent at determining what is coming towards them.

It should be an exciting race to win the first half title.

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