From day one this year, the Tennessee Smokies have had one of the most potent offenses in the Cubs’ system in recent memory. In the first few months, they lost Nelson Velazquez, Christopher Morel, Darius Hill, Levi Jordan, and Matt Mervis to Iowa and Chicago. Yet, they still keep on clicking at the plate. I love to watch them hit.  Pitching is another matter this year as the Smokies have struggled with consistent starting pitching and their bullpen at times has had some trouble staying healthy and keeping leads.

With the Smokies currently in a playoff chase with Rocket City and Birmingham, there should be some interesting developments here over the next six weeks as the Smokies do not end their season until September 18, a week longer than class A.

We’re probably not going to see  too many changes to the lineup of every day guys. Hopefully, some will be staying healthy like Cole Roederer who just came back this week. Zach Davis came down from Iowa to help fill the void along with Nelson Maldonado. But the lineup is mostly set with Cole, Canario and Perlaza in the outfield. Jake Slaughter is entrenched at third for now, unless he heads to Iowa. Andy Weber has moved over to shortstop to take over for Luis Vazquez who headed to Iowa. Chase Strumpf has been playing a lot of second base lately after playing third for the last year and a half. Bryce Ball is a mainstay at first and Bryce Wyndham looks to be doing most of the catching. Jake Washer will be doing some catching again. Miguel Amaya will be handling the DH and Nelson Maldonado looks to be at first, LF, and DH the rest of the way.  

The Smokies bats will produce down the stretch. I have no concerns there.

The area that needed the most beefing up all year long has been the starting pitching rotation. Lots of guys have come and gone and returned. But with the recent additions of Walker Powell, Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown, and DJ Herz, there’s going to be more certainty as to who’s going to start and eat some innings. 

DJ still has some things to work on as far as his control. However, Brown and Wicks both look pretty darn good right now. Powell will probably be piggybacking after Riley Thompson as the club continues to monitor Thompson’s innings after missing two years. Ryan Jensen will also be starting with his shorter arm delivery. The workhorse of the staff has been Chris Clarke who has had a nice run of success over the past three weeks and he looks like he could be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs with his ability to throw strikes.

The bullpen just lost closer Danis Correa to Iowa but Hunter Bigge and Eduarniel Nunez, two big arms, have come up from South Bend to help a bullpen that has struggled at the back end the last month. Max Bain just went on the Development List. Ben Hecht is back but is still shaking off the rust of Tommy John. And lefty CD Pelham looks like he might be closing games on nights Bigge and/or Nunez do not.

The question is going to be how good is the starting pitching going to be and what’s going to happen in middle relief. Can they hold a lead? Guys at the back end look to be much more solidified now than three weeks ago. 

I’ve really enjoyed watching this team almost on a nightly basis. I love to watch the fireworks with this team as they are never out of any game with their ability to put up crooked numbers in a hurry. I have seen comebacks from 4 runs down to 7. And it can happen quickly.

The next two weeks are going to be critical to put some distance between themselves between Birmingham and Rocket City as they will play the two teams 12 times in the next 13 days.

The time to put it together is now. The last time the Smokies were in the playoffs was in 2013. That’s 9 years. It is time to end the playoff drought.