Miguel Amaya – Picture by Micah Manuel/Tennessee Smokies
I am still finding it hard to believe that the regular season for Myrtle Beach and South Bend is now complete and that extra baseball begins tomorrow in South Bend and Charleston. Tennessee has one more week of regular season baseball then they start a playoff series at home on September 20 against Rocket City. Iowa, on the other hand, they are going to play through September 28. If either South Bend or Myrtle Beach advances, they will be playing a second best of three series on September 20, 22, and 23. If Myrtle Beach wins against Charleston, they’ll be at home for two of those three while South Bend will be on the road for two of their three.
In looking back at the plans for this post when the season was about to end, I originally just wanted to stop doing the Breakdown today. However, considering that all four affiliates are still playing this week, that might not be the best idea. I will go with a “playoff Breakdown” next Monday.
Let’s get to our playoff preview breakdown!
The Pelicans put up one of the best first halves in recent memory in the entirety of the minor leagues going 47-19. They won by one game over Charleston who had the second best record in all of minor league baseball in the first half. That Pelicans team no longer exists. They were led by Pete Crow-Armstrong, BJ Murray, Luis Devers, Porter Hodge, Luke Little, and Tyler Schlaffer who are now all in South Bend along with relievers Riley Martin, Sheldon Reed, and Adam Laskey. They helped lead South Bend to its own second half title.
But as for who is left, the Pelican still have six position players from the first half that are still producing at a high rate and have really begun putting it back together the past couple weeks. Ezequiel Pagán, James Triantos, Kevin Alcantara, Ethan Hearn, Juan Mora, and Felix Stevens have been feeling it the past couple weeks. Since the first half they’ve added 2022 draft pick Haydn McGarry who looks to be settling in. Parker Chavers is alive and healthy. They pretty much have a whole new starting rotation with 2022 draft pick Nick Hull and free agent Grant Kipp nestled in the front of the rotation along with Didier Vargas who might be scheduled for game three. Luis Rodriguez could also start a game if needed and we don’t know if Tyler Santana is going to be back in time for the playoffs. If he does, that changes the calculus for the entire series as he was pretty dominant, first in relief and then as a starter.
The issue for Myrtle Beach is clearly the bullpen. This week saw the offense click and the bullpen was able to hold some leads so hopefully they have some confidence built up heading into the playoffs.
Greg Huss – Typically pitching wins games in the playoffs but I’m going to buck that trend and say the Birds take this series in three games thanks to that offense that has added some real studs in McGeary, Ballesteros, and Pedro in addition to the holdovers.
Todd Johnson – I’m hoping that the offense clicks enough this week and the Triantos, Alcantara, and Parker Chavers Lead them to win the series 2 games to 1.
South Bend Preview
Like Myrtle Beach, South Bend was a team that had two different halves. The first half saw some young hitters struggle to get going the first month and then starting to pick things up in May as Owen Caissie, Yohendrick Pinango, and Luis Verdugo all broke out a in the first half. Once Pete Crow Armstrong got healthy in the middle of June, this became quite a different team. And when Jordan Wicks and DJ Herz caught fire, they stabilized a rotation that got off to a blistering second half start only to be promoted in the middle of July.
To replace the two lefties, Porter Hodge and Luke Little arrived from Myrtle Beach and along with Devers and Tyler Schlaffer and later Richard Gallardo to replace Schlaffer who went on the IL. They turned into a shut down rotation and had ERAs almost 1.5 runs lower than they had in Myrtle Beach. Heading into the playoffs, that is the greatest strength of the team.
South Bend has the bats to get past Cedar Rapids but it’s really going to come down to whether a bullpen can hold the lead or not. Sheldon Reed has really improved a lot the second half and has been lights out since the beginning of August in the a closer role. We saw Riley Martin add a slider in the second half and he has looked really good in relief. Cubs also have Michael McAvene and Jake Reindl at the back of the pen.
It’s strange that they played Cedar Rapids all last week and then they turn around and go back home to South Bend to play them for one game and then drive six or seven hours again across Illinois and into western Iowa to get to Cedar Rapids. But they’re going to have to overcome that to win the series.
Greg Huss – I’ll only go against the grain with my offense pick once, which means I’m sticking with pitching and rolling with South Bend here in this series. That rotation is far too dominant for Cedar Rapids and we might even see some unconventional use of starters in the bullpen to make use of their strength.
Todd Johnson – This is gonna be a tough series. I’m hoping manager Lance Rymel lets the starting pitchers go little bit longer because they are the strength of this team. I’m picking the Cubs to win in three and then they’ll go on to face most likely Lake County, just outside of Cleveland.
Hitter of the Week – Miguel Amaya just went off this week! When the playoffs end, he will bounce up to Iowa for a few games and get the lay of the land before heading out to the Arizona Fall League where he will begin playing the field a couple times a week. For the week, he hit /375 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs. Honorable props to Chase Strumpf.
Starting Pitcher of the Week – I can’t believe I am going to type this but Didier Vargas twirled 5 scoreless with 8 Ks for Myrtle Beach this week in what looked to be a tune up for the playoffs.
Reliever of the Week – Cam Sanders threw 4 frames. No runs, 1 hit, 2 BBs, 0.75 WHIP, 4 Ks. That’ll do.