Picture by Todd Johnson

The South Bend Cubs finished off their 2022 season by winning their second Midwest League title in three years! It was an exciting group of players that was a mix of young position talent, some amazing starting pitching, a shut down bullpen, and a group of veteran quality leaders. Manager Lance Rymel did an outstanding job of keeping them focused every day and creating an atmosphere that this team just keep grinding throughout the season and every game. They had a lot of comebacks and walk offs this year because that was instilled in them from day one. After losing the opening championship series game at home, this team went on the road and won out at Lake County to bring home another title.

I had a lot of fun getting to know a lot of these players this year from the very first time I saw them in the Quad Cities all the way up to Appleton, Wisconsin in the middle of August. Being in the dugout for close to 20 games on the road gives you some different perspectives than most other people, but this was a team that really clicked and they just loved to win. And that’s really the bottom line when I think of this team is that they were in on every play. Whether it was discussing every pitch a hitter saw in an at-bat or discussing how to attack a hitter, this team just loved to talk about playing baseball just as much as they loved playing baseball.

It was also quite a different team throughout the course of the year. There were some different personalities in play at the beginning the year that left in late April, May, and early June. By the second series in the Quad Cities in early June, this team had a totally different feel to it. The leadership of Jonathan Sierra, Caleb Knight, and Pablo Aliendo really came out in the second half.

It was interesting to watch this team go through some growing processes in the second half and to see guys just keep plugging away. PCA did not have the greatest first month at South Bend. He had a terrible first two weeks and then was injured for two weeks. And then when he came back, he just took off. BJ Murray, Sheldon Reed and Adam Laskey had to go through some growing pains coming up from the Pelicans. They finally figured some things out and were nails in August onward. 

But for Luis Devers, Porter Hodge, and Luke Little, they were no growing pains. They were a dominant trio of arms that help propel this team to a second-half title. This was the best starting rotation I’ve seen at this level since the 2014 Kane County Cougars team that had Underwood, Blackburn, Jen-Ho Tseng, Pierce Johnson, and Daury Torrez. 

Record – 73-58 (34-32 and 39-26)

Stat Leaders

Hitting (200 ABs)

Avg – PCA was at .287 followed by BJ Murray at .279. Both guys tore it up post July after they made some adjustments moving up.
HR – Jordan Nwogu led the team with 15. Jake Washer was second with 14.
RBI – Yohendrick Pinango led the team with 63. This was a well rounded team as they had four guys over 50 with Fabian Pertuz, Owen Caissie, and Jordan Nwogu.
OPS – Nwogu wins again at .856 followed by PCA at .831.
wRC+ – Nwogu tops his stat run off with a 135 followed by BJ Murray and PCA. In fact, Pablo Aliendo, Owen Caissie, and Luis Verdugo were all well above 100.

Starting Pitching (30 IP)

IP – Joe Nahas, a work horse of all roles, finished with 86 to lead the club. Daniel Palencia was next with 75.
Ks – DJ Herz led the team with 99 even though he left with 6 weeks to go.
K/9 – This one went to DJ as well at 13.99.
ERA – Luis Devers was at 1.05! 1.05! That’s unbelievable at this level. Porter Hodge was next at 2.01 which is almost as amazing.
Batting Average Against – DJ Herz gets the trifecta at 1.49. Both Devers and Hodge were also under .200.

Relievers (20 innings minimum)

ERA – Jeremiah Estrada won this with a 1.17 ERA. Coming in second was Zac Leigh at 2.35 followed by Dalton Stambaugh at 2.76.
Ks – No surprise here as swingman/long reliever Riley Martin put up 93 Ks beginning on May 1.
K/9 – This went to Jeremiah Estrada at 15.26 which is astounding! Zac Leigh and Sheldon Reed both came in next at just above 12.
Batting Average Against – Estrada won with .174 and Zac Leigh was at .186. They were the only two guys under .200.

2023 Sneak Peek

Some of this year‘s championship team will return to begin the season in South Bend. Kevin Made will probably be at shortstop and hopefully Ed Howard will be back playing second base. Some players moving up from Myrtle Beach include top prospects Kevin Alcantara, James Triantos, and Ethan Hearn. As well, outfielders Parker Chavers and Ezekiel Pagán will be on the squad and possibly Christian Franklin and Jacob Wetzel.

When it comes to pitching, expect to see 2022 first round pick Cade Horton along with possibly Brandon Birdsell. We could even see the return of pitchers Porter Hodge, Luke Little, Richard Gallardo, Adam Laskey, and Sheldon Reed. Although, I’m not too sure about Hodge and Little as they might make their way to Tennessee to start 2023.

Tyler Schlaffer looks to be recovered from whatever surgery he went through. Hopefully, they were just cleaning out his elbow as he was activated by South Bend shortly after the end of the season.

When it comes to draft picks heading to South Bend next year, I’m not too positive after Horton and Birdsell. I don’t know if hitters Hayden McGeary and Andy Garriola are going to be ready for the type of pitchers they will see in the Midwest League. They might be better off starting the year in Myrtle Beach.

The big key will be who is going to be in the bullpen and that’s quite a bit up in the air right now. We’ll see just exactly who is left behind is South Bend to start the year because there looks to be a little bit of a log jam at Tennessee in terms of numbers and returning players. Relievers Chase Watkins and Luis Rodriguez should be joining the club from Myrtle Beach and Tyler Santana will hopefully be in the rotation. The one arm I want to see is Johzan Oquendo who has some nasty stuff but just needs to learn to control it.

If this team has any kind of a bullpen, they could be in the hunt for a third title in four years. That would be really special!