Now they've done it two days in a row. Should they take me with them on their next road trip?
The SB Cubs didn't waste any time, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning. Back-to-back doubles by Jeffrey Baez and Gleyber Torres scored one run, then Torres took off for third. He had a tremendous jump and Lugnuts pitcher Starlyn Suriel had no chance to get him, but threw anyway. The ball bounced into the seats and Torres scored.
South Bend starter Michael Wagner, a 15th-round pick in 2013, is back in Low-A ball after having a rough go of it in Double-A and Triple-A this year. I remember seeing him pitch in relief for the then-affiliate Kane County Cougars last year in Lansing. He seems to have mastered the Midwest League, anyway. He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced and though he got into a bit of trouble later, a nicely-turned double play in the fourth helped keep the Lugnuts scoreless through five. They pushed across a run in the sixth on two walks, a single and a sacrifice fly, but by this time the SB Cubs led 8-0.
Baez homered in the third, David Bote singled, stole second and scored on another single in the fourth, and a four-run rally in the sixth was highlighted by a single by Baez on which two runs scored.
How did they do this, you ask? Runners were on first and second when Baez lined a single to right. The first runner, Erick Castillo, scored and Rashad Crawford headed to third. Meanwhile, Baez tried to stretch the single into a double and got caught in a rundown. The Lugnuts made no error on the play -- no throw was dropped nor thrown away -- but Baez managed to slide in safely around an attempted tag at second. Meanwhile, Crawford scored. Baez wound up with three hits and three runs scored on the evening. Over his last six games Baez is 12-for-23 (.522) with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, eight runs scored and nine RBI.
The baby Cubs added two more runs in the ninth, by which time play had gotten a bit sloppy. Two Lugnuts errors aided the scoring in that inning.
Dillon Maples, who the Cubs paid $2.5 million four years ago to get him to bypass college and sign to play baseball out of high school, relieved Wagner and threw the seventh and eighth innings. Maples has had a rough go of it in his first three professional seasons and has yet to pitch above High-A. He threw one good inning, allowing a pop-fly single that was erased on a double play and another hit before a strikeout ended the inning. His second frame wasn't as good; two singles, a walk and a force play resulted in Lansing's final two runs of the game. Maples had good velocity, ranging from 92 to 94, but still needs work on command. He just turned 23 a couple of months ago and I don't think it's time to give up on him yet. If he can learn command, he still might turn into a decent big-league relief pitcher.
You might be interested in the photo at the top of this recap, a wide view of the stadium, which is undergoing a major renovation project. What looks like apartments in the outfield is exactly that. By next season people will be living in those apartments overlooking the field, and there certainly won't be any complaints from anyone about people watching the games from them, because that's exactly the point. The Lugnuts draw reasonably well; 8,529 attended Friday's game, which was followed by a fireworks show. Lansing ranks fifth in the Midwest League in average attendance at 4,808 per game, just ahead of South Bend. (For comparison, Dayton leads the league with an average of 8,251.)
It's always fun to watch baseball at a different level than I'm used to. While maybe two or three of this year's South Bend Cubs will ever play in the big leagues, all of them are devoted to their craft and chasing a dream. Maybe someone on this South Bend club will surprise and come out of nowhere to fashion a major-league career. In the meantime, I can tell you that Gleyber Torres almost certainly will do so. At 18, he carries himself with the bearing of someone several years older, and even though he made errors in this series, he also made several excellent defensive plays, hit well and from what I've been told, he's a good guy in the clubhouse and off the field as well. I'll be watching his progress with great interest. Besides Torres, of the other players on South Bend's roster, I think Baez and Yasiel Balaguert have the best shot at making the big leagues someday.
I wanted to say a couple of quick things about the umpiring in this series: As in many minor-league games, there were only two umpires, a plate umpire and another for the bases. Apart from two calls at third base (tag plays) that I thought might have been blown (and of course there's no replay review at this level), I thought umpires Justin Houser and Chris Marco did a really good job, particularly on ball-and-strike calls. Behind the plate they were as good, if not better, than many umpires I've seen in the big leagues this year.
I'm heading back to Chicago this afternoon. Many thanks to Lansing's director of media relations Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for his kind hospitality and assistance while I was in town.