I’ve been saying all year that once the South Bend Cubs put it all together, they could go on a roll. On Thursday morning they woke up with a 27-24 record and were three and a half games out of a playoff spot. They’ve done it with the solid starting pitching, timely hitting, and some good defense. They actually are kind of getting their swag on and playing with an air of confidence. They play like they should win every day.
Here are 10 reasons for South Bend’s resurgence in August.
10. David Bote – When Jason Vosler was promoted to Myrtle Beach it opened up a hole in the infield for Bote and he has responded in a big way. Not only is he hitting, but he’s doing so in the fourth and fifth spot in the lineup. In his last 10 games, Bote is hitting .421 with 8 RBIs.
9. Jeffrey Baez – The Cubs’ July organizational hitter of the month has really taken to the leadoff spot. When Charcer Burks went down with an injury in late June, Baez took over. Baez had not had a good year at that point, hitting .192., but seven weeks later his average is all the way up to .279. He has a nice combination of speed and power and is also an outstanding outfielder with one of the best arms in the Midwest.
8. Tommy Thorpe – Thorpe’s transformation from reliever to starter was not something I saw coming. The left-hander has been able to use all his pitches rather than just two as a reliever and has been outstanding in the role. Over the past two months Thorpe has made 9 starts with an ERA of 2.44 just as a starter!
7. Matt Rose – when Rose arrived two weeks ago, his bat really lengthened the lineup and created a lot of options. With runners in scoring position, Rose is hitting .381 has 9 RBIs at South Bend. He also has a good eye even though he doesn’t take a lot of walks. I really like this kid’s swing and what he can bring to the game and I think with a few more pounds, he could add more home runs to his profile.
6. The Bullpen – All throughout the year, South Bend’s closer was promoted every month to Myrtle Beach. First it was Jasvir Rakkar, then James Farris, and finally Brad Markey. For the past six weeks, Corbin Hoffner has settled into that role and it has allowed other pitchers to settle into their roles including Daniel Lewis, Ryan McNeil, Jordan Minch, Dillon Maples, and Alex Santana.
5. Trevor Clifton’s curveball – This thing is getting to be a deadly weapon. In his last three starts, Clifton has a 1.86 ERA and has struck out 17 batters in 19 innings. When I watched him on Wednesday night this week, it took him an inning to get the feel for his curveball, but when he did it was over for the Dayton Dragons. His fastball looks like it explodes about 10 feet from the plate; as a result, he’s getting a lot of week ground ball contact.
4. Outfield Defense – The Cubs have three guys who can really patrol the outfield. With Charcer Burks in left, Rashad Crawford in Center, Jeffrey Baez in right, and Ian Happ playing all three, the Cubs can mix and match daily to track down balls in the gap and take some home runs away.
3. Ian Happ – It took Happ about a week before he started making adjustments; once he did, he hit four home runs in five games. His average is climbed into the .263 and his on-base percentage is outstanding at .379. Hitting in the three hole, other teams are well aware of his power and potential and are trying to stay away from lately, which is the same thing that happened at Eugene.
2. Erick Castillo – his bat is not going to fill up the stat line, but he calls a great game and has rifle for an arm. I’ve seen him throw out several runners stealing second base. He is also deadly picking runners off first and third. No one is safe on the base paths when Gonzalez is behind the plate. He seems to have really clicked with a couple of pitchers, including Trevor Clifton.
1. Swagger – A little confidence goes a long way. I noticed in person, and on TV, that this team is playing with more swagger. You can see it on the mound with Jake Stinnett, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton and Tommy Thorpe. You can see it at the plate as hitters know that they can hit. If they are up by three runs, they keep hammering away and trying to bury teams now rather than playing cautiously not to lose. And if they are down by three runs, there’s a belief that they can come back at any point in time. They are playing with a little chip on their shoulder and a little more energy in every step and everyone knows it.
The amazing thing to me is that they have done this with Gleyber Torres in a slump. For the past 10 days, he’s only hitting .139. He did hit a HR last Wednesday, but got the day off Sunday. It’s possible the 18 year old might be wearing down in his first full season of minor league ball.
After Sunday’s win, the Cubs were 5 games out of playoff spot, though there are still two full weeks left in the season. After a disastrous first half, it has been fun watching them improve and develop and play the way they are. Their chances of making the playoffs are slim, but there’s still a chance nonetheless. If they don’t make the playoffs, I hope that swagger carries over for them to Myrtle Beach.