South Bend Cubs 7, Lake County Captains 4

The comeback Captains could not make one last comeback. Ironically, they came back from a 5-0 deficit in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship at South Bend to take a 1-0 series lead, but they couldn’t finish the job from in front. The South Bend Cubs hit three monster homers and came back to win the Midwest League title, 7-4 in three games.

“They capitalized on three big swings. Three-run bolt and two two-run home runs and found ourselves chasing. Again, I like the fact that we fought back, down 5-0,  put that three spot up right away. It gave us some life in the dugout and they came back obviously a couple innings later hit that two run home and obviously was an exclamation point. Now we’re back to chasing four again.The guys fought all night, just again, they capitalized on it. They got some big bats that in lineup. Our lineup’s not built the same way that their lineup’s built. We have to kind of manufacture runs, going station to station. You know, they have the luxury of being able to sit back and wait for that big tank. And, you know, they got three of them tonight.”

Captains manager Greg DiCenzo

Aaron Davenport was sharp early, like Tommy Mace in Game 2, throwing fastballs and sliders for strikes. He struck out Pete Crow Armstrong on four pitches in the first inning and worked around a two-out double. In the second inning he got a strikeout of Pablo Aliendo n do while working around two on and none out.

He fell behind to Cubs prospect Owen Caisse and left  a pitch up in a 3-1 count in the third inning with two on and Caisse sent the ball over the batting cages in right field. That’s at least 400 feet just TO the batting cage, let alone over the top of the roof.

In all, Davenport through 77 pitches  and showed a good  fastball slider combination early on, fell behind after the first two innings, made one big mistake, and that was basically the end for him. He mixed in his curveball at times, which looked good in the mid-70s oh, but really relied on the fastball slider combination. He showed a few changups, but most were nondescript. Davenport has shown flashes as a starter all year and this outing was no different. He really paid for one mistake despite being behind a few hitters. 

“Obviously, he looked good in the first couple frames. Got behind some counts and you know things are a little bit different. If we were able to get out of that inning without that three-run bolt right there. We’re pitch away. Those things are gonna happen in big games in the championship games, you got to be able to gotta be able to execute big pitches. You got to be able to collect big outs when opportunities present themselves. You got to be able to capitalize effectively when we got guys to score position. And we didn’t. We didn’t string enough hits together. A few knocks here and there. Just like last night – a knock away from turning the tables in those middle innings.”

Captains manager Greg DiCenzo

Davenport line: 2.2IP, 5H, 4ER, 2BB, 2K, HR

Velo

FB: 90-93

SL: 84-86

CB: 75-77

CH: 84-85

Last Gasp

To the Captains credit, they’ve made a lot of comebacks this season, 32 to be exact, and they followed up giving up five runs in the top of the third inning, by scoring three runs of their own in the bottom of the third inning.  Cubs prospect Porter Hodge looked shaky for the first two batters of the game with a walk and hit by pitch, but settled in quickly. He was dominating the Captains lineup after the first two innings. In the third inning the Captains had three hits in the first pitch of the at bat against Hodge. Mike Amditis singled, then Joe Naranjo and Connor Kokx singled in the first pitch of the at-bat to drive in two runs. After getting behind against Hodge early, Lake County started jumping fastballs early in the count. It looked like Hodge made an adjustment and started going to sliders earlier in the count after that ambush.  The Captains did get three runs back and made it a game at that point

“Trying to capitalize and not get into disadvantaged counts where you can tend to get buried with that slide piece. So trying to get out front and they have strung some good at-bats together early in counts and I thought we did that.”

Captains manager Greg DiCenzo

Tough Finale

Raymond Burgos turned into one of the Captains best relievers that had been there all season. He came on in relief of Davenport with two outs in the third inning.  He went to a 3-1 count against Aliendo and gave up a home run to center field that was slightly over 400 feet. Burgos got out of the third inning, made it through the four inning relatively clean, but walked Caisee to leadoff the fight inning and Luis Verdgo hit the third and final 400 foot homer to center to make it 7-3. Burgos pitched five scoreless innings in the playoffs going into Game 3. The last home run he gave up was on June 17th. He had allowed two home runs all the regular season. Sitting in the low 90s with his fastball with an improving slider,  and then above average change up, Burgos  may have revived his career as a reliever in 2022.

Additional Thoughts

  • Yordys Valdes might have been the Captains best player in the entire playoffs. He had 11 hits over the six playoff games. While reports made it sound like Valdes was small enough to have the bat knocked out of his hands, despite a mostly handsy swing, he ripped some hits to his pull side all series long, and was able to go the other way as well. He showed off range and awareness at second base as well. 
  • Not sure if Aaron Bracho show was dealing with an injury or not, but he didn’t play any of the Captains’ six playoff games this year. Valdes started at second base every game and move up in the lineup as the series piled up. Perhaps Bracho wasn’t healthy, but if he was, it’s very telling that he didn’t play any of these six games not even a pinch-hit appearance. Bracho got the biggest  signing bonus in a 2017 International signing class. Healthy or not, his future is very much in question. A 1.7 million dollar signing bonus will afford you many chances, and he’s only 21 years old, but it was another tough season for him and he didn’t appear in the playoffs on top of it.  Even if he wasn’t healthy it doesn’t make things any better because in order to improve he needs to be available and be able to play.
  • It would have been a small subplot, but it would have been fun to see Petey Halpin and Pete Crow Armstrong match up in the series with the bat for the teams. Crow Armstrong went 5-15 with a homer in the series including  a big three-run homer in Game 2.  Halpin, meanwhile, went 2-14 with an RBI. He did line out to shortstop with two on, his best hit ball all series. The two California prep outfielders were drafted in 2020 and were compared skill-set wise by many scouts.
  • Greg Dicenzo’s quote about how the two lineups are built differently  seem to mirror the Cleveland organization right now. He said the Captains line up had to scrap and claw to manufacture runs while the Cubs relied on three run home runs. That seems to be the style Cleveland has going throughout the organization. Three was not going to be enough against the Cubs lineup although the pitching staff gave up three home runs in the deciding game.
  • We’ve learned a lot about DiCenzo now in his two seasons managing Lake County.  He said numerous times throughout the season that players gave him a hard time for all the hard work they had to do in the early afternoon before games.  But by the end of the season, a lot of the work paid off. The Captains sent numerous players up to Double-A this season, and others improve while still playing in Lake County.  Results do not always reflect progress, but seeing the results play out tangibly after asking players to put in rigorous work should pay off in some cache and respect. Players never stopped playing hard for DiCenzo in 2022. He also now has a track record with of several players from the 2021 team reaching Triple-A and the majors this season after playing for him last season.  Players certainly seem to respect him and play hard for him. Player development is a full organizational effort, but DiCenzo managing players work and development the last two seasons in Lake County shouldn’t go unnoticed. DiCenzo has a connected history with current Guardians director of Player Development Rob Cerfolio, whom DiCenzo tried to recruit when he was coaching at Holy Cross.  That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but how things have gone to last two years for him in Lake County and his connection there, it’s something at least worth keeping an eye on or in your back pocket for later.

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