If this were a major league championship series we would be referring to last night as The Underwood Game, or maybe The Dunston Game. Game Two of the best of five Midwest League Championship Series ended last night with Kane County taking a 2-0 series lead thanks to this 6-0 win.
Duane Underwood led the way with one of the best games of his career. The twenty year old right hander struck out 8 over 6 no-hit innings while allowing 5 walks. Tyler Ihrig allowed 2 hits and struck out 4 more over the final 3 innings to seal the win.
At the plate, Shawon Dunston had a standout game. He scored half the Cougars’ runs as a result of a 2 for 3 game that included a walk and another pair of stolen bases. Dunston now has 7 steals in the playoffs alone to go with his .448 OBP in that same span (sample size alert).
Also having a great night was Mark Zagunis. The 2014 draftee was the DH in this game, and his double was the only extra base hit for Kane County. He finished the game 3 for 5 with his first steal of the playoffs.
Today is a travel day for Kane County. The series resumes on Saturday in Lake County with the Cubs affiliate just one win away from an unbeaten run through the Midwest League playoffs to a championship. Daury Torrez will take the mound on Saturday to try finish off the season.
And now for something completely different.
According to the Idaho Statesman, the Cubs are not renewing their Short-Season A affiliate relationship with the Boise Hawks. While it is possible the Cubs could sign up with a different team in the Northwest League, I suspect the Cubs will attempt to move their Short Season club a lot closer to Chicago.
The other Short Season Leagues are the New York – Penn League, which exists mainly in New York and New England, the Pioneer League, which is in the Rocky Mountain area, and the Appalachian League, which covers a fairly compact area in and around the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The Pioneer League and Appalachian League are technically “rookie” leagues, but are considered higher than, for example, the Arizona Rookie League.
I’m not sure the Cubs would have a strong preference between those leagues. The Appalachian League would put the Cubs Short Season team fairly near their Double A affiliate, but I don’t know how strong of a synergy that would actually be. Most likely the Cubs will be looking for a location that allows for easy travel back to Chicago and has good training facilities.
The possibility of the Cubs leaving Daytona and moving their High A franchise to a new city is also on the table, and this one is more interesting. While Cubs’ fans have come to associate the Florida State League with frequent rain outs, the rains are not as large of a factor statewide. For example, Fort Myers, on the southwest corner of the state, had just five home games postponed or cancelled by rain all season. Daytona, by comparison, had fifteen. The Cubs could possibly stay in the FSL and still move away from the eastern coastal areas where afternoon rains are fairly normal.
Alternatively, the Cubs could switch to an affiliate in the Carolina League or the California League. The Carolina League offers proximity to the Tennessee Smokies (which may not be of much real value to the Cubs) and is somewhat closer to Chicago. So long as they took an inland team, the Cubs would likely not have to worry about regular rains.
The California League seems like it wouldn’t be a candidate on first glance, but keep in mind that the Cubs have built new player development facilities in Mesa. Placing a minor league team near Mesa could make a lot of sense for the Cubs. Major league players rehabbing in Mesa would be a short trip away from deserts of Southern California where a number of teams in that league are located. The Cubs could see value in having an arrangement under which a player rehabbed in Mesa, moved to California for two or three games in High A, then moved up to Iowa for two or three games in Triple A, and then rejoined Chicago.
As with the Short Season decision, though, I expect the Cubs will make their final call based primarily on player development facilities and travel logistics.
And we may not have to wait long for that decision. The affiliate shuffle period is a short one, and it starts next week. We could know the home of the future Cubs’ affiliates in a matter of days.
As for Boise and Daytona, they are both guaranteed major league affiliates even if the Cubs leave. There is absolutely no chance that either team would shut down, be dropped from their league, or be forced to go independent. Fans in those cities have nothing to worry about.
If you are interested in seeing just how close the Cubs’ prospects might come to your town should they join any of these leagues, then take a look at this map.