Last night was sure one of those nights that demand a Minor League Daily, let me tell you. Much love, Luke.
The Iowa and South Bend Cubs both clinched playoff appearances, and a Tennessee Smokies infielder pulled off the ultimate utility feat. Let’s do this thing Daily style.
Triple-A: Iowa Cubs
Iowa entered the night with their Magic Number at 1, and a weekend series against the second-place Memphis Redbirds. So long as Iowa avoided the sweep, they would be American Northern Division champs.
Iowa had some help, armed with six lineup members that have started a game for the Cubs this year. That Major League experience showed up in the first inning. Albert Almora led off for Iowa with a double to center field, and was followed with a Willson Contreras hit by pitch. With two outs, Mark Zagunis drew a walk, loading the bases for Robel Garcia. He fell down in the count 1-2 but the Memphis pitcher made a critical mistake: dude threw Robel a two-strike 91 mph fastball.
It was Robel’s 31st home run of the season, and Iowa had a lead they wouldn’t look back from. Iowa saw Alec Mills scratched in this one for Trevor Clifton (does not sound like an injury to Mills), who pitched four scoreless innings before giving way to a good bullpen effort from Duane Underwood, Brad Wieck, James Norwood and Dillon Maples.
Iowa now has three meaningless games left against Memphis to finish the regular season, before they head out to face the Round Rock Express in a best-of-5 series starting on September 4. It will be interesting to see which players the Chicago Cubs call-up right away on September 1, and who is asked to complete the Iowa playoffs before joining. It will be a mix.
Low-A: South Bend Cubs
South Bend’s night had a bit more drama, as they entered the evening with their Magic Number at two. To reach the playoffs, not only would they need a victory, but the Lansing Lugnuts would need to lose. The Cubs would win fueled behind a pair of triples.
In the fourth inning, it was Nelson Velazquez launching a triple to center field as he continues a big August. In his last 25 games, Velazquez is hitting .304/.363/.511, and now has an extra-base hit in seven of his last 13 games. Cam Sanders would continue his fantastic season as a South Bend starter, keeping the Fort Wayne TinCaps at two runs over five innings pitched.
With the game at 3-2 in the seventh, the Cubs broke it open again. They would load the bases with a Fidel Mejia walk, Clayton Daniel single and Andy Weber hit by pitch. Then, 2019 21st-round pick Nelson Maldonado cleared the bases with a triple to right field. Maldonado is hitting .300/.336/.375 in his 30 games with South Bend, filling into Tyler Durna’s departed contact-specialist role perfectly.
South Bend would close out the win and then watch as Lansing lost in extra innings. This locks up the second half wild card spot for South Bend, and they will begin a best-of-3 series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods next week.
— South Bend Cubs (@SBCubs) August 31, 2019
Double-A: Tennessee Smokies
This game had a funny look early, when Tennessee announced their box score, with one player at a very funny position.
Only 4 games left! Don't miss out on these nine trying to make it two straight wins
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) August 30, 2019
Machin had never started a game professionally at catcher! Had the Cubs been planning a secret conversion there? No. Instead, Machin would see just one inning there, allowing a stolen base and watching his team fall down in a 2-0 deficit.
But manager Jimmy Gonzalez continued executing his plan, and in the second inning, moved Machin to third base. Then, to shortstop and then second base and first base. Each inning, a new spot, as the Smokies other players had enough versatility to allow Machin’s hopping around. Machin saw two plays while in the infield.
In the sixth inning, Machin moved to the outfield for the first time all season. Two balls quickly found him, because baseball. He’d go from left to center to right, and in the eighth, be really tested for the first time. When a Mobile hitter singled to right, they tried to test Machin by extending the hit into a double. Machin threw him out, recording the first outfield assist of his career.
Vimael Machin was doing it all (almost)
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) August 31, 2019
While there was probably a plan to have Machin pitch the ninth if the game had got out of hand, it was instead 4-4 in the ninth. The Smokies would pull ahead as Tennessee snagged three two-out singles: Nico Hoerner, Gioskar Amaya and Jared Young all got the job done, with Hoerner coming around for the game-winning run.
It’s worth noting both Hoerner and Machin grabbed two hits in this one, as they’ve been the lifeblood of this Tennessee offense when they have been on the roster. Machin is hitting .293/.386/.403 for Tennessee this season, with 63 walks against just 57 strikeouts. He should be counted on to advance to Iowa next season and give the Cubs depth at every position. Hoerner, meanwhile, extended his on-base streak to 27 games, and now has multi-hit contests in five of his last six.
I’ve been calling for Nico to head to Iowa today to participate in the PCL playoffs, but we’ll have to see if the Cubs agree with that philosophy, especially with a lot of middle infield options already rostered in Des Moines.
High-A: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Not much to tell you from this one. The hero of the game was Delvin Zinn, who had three hits and two stolen bases, while filling in at right field for just the ninth time professionally. Miguel Amaya notched his 57th RBI on a sacrifice fly.
Javier Assad finished his very solid season with these numbers: 116.1 IP, 108 H, 3.87 ERA, 41 BB, 91 K. The tough Double-A test is coming next season.
Short-Season: Eugene Emeralds
This was a wild one, as Eugene entered the ninth down 3-0 and put together a game-tying rally. Josue Huma, up for a cup of coffee from the AZL, led off the inning with a single. He’d quickly score on a triple from 26th-round pick Jacob Olson, who would be knocked in on the next pitch with a Jonathan Soto single.
Then the fastest player in the system, Fernando Kelli, would go to work. Kelli came in to pinch run for Soto, and quickly stole second base. Then with a full count and two outs, Luis Vazquez hit a bouncing ball to second base. The first baseman count not make the catch, the ball bouncing a few feet away, and that was enough for Kelli to fly around and score.
Unfortunately the Emeralds couldn’t put together any offense even with the man-on-second extra-innings rules, and ultimately lost.
A note in this one was pitcher Chris Clarke started the game with four scoreless innings in what will be his final appearance of 2019. Clarke, the Cubs fourth-round pick from USC, was absolutely fantastic for the Ems: 23 IP, 20 H, 1.96 ERA, 4 BB, 26 K. Look for him to start next season in the South Bend rotation, but he could move quick.
Even with the loss, this was a big night for Eugene:
We broke an attendance record on Friday night (which, obviously, is AWESOME) but the Ems fell in extras after tying it in the ninth. Recap ⬇️ https://t.co/vVGh2pyQLG
— Eugene Emeralds (@EugeneEmeralds) August 31, 2019