Here we are, South Bend Cubs fans. It’s the final regular season home series of 2022. Even with normally-scheduled games at Four Winds Field coming to an end, the hope is that there will be more on the way.
The Cubs remain in 1st place in the Midwest League West Division with a five game lead on the Beloit Sky Carp. Right now, South Bend’s magic number is 8. Over the next week, if both the Cubs win and the Sky Carp lose on a particular day, the magic number will go down by two. This week, Beloit will host the Quad Cities River Bandits for a six-game series.
Obviously, clinching the division at home would be a great accomplishment. In 2019, every noteworthy victorious moment was done on the road. Clinching a playoff spot in Fort Wayne, beating Bowling Green in Kentucky, defeating Great Lakes in Michigan, and of course, finishing off the championship against Clinton in Iowa.
Let’s make some memories at home this week! The Cubs just got done with an important series versus the West Michigan Whitecaps, and South Bend did the Lake County Captains a favor, as West Michigan is now three games back in the East Division. Lake County is trying to meet Great Lakes in the first round, while South Bend is competing to match-up with Cedar Rapids in the opening battle of the postseason.
Players to watch on Lansing…
Max Muncy, INF: Yes, the Oakland A’s have drafted a pair of Max Muncy’s in their history. The first Muncy, selected in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, of course has been a star player for a number of years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The A’s released that Max Muncy after he underperformed in an A’s uniform, but has found his game in Los Angeles. This new Max Muncy is a brand new guy. No relation at all either. Lansing’s Max Muncy was the 1st round pick of the A’s just a year ago. As the number-25 overall pick, Muncy’s arrival into the A’s organization brought along a legitimate young infield prospect. Signed for 2.85 million dollars out of Thousand Oaks High School in California, Muncy has had a short stay in professional ball so far. While starting the year in Low-A Stockton, Muncy hit .230 but with 16 home runs and 51 RBI in 81 games. He then earned the call-up to Lansing, where he has homered only three times in 31 games, along with a .224 average. Muncy is only 20-years-old, so Oakland is challenging this young prospect with the promotion to High-A. MLB Pipeline has dished out comparisons to the likes of Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman for this guy. He should be interesting to keep an eye on this week.
Joey Estes, RHP: Another 20-year-old prospect catching the attention of many around the Oakland system is the young right-handed pitcher Joey Estes. It’s no secret that the A’s have been wheeling and dealing often with their sluggers in the last year, including Matt Chapman and Matt Olson getting dealt to the Blue Jays and Braves respectively. The big trade involving Olson to Atlanta sent a wealth prospects back to Oakland, including Estes. High-A is a major challenge to any Minor Leaguer, but especially those who are less than 21-years-old. Estes has been able to manage things well with a respectable 4.90 ERA in 18 starts with Lansing. What’s really impressive are his low walk numbers. He has only surrendered 29 free passes in 79 innings, and in that time has punched out 83. He’s also coming off his best start of the season, and maybe his pro career at Wisconsin on August 25. Estes held the Timber Rattlers at bay with six innings of scoreless baseball, one hit allowed, one walk, and six strikeouts. He has also been terrific in the month of August with batters hitting .189 in four starts this month.
Lazaro Armenteros, OF: What a wild ride it has been for Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros in the Oakland A’s organization. Armenteros defected from Cuba as a teenager, moved to the Dominican Republic, signed with the A’s for about $3 million dollars, and immediately became a top Oakland prospect at the top of everyone’s watch list. This will not be the first time that fans at Four Winds Field will see Armenteros, as back in 2018 he was a member of the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Since that point, Armenteros has gone down a winding road of highs and lows. With Beloit that season, he had a decent enough year and hit .277, but only with eight home runs. Many in the game that we spoke to thought that Lazarito would be the next Yoenis Cespedes type player for Oakland. Comparisons to Yasiel Puig were also tossed around. The power did not show up though in 2018. In 2019 with High-A Stockton, the average went down to .222, but he hit 17 bombs. He also struggled with High-A Lansing last year too, batting only .195 after scorching Low-A again at .431 in 15 games. Case and point, Armenteros has not been what Oakland envisioned to this point. He’s still only 23, but guys like Cespedes and Puig were doing big time stuff by this age. The pop is there, and so is the flashiness. This guy is a stud. But he must hit consistently to get to Oakland. He is no longer considered a top-30 A’s prospect by MLB Pipeline, so what does the future have in store? Lazarito has been better in 2022, with a .261 average and 10 home runs. In August, he is hitting .286, but has struck out 33 times in 63 at-bats this month.
Players to watch on South Bend…
Jordan Nwogu, OF: The honor of being the first ever South Bend Cub to homer three times in a game belongs to the former Michigan man Jordan Nwogu. In what was a career day for the 2020 Chicago Cubs 3rd round pick in Grand Rapids, Nwogu showed off some serious power and continues what has been a tremendous month of August with a .257 average this month with a team leading five home runs, plus an OPS of .929. Nwogu arrived in South Bend in April, was battling a nagging injury for a little while, but this is the best version of Nwogu we have seen in the Midwest League. His approach is really interesting to watch, as he has changed the hand positioning and arm movement of his batting stance numerous times this season. Almost like Joey Votto-esque or even like Cal Ripken Jr used to do. Nwogu has found a groove and he headlines a stacked South Bend outfield featuring the likes of Pete Crow-Armstrong, Owen Caissie, Yohendrick Pinango, Jonathan Sierra, and himself. If the Cubs are going to make a serious playoff run, that outfield may end up being a major reason why. They are all interchangeable from a positioning stand point, and each brings their own style to the table. Nwogu is also the only righty of that group, which gives Lance Rymel a lot of lineup options when writing the order everyday. .
Daniel Palencia, RHP: It’s probably a bold strategy to change your walk-up music to the Edwin Diaz crazed song ‘Narco’, but Daniel Palencia is the guy who can take that pressure and turn in lights out performances. Palencia has turned into one of the spark plugs in the South Bend rotation as a guy who has been here all year, and he can act almost as a role model for Richard Gallardo, Luke Little, and other former Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the current rotation. Palencia began this year trying to find consistent command, but once he found the perfect mix of his zinging fastball, nasty slider, and vanishing changeup, it was all systems go. Palencia is already a two-time winner of the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month since he was traded from the Oakland A’s to the Cubs in the Andrew Chafin deal. This month batters are hitting .184 against him and he has walked only six and struck out 21 in 14 innings pitched. Could he be in contention for his third monthly honor? And if he gets that, is he possibly in range to be the Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year? Palencia is set to pitch on Sunday night on Marquee Sports Network. By the way, he’ll also throw against his former organization in the A’s. You think he’ll have even more juice to that 100+ MPH fastball? Let’s find out. .
Pablo Aliendo, C: One of the most electrifying players on the South Bend Cubs roster is on an absolute terror. Heading into this series against Lansing, Pablo Aliendo is 10th in the Midwest League in batting average among qualified current players. With his average at .276, Aliendo has had a fabulous second half and is really becoming the heartbeat of this Cubs team. He’s laser focused nearly all the time, but when it comes to having fun, nobody has more it than Pablo. He’s involved in every celebration, each gatorade cooler dump, and everything else. Aliendo’s average in the month of August is also sitting at .304. If he plays well in the final days of the month, that would be a great way to end what has been a great 30 or so days for the Cubs catcher. Keep an eye out in this series as well for Aliendo behind the plate. He has always been composed and receives the ball extremely well, but lately it seems like he has an answer and a block for every pitch in the dirt no matter where it is. If South Bend wants to clinch this week, they’re going to have to pitch well first and foremost. With nearly every battery that Aliendo is a part of, you can count on the Cubs starters plus Aliendo or Casey Opitz to give the club a chance to win.
Tuesday, August 30 - 7:05 PM ET: LHP Luke Little vs RHP Grant Holman
Wednesday, August 31 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Porter Hodge vs RHP Christian Fernandez
Thursday, September 1 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Luis Devers vs RHP Joey Estes
Friday, September 2 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Kohl Franklin vs RHP Jake Walkinshaw
Saturday, September 3 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Richard Gallardo vs RHP Kyle Virbitsky
Sunday, September 4 - 7:05 PM ET: RHP Daniel Palencia vs LHP Jack Owen
Catch the entire six-game series in South Bend on Sports Radio 960 AM WSBT, online at wsbtradio.com, or on MiLB.com with Brendan King and Max Thoma on the call. Thursday and Sunday’s games are set to be aired live on Marquee Sports Network.