The South Bend Cubs were 8-2 in their last 10 games when they came to Parkview Field on Monday, but the TinCaps cooled them off significantly with a 9-1 win in the series-opener. Fort Wayne has some momentum with three wins in the last four games and can keep that going tonight with another matchup on a cold, cloudy day downtown.
The TinCaps will try to clinch a series split with 19-year-old right-hander Efrain Contreras on the mound. Contreras has struggled a bit of late, with three sub-par starts in his last four outings. He hasn't struck out more than six hitters in any of his last three starts, though his walk numbers have similarly dropped in that span. It's possible he's made an effort to pitch to contact a little bit more, or it could just be a small-sample-size quirk. Either way, Contreras' goal tonight can be to pitch deeper into the game than he has so far. All seven of his starts have gone exactly four or five innings, a remarkably consistent run, but not one that leaves a mark as a workhorse. Contreras is technically the No. 2 starter in the Fort Wayne rotation and the TinCaps would probably like to get some more innings out of him. Fortunately, thanks to a Ramon Perez piggyback outing Monday and a rainout Sunday, the bullpen is rested and ready to go.
The Cubs will counter with 22-year-old right-hander Cam Sanders, whose 2-1 record and 2.45 ERA belie a pitcher who has been mediocre at best this season. Sanders has walked 21 and struck out 21 in 33 innings and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP, a stat that uses the same scale as ERA but tries to strip out defensive impact from the equation) is a poor 5.02. If the TinCaps are patient at the plate and swing at good pitches, as they have in recent games, they can make some noise against Sanders in the early innings.
That Fort Wayne offense has been terrific lately, led by Xavier Edwards, Tucupita Marcano, Grant Little and Justin Lopez. All four have been red-hot and they've helped the TinCaps club 22 extra-base hits in the last five games, a staggering number for a team that has built its offense around singles and walks most of the season. It's going to take a decent poke to get the ball out tonight in the cold, but Lopez has three home runs in the last five games and is looking for more.
The TinCaps are showing signs of the team they were at the beginning of the season and are in the middle of their most successful stretch in several weeks. The Cubs aren't a great road team and Fort Wayne has a chance to pile up some wins here this week.