I'm back. Did you miss me?
My very capable colleagues Victoria Jacobsen and Elizabeth Wyman have covered the TinCaps' games the last nights while I was in Chicago at Big Ten Football Media Days. Tonight I'm back in the saddle, set to bring you the goings-on in Fort Wayne's series-opener against another Western Division opponent, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a Minnesota Twins affiliate.
This three-game series at Parkview Field will be the fourth in a row for the TinCaps against a Western opponent before they return to Eastern Division play Wednesday with a three-game series against divsion-leading Bowling Green. The Kernels are no pushover, themselves, boasting a 55-42 overall record and a 16-11 mark in the second half this season. That's a far cry from the 5-22 tally Fort Wayne's previous opponent, the Peoria Chiefs have racked up since the All-Star Break. Strangely, the Kernels have been mediocre at home in the second half (7-8), but stellar on the road (9-3). The TinCaps will try to complete a successful homestand with a series victory over those road warriors.
To get the series started, Fort Wayne will send 19-year-old right-hander Efrain Contreras to the mound. Contreras has been solid for the TinCaps for most of the season and he'll face a Cedar Rapids team that relies in large measure on walks to offset its .228 batting average, which ranks second-worst in the league. If Contreras can avoid giving up free passes, as he's done most of the season (he's issued just 20 walks in 72 innings this season), he should have a successful start. The Kernels will try to work at-bats and the 5-foot-10 righty will have to do his best to attack and keep his pitch count down. He's struggled with that a bit recently and hasn't worked more than five innings in a game since June 9. The TinCaps' bullpen is a little thin after its huge 12-11 comeback victory Thursday, so a long start from Contreras would be appreciated.
The Kernels will counter with 20-year-old right-hander Kai-Wei Teng, a Taiwanese pitcher who is in his second season in the Twins organization. He's been very effective in rookie ball (in 2018) and in the Midwest League. In 40 innings in A-ball in 2019, he's posted a sparkling 1.58 ERA while striking out nearly a batter per inning and giving up only one home run. That homer is the only one he's served up in 82 2/3 innings as a minor-league pitcher.
The TinCaps are trying to climb back into contention in the Eastern Division and that will be a long haul from where they are right now: last place. They need to take advantage of this homestand and they got off to a good start with a series win over Peoria. The challenge gets more difficult now, as the Kernels are plenty comfortable playing away from home.