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The Journal Gazette

Monday, August 12, 2019 4:30 pm

Pregame: TinCaps (20-29) vs. South Bend (27-22)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – The TinCaps have dropped the first two games of their three-game series against the South Bend Cubs, scoring just three runs combined and losing a lead in the late innings with two of their best relievers on the mound Sunday.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it anymore: today is a must-win game for Fort Wayne if it wants to even pretend it is in the playoff race for the next couple of weeks. A loss tonight would leave the TinCaps eight games out of the final playoff spot with just 20 games remaining, only three of which are against the team they're chasing (a three-game series at Parkview Field from Aug. 28-30). That's the type of deficit from which teams don't recover, unless they're chasing the 2007 New York Mets. In short, the TinCaps need a win tonight in the worst way.

That means that tonight's starter, 20-year-old right-hander Edwuin Bencomo, will need to put together one of the best outings of his pro career. This will only be the fourth time he's started in four seasons as a pro and each of the previous three came in 2018. That is not to say that Bencomo is unaccustomed to working multiple innings: he had two relief appearances of at least five innings in 2018 and pitched four innings in his most recent appearance, against West Michigan on Aug. 6. With the TinCaps this season, he's compiled a 3.38 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings over nine relief appearances. He is a strikeout pitcher and it will be a welcome sight for Fort Wayne to earn some punchouts after striking out just one hitter all day Sunday. The TinCaps were undone by some two-strike pitches that stayed too close to the zone in that 8-3 defeat and Bencomo will have to do a better job of putting hitters away.

The Cubs will counter with 22-year-old right-hander Cam Sanders, whose 3.03 ERA this season makes him seem much better than he's actually been this season. Sanders doesn't strike out many and walks nearly five hitters per nine innings. His K/BB rate of 1.51 ranks 52nd out of 54 pitchers who have thrown at least 80 innings in the Midwest League this season. He's gotten by with some terrific luck, as opponents have batted an abysmal .227 on balls in play against him. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that has the same scale as ERA) is 4.78 and the difference between his ERA and FIP is the second-largest among those 80-inning pitchers. All of this is to say the TinCaps will have opportunities to score runs tonight. They'll try to once again put pressure on the South Bend defense with aggressive baserunning and come through with runners in scoring position after going 1 for 7 in those situations Sunday.

As badly as the first two games of this series have gone for Fort Wayne, there is still time to salvage this important six-game road trip. Winning today and then taking the series in Lansing would be not a good outcome, but an acceptable one against two solid teams on the road. First things first, the TinCaps have to win today. They've battled in this series, and the focus is still there. It just needs to stick around for nine innings today.