The TinCaps have not lost a series at home since July 4-5. That streak is on the line tonight as Fort Wayne faces the South Bend Cubs in the rubber match of a three-game set. It's the final matchup of the season between the in-state rivals and a victory would give the TinCaps six home series wins in their last seven (they split a four-game series against Bowling Green from Aug. 17-21). It would also give them a season-series win over the Cubs, as Fort Wayne enters tonight 9-8 against South Bend this season.
The biggest stakes still concern the playoff picture, however. The Cubs dropped a game with the TinCaps' 9-4 win Thursday and their magic number to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Division remains stuck at two with four games to go. That means that if South Bend wins tonight and the Lansing Lugnuts lose, there will be a celebration on Parkview Field at the TinCaps' expense. That should motivation enough, even as Fort Wayne is already eliminated from the postseason race.
To try to keep the Cubs from clinching tonight, the TinCaps will send 19-year-old left-hander Ryan Weathers to the mound for his final start of the season. The 2018 No. 7 overall pick had a terrific start to the season before getting hurt and missing three weeks. Since his return he's been a good-but-not great pitcher most of the time. His velocity has been ticking up steadily and we'll see if he lets it all hang out here in his final outing of the season. This season likely hasn't gone the way he envisioned it, but it's clear why he was one of the highest-ranked pitching prospects in the organization when the season began. With no next start to save himself for, maybe tonight we'll see the Ryan Weathers we saw in April. Weathers is coming off an appearance in which he gave up three runs in four innings while striking out five. He's whiffed 11 over his last two starts, his best strikeout total in a two-start span since April 16-22, before he got hurt. The lefty gave up one run in five innings against the Cubs earlier this month.
The Cubs will counter with 22-year-old right-hander Cam Sanders, who comes in 7-4 with a 2.91 ERA. He's been one of the team's hottest pitchers in the second half, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in eight starts since June 30. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Sanders been remarkably consistent in that stretch, pitching exactly five innings each time and giving up no more than three hits or two runs in any of those outings. He has walked three in each of his last four starts, however, so the TinCaps may be able to get to him if they're patient. He's coming off a start against division-leading Bowling Green in which he tied a season-high with seven strikeouts, so this is a confident pitcher.
The TinCaps and Cubs have played some hard-fought series against each other this season and the head-to-head has been evenly matched all year. South Bend is a motivated team, trying to celebrate on its in-state rival's home field. The TinCaps can prevent that by accomplishing one simple task: win tonight.