With just six games left in the first half of the 2019 Midwest League season the Great Lakes Loons (40-21) have added to its first place lead in the eastern conference standings with a four-game sweep of the South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs) following an 8-3 victory in the series finale at Dow Diamond in Midland, MI tonight.
Loons skipper John Shoemaker takes pride in having a group of players who have put pressure on opposing pitchers with plate discipline, waiting for the most opportune pitches to hit, and it's paying off with a chance to finish the first half in first place.
“Most of the season we've grinded out at-bats and forced pitchers to really work to get through the lineup,” Shoemaker said after the win tonight. “We took a lot of base on balls today. I think one inning we took four (in a row) and scored a run. So, we've got to give a lot of credit to the ball players who are doing their homework on what the pitchers have been throwing them; we might swing at some bad pitches once in awhile, but most of the time we force the pitchers to to be in the strike zone.”
The Cubs drew first blood early when shortstop Andy Weber ripped a 1-out single then scored on an RBI-single off the bat of South Bend right fielder Jonathan Sierra for a 1-0 Cubs lead in the top of the first inning.
The Loons answered with a big third when Miguel Vargas, Hunter Feduccia, and Jacob Amaya loaded the bases with three consecutive walks and first baseman Dillon Paulson followed with the fourth straight walk, scoring Vargas to tie the game at 1-run apiece, before former CMU star Dan Robinson roped a 2-RBI single to score Feduccia and Amaya to make it 3-1, while Paulson eventually scored from third base on a wild pitch for a 4-1 Great Lakes lead in the bottom of the third inning.
Amaya, who finished 2 for 3 with 1-RBI, 2-walks, and 1-run scored tonight, agrees with Shoemaker that the difference in this Loons team's offensive output is directly due in part to the collective research the team has done on opposing pitchers throughout the year.
“I think it's about the way we prepare before every game, we have a sheet put up for us and the hitting coach gets us ready,” Amaya said. “It pretty much say's what (the opposing pitcher) is throwing, whether it's how fast he's throwing, what kind of break he has, or if it's a change up, curve ball, slider, and where he is most likely to throw the ball.”
Great Lakes would add another run in the fourth when Loons second baseman Leonel Valera led off the inning with a single then was driven in on an RBI-double off the bat of Amaya for a 5-1 Great Lakes lead after four innings.
South Bend managed to battle back in the sixth when first baseman Tyler Durna reached on a 2-out single then was driven in on a double by Sierra, before Cubs third baseman Christopher Morel ripped an RBI-single to score Sierra, cutting the Great Lakes lead to 5-3 in the top of the sixth inning.
Great Lakes added a couple more runs in the bottom of the sixth when Vargas doubled to score Valera, prior to Vargas scoring from third on a wild pitch for a 7-3 lead through six, before Valera drove in Loons left fielder Chris Roller with an RBI-single to make it an 8-3 game in the bottom of the seventh.
Loons starter Jose Martinez (4-1, 3.25 ERA) earned his fourth win of the season after allowing 3-runs on 5-hits and 2-walks, with 6-strikeouts through five innings, while closer Zach Willeman (SV1) picked up his first save of the year, striking out 6 of his last 10 batters faced (7-total K's) on 1-hit and 1-walk through 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
The Loons will head out for a 3-game road series against the Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians) Tue-Thur, before returning to finish out the first half of the season with three straight home games against the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds) Fri-Sun back here at Dow Diamond this weekend.
Video of the Loons celebrating a 4 game series sweep of the South Bend Cubs tonight at Dow Diamond: