Cougars win Game 1 of Midwest League finals

The Kane County Cougars beat the Lake County Captains 4-3 in the opening game of the Midwest League Championship Series, hanging onto an early lead through rain and excellent relief pitching from their opponent’s bullpen.

On paper, it seemed Wednesday’s game would be a pitchers duel between Cougars SP Jen-Ho Tseng and Captains SP Mitch Brown, but neither hurler had his best stuff. Both offenses struck early, with runs being scored in both halves of the first two innings. But from the 3rd inning on, pitching was the story.

Lake County relievers Caleb Hamrick and Robbie Aviles combined for six shutout innings in which they gave up three hits, no walks, and a wild pitch. Kane County relievers Ben Wells, Jasvir Rakkar and Francisco Carrillo gave up one hit, one walk, and two wild pitches in four scoreless innings after Tseng left the game.

Lake County Captains RHP Caleb Hamrick (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Lake County Captains RHP Caleb Hamrick (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Most of Kane County’s offense came from the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Shawon Dunston Jr. went 3-for-4 with two stolen bases and a run batted in. No. 2 hitter Mark Zagunis hit a two-run homer, and N0. 3 hitter Jeimer Candelario had two hits.

Shawon Dunston Jr. bats in the bottom of the 1st inning of Wednesday's game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Shawon Dunston Jr. bats in the bottom of the 1st inning of Wednesday’s game. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Bradley Zimmer had two hits for the Captains, and Claudio Bautista drove in two runs for them on a bases-loaded double.

Bradley Zimmer bats during the top half of the 1st inning Wednesday. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Bradley Zimmer bats during the top half of the 1st inning Wednesday. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be played Thursday evening at Kane County’s Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. The scheduled pitching matchup pits Cougars RHP Duane Underwood (6-4, 2.50 ERA) vs. Captains RHP Jordan Milbrath (3-12, 3.95 ERA).

I'll be there, live-tweeting updates as usual!

I’ll be there, live-tweeting updates as usual!

Side note: On Wednesday the Los Angeles Angels became the first MLB team to win 90 games this season. That’s still one win shy of the 91 victories amassed by the Cougars during their regular season, which ended 10 days ago. Kane County had the best record in Minor League Baseball this year.

LumberKings extend PDC with Mariners

The Clinton LumberKings and the Seattle Mariners announced Wednesday they extended their player development contract through the 2016 season.

The LumberKings have been affiliated with the Mariners since 2009. Clinton was affiliated with the Texas Rangers during the previous six years.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Clinton LumberKings, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League | Leave a comment

Schulz, Coulter honored for MWL performances

A pair of Midwest League players were honored Tuesday for their performances on the field.

Fort Wayne TinCaps OF Nick Schulz was named the Midwest League Player of the Month for August. He led the league in slugging percentage (.765) and on-base percentage (.472), was second in home runs (7) and extra-base hits (14), third in runs (20), and fourth in runs batted in (24).

Schulz batted .341 with 8 HR and 30 RBI in 49 regular-season games with the TinCaps.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers C/DH Clint Coulter was named the Milwaukee Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year. He batted .287 with 22 HR and 89 RBI in 126 games during the regular season. He finished in a three-way tie for the most home runs in the Midwest League, and tied Wisconsin’s single-season record for homers (set by Khris Davis in 2010 and matched by Victor Roache in 2013). He finished second in the league in RBI, trailing only TinCaps 2B Fernando Perez, who drove in 95 runs.

(Click here to read my post about the 2014 Midwest League leaders in the 10 major batting and pitching categories.)

Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, Gord Ash, told reporters Tuesday that a position change is likely for Coulter, with first base, third base and left field being considered.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers C/DH Clint Coulter (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers C/DH Clint Coulter (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Additionally, the Brewers announced that RHP Jimmy Nelson — a former Timber Rattler — is their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He went 10-2 with a 1.46 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 111 IP for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds this year. He also made 11 starts for the big-league club and was moved to the Brewers bullpen on Tuesday.

Nelson went 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 146 IP for the 2011 Timber Rattlers.

Then-Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SP Jimmy Nelson warms up before a game in 2011. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Then-Wisconsin Timber Rattlers SP Jimmy Nelson warms up before a game in 2011. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Ex-Kernel’s homer helps win FSL title

Minnesota Twins OF prospect Jason Kanzler hit a go-ahead home run Monday that ended up giving the High-A Fort Myers Miracle an 11th-inning win and the Florida State League championship.

Kanzler began the 2014 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, batting .286 with 9 HR, 48 RBI and 15 SB in 84 games. He finished the regular season by batting .267 with 3 HR, 11 RBI and 12 SB in 27 games with the Miracle.

Minnesota Twins prospect Jason Kanzler played for the Cedar Rapids Kernels earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Minnesota Twins prospect Jason Kanzler played for the Cedar Rapids Kernels earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Another 100-RBI season for Cabrera

On Sunday, Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera reached the 100-RBI plateau for the 11th consecutive season, becoming only the fifth player to achieve that feat. Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Alex Rodriguez drove in 100 runs in 13 consecutive seasons; Al Simmons did it in 11 straight years.

Cabrera batted .268 with 7 HR and 66 RBI in 110 games with the 2001 Kane County Cougars. That team, which also included future major-leaguers Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Willingham, won Kane County’s only Midwest League championship.

This year’s Cougars squad will attempt to win the franchise’s second championship in their series against the Lake County Captains this week. Click here to read my preview of that series, including the projected starting pitchers for both teams.

Earlier this month, the Cougars announced plans for improvements to their ballpark. You can read about them here.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Florida State League, Fort Myers Miracle, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, Nashville Sounds, Pacific Coast League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

2014 Midwest League Championship Series preview

Which of these coffee mugs will I use next week? The answer depends on which team wins the Midwest League Championship Series!

Which of these coffee mugs will I use next week? It depends on which team wins the MWL Championship Series!

The 2014 Midwest League Championship Series begins Wednesday evening with the Kane County Cougars hosting the Lake County Captains at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cougars are the favorite to win after finishing the season with the best record in Minor League Baseball (91-49). The Chicago Cubs affiliate finished with the best record in the Midwest League in both halves of the season (45-25 in first half, 46-24 in second half).

Regardless of Kane County’s impressive record, the Captains can’t be counted out. After finishing the first half with the worst record in the 16-team Midwest League (27-43), Lake County turned things around and finished with a 38-31 record in the second half (65-74 overall). Including the playoffs, the Cleveland Indians affiliate has won 21 of its last 28 games.

Both teams are 4-0 in the playoffs. The Cougars swept the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Captains swept the South Bend Silver Hawks and the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

During the regular season, the Cougars swept the Captains in their three-game series at Kane County from April 11-13. Of course, that was five months ago when the Captains weren’t playing as well as they are now.

Captains SP Caleb Hamrick pitches to Cougars SS Carlos Penalver during a game at Kane County's Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in April. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Captains SP Caleb Hamrick pitches to Cougars SS Carlos Penalver during a game at Kane County’s Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in April. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The best-of-five championship series starts at Kane County, with games on Wednesday and Thursday. The series moves to Lake County on Saturday, with additional games played on Sunday and Monday if necessary. All games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT.

Here are the projected starting pitchers for the championship series, with their regular-season MWL statistics in parentheses:

Game 1 (at Kane County): Cougars RHP Jen-Ho-Tseng (6-1, 2.40 ERA, 85 Ks in 105 IP) vs. Captains RHP Mitch Brown (8-8, 3.31 ERA, 127 Ks in 138.2 IP)

Game 2 (at Kane County): Cougars RHP Duane Underwood (6-4, 2.50 ERA, 84 Ks in 100.2 IP) vs. Captains RHP Jordan Milbrath (3-12, 3.95 ERA, 77 Ks in 125.1 IP)

Game 3 (at Lake County): Captains LHP Anderson Polanco (3-0, 1.95 ERA, 62 Ks in 50.2 IP) vs. Cougars RHP Daury Torrez (11-7, 2.74 ERA, 81 Ks in 131.1 IP)

Game 4 (at Lake County, if necessary): Captains LHP Luis Lugo (10-9, 4.92 ERA, 146 Ks in 126.1 IP) vs. Cougars RHP Paul Blackburn (9-4, 3.23 ERA, 75 Ks in 117 IP)

Game 5 (at Lake County, if necessary): Captains pitcher TBD vs. Cougars RHP Ben Wells (4-0, 2.23 ERA, 20 Ks in 36.1 IP)

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Cougars, Captains advance to Midwest League finals

The Kane County Cougars and the Lake County Captains will play each other in the Midwest League Championship Series beginning Wednesday.

The MWLCS opponents were decided Sunday night when the Cougars beat the Cedar Rapids Kernels 4-2 and the Captains beat the Fort Wayne TinCaps 5-4. Both games were exciting.

The game at Kane County began as a pitchers duel but eventually became a battle of bats. Cougars SP Paul Blackburn (5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) and Kernels SP John Curtiss (5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 2 K) kept their opponents at bay before both offenses got to the bullpens.

Kane County Cougars SP Paul Blackburn

Kane County Cougars SP Paul Blackburn

The Cougars scored first in the bottom of the 6th inning, on a solo homer by Jacob Rogers.

Kane County Cougars 1B Jacob Rogers

Kane County Cougars 1B Jacob Rogers

The Kernels responded with two runs of their own in the top of the 7th inning, taking a 2-1 lead on a two-run homer by Chad Christensen.

Cedar Rapids Kernels 1B Chad Christensen

Cedar Rapids Kernels 1B Chad Christensen

The Cougars took back the lead on a two-run homer by Carlos Penalver, who hit only one roundtripper in 478 at-bats during the regular season.

Kane County Cougars SS Carlos Penalver

Kane County Cougars SS Carlos Penalver

Kane County scored an insurance run on an RBI single by Chesny Young in the bottom of the 8th inning, giving them a 4-2 lead that held.

At Lake County’s Classic Park, the Captains took a 3-1 lead on a three-run homer by Nellie Rodriguez in the bottom of the 4th inning and scored a fourth run in the bottom of the 6th inning before the TinCaps tied the game 4-4 in the top of the 8th. The Captains retook the lead in the bottom half of the 8th when Rodriguez scored on an error, giving them a 5-4 lead that held.

Lake County Captains 1B Nellie Rodriguez

Lake County Captains 1B Nellie Rodriguez

Captains SP Dace Kime didn’t get the win, but he pitched well, giving up one run on four hits, one walk and a wild pitch in 5.1 IP. He struck out six batters.

Lake County Captains SP Dace Kime

Lake County Captains SP Dace Kime

The best-of-five championship series starts at Kane County, with games on Wednesday and Thursday. The series moves to Lake County on Saturday, with additional games played on Sunday and Monday if necessary. All games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT.

*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League | Leave a comment

MWL playoffs recap: Captains, Cougars start second round with wins

Lake County Captains SP Luis Lugo pitches at Classic Park earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz)

Lake County Captains SP Luis Lugo pitches at Classic Park earlier this year. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The second round of the Midwest League playoffs began Saturday with the Lake County Captains and the Kane County Cougars taking early advantages in their respective best-of-three series.

In Game 1 of the Eastern Division Championship Series, the Captains beat the TinCaps 5-1 at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field. WP Luis Lugo struck out nine batters in five innings. He gave up one unearned run, three hits, one walk, and two wild pitches.

Official attendance was announced at 1,940, which brings the total attendance (regular season and postseason) at Parkview Field in 2014 to 411,028, a new record for the six-year-old ballpark.

In Game 1 of the Western Division Championship Series, the Cougars beat the Kernels 5-2 at Cedar Rapids’ Veterans Memorial Stadium. RF Mark Zagunis led the offense for Kane County with a RBI triple and a solo home run.

Pujols reaches career milestones

Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols reached a pair of career milestones during his team’s 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.

First he scored his 1,500th career run, on his 517th career home run. Later in the game he collected the 2,500th hit of his major-league career.

Pujols began his professional career with the Peoria Chiefs, batting .324 with 17 HR and 84 RBI in 109 games. He was named the Midwest League’s Most Valuable Player that season, and also was co-winner of the MWL Prospect of the Year award.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs | Leave a comment

MWL playoffs recap: Kernels, Tincaps advance to second round

The Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Fort Wayne TinCaps won their respective games Friday to advance to the second round of the Midwest League playoffs. Both teams won on the road.

The Kernels beat the Burlington Bees 4-2 in a game that was tied for most of its duration. Each team scored two runs in the 3rd inning, and the score remained 2-2 until Cedar Rapids plated a pair of runs in the top of the 8th inning.

Bees SP Harrison Cooney gave up two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out nine batters in six innings. Kernels SP Stephen Gonsalves gave up two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out six batters in five innings.

The Kernels will host the Kane County Cougars in the first game of the Western Division Championship Series on Saturday night.

At West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark, the TinCaps and the Whitecaps had to wait through a lengthy rain delay before they could play their game. Once they started, Fort Wayne took control early and hung on to beat West Michigan 6-2.

Ronnie Richardson drove in two runs for the TinCaps. Fort Wayne’s starting pitcher, righty Kyle Lloyd, gave up only one run on three hits and no walks while striking out seven batters in five innings.

The TinCaps will host the Lake County Captains in the first game of the Eastern Division Championship Series on Saturday.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment

MWL playoffs recap: Cougars, Captains advance; Kernels, Whitecaps stay alive

On the second day of the Midwest League playoffs, the Kane County Cougars and the Lake County Captains won their respective series while the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the West Michigan Whitecaps stayed alive in theirs.

The Cougars were helped by another home run from rehabbing Cubs infielder Mike Olt, but they still needed 13 innings to beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The winning hit came off the bat of Jeimer Candelario, who went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks, and two RBI.

Kane County Cougars 3B Jeimer Candelario (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Kane County Cougars 3B Jeimer Candelario (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The Cougars advance to the Western Division Championship Series, which begins Saturday at the home park of whichever team wins Friday’s game in Burlington. On Thursday the Kernels evened their series with the Bees by winning Game 2 by the score of 2-1. The winning hit was a home run by Logan Wade in the top of the 8th inning.

Logan Wade playing second base for Cedar Rapids earlier this year in Burlington. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Logan Wade playing second base for Cedar Rapids earlier this year in Burlington. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

In South Bend, the Captains beat the Silver Hawks 7-2 to advance to the Eastern Division Championship Series. Lake County took a 2-1 lead on back-to-back homers by Nellie Rodriguez and Mike Papi in the top of the 4th inning, and then scored five more runs in the top of the 5th inning.

The Captains will play against the winner of Friday’s contest at West Michigan. The Whitecaps evened their series against the TinCaps with a 2-1 win Thursday, striking out 15 Fort Wayne batters in the process. Whitecaps SP Kevin Ziomek led the way with nine strikeouts in five innings.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Midwest League, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment