Holders of the best record in pro baseball, Kane County looks to put the stamp on their historic season as they battle Lake County (Indians) for the Midwest League championship. The best-of-five series begins Wednesday night, Sept. 10, at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.
Game 2 will be played Thursday at Kane County and after a travel day on Friday, the final three games are scheduled at Lake County in Eastlake, Ohio, on Sept. 13-14-15 if necessary. Start time is 6 p.m. local for all five games.
The two teams met back in April (11-13) as the Cougars swept all three games at home 6-4, 9-8, 6-1.
Kane County’s pitching has been the story of 2014, leading the MWL with a 2.85 team ERA and also finished first in hits allowed and a 1.17 WHIP.
Cougars ace Jen-Ho Tseng gets the ball on Wednesday night, his first appearance against the Captains. The 19-year-old right-hander made 17 starts in his first pro season, going 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 105 innings. The Taiwanese native got the Cougars’ playoff run started with a win over Cedar Rapids on Sept. 3, allowing two runs on two hits over six innings. Tseng's bread-and-butter is his ability to command all three pitches, including a tailing fastball in the low 90s.
Hard-throwing right-hander Duane Underwood (6-4, 2.50 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Game 2 on Thursday night. The 6-foot-2, 20-year-old has had a breakout season for the Cougars, showing improved command and maturity. Allowing only 7.6 H/9, the Georgia native made 21 starts in his first full-season and led all starters with a 7.5 K/9.
In Game 3, the Cougars will send the Midwest League WHIP leader (1.00) to the mound—21-year-old Daury Torrez (11-7, 2.74 ERA). Pitching in his first full season, the 6-foot-3 right-hander tossed 131 innings and sported a .226 BAA. Paul Blackburn (9-4, 3.23 ERA) will start Game 4 if necessary and Ben Wells (4-0, 2.23 ERA) will go in Game 5.
Tyler Ihrig (3-1, 2.30 ERA), the Cubs 23rd round pick in 2013, will work in long relief, and has already recored a win and a save in the playoffs. Francisco Carrillo, a 24-year-old from Venezuelan, has two saves in the playoffs, and will be used to close out the Captains. Other bullpen options that have seen playoff action include right-hander Zak Hermans, Michael Heesch, James Pugliese and Jasvir Rakkar.
Despite all the accolades for the pitching staff, Kane County was second in the MWL with a .261 average and are hitting .254 in the playoffs. 1B Jacob Rogers (.268/.304/.381, 16 HR, 67 RBI), SS Carlos Penalver (.211/.263/.270), CF Trey Martin (.247/.297/.337) and LF Shawon Dunston (.268/.304/.381) have been the mainstays of the 2014 campaign. C Cael Brockmeyer (.297/.366/.461, 8 HR, 43 RBI) has been behind the plate for all four playoff games.
The Cougars have gotten a boost from some late additions to the roster as third-round pick Mark Zagunis (.280/.419/.440, 14 G) and 2B Chesney Young (.324/.348/.419, 27 G) have played well since their arrival. The Captains pitching staff will also have to deal with OF Yasiel Balaguert (.252/.291/.366, 7 HR, 53 RBI), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.250/.300/.426, 6 HR 37 RBI) and OF Jeffrey Baez (.236/.299/.491, 6 HR, 31 G).
The Captains are not the same team the Cougars faced back in April as the Indians two # 1 draft picks from the last two seasons have joined the squad—outfielders Clint Frazier (2013) and Bradley Zimmer (2014). Zimmer was the Cubs 23rd round pick in 2011 but went to the University of San Francisco instead of turning pro. Frazier hit .266/.349/.411 with 13 homers and 50 RBI in 120 games and is bating .438 in the playoffs. Zimmer played in the New York-Penn League after the draft (.304/.401/.464, 45 G, 4 HR, 30 RBI) and joined the Captains for the final three games of the regular season. The left-handed hitting outfielder is batting .375 in the playoffs.
The two top picks, coupled with slugging first baseman Nellie Rodriguez (.268/.349/.482 22 HR, 88 RBI) give the Captains a formidable line-up. Winners of the Eastern Division second half and 4-0 in the post-season, the Captains sport a 1.50 ERA in their four playoff games and have won 21 of their last 28 games.
Mitch Brown (8-8, 3.31 ERA) is expected to get the ball in Game 1, leading Lake County in innings pitched (138.2). The 20-year-old Minnesota native was the Indians second-round pick out of high school in 2012. Jordan Milbrath (3-12, 3.95 ERA), Anderson Polanco (3-0, 1.95 ERA) and Luis Lugo (10-9, 4.92 ERA) round out the starting rotation for the playoffs.
This marks the 14th playoff appearance in the 24-year history of the Cougars, the first trip to the postseason since 2011 and the first league championship series appearance since 2006. The Cougars won the Midwest League Championship in 2001 as the team featured present-day Major League stars such as Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez.
This season’s team, led by Midwest League Manager of the Year Mark Johnson, won 91 games during the regular season, which leads both Major League and Minor League Baseball, while setting a franchise record for most regular season wins. The Cougars clinched the Western Division first half championship in June with a 45-25 first half record and won the second half division championship with a 46-24 mark. Kane County also set a franchise best with 13 consecutive wins, 2.85 team ERA and 54-17 home record this season.
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