Young Cubs Pitching in for Chiefs

PEORIA -- The Peoria Chiefs have posted a 41-24 record in the second half of the season en route to clinching the Midwest League Western Division title. The hitting has been phenomenal in the second half, but the contribution from the pitching staff has been equally impressive -- especially in the month of August, when the Chiefs shut out opponents four times.

Hitting will win games, but pitching will win championships. The Peoria Chiefs know this as they only allowed opponents to score more than five runs against them three times in the month of August.

The pitching staff hit their stride at the right time in August, propelling the Chiefs through a grueling month when they won 22 of 30 games.

One of the reasons for the success, Chiefs pitching coach Rich Bombard explains, is better command from his pitching staff.

"What we've done lately is cut down on our walks," Bombard said. "Before, we were walking way too many people and that's what cost us. They're pitching a little bit more aggressive now, which they have to do because they have good stuff. Our defense is good, so if we can cut down on the walks, we have a chance to be in every game because our hitting has been there all year."

The pitching staff is now ranked in the middle of the Midwest League in walks with 462 on the year, but the Chiefs are ranked first in fewest runs allowed by only allowing 528 runners to cross the plate.

The rotation and bullpen have also given up the fewest number of hits with 1,040 (Lansing has been hit the most with 1,335), which has allowed the Chiefs to keep their team ERA down to 3.57 (third best in the league), two hundredths of a point behind Fort Wayne.

Chiefs manager Marty Pevey understands his staff is pitching well, but also recognizes they are still young men pitching early in their careers.

"They've all improved," Pevey stated. "But it's still a day to day thing. One day they will be lights out and another they can't throw a strike with a fastball."

"They've all impressed me. (Chris) Huseby has done a great job. (Ryan) Butcher has kept a one-something ERA all year. (Chris) Archer has a big league arm. Now he has to learn to command his fastball and throw to both sides of the plate, stay down in the zone, and concentrate on the little things."

Archer (6-4) has been impressive on the mound at times for the Chiefs and shaky at other times. Control of his pitches has been an ongoing issue, but he possesses an electric repertoire of pitches to get out of jams.

In 26 games, the right-hander has struck out 113 batters (11th in the MWL) and walked 65. Archer owns a 2.86 ERA, but one jaw-dropping note is in 104 innings pitched, he has still yet to give up a home run.

Perhaps the most important addition to the starting rotation has been Austin Bibens-Dirkx. Released by the Mariners organization last season, Bibens-Dirkx (7-1) signed with the Chiefs in the middle of the season and has done nothing but win.

In his last three starts, he is 3-0 with 13 strikeouts, three walks, and only one earned run allowed in 19.2 innings of work, lowering his ERA to 1.66. Bibens-Dirkx has also been the "road warrior" of the staff, pitching a record of 4-0 and a 1.47 ERA away from O'Brien Field.

One of the hottest pitchers in the starting rotation of late has been Aaron Shafer (10-8). In his last three starts, he has been flawless, posting a 3-0 record with a 0.50 ERA and only issuing three walks. Shafer is most comfortable at home, owning a 8-3 record over the season as well as a stifling 1.82 ERA.

"(Shafer has) been effective in spotting his fastballs as well as throwing an effective curveball and changeup," Pevey said. "He does a great job of holding runners on base. He is usually 1.2 (seconds) to the plate. Most guys on the staff are 1.3 and above. Shafer helps himself in controlling the running game."

Out of the bullpen, the combination of Buchter and Huseby has been flat out nasty. The lefty Buchter (3-0) has pitched in 37 games, owning right handed batters and keeping them to a .138 average. In eight games in August, he allowed zero runs in 14.1 innings, lowering his season ERA to a miniscule 1.23.

When the Chiefs turn the ball over to the big right-hander Huseby in the ninth inning, the game can pretty much be put in the books. Huseby (4-5) has saved 18 games this season while striking out 71 batters and only walking 10 in 53 innings pitched. He, too, holds a sub-2.00 ERA with a 1.70 mark.

Their Chiefs' first playoff game will be in Peoria Wednesday, September 9 against Cedar Rapids.

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