There were no transactions in the system in advance of the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Wichita Wind Surge starting their league championship series on Tuesday.
Scheduled Day Off
The Saints got an extra day off on their schedule, as they begin the Final Stretch of games happening across the Triple-A level to end the season. They will play five games against the Iowa Cubs at home starting on Wednesday, and then five on the road against Toledo next week.
WIND SURGE WISDOM
Game 1: Wichita 5, NW Arkansas 7
The Wichita Wind Surge had to feel good about themselves heading into game one against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, with top prospect Jordan Balazovic lined up to start. It didn’t go as well as they hoped, but was a back and forth affair throughout with several lead changes and big plays on both sides.
Wichita had a two-out threat in the top of the first after singles from Roy Morales and Spencer Steer put runners on the corners, but Jermaine Palacios grounded out to keep them off the scoreboard in the opening frame. That changed in the second inning when Leobaldo Cabrera clubbed a home run to left field for a 1-0 lead.
Balazovic got two quick outs in the bottom of the frame, but the Naturals struck back with a single followed by a triple to tie the game at one.
In the third inning, it was a D.J. Burt homer that put the Wind Surge back out front, but another two-out rally from the Naturals brought in two runs of their own that made the score 3-2 after three innings.
The fourth inning was much of the same as the teams again traded single runs, with Wichita getting an RBI double from Cabrera in the top half before the Naturals chased Balazovic in the bottom half after a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases.
Melvi Acosta was summoned from the bullpen and issued a walk of his own that made the score 4-3 for Northwest Arkansas. The fifth inning was finally a scoreless frame on both sides, though the Wind Surge had a chance as Austin Martin doubled to lead off the inning, but he was stranded on third base. In the sixth inning, it was one swing of the bat from Palacios that again tied the game at four.
With two outs in the top of the seventh and Spencer Steer at-bat, a pivotal play was made that may have finally swung the momentum of the game one way. Steer laced a 2-1 pitch deep into the gap in left-center, but the Naturals left fielder tracked it down at full speed before crashing hard into the wall, likely saving a run. That same fielder, Brewer Hicklen, of course was up the next inning, and with that adrenaline still running through his veins, took Erik Manoah Jr. deep to center for a 5-4 lead. The home team added two insurance runs in the eighth for a 7-4 lead that would turn out to be enough for the Naturals to take game one.
Wichita threatened in the ninth with three singles that scored one run, but couldn’t get the big hit to bring them all the way back.
On the pitching front, Balazovic went 3 2/3 innings in the start, allowing four runs on six hits and four walks while picking up three strikeouts. Acosta went the next 1 1/3 innings, allowing no runs of his own on one hit and one walk. Kody Funderburk went 2/3 of an inning and allowed a hit and walk. Manoah Jr. was tagged with the loss by allowing the go-ahead home run in the seventh. He pitched one inning, allowed two hits, and struck out one. Evan Sisk and Adam Lau each recording two outs, with Sisk allowing two insurance runs on two hits while striking out one. Lau allowed one hit, walked two, and struck out one.
The Wind Surge got multiple hits on the night from Martin (2-for-4, 2B, BB), Morales (2-for-5, RBI), Palacios (2-for-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, K), and Cabrera (2-for-4, R, 2B, HR) and the team's three home runs on the night were not enough.
Wichita will look to even the series at one with Cole Sands taking the hill tomorrow before heading back home to the ICT to finish off the series.
Cedar Rapids 2, Quad Cities 1
The Kernels were able to fend off the teams on their heels to grab their league’s final playoff spot, and they sent a big reason why in Louie Varland to the mound in game one. He didn’t disappoint, though it looked shaky for a minute in the second inning.
After picking up a groundout for the first out of the frame, Varland allowed a double and the game’s first run on a single that followed. He then walked a batter and surrendered another single to load the bases before a mound visit was in order to get him back in rhythm. After that, he got a grounder to first that forced the runner out at home, then a pop out to escape that jam.
His lineup got that run back for him in the bottom of the inning, as consecutive two-out doubles from Jair Camargo and DaShawn Keirsey tied the game at one.
That mound visit was definitely what the doctor ordered, as Varland was locked in from then on.
He retired nine in a row from the third through the sixth inning, and gave up just two singles to bookend that streak. In all, he finished seven fantastic innings, tying his mark for longest outing of the season, and allowed just the one run on six total hits and one walk. He struck out four River Bandits in the outing and of his 98 pitches, 68 went for strikes (69.4%), along with getting 14 swinging strikes.
Varland was matched, however, by the pitching staff of Quad Cities. The game remained tied while he was on the mound. The Kernels were unable to cash in any of their scoring chances, including a bases-loaded opportunity in the sixth.
In the seventh inning, the Kernels struck out four times, but nonetheless had an opportunity as one of those K’s resulted in a wild pitch that allowed Edouard Julien to reach base. Another wild pitch moved him to second before the River Bandits played the percentages and intentionally walked Aaron Sabato to get the lefty-lefty matchup against Matt Wallner. It worked, as the pitcher got his fourth K of the inning and kept the game tied at 1-1.
In the top of the eighth, the Kernels went to reliever Osiris German, and he delivered a one-two-three inning to bring his team back into the dugout looking to finally break through.
Jair Camargo did just that, sending a two-out home run over the wall in right field to give the Kernels the lead.
With the lead in hand, Cedar Rapids called on one of the best relievers in the system this year in Zach Featherstone to close out the game. He allowed a one-out single but like he had all season, also racked up the strikeouts, getting three of them to pick up the save and take game one for the Kernels.
Camargo (2-for-3, 2 R, 2B, HR, RBI, BB, K) was the only batter in the lineup with multiple hits on the night while Sabato and Julien each reached base twice. They were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position compared to 2-for-4 for the River Bandits, but it was enough behind Varland.
It’s worth noting that the Kernels were just 7-17 against the River Bandits during the regular season, but that means nothing in a playoff series they now lead 1-0 with Sean Mooney taking the mound in game two tomorrow night.
TWINS DAILY MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Pitcher of the Day - Louie Varland, Cedar Rapids Kernels (7 IP, 6 H, ER, BB, 4 K)
Hitter of the Day - Jair Camargo, Cedar Rapids Kernels (2-for-3, 2 R, 2B, HR, RBI, BB, K)
#2 - Austin Martin (Wichita) - 2-for-4, 2B
#3 - Jordan Balazovic (Wichita) - 3.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
#12 - Matt Wallner (Cedar Rapids) - 0-for-4, 2 K
#16 - Brent Rooker (Minnesota) - 0-for-1 (pinch hit appearance)
#20 - Spencer Steer (Wichita) - 1-for-5, K
WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
Iowa @ St. Paul (7:05 PM CST) - RHP Derek Law (1-0, 2.66 ERA)
Wichita @ NW Arkansas (6:30 PM CST) - RHP Cole Sands (4-2, 2.46 ERA)
Quad Cities @ Cedar Rapids (6:35 PM CST) - RHP Sean Mooney (0-1, 6.23 ERA)
Please feel free to ask questions and discuss the playoff games from Tuesday!