The TinCaps struggled through the first three games of their series against in-state rival South Bend, dropping all three and getting no-hit in Thursday's 3-0 loss, the first time Fort Wayne has been no-hit at home in the history of Parkview Field.
The last two games have seen the TinCaps bounce back from the no-hitter about as well as could possibly be expected, winning Friday and Saturday to give themselves a chance to split the series with a victory this afternoon in the series finale. Saturday's win came by a final score of 6-3, a wild game that featured a pair of ejections (TinCaps hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and South Bend manager Michael Ryan) and two controversial home run calls: an apparent Justin Lopez homer that was ruled a double and an apparent Yorman Rodriguez double that was ruled a home run. The game also included another strong Fort Wayne starting pitching performance, with Moises Lugo going six strong innings and giving up only two hits.
The TinCaps have had five straight terrific starts in this series and left-hander Connor Lehmann will try to make it 6 for 6 when he takes the mound this afternoon. Lehmann started Tuesday, his third start with Fort Wayne after getting called up from Low-A Lake Elsinore, and his line looks relatively pedestrian – 4 2/3 innings, three runs, five hits, four strikeouts – but he pitched much better than that, mixing his low-90s fastball (that looks faster than it is because Lehmann stands 6-foot-7) with a mid-70s curveball that was breaking sharply most of the night. He fell victim to a couple of defensive miscues by the TinCaps, a rarity in this series, which has featured some overall outstanding defense from Fort Wayne. Lehmann, who turns 25 today, will face a South Bend lineup that has been held in check in the early innings this series, scoring only one total run before the fifth inning in the first five games of the set.
The Cubs will counter Lehmann with former TinCap Anderson Espinoza, the 23-year-old right-hander who was traded from the Padres organization to Chicago in exchange for MLB outfielder Jake Marisnick prior to the trade deadline two weeks ago. Espinoza started the series-opener on Tuesday and had a start that the TinCaps would have recognized well: a season-high 3 1/3 innings (he never went past three with Fort Wayne), five strikeouts, three walks and two hits (including a Tirso Ornelas home run). He was dominant at times and wild at others and the TinCaps were able to push across a pair of runs, two of the three runs they would score in the first 28 innings of the series.
Fort Wayne also might have to deal with Matteo Bocchi, who made a piggyback start behind Espinoza on Tuesday and pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring 16 of the final 18 hitters he faced and giving up only one hit. TinCaps infielder Ethan Skender, who managed the only hit against Bocchi (on a bunt), said the 25-year-old right-hander has some funk to his delivery.
"He's good," Skender said. "He mixes four different pitches really well, he comes from a different arm angle, so he's really good. His off-speed is really good."
The TinCap lineup has put together some good at-bats the last two games after managing only seven hits in the first three games of the series. Having Rodriguez back after a stint at Triple-A to somewhat fill the void left by slugger Agustin Ruiz, who was promoted to Double-A San Antonio earlier this week, has helped and Skender has stayed hot – he's riding a 14-game on-base streak, during which he is hitting .326 with a .967 OPS.
A win today would also give the TinCaps a season-series victory over South Bend, as they are currently 9-8 against the Cubs in the first 17 meetings.