The 2021 TinCaps season is nearing its conclusion. Four months to the week after Fort Wayne opened its season at home against West Michigan, it will face another team from Michigan, the Lansing Lugnuts, in its final home series of the season.
That set kicks off tonight at Parkview Field and the next six games will go a long way toward determining whether it is Fort Wayne or Lansing that finishes in the cellar of the High-A Central East Division – the teams enter today with identical 51-57 records, tied for fifth in the division. West Michigan is in fourth, two games clear of the TinCaps and Lugnuts with 12 games left in the regular season.
As it stands, the TinCaps have not lost a series to a team other than the Great Lakes Loons since dropping 4 of 6 to the Dayton Dragons in the middle of June. On the other hand, Fort Wayne also has not won a series at Parkview Field since the opening set of the season against the Whitecaps. Since then, the TinCaps have split seven of their eight home series and lost the other. They'll have to change that this week to draw in front of Lansing.
The good news for Fort Wayne is that it has four talented hitters in its lineup that will be playing their first full series with the TinCaps at Parkview Field. Robert Hassell III, the 2020 No. 8 overall pick and a top 75 prospect in all of baseball according to Fangraphs, is the headliner of the group, not only because of his prospect pedigree but also because he became only the third Fort Wayne player ever to hit three homers in a game during the TinCaps' road series against Great Lakes last week. But Hassell is not the only member of the recent group of Low-A call-ups that has gotten off to a hot start with Fort Wayne: infielder Euribiel Angeles has a hit in five of the six games he's played with the TinCaps, including a pair of three-hit performances, and he's scored seven runs in those six games. Catcher Brandon Valenzuela, meanwhile, has a .481 OBP in his first handful of games with Fort Wayne. The fourth member of the newcomer squad will be making his TinCaps debut tonight and that is left-fielder Angel Solarte. Solarte, the No. 39 prospect in the Padres system, hit .306 at Low-A Lake Elsinore and has outstanding speed.
That quartet will face Lansing right-hander Osvaldo Berrios, a 21-year-old who is making his fourth start with Lansing after his own late-season call-up from Low-A. Berrios has been a similar pitcher at both levels: not a lot of strikeouts, very few walks and an ability to pitch deep into games. The pitcher whom Fangraphs described as "a young, athletic righty with advanced command and a changeup" has a 2.65 ERA in three starts with the Lugnuts and has gone at least five innings in all three, including a pair of quality starts. The TinCaps have done damage all season with walks and they'll have to be patient against Berrios, who is going to nibble.
Fort Wayne will counter with another right-hander, 25-year-old Connor Lehmann, who is coming off a difficult start against the Loons. Lehmann gave up five runs in four innings in that outing, surrendering two home runs. He was also hit hard in his previous "start," which lasted only an inning because of rain; although he didn't give up any runs, two of the three outs he recorded were vicious line drives. Prior to that, Lehmann had been very good, using his fastball at 92 mph and a stellar curveball to keep hitters off balance, but that combination hasn't quite been there in recent games. He'll try to bounce back against a Lansing lineup that is 11th in the 12-team league in runs and OPS.
Lehmann had his last start rained out at Parkview Field and there's no guarantee the same won't happen tonight. There is some rain in the forecast after first pitch, so this one could be a race to play five innings.