Cubs Keep Heat on the A's in Arizona
Carlos Penalver and Shawon Dunston smacked back-to-back two-out doubles and Ben Carhart followed with an RBI single to plate the first two runs in the top of the 5th, and Jeffrey Baez poked an opposite-field RBI single to drive-in the final run in the 8th, leading the AZL Cubs to a 5-2 victory over the AZL Athletics in Arizona League action at Papago Park Baseball Complex Field #2 (AKA "Connie Mack Field" ) in Phoenix this evening.
The Cubs clinched the AZL Wild Card slot with their victory over the Giants last night, but with tonight's win, the Cubs closed to within one game of the AZL East Division leading A's (albeit two back in the "loss column"), and they still have a chance to win the East Division and finish with the league's best record (insuring "home field advantage" in the AZL Playoffs).
Home Field Advantage is especially important to the AZL Cubs, because they have the league's best home record in 2012.
Both the Cubs and the A's have only two games left, and so the Cubs need to win both of their games and hope that the A's lose both of their games.
Tonight's game was scoreless until two outs in the top of the 5th. Carlos Penalver lined a rope-double into the LF corner, and then Shawon Dunston Jr smoked an RBI double into the RF corner to score Penalver. Ben Carhart followed with a line-drive RBI single over a leaping A's shortstop to plate Dunston with the second run of the game (and the inning).
The A's narrowed the score to 2-1 with a run in the bottom of the 5th, but the Cubs took advantage of a throwing error by the A's catcher to score two unearned runs in the top of the 6th.
With two outs and Cub runners at 2nd & 3rd, Danny Lockhart swung & missed at a 1-2 pitch in the dirt. Lockhart then took off for 1st base, requiring the catcher to throw him out. But the throw overshot the 1st baseman by a mile and rolled into the RF corner, allowing both runners to score easily and Lockhart to advance all the way to 3rd base (standing up).
The Cubs scored their 5th and final run in the 8th.
Yasiel Balaguert reached base on a throwing error by the A's shortstop, advanced to 2nd base on a ground out, and then stole 3rd base. Jeffrey Baez (called up from DSL Cubs #1 last weekend) then shot a ground single past the 1st baseman and into RF, scoring Balaguert.
Cubs 2012 2nd round draft pick Duane Underwood (Pope HS - Marietta, GA) got the start for the Cubs, and the 18-year old RHP labored through 2.1 IP (47 pitches - 26 strikes, including a 25-pitch 2nd inning), allowing two hits (a single and a double) and two walks, plus a HBP.
Underwood was relieved by 22-year old Dominican Hombre Misterio Juan Carlos Paniagua with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 3rd, and the recently-signed right-hander promptly struck out the next two batters (both swinging) to escape the jam. Paniagua also worked a 1-2-3 4th and recorded another punch-out, retiring all five men he faced (20 pitches - 12 strikes). He absolutely tied the young A's hitters in knots.
Paniagua has nasty stuff, including a 94-97 MPH heater, a plus-change, and a hard-breaking slider. He was known as "Juan Callado" back when he signed a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, and although he spent two seasons pitching for the DSL Diamondbacks (2009-10), his contract was never officially approved by MLB (the contract was "pending" the entire time) and was eventually voided due to "fraudulent documentation." (BTW, players are no longer permitted to play in the DSL with a contract "pending").
Callado was suspended by MLB for one year, and then signed with the New York Yankees in 2011 (this time as "Juan Carlos Paniagua") for $1.1M, but the contract was voided again because his age could not be documented.
The Cubs signed Paniagua last month ($1.5M bonus) after they were satisfied that all of his papers were in order, and Paniagua received a work visa from the US INS almost immediately. His contract was approved by MLB about ten days ago.
Paniagua is not a big guy (6'1 175), but he has a "live" arm. He also is athletic and fairly polished (after all, he has been pitching professionally off-and-on since 2009), and so he could move quickly through the pipeline, especially in a Cubs system devoid of legitimate MLB-caliber starting pitcher prospects.
Because his prior contracts were never approved by MLB, Paniagua was designated by MLB as a "First Year Player" when he signed with the Cubs in July, meaning his $1.5M bonus will count against the Cubs 2012-13 International Signing Bonus Pool. On the other hand, because he was designated a "First-Year Player" by MLB he will not be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft until December 2015. (If Paniagua had not been designated a "First-Year Player" prior to signing with the Cubs, the contract signed with the Cubs would have been a so-called "second contract," and while the $1.5M bonus would not have counted against the Cubs 2012-13 International SBP, Paniagua would have been eligible for selection in the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft, and thus the Cubs probably would have felt the need to add him to the their 40-man roster immediately to protect their investment).
Most of the AZL Cubs have nicknames associated with the player's last name (Carlos Penalver is "Penny," Danny Lockhart is "Lock," Steve Perakslis is "Percolator," et al), but everybody calls Juan Carlos Paniagua "Juan," probably because nobody really knows for sure whether his last name actually is Paniagua.