AZL Cubs End Season with 24-Hour Marathon

The AZL Mariners took advantage of eight walks, one HBP, and four errors, to sail past the AZL Cubs 3-1 in Arizona League semi-final round playoff action at Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ, a game that began Monday night and finished 24 hours later on Tuesday night.    

With the loss, the AZL Cubs are eliminated from the AZL playoffs.
The Cubs took the early lead 1-0 against Mariners RHSP Jio Orozco in the bottom of the 2nd inning on Monday night, when Carlos Jimenez singled, advanced a base on an Andruw Monasterio single, and then raced home from 2nd after Mariners second-baseman Julius Gaines dropped a throw from the shortstop that should been an easy inning-ending 6-4 FC.

Meanwhile, Dylan Cease was cruising, retiring the first six men he faced (5-3, F-9, K, F-8, K, L-4) on just 25 pitches. But then the Mariners tied the game 1-1 in the top of the third when Cease had a sudden control lapse (which he has from time-to-time) that loaded the bases with nobody out (BB, 1B, BB, including two pitches to the first man he faced in the inning that went over the catcher's head and onto the screen behind home plate). But after throwing nine of his first 12 pitches in the 3rd inning out of the strike zone, Cease gathered himself and was able to induce a 6-4-3 DP (runner scored from 3rd) and an F-8 to get out of the jam. 

The Cubs had several chances to score over the next seven innings, but were unable to generate a hit (or even just a fly ball or a ground out) when they needed one.  

With one out in the bottom of the 4th inning and the score still tied 1-1, Carlos Jimenez lifted a bloop single over ther second-baseman's head into right field, and then Kevonte Mitchell popped a fly ball that sailed over the rightfielder's head and off the right field fence for a double just as a 50 MPH+ gust of wind hit the park as a Monsoon storm arrived. The storm then proceeded to whack Riverview Park full-force, eventually resulting in the umpires declaring the contest a suspended game following a 90-minute delay. The field was a lake at this point and a steady drizzle continued for a while longer, so there was really no choice but to go home and try it again on Tuesday.  

And so the ground crew spent most of Tuesday preparing the Sloan Park field, and the game was re-started at 5 PM (MST), 21 hours after it was first delayed. (The AZL Royals-AZL White Sox suspended semi-final game had to be moved from Papago Park to Surprise on Tuesday due to damage sustained at Papago from an apparent microburst during Monday night's storm).  

So the Mariners took the field, as Carlos Jimenez took his place on third base and Kevonte Mitchell returned to 2nd base to re-start the game. Andruw Momasterio was presented with runners at 2nd & 3rd and just one out, with the infield playing back and conceding the run, but the 18-year old Venezuelan shortstop struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch and Tyler Payne popped out to the catcher to end the threat and leave the game tied.

The Mariner bullpen went crazy when reliever Matt Walker got out the 4th inning jam unscathed (the few fans attending AZL games don't say anything, so it is up to the two bullpens and the two benches to to provide the noise), and the M's offense pieced together a run in the top of the 5th (their first at bat of the day) on two walks, a single, and a E-3 RBI, taking a 2-1 lead.

RHP Nick Niedert (Seattle Mariners 2015 2nd round draft pick - Peachtree HS - Suwanee, GA) entered the game in the bottom of the 5th and the Cubs immediately loaded the bases with no outs on an E-5, a FC, and walk, but Jose Paniagua lined a rocket back at Neidert that the young right-hander turned into a miracle double play (catching baserunner Robert Garcia asleep at 3rd base) to get two outs on one pitch, before inducing Chris Pieters to loft a fly ball to the warning track in CF (one batter too late, as it turned out) to end the inning and keep the game deadlocked.

Neidert then got on a roll and retired 11 in a row, while the Mariners were adding an insurance run in the top of the 7th thanks to three inopportune Cub errors and a sacrifice fly.

But the Cubs weren't quite done yet, getting the tying run on base with no outs in the bottom of the 9th on a Carlos Jimenez lead-off infield single and a Kevonte Mitchell four-pitch walk. Closer Art Warren relieved Neidert, and Andruw Monasterio laid-down a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt that moved the runners into scoring position. But pinch-hitter Roberto Caro struck out swinging and Robert Garcia grounded out 4-3 to end the game with a whimper, sending the Mariners home to Peoria to face the White Sox in Wednesday night's AZL Championship game.           

Although they did not advance to the league Championship Game, the AZL Cubs had a fine year, finishing with the second-best overall record in the 14-team league (the AZL Royals had the best overall record, but they got eliminated in the semi-final round, too). AZL Cubs pitchers allowed the fewest runs in the league, and AZL Cubs batters were 2nd in the league in hitting, third in OBP, and 4th in SLG, while also scoring the fourth-most runs. 

21-year old switch-hitting Dominican OF Robert Garcia was the heart & soul of the 2015 AZL Cubs, hitting a cool 341/409/445 with 17 SB (and lots of bunt singles) in 47 games. Garcia finished 3rd in the AZL in hitting, 6th in OBP, hits, and stolen bases, and 10th in SLG and runs scored. 1B Jose Paniagua finished tied for 10th in the league in home runs.

Although Garcia certainly had the better year, the 2015 AZL Cubs best position player prospect was actually 3B Wladimir Galindo (358/400/526 in 19 games), but the 18-year old Venezuelan ended up on the 60-day DL in July with left wrist inflammation that had also caused him to miss most of Extended Spring Training.  
On the pitching side, RHSP Jesus Camargo (ex-Mexico City Red Devils) was 3rd in the AZL in WHIP and 5th in strikeouts. Camargo features one of the best change-ups I have seen from an 19-year old pitcher since I can't remember when, and in fact it's so good that AZL Cubs pitching coach Ron Villone had to constantly remind Camargo to throw other pitches (like maybe his fastball), because otherwise Camargo probably would have thrown nothing but the change-up. 

As is the case with the position players, the AZL Cubs best pitching prospect wasn't the pitcher who had the best year (Jesus Camargo), but rather was 19-year old RHP Dylan Cease (Cubs 2014 6th round draft pick - Milton HS - Milton, GA). The Cubs gave Cease "first-round money" to sign in June 2014, and then he underwent an elbow UCL transplant ("Tommy John Surgery") a short-time later in July, and so he did not make his pro debut until this season. (The Cubs knew about the elbow injury and the pending TJS when they drafted him),. But Cease has made a remarkable recovery, consistently working his fastball at 95-97 MPH and occasionally touching 98-100 going all the way back to his first "live" BP and "sim" games in Extended Spring Training, and while he seemed to be somewhat reluctant to throw his curve and change-up in AZL games, he did throw both pitches quite a bit during his Extended Spring Training outings, and so he clearly does have a legitimate three-pitch repertoire.  

Here is the abridged box score from tonight's game (AZL Cubs players only)

1. Robert Garcia, RF: 0-5 (K, 4-3, E-5, 5-3, 4-3) 
2. D. J. Wilson, CF: 1-4 (1B, 3-1, FC, 1-3) 
3. Carlos Sepulveda, 2B: 0-3 (4-3, 4-3, BB, 4-3)
4. Jose Paniagua, 1B: 0-4 (K, P-4, L-1 DP, 1-3)
5. Chris Pieters, DH: 0-4 (5-3, 3-1, F-8, P-4)
6. Carlos Jimenez, 3B: 3-4 (1B, 1B, 6-3, 1B, R)
7. Kevonte Mitchell, LF: 1-3 (P-3, 2B, P-4, BB)
8. Andruw Monasterio, SS: 1-3 (1B, K, 6-3, 3-4 SH)
9a. Tyler Payne, C: 0-3 (FC, P-2, L-9) 
9b. Roberto Caro, PH: 0-1 (K) 

1. Dylan Cease: 3.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 2 K, 1 GIDP, 2/4 GO/FO, 41 pitches (21 strikes)
2. Carlos Rodriguez: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GO/FO, 17 pitches (10 strikes) 
3. Heath Dwyer: 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R (1 ER), 3 BB, 2 K, 3/0 GO/FO, 39 pitches (21 strikes) 
4. Tanner Griggs: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K, 2/4 GO/FO, 18 pitches (13 strikes) 
5. Jared Cheek: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP, 0/1 GO/FO, 26 pitches (13 strikes) 

1. 1B Jose Paniagua: E-3 (fielding error allowed batter to reach base safely) 
2. RF Robert Garcia: E-9 (fielding error on line drive single allowed batter to advance to 2nd base) 
3. 3B Carlos Jimenez: E-5 (missed catch on attempted FC allowed runner to advance from 2nd to 3rd) 
4. P Tanner Griggs: E-1 (two-base throwing error on attempted pick-off at 1st base allowed runner to advance to 3rd) 

Tyler Payne: 1-3 CS 

Robert Garcia - doubled-off third base on line-drive to pitcher 


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