While the Major League team has struggled through one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory, two Cubs teams haven’t been terrible this season. The AAA Iowa Cubs and AA Tennessee Smokies are both winning a lot of games, and both should be headed to the playoffs.
The Iowa Cubs, managed by Cubs’ legend Ryne Sandberg, are currently 81-60, in first place in their division. If the I-Cubs win two of their next three games, they are going to the playoffs, with the chance to win the Pacific Coast League Title.
The Smokies have been a dominant team all season, and despite losing a lot of talent to promotion, haven’t stopped winning. They won the first half division title with a 42-27 record, they are already second half division champs as well with a 41-26 record.
Each team’s manager, Sandberg at Iowa, and Bill Dancy at Tennessee, won their league’s manager of the year award. Sandberg has taken a team of AAAA hitters, raw starting pitchers, and MLB rejected relievers and made them winners. Dancy has had plenty of talent, but lost a lot of it as well, Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner started the season on his team, those are not players that are easy to replace.
Iowa’s best player this season is third baseman Marquez Smith, a 25 year old defensive whiz having the best hitting season of his life. His .991 OPS leads the team. He also had 17 homers, 25 doubles, and a .396 OBP. He’s obviously blocked by Aramis Ramirez right now, but he certainly presents a good injury replacement option for next season, something that the Cubs haven’t had in a few years.
An outfield rotation that includes Jason Dubois (yes, he still plays baseball), Brad Snyder, Sam Fuld, and Brian LaHair helps carry the Iowa offense as well. Dubois, Snyder, and LaHair all have above .900 OPS, and have combined to hit 67 home runs. None of those guys will be starting on a playoff bound MLB team, but there is no doubt they are really good AAA hitters.
Everybody who follows the Cubs knows all the members of the Iowa pitching staff, because they have all tried to pitch out of the Cubs’ bullpen this season. Jeff Stevens is the closer, he is setup by Jeff Gray and Brian Schlitter. Jeff Samardzija is one of the team’s best starting pitchers, top prospect Jay Jackson is in the rotation as well.
Tennessee has some really good hitters as well, a few of them are real prospects too. Obviously Starlin Castro is long gone, Robinson Chirinos was the team’s best hitter after that, but he was recently promoted to AAA. 2009 first round pick Brett Jackson has shown a ton of promise all season for the Smokies, he currently has a .823 OPS with six homers and 11 doubles in 58 games. Second baseman Tony Thomas has a .828 OPS with 10 homers and 28 doubles this season, he could have a nice MLB future.
The pitching staff for the Smokies has been solid as well, despite enduring quite a bit of promotion. Chris Carpenter was the team’s best starting pitcher, but he was recently moved to Iowa. The Cubs’ two highest ceiling starting prospects (outside of Cashner and Jackson) were added to the Smokies rotation recently. Chris Archer has dominated AA the same as he dominated High-A, with a 1.85 ERA. Trey McNutt hasn’t found success quite yet (5.74 ERA) but he’s only made three starts.
Hopefully both the I-Cubs and the Smokies can continue their success in the playoffs. Since the real Cubs can’t provide us any sort of excitement this September, it is nice to know somebody in the organization can. Plus, if the I-Cubs win the PCL title, it will add another line to Ryne Sandberg’s resume, which should make a lot of Cubs fans happy.