116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s 131 down and at least two to go.
The Midwest League’s regular season concluded Sunday afternoon with South Bend dropping the Cedar Rapids Kernels, 9-2, at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Other than guys getting one last chance to improve their individual statistics, it was a meaningless game between two teams that will see each other again this week.
The Western Division finals begin Tuesday night in Indiana, with the best-of-3 series shifting back to Cedar Rapids for Game 2 Thursday night. A deciding Game 3 would be Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
“I thought we played well this week,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “Everybody got into a game. We won the first three games of the (five-game) series and got a little confidence back. I think we’re ready to go for Tuesday.”
These teams just happened to finish with identical 73-58 regular-season records. The Kernels won the division’s first-half championship but fell victim to a lot of player turnover (promotions, trades, etc.) in the second half, going 30-35.
Saturday’s scheduled penultimate regular-season game was canceled by rain, so Cedar Rapids didn’t quite get all 132 in.
“Our pitching was really strong most of the time, gave us a chance to win ballgames this season,” Dinkelman said. “The offense has done a nice job, too. We’ve had some ups and downs, but you’re going to have that in 132 games. The guys have competed well. When you have good pitching, you always have a chance to win ballgames.”
The Kernels led the 12-team Midwest League in earned run average at 3.66. That was despite having an entirely new starting rotation by season’s end from opening day.
Going into the playoffs, Cedar Rapids has just 11 players on the active roster of 29 who were here back in early April. Ten have been here from start to finish.
The transactions continued the final week, as first baseman/third baseman Seth Gray was promoted to Double-A Wichita after former Kernel Aaron Sabato suffered a season-ending broken thumb. Infielder-outfielder Alerick Soularie, who’d been here from Game 1 on, left the team to return home to Texas and was placed on the suspended list.
“He was just having some issues, and felt like he needed to get away from it for a little bit. That’s about it,” Dinkelman said.
Dinkelman said he felt third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand was his team’s MVP from a position-player standpoint. Encarnacion-Strand hit over .300 until getting promoted to Double-A in mid-July and eventually traded to the Cincinnati Reds organization in a deal that brought big-league pitcher Tyler Mahle to the parent Minnesota Twins.
David Festa, who went 9-4 with a 2.43 earned run average in 21 appearances, 18 starts, was C.R.’s pitching MVP, Dinkelman felt. It’d be an upset if Festa wasn’t the Game 1 playoff starter Tuesday, though that has yet to be disclosed.
This is the ninth year the Twins have been partners with Cedar Rapids, and the Kernels have been a playoff qualifier all nine of those years. This team may not have been the most talented, prospect-laden of those nine teams, but it won.
All season long.
“We’ve had a lot of guys give good performances, a lot of guys who have moved on to Double-A and stuff. Happy for those guys,” Dinkelman said. “Part of it here in the minor leagues is helping guys get better and move on to the next level and hopefully to the big leagues at some point.
“The coaching staff, I know, has been happy with the guys and the effort they’ve put forward.”
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