Independence Day and baseball go well together. It's the national pastime, after all. Before you fire up the grills and watch the sky light up on Wednesday night, sports editor Matt Daniels takes you around the horn with four items:
Go, Cubs, go
The Cubs are still the best bet to reach the postseason this October (sorry, Cardinals fans, and White Sox supporters, well, 2020 is almost here) of the three teams local fans follow the most. If the Cubs keep producing series wins like Joe Maddon's club did this past weekend against the Twins, a playoff berth is inevitable. No one dominant team stands out in the NL, so maybe another World Series run is in store for the Cubs. If they do make it again, get ready to face the Yankees, Red Sox or Astros, easily the three best teams through the first half.
The one and only
Illinois baseball alums don't dot MLB rosters this season. Only one, in fact, is on a 40-man roster at the moment. Tanner Roark is in his sixth season with the Nationals, but it hasn't been smooth sailing out in Washington, D.C., this season. The 31-year-old right-hander is 3-9 on the season with a 4.10 earned run average in 16 starts. Tyler Jay is one to watch, though. The former Illini left-handed closer is healthy again and pitching well out of the bullpen for the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Twins' Class AA affiliate. Keep it up, and maybe a September call-up happens.
Cobras come alive
Two former Parkland products are on a MLB rosters at the moment. Most notable is Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. The two-time Gold Glove winner missed two months this season with a torn ligament in his right thumb, but has been a fixture in the Rays' lineup the last two weeks. Meanwhile, reliever Dan Winkler (2-0, 2.41 ERA, one save) — is faring well out of the bullpen for the Braves. He kept the Cardinals hitless for an inning Sunday, too. Needless to say, the Champaign junior college knows how to produce big-league-caliber players.
Dans faring well
The Danville Dans are in contention in the West Division of the Prospect League with a 15-13 record. Manager Eric Coleman has relied on Gavin Dugas (LSU), with Dugas' .390 average second in the league. Kansas left-hander Steven Washilewski (4-0, 1.82 earned run average) is the Dans' ace at the halfway point of the season, a season that continues tonight at Quincy and back at historic Danville Stadium on Tuesday night (6:35 p.m. against Terre Haute) and Wednesday (6:30 p.m. against Lafayette with fireworks after the game).