An impressive late season surge that included an offensive outburst in the first round of the playoffs ended Monday as the Daytona Cubs lost in the Florida State League Championship to Fort Myers. The Miracle beat the D-Cubs three games to one with a 4-2 victory Monday to claim the championship.
The Daytona Cubs entered the season with a lot of expectations. Their roster contained the core of a team that went to the 2012 Northwest League Championship, including several players named to Top 20 prospect lists and the second round pick of the 2013 draft. But the D-Cubs struggled out of the gate as high profile players OF Albert Almora, INF Jeimer Candelario, and INF Dan Vogelbach all got off to poor starts. The pitching staff was also dealt a blow as LHP Rob Zastryzny was injured by a line drive and missed several weeks. All of these factors snowballed on Daytona, and they closed the first half at 26-42, the second worst record in the FSL North Division.
Changes came early as RHP Zack Godley was brought in to stabilize the bullpen and Candelario was demoted for INF Jordan Hankins. A big trade with Oakland gave Daytona OF Billy McKinney, and promotions of OF Jacob Hannemann, 2014 first round pick C/OF Kyle Schwarber, and C/INF Ben Carhart improved the starting line-up. The pitching staff also received help in starters RHP Juan Carlos Paniagua and RHP Tyler Skulina, with LHP Gerardo Concepcion adding a quality arm to the bullpen.
With nearly half the roster turned over, Daytona practically reversed the record in the second half. The D-Cubs went 41-27 and won the second half title by three and a half games over the Tampa Yankees. Dan Vogelbach ended up tied for fifth in the league with 16 home runs and tied for third with 76 RBI. Rob Zastryzny ended up sixth in the league with 110 strikeouts.
It appeared the manager Dave Keller had grave concerns about his starting rotation as he headed into the playoffs. With the exception of Zastryzny, who went six innings in the playoff opener, Keller had a quick hook on all of his starters, yanking them at the first sign of trouble. The ploy seemed to work against divisional foe Dunedin, who Daytona beat 11-1 and 9-4 to advance to the championship round.
But against Fort Myers, a pitching staff that led the league in wins and was fourth in ERA held the Daytona offense at bay. Without run support, pitching for the D-Cubs withered under the pressure with not a single pitcher lasting longer than 4.2 innings. After dropping the first two games 5-1 and 5-0, Daytona hung on for a shaky 8-7 win Saturday to give them a ray of hope. A rainout on Sunday gave further hope that the D-Cubs could put things together at home on Monday. But it wasn’t meant to be as Zastryzny struggled and allowed two earned runs in 3.1 innings while the offense remained stuck in neutral. Usually reliable reliever Stephen Perakslis gave up a two-run home run to Miracle centerfielder Jason Kanzler in the 11th inning to provide Fort Myers with the winning margin.