The Western Division of the Appalachian League came ready to fight this season against the Cardinals, the current back to back champions.
The Cardinals battled against the Greeneville Astros for their first three matchups at home, yet they came away with only one win. The team then traveled then to face the Bluefield Blue Jays and split the first two of three contests.
In last year's opening week, the Cardinals landed in first place in the Western Division of the Appalachian League. This year, they are in third place out of the five teams in their division with a 3-3 record.
Of the Eastern and Western Division combined, Johnson City is sixth of ten teams with a batting average of .244 and has an ERA of 5.16, ranking seventh, according to the MILB official website.
Week at a Glance
Game 1, Johnson City 4, Greeneville 2
Cardinals Park seated 1,007 fans for the opening night win, 4-2, against the Astros. The 2011 World Series Trophy was brought out for everyone to see and a local country band, Daisi Rain, also boosted the atmosphere with music.
Until the fifth inning, fans were left waiting for one of the teams to score. Astros pitcher Adrian Houser threw away the ball, allowing Cardinals outfielder C.J. McElroy Jr. to score the first run of the game and season. McElroy also had first hit for the team.
Cardinals designated hitter Michael Knox hit a home run in the sixth, giving the Cards another run. Soon after that, Lance Jeffries Jr. shot a line drive into left field, giving Ildemaro Vargas plenty of time to score.
The Astros quickly recovered with two runs in the top of the eighth by D'Andre Tony and Brian Blasik but were unable to frighten the Cardinals. In the bottom of the eighth, Astros shortstop James Howick made an error, allowing Ronald Castillo of the Cardinals to score another run, leaving the score 4-2 for the top of the ninth.
Game 2, Johnson City 4, Greeneville 9
The Astros routed the Cardinals in the second game, 9-4.
Once again, the fans had to wait a few innings before seeing either team score, but once the Cardinals took the lead in the third, the excitement began. Sam Tuivailala (recently changed from third baseman to pitcher) hit the first home run and score of the night.
Cardinals starting pitcher Victor De Leon proved shaken by the middle of the game, giving up a run to tie the score. In the sixth inning, lefty Steve Sabatino came out of the bullpen to relieve DeLeon and allowed two runs.
Game 3, Johnson City 3, Greeneville 10
The Cardinals were bombarded again in the third encounter against the Astros, losing 10-3.
Bryan Martinez started Thursday night. He gave up seven runs on four hits and walked two players during his three innings on the mound. By the bottom of the fourth, Greeneville had an 8-0 lead.
When Johnson City finally awoke from their offensive slumber, scoring two in the fourth and one in the fifth, it was too late. In this opening series the team saw 4,800 fans excited to see the champions compete but those fans watched the Cardinals lose two of their first three games of the season.
Game 4, Johnson City 4 at Bluefield 2
On Friday, the Cardinals traveled to Bowen Field to see if they could redeem themselves against the Bluefield Blue Jays in a three-game series. Same as in the first game of their series against the Astros, the Cardinals came out on top against the Blue Jays, 4-2.
Game 5, Johnson City 4 at Bluefield 5
In the second game of the series, the Cardinals battled only to lose, 5-4. Cody Springer allowed the walkoff run in the ninth after the Cards had tied it in the eighth. Lance Jefferies was the only Cardinal with multiple hits, with two.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, on Sunday they came back in the final game of the series to win, 4-0. Carson Kelly grounded a single allowing Ronald Castillo to score in the top of the second, starting the scoring for the Cardinals. Gerwuins Velazco sacrificed home Dutch Deol to bring in another run for Johnson City and soon after that Cesar Valera hit a double to score Kelly for a quick 3-0 lead.
In the fourth, Michael Knox hit his second home run of the week, giving Johnson City their last run of the night. But that was enough with their defensive skill to hold off the Jays for almost the entire game until the last inning, when the Jays scored twice against Ronnie Shaban.
This win gave the Cardinals their third win of six games for the season's opening week.
There were two changes to the roster this week for the Cardinals.
Third baseman Sam Tuivailala was told he was being moved to pitcher, and Cody Springer was assigned to the team on Wednesday as another right-handed relief pitcher.
Tuivailala, of San Mateo, CA was a third round draft pick in 2010 as a shortstop. Last season he was moved to third base and now to pitcher. According to his Twitter on Thursday, he has already been practicing in the bullpen. "First Bullpen Today #Successful" was posted for all his followers to see.
When asked on Twitter why he was switched he said, "They see me as a pitcher and it gives me a chance to move up faster …. I love pitching, so it's cool with me." Tuivailala responded to me via Twitter that he hopes to pitch against Burlington this week.
Right after being placed on the team, Springer sprang into action on the field. However, his first outing for the Cardinals unfortunately ended in defeat.
There have been no recorded injuries that are changing lineups at this point in the season.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Juan Bautista leads in pitching this week with one win against the Astros, and Thomas Lee followed with a win and a loss against the Blue Jays. Mike Aldrete won Sunday. Bryan Martinez and recently assigned Cody Springer both have losses. Ronnie Shaban has two saves.
Second baseman Ildemaro Vargas holds the highest batting average this week, .421 with eight hits and three runs. Outfielders C.J. McElroy and Lance Jeffries follow closely after with averages of .389 and .385. Infielder Carson Kelly had no hits in his first 15 professional at-bats before getting two hits Sunday. Shortstop Cesar Valera is batting just .067.
The Cardinals scored 23 runs but allowed 30 in the 3-3 week.
Next week's schedule
Monday-Wednesday, June 25-27: Johnson City Cardinals @ Pulaski Mariners (The Mariners currently hold last place in the Eastern Division of the Appalachian League.)
Thursday-Saturday, June 28-30: Johnson City Cardinals vs. Burlington Royals (The Burlington Royals are presently in second in the Eastern Division of the Appalachian League.)
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