Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2012 Week 21

The Cardinals went 4-3 and clinched the Texas League North Division second-half title. OF Mike O'Neill is hitting .563 since joining Springfield including a 16-for-25 (.650) week 21.

It was a big week for the Springfield Cardinals as their sweep of the Arkansas Travelers led to clinching their second-half division title Monday and their first playoff berth since 2010.

More excitement followed on Tuesday as - for the second straight year - a Springfield Cardinal was named Texas League Player of the Year. Following in the footsteps of Matt Adams, phenom Oscar Taveras earned the honors on Tuesday - to nobody's real surprise. Adding to that, four other Springfield Cardinals joined him on the Texas League Post-Season All-Star Team. This list included Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, Keith Butler, and Seth Maness.

Furthermore, the Arizona Fall League rosters were announced on Wednesday and four Springfield Cardinals - including Kolten Wong, Kevin Siegrist, Boone Whiting, and Mike O'Neill - were invited. Now as Springfield prepares for the playoffs, they'll have to focus on beating the teams against which they have struggled this season before they can move forward.

Thursday, August 23rd, Springfield 12 at NW Arkansas 8

Springfield continued with game three of their four-game set with the Naturals on Thursday with Scott McGregor getting the start. Although McGregor allowed but a single through the first two innings, he got knocked out of the game quickly after giving up seven runs on six hits through the next two innings.

Following McGregor, Justin Wright allowed another run in the fifth before settling down for a scoreless sixth inning. Kevin Thomas entered to hold the Naturals scoreless for two more frames before Michael Blazek took over for a perfect ninth.

Blazek's work was needed after Springfield rallied for a five-run ninth inning to go from down one to up four. Who else but your Texas League Player of the Year, Oscar Taveras, was the offensive hero. Taveras had a strong night at the plate, going 3-for-6 with four RBI while crushing his 22nd home run of the season. Audry Perez and Adam Melker each tabbed multi-hit games while adding two RBIs and a double each. Mike O'Neill also added two RBI while Jamie Romak and Greg Garcia had an RBI apiece.

Friday, August 24th, Springfield 2 at NW Arkansas 3 (14 innnings)

Closing out the series in the Springdale before heading back to Springfield, the Cardinals sent Richard Castillo to the mound. Castillo made a very solid start, lasting six innings, surrendering just two runs on eight hits. Following Castillo, Michael Wacha tossed two scoreless innings, striking out four batters. The brought his strikeout total to 10 in five innings since joining Springfield. After Wacha, Deryk Hooker and Keith Butler each threw two scoreless innings, taking it into extras. Blazek was on pace to follow the same pattern before he gave up the winning run in the 14th.

In a very different story from Thursday, Springfield managed just two runs on Friday. Romak had both of Springfield's RBI as he went 2-for-5. Hot-hitting O'Neill had the only other multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 on the evening. Taveras added his 35th double before being pulled for Ray Kruml because of an ailing hamstring.

Saturday, August 25th, Arkansas 1 at Springfield 2

Returning home with the promise of clinching the second half division title if they could sweep the Travelers, Kevin Siegrist got the start for the Cardinals. Siegrist was nothing short of great in getting the Cardinals one step closer to their goal. In six innings pitched, Siegrist, who looked very composed, allowed just a run on only four hits. Rounding out an overall impressive pitching performance, Kevin Thomas and Eric Fornataro combined to hold the Travelers hitless through the final three innings.

Luckily, the pitching didn't need much run support because it took the Cardinals until the eighth inning to score. Springfield's first run came on a wild pitch, scoring Romak. The winning run came when Greg Garcia grounded into what seemed like a double play that would send the game to extras but Kolten Wong slid hard into second forcing a throwing error that scored O'Neill, who was 3-for-4 on the evening. Chris Swauger, recently off the DL, also had two hits for the Cards.

Sunday, August 26th, Arkansas 4 at Springfield 9

Carlos Martinez made the start on Sunday for the Cardinals. Martinez looked sharp as his velocity was up. His sharpness translated into six innings pitched, giving up just two runs on four hits while striking out six. Following Martinez, Chase Reid threw a scoreless seventh and eighth inning before giving up back-to-back solo home runs to start the ninth. Wright entered to put out the fire and held the Travelers from further scoring to end the game.

The offense came alive again on Sunday led by a big night at the plate from Adam Melker. Melker went 2-for-4 with a big third-inning grand slam to hand the Cardinals the lead. Romak also went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI. O'Neill continued to rack up hits with a second straight 3-for-4 day. Two of O'Neill's three hits were doubles. Swauger had Springfield's other two RBI.

Monday, August 27th, Arkansas 3 at Springfield 4 (11 innings)

Monday was an exciting day at Hammons Field as the Cardinals closed to within one game of clinching the division title and a trip to the Texas League Playoffs. Seth Maness gave the Cardinals exactly what they asked of him as he went as he went seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits. Fornataro followed and gave the Cardinals two scoreless innings through nine. Butler took over in the 10th inning and earned his fifth win as he held Arkansas hitless through two.

Arkansas didn't want to make it easy. Matched run for run, it took the Cardinals extra innings to get past the Travelers. Offensively, the Cardinals were led by O'Neill, who batted 4-for-5 on the night with a double and a RBI. Swauger smacked his 13th home run of the season, a solo shot in the second. Romak, Scruggs, and Wong each added doubles.

However, the hero of the evening was Jermaine Curtis, who came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th. Curtis responded by looping a single past the second baseman, scoring O'Neill for the walk-off win. The dramatic moment was picture-perfect was Curtis' teammates quickly stormed the field. The celebration on the field didn't last long as the team was anxious to begin their bottle-popping in the clubhouse.

Tuesday, August 28th, Tulsa 9 at Springfield 6

After the sweep of the Travelers and the clinching of their division title, the Cardinals welcomed the Drillers to town for a three-game set. Scott McGregor made his second start of the week but wasn't nearly as sharp as his first outing. This time out, McGregor lasted five innings but surrendered six runs on 11 hits. Thomas followed McGregor in the sixth and allowed another run before handing the ball to Deryk Hooker, who yielded two more runs in 2/3 of an inning in the seventh. Wright took over to end the seventh and held the Drillers scoreless the rest of the way.

Unable to overcome the deficit, the offense still put together and solid night led by newcomer Neal Pritchard, who got the start at second base and went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run. Pritchard's home run was his first since joining Springfield and his second overall on the season, the first coming at Quad Cities.

Melker put together another solid night at the plate, going 2-for-4 as well with two doubles and two RBI. Once again, O'Neill continued his knack for hitting with a 3-for-4 performance. Travis Tartamella had Springfield's other RBI while Curtis added a double in the loss. Taveras returned to action after missing three games with a hamstring strain.

Wednesday, August 29th, Tulsa 6 at Springfield 5

Attempting to bounce back against their first-round playoff foe, Springfield looked to Boone Whiting, making his fourth start of the season and his Double-A debut. Whiting has missed most of the year due to a right forearm flexor strain. However, Boone looked sharp in his Double-A debut. He pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out five batters. First-rounder Wacha followed and pitched two innings, allowing his first run since joining Springfield. Wacha still struck out four batters in his two innings of work, though. Blazek allowed a three-run home run in the ninth, taking his eighth loss of the season.

The offensive did their best to stay even with the Drillers, yet Melker was the only Cardinal to put together a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 with his 10th home run of the season, a solo shot in the eighth. Wong added a solo home run and Swauger had a RBI. With the Cardinals down three in the ninth, Taveras smashed his 23rd home run, a two-run shot to pull Springfield within one. However, with the tying run on first, the Cards came up short as they fell to the Drillers 6-5.

Who's Hot

Adam Melker – The lefty outfielder who is now getting his opportunity put together a solid week going 12-for-29 (.413) with three doubles, two home runs, and nine RBI.

Mike O'Neill – The newcomer went 16-for-25 (.640) this week with four doubles.

Who's Not

Xavier Scruggs - The slugger went 1-for-27 with 20 strikeouts this week.

Michael Blazek - In three appearances this week, the reliever suffered two ninth-inning losses.

Team Transactions/Injury Report

August 23 - INF Vance Albitz sent to Memphis
August 23 - INF Neal Pritchard received from Palm Beach, replacing Albitz
August 25 - OF Chris Swauger activated from DL, replacing Kruml
August 25 - OF Ray Kruml placed on DL (sprained ankle)
August 25 - RHP Richard Castillo placed on DL (finger)
August 28 - RHP Boone Whiting received from Quad Cities, replacing Castillo
August 28 - LHP Anthony Ferrara activated from DL and sent to Palm Beach

Second Half Division Standings

Texas League North W L PCT GB Home Away L 10 Streak
*Springfield Cardinals (STL) 40 24 .625 - 22-10 18-14 5-5 L2
Arkansas Travelers (LAA) 34 31 .523 6.5 16-15 18-16 5-5 W2
Tulsa Drillers (COL) 31 34 .477 9.5 18-17 13-17 8-2 W5
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) 19 45 .297 21.0 13-20 6-25 2-8 L5
*Clinched Division

Overall Division Standings

Texas League North W L PCT GB Home Away L 10 Streak
*Springfield Cardinals (STL) 75 59 .560 - 44-24 31-35 5-5 L2
*Tulsa Drillers (COL) 71 64 .526 4.5 42-29 29-35 8-2 W5
Arkansas Travelers (LAA) 61 74 .452 14.5 33-32 28-42 5-5 W2
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) 56 78 .418 19.0 37-30 19-48 2-8 L5
*Clinched Playoff Spots

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#2 Carlos Martinez – Not seeing a significant drop in velocity late in the season, Martinez seems to be settling in at the Double-A level with a 2.94 ERA. His only start this week went six innings, when he gave up two runs and struck out six.

#3 Oscar Taveras – Taveras missed three and a half games this week with a hamstring injury, but still had two home runs and a double to go with six RBI. Not to mention, Taveras was given the honor of being named the 2012 Texas League Player of the Year on Tuesday.

#4 Kolten Wong – Wong is becoming a more complete player is he continues to show new ways that he can help win games that may not show up on the stat sheet like his slide in Northwest Arkansas that led to the game-winning run.

#31 Jermaine Curtis – Earned the game-winning hit to clinch the division, Curtis is battling Taveras for the Texas League batting title. They are both currently at .319.

#38 Keith Butler – The late-inning specialist threw four scoreless innings this week earning his fifth win and lowering his ERA to 2.86.

What's Next

The Cards have five regular season games left - two at home against Tulsa and three at Little Rock - before Springfield gets ready for their first-round playoff match-up with the Drillers.

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