The week that was
This report covers the period from Wednesday, June 5 through Tuesday, June 11.
Manager Dann Bilardello's Peoria Chiefs ballclub played well at home this week, going 4-2 before losing a road game Tuesday night against Clinton (Seattle). The Chiefs are 20-11 at Dozer Park this season, which is good for second best in the Midwest League Western Division. But Peoria could not conquer Clinton, going 1-3 against the LumberKings in four games.
Overall, the team is in fourth place in their division, trailing leader Cedar Rapids by 4.5 games. Peoria has officially been eliminated from a first-half playoff berth. In the MWL, the top two teams in the division at the All-Star Break earn an automatic postseason bid. The Chiefs can still earn their way into the playoffs by finishing in the top two in the second half of the season.
Peoria began the week by beating Clinton before losing the next two. They then swept the Quad Cities in dominating fashion, allowing just two runs in three games while scoring 15. The Chiefs ended the week by losing to Clinton 6-4 Tuesday night.
The Chiefs play with heavy hearts
On Monday, the Chiefs announced the passing of former owner Pete Vonachen at the age of 87. Vonachen, nicknamed Mr. Baseball, became the face of the franchise and a major figure in the Peoria community when he bought the team in 1983. He was an innovator in promotions and marketing with Peoria setting Midwest League attendance records in 1985, 1988 and 1989. Vonachen also helped the Chiefs secure the site and money for the current downtown stadium, which opened in 2002.
He handed over control of the team to his son Rocky in 1998 but remained an integral part of the franchise attending numerous games each season. Vonachen was known for his outgoing personality as he often interacted with fans at the ballpark. It was rare for those who attended games regularly to not have met Mr. Baseball. Vonachen was beloved by many who worked or played for the franchise. An outpouring of memories came from around the country after his death. Nathan Baliva, who has been the voice of the Chiefs for 11 years, tweeted on Monday; "I've done a lot of things in this office in 11 years, but that's the first time I've cried."
The Chiefs honored Vonachen on Monday with a 5-1 win over the Quad Cities and a pregame ceremony that featured a video tribute, moment of silence and a release of red and blue balloons by staff and players. I never had the pleasure of meeting Vonachen but you only had to be at the ballpark for five minutes on Monday to realize that he was loved by so many. My thoughts are with the Vonachen family and the entire Chiefs organization.
Six named to MWL All-Star Game, but only two may play
Starting pitcher Tyrell Jenkins was one of 15 pitchers selected to participate in the MWL All-Star Game June 18 in Dayton, Ohio. He is joined by infielders Breyvic Valera and Jacob Wilson, selected as reserves. Jenkins is 4-4 with a 4.74 ERA this season. His best start came on May 5 against Fort Wayne. The right-hander threw a complete game shutout, allowing just three hits.
Jenkins suffered an injury to his pitching shoulder in his start on June 6 against Clinton. He was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday and with first half nearing it its end, was sent to Florida to rehab. It is extremely unlikely Jenkins will participate in the All-Star Game.
Westbrook makes rehab start in Peoria
Cardinals starting pitcher Jake Westbrook made a rehab start in Peoria on Sunday while working his way back from injury. Westbrook was sharp, going seven innings allowing four hits and one run. He struck out five. Westbrook is at his best when is getting ground ball outs and the big leaguer did not disappoint, retiring 14 batters by groundouts. He received a huge ovation as he took the mound from the more than 3,500 in attendance.
Westbrook has rejoined St. Louis and will make his first return start on Friday.
Wednesday, June 5: Clinton 1 at Peoria 4
The Chiefs began their six-game home stand with a victory due to a great start by Cory Jones. The 6-foot-5 right-hander allowed four hits and just one run in seven innings. Jones moved to 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in his first two starts with the team.
Ildemaro Vargas led the offense with three hits and two runs scored.
Thursday, June 6: Clinton 8 at Peoria 5
Breyvic Valera had two hits and Charlie Tilson hit a towering three-run home run over the right field foul pole. But the pitching struggled with Tyrell Jenkins going only two innings and giving up five runs before leaving due to injury.
Friday, June 7: Clinton 12 at Peoria 4
Peoria relievers gave up seven runs in the eighth inning, squandering a solid start by Kyle Helisek. Helisek allowed two earned runs in six innings. Dixon Llorens, in his first appearance since coming off the disabled list, went only 1/3 of an inning, walking four and giving up five runs.
Saturday, June 8: Quad Cities 0 at Peoria 1
The Chiefs won a pitching duel in walkoff fashion to claim the first game of the series against the River Bandits. Joey Cuda went seven shutout innings then Sam Tuivailala and Joey Donofrio held the Quad Cities at bay in relief.
Jacob Wilson scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of ninth to give Peoria the win.
Sunday, June 9: Quad Cities 1 at Peoria 9
The offense exploded for nine runs on 13 hits as Jake Westbrook earned the win for Peoria. Thomas Lee closed out the last two innings, giving up only one hit.
Jacob Wilson reached base in all five trips to the plate. The second baseman went 2-for-2 with three walks. Jordan Walton and Breyvic Valera each drove in two runs. Jeremy Schaffer hit his first two home runs of the season on solo shots in the fourth and eighth.
Monday, June 10: Quad Cities 1 at Peoria 5
In an emotional game after the passing of Pete Vonachen, the Chiefs swept the Quad Cities with another fantastic pitching performance. Hector Hernandez went seven, allowing just one run while fanning six.
All nine batters had a hit. Patrick Wisdom went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Tuesday, June 11: Peoria 4 at Clinton 6
The Chiefs continued to struggle with the LumberKings, giving up four runs in the eighth after leading 4-2. Jeremy Schaffer hit his third home run of the season and went 3-for-4 with two RBI.
Jeremy Schaffer. After missing the start of the season due to injury, Schaffer played his first game on June 3. He struggled out of the gate going 0-for-12 in his first three contests, but Schaffer is heating up as he gets his feet under him. The first baseman has a hit in the last four games and had three home runs and five RBI during the Quad Cities series. He has raised his average to .259. Schaffer's power is a welcome addition to the Chiefs lineup as the team has struggled to hit the long ball in the last couple of weeks.
Breyvic Valera. This report is beginning to sound like a broken record, but Valera continues to hit the ball well for Peoria. His five game hit streak was snapped Tuesday night against Clinton, however Valera has six multi-hit games and has driven in seven runs in his last 10 games. The utility man still leads the Chiefs in average and is third in the Midwest League in that category. The MWL all-star is batting .321 this season.
Cory Jones. The newcomer to the pitching staff has been fantastic since joining the team. In his two starts with the Chiefs, Jones has allowed just one run in 12 innings of work while striking out 11 batters. He shut down Clinton's offense in his most recent start, looking extremely comfortable for a player who is getting his first action in Single-A ball. Peoria needs Jones to keep pitching well and pick up the production of departed starter Kurt Heyer.
Dixon Llorens. The relief pitcher returned to the mound on June 7 after missing nearly a month. Llorens struggled mightily, walking four and allowing five runs while retiring only one batter. He was one of the Chiefs' best out of the bullpen before going on the disabled list. In 16 1/3 innings, Llorens had a 2.75 ERA. Bad appearances happen, especially when you have not pitched in a month. I expect him to be fine and pitch a lot closer to what he was in April and May as he gets comfortable again.
Sam Tuivailala. The right-handed relief pitcher has been an enigma for the Chiefs so far this season. Since joining the team in May, Tuivailala has been either fantastic or awful. In six of his 10 appearances, he has allowed no runs, but in three he has let up a combined 10. Tuesday night against Clinton, Tuivailala gave up three runs in 2/3 of an inning. He has great stuff and can overwhelm hitters with it, but sometimes he gets too much of the plate. Tuivailala has 15 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
6/11 INF Carson Kelly assigned to State College from Peoria
6/11 RHP Tyrell Jenkins placed on 7-day Disabled List, backdated to 6/9
6/10 C Casey Rasmus assigned to Palm Beach from Peoria
6/9 RHP Jake Westbrook assigned to Peoria from Springfield for rehab
6/7 RHP Dixon Llorens activated from Disabled List
6/7 RHP Chris Thomas placed on 7-day Disabled List, backdated to 6/5 (strained oblique)
LHP Dail Villanueva remains on the Disabled List
OF C.J. McElroy remains on the Disabled List
C Adam Ehrlich remains on Disabled List
OF Michael Swinson remains on the Disabled List
Team stats – Season to date
|Offense||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
|Pitching||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
|HR allowed||30||4th fewest|
Midwest League Western Division Standings
|First half||W||L||PCT||GB||Elim #||Stk|
|Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN)||39||24||.619||-||-||L1|
|Beloit Snappers (OAK)||40||25||.615||-||-||W8|
|Quad Cities River Bandits (HOU)||35||28||.556||4.0||2||W1|
|Peoria Chiefs (STL)||34||28||.548||4.5||E||L1|
|Clinton LumberKings (SEA)||31||33||.484||8.5||E||W1|
|Kane County Cougars (CHC)||28||34||.452||10.5||E||L3|
|Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (MIL)||26||34||.433||11.5||E||L1|
|Burlington Bees (LAA)||24||36||.400||13.5||E||W1|
The Chiefs will take to the road to face Clinton (Seattle) and Midwest Western Division-leading Cedar Rapids (Minnesota) this week. Each series is a three-game set before the All-Star Break begins on Monday.
Peoria will open the second half of the season on the road at Beloit. The team will not return home until June 25 against Quad Cities.
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