The week that was
This report covers the period from Wednesday, June 12 through Tuesday, June 18.
Manager Dann Bilardello's Peoria Chiefs ball club narrowly missed a first half playoff spot - by 1.5 games. Peoria was in third place in the Midwest League Western Division with a 38-29 record. Beloit (Oakland) and Cedar Rapids (Minnesota) finished first and second respectively, earning postseason bids. But all is not lost for the Chiefs. They have played their best baseball over the last month and can still earn a spot in the playoffs by finishing in the top two after the All-Star break.
Peoria went 4-1 this week and ended the first half with a four-game winning streak. They began the week by losing a one-run ballgame to Clinton (Seattle) but responded with a shutout win in the final game of the series, 4-0. The Chiefs then continued their road trip by sweeping Cedar Rapids in dramatic fashion. Trailing 9-5 entering the ninth, Peoria scored five runs, which included a grand slam from Jeremy Schaffer, to steal a victory.
The Chiefs are not entering the second half of the season with an automatic playoff bid, but by all other standards the first 67 games was a major success. Peoria has its best record at the break since 2006 and have gone 18-8 since May 20. The strong play came even as the team lost some of its best players (Kurt Heyer, Alex Mejia, Corey Baker and Zach Petrick) to promotion.
But the season was up and down in April and the better part of May. On May 26, the Chiefs were just 25-24. They struggled to develop any kind of consistency in the early going. One day the offense would be clicking and the pitching would let the team down then the next would be vice versa. Peoria's starting pitching especially struggled early, but has found a groove with Cory Jones, Joey Cuda and Kyle Helisek all having strong starts as of late.
Offensively, Jacob Wilson and Breyvic Valera have been the team's most consistent hitters. Wilson leads the Chiefs in RBI (51) and is second in home runs (9) behind Patrick Wisdom (11). Wilson also has a respectable average at .284. He is fourth in the MWL in RBI. Valera leads Peoria in batting average (.310) and is third in RBI (28). He was probably the team's best hitter during the team's hot streak and has been extremely steady at the top of the order.
Valera plays in MWL All-Star Game
Breyvic Valera was the only Chiefs player to play in this year's MWL All-Star Game. Tyrell Jenkins and Jacob Wilson were both selected but did not participate due to injury. Three other former Chiefs were also chosen for the game, but pitchers Corey Baker, Kurt Heyer and Zach Petrick have all been promoted to Advanced-A Palm Beach.
Valera entered the game in left field in the bottom of the sixth inning. He got his first at-bat in the ninth and had an infield single. He eventually scored on a bases clearing hit to tie the game for the West.
The East went on to score a run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game in walkoff fashion, 6-5.
Wednesday, June 12: Peoria 2 at Clinton 3
The Chiefs took a one run lead in the eighth but were not able to hold on as Clinton won on a walkoff sacrifice fly. The loss spoiled a fantastic start by Cory Jones. The right-hander has been unbelievable since joining the team at the end of May. Jones went seven innings, allowing one run on a solo home run in the sixth. Dixon Llorens continued to struggle after returning from injury, giving up the winning run in the ninth.
Jacob Wilson went 3-for-4 with a home run. Wilson notched his 50th RBI to become the first Chief to accomplish the feat before the All-Star break since John Santor in 2004.
Thursday, June 13: Peoria 4 at Clinton 0
Kyle Helisek had a second straight great start for Peoria as the team shut out Clinton in the final game of the series. Helisek went six innings, giving up no runs while striking out eight. Joey Donofrio and Robert Stock came on in relief and shut down the LumberKings hitters.
Ildemaro Vargas and Patrick Wisdom were the only Chiefs with multiple hits, each notching two. Wisdom also had two RBI.
Friday, June 14: Peoria 6 at Cedar Rapids 2 (10 innings)
The Chiefs moved to 5-3 in extra innings this season after exploding for four runs in the 10th inning. Peoria led 2-0 heading to the bottom half of the eighth but Dixon Llorens allowed two runs as Cedar Rapids tied the game.
Joey Cuda started and went six innings with no runs. He has the longest scoreless streak of any Chiefs pitcher this season. Cuda has not given up a run in his last 16 1/3 innings.
Patrick Wisdom continued his hot hitting, going 3-for-5 with a home run.
Saturday, June 15: Peoria 8 at Cedar Rapids 3
The Chiefs offense exploded for eight runs and a season-high three home runs in a dominating win over Cedar Rapids. Patrick Wisdom, Jesus Montero and Jimmy Parque all went deep for Peoria. It was Parque's first home run of his professional career.
Hector Hernandez was solid on the mound, allowing three runs in seven innings. Hernandez gave up two home runs but struck out nine Kernels.
Sunday, June 16: Peoria 10 at Cedar Rapids 9
Peoria shocked Cedar Rapids with five runs in the ninth inning to earn the sweep. Jeremy Schaffer tied the game with two outs on a no-doubt grand slam over the left field wall. Jordan Walton was then hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Patrick Wisdom gave the Chiefs the lead on a single to cap off an impressive rally.
Ildemaro Vargas had two hits and two RBI. Joey Donofrio earned the win for Peoria to move to 4-0 on the season.
Patrick Wisdom. It has been no secret that Wisdom has really struggled at the plate this season. He has more than double the strikeouts of anyone on the team and has looked lost at the dish in some games. But it was only a matter of time before Wisdom got it together.
He did it in a big way this week leading up to the break. The regular third baseman (with Carson Kelly moved down to State College) had multiple hits in the last four games and is nine for his last 17 with two home runs and six RBI. He has raised his average .23 points and is hitting .231. Even with his struggles, Wisdom is first on the team in home runs (11) and second in RBI (41). He has been productive despite his low average. Wisdom has worked hard all season long. It is good to see it result in success at the dish. I expect him to have a huge second half. If he does that, it will mean great things for the Chiefs.
Joey Cuda. Like Wisdom, starter Cuda struggled at the beginning of the season. But that has all turned around in recent weeks. He has a 16 1/3 scoreless innings streak going and has only allowed one run in June. Cuda has a 3.95 ERA but had a 6.45 ERA on May 31. His strong pitching has been one of the many reasons for Peoria's recent surge in the standings. If Cuda and the rest of the starters can continue to pitch well, the Chiefs should be in the hunt for a playoff bid in the second half.
Cory Jones. Jones is in his first full season in professional baseball after being drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Since he arrived in Peoria on May 28, Jones has been nothing short of phenomenal. The 6-foot-5 right hander is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts. I was able to see Jones in his June 5 start against Clinton. I immediately came away impressed. He was calm and composed after giving up an early run, which is impressive for a young pitcher. He is big, strong and throws with good velocity. My guess is Jones has an extremely bright future in the Cardinals organization.
Jesus Montero. With Adam Ehrlich on the disabled list and Casey Rasmus being promoted, newcomer Montero has turned into the everyday catcher. He has done very well in that role. While Montero's .280 average over seven games is not setting the world on fire, he is getting on base at a .438 clip. He also has two home runs, three RBI and seven runs scored. Montero has been an excellent addition to the Chiefs and has brought good production from the catcher position.
Dixon Llorens. The relief pitcher has been dreadful since returning from injury on June 7. In his first three appearances, he gave up eight runs and walked five in 2 2/3 innings. His ERA has skyrocketed to 5.85 after being at 2.75 before the injury. The good news is in his most recent appearance on June 16 against Cedar Rapids, Llorens pitched a scoreless inning and struck out the side. The Chiefs need him to pitch well out of the bullpen. One thing is clear, Dann Bilardello has not lost confidence in Llorens. He has pitched four times in 10 games.
6/16 INF Jacob Wilson placed on the 7-day Disabled List, backdated to 6/14
6/16 OF Charlie Tilson placed on the 7-day Disabled List, backdated to 6/13
6/14 INF Brett Wiley assigned to Peoria from Johnson City
6/14 OF Luis Perez assigned to Peoria from Johnson City
RHP Tyrell Jenkins remains on the Disabled List
RHP Chris Thomas remains on the Disabled List
LHP Dail Villanueva remains on the Disabled List
OF C.J. McElroy remains on the Disabled List
C Adam Ehrlich remains on the Disabled List
OF Michael Swinson remains on the Disabled List
Jacob Wilson was injured in scary fashion during Thursday night's game against Clinton. Wilson was hit by a pitch in the head in the ninth inning and left the game. The Chiefs waited a couple of days before placing him on the disabled list. There is no time table for his return, though Wilson should not be out for an extended period of time. However, with concussions you never know.
Peoria outfielders continue to drop like flies. Charlie Tilson joined Swinson and McElroy on the disabled list. Tilson has been bothered by a hamstring injury for most of the season and has not played since June 8. The Chiefs need Tilson to get healthy soon as they only have two full-time outfielders healthy. However, Jordan Walton, Breyvic Valera and Luis Perez are all capable of playing there.
Tyrell Jenkins threw a bullpen session on June 13. Jenkins tweeted that he felt like he had not skipped a beat. It is expected that he will be back this week following the All-Star break.
Team stats – Season to date
|Offense||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
|Pitching||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
|HR allowed||35||4th fewest|
Midwest League Western Division Standings – first half final
|Beloit Snappers (OAK)||43||27||.614||-||-||W2|
|Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN)||40||28||.588||2.0||-||L4|
|Peoria Chiefs (STL)||38||29||.567||3.5||E||W4|
|Quad Cities River Bandits (HOU)||38||31||.551||4.5||E||W1|
|Clinton LumberKings (SEA)||33||36||.478||9.5||E||L2|
|Kane County Cougars (CHC)||30||36||.455||11.0||E||W1|
|Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (MIL)||29||36||.446||11.5||E||L1|
|Burlington Bees (LAA)||26||39||.400||14.5||E||L1|
The Chiefs will begin the second half on the road Thursday night against Beloit (Oakland). They will play a four game series before returning to Dozer Park on June 25 against the Quad Cities. Peoria has not played a home game since June 10.
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