At the farthest level of competition away from the Major Leagues – in both distance and experience - the Dominican Summer League, the St. Louis Cardinals’ club opened its eighth season with some promise.
That did not last long, however, as the 2014 club limped home at 22-48 (.314), their worst record since the Cards joined the rookie-level league in 2008. They were 28 ½ games out of first place.
Believe it or not, they did not finish in last place in the 10-team Boca Chica South Division, as the Rojos (or Reds) were two games worse. Yet it seemed somehow appropriate that the Cards’ final two contests of the season were rained out.
The DSL plays under a different calendar than other short-season leagues, opening their 72-game schedule at the end of May and finishing during the third week of August.
To ease travel, each team played exclusively in its division. Series were always of two-game duration – one at home and one away. That meant three series per week with Sundays off.
Following an opening day loss, on May 31, the Cards won three straight. When the club immediately went on a five-game losing streak, that two games over .500 level achieved on June 4 became their 2014 high-water mark.
A 10-15 June concluded as the club was in the midst of another five-game skid. After a lone win, a six-game losing streak followed. A modest, yet season-tying best three straight victories were soon forgotten as the DSL Cards dropped their next 13 contests.
The abysmal 5-21 July officially eliminated manager Fray Peniche’s fourth Cardinals club from playoff contention. The team reached the finish line in its second-best month, going 7-11 in August.
A historical perspective
Here are the DSL Cardinals records by year. Though division configurations have changed over time, the Cards’ absolute position in the standings has slid in each of the last four years since second-place finishes were secured in 2009 and 2010.
In recent seasons, the DSL Cardinals had relied in large part on their pitching. That did not change in 2014, though the team ERA was down six-tenths of a run from 2013.
The young staff, tutored by long-time pitching coach Bill Villanueva, logged an aggregate ERA of 3.54, placing them 19th in the 36-team league. In 2013, the Cards had a 2.94 ERA, 11th-best.
They struggled to throw the ball past their opponents with regularity as their strikeout total of 494 was 29th. The staff was very stingy with free passes, however, logging the eighth fewest walks at 234, which aided their showing in baserunners allowed with a WHIP of 1.39, 20th in the league.
Under first-year hitting coach Erick Almonte, the Cardinals offense had a truly dismal showing, finishing 35th of 36 DSL clubs in runs scored (249) and batting average (.211). Those totals are down from 317 and .228, respectively, in 2013.
When they did reach, the Cards were not standouts on the bases. They stole 75 bases, tied for 29th in the league, with a success rate of 63.5 percent.
One unusual area of strength was in home runs, as the Cards’ total of 24 tied for sixth. There was not encouragement in doubles or triples, however, with the Cardinals finishing 33rd in two-base hits and 35th of 36 teams in three-base hits.
For the third consecutive season, the Cardinals featured two DSL All-Stars, one position player and one pitcher. For 2014, the honorees were outfielder Jonathan Rivera and pitcher Derian Gonzalez, both of whom competed in the mid-season game. Based on his performance, I believe starter David Oca deserved the recognition, as well.
As we move into the awards for the top position player, starting pitcher and relief pitcher on the 2014 DSL Cardinals, we will drill down into individual player stats.
Three 2014 DSL pitchers have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins this month. They are Gonzalez, Sandy Alcantara and the Cards’ top international signee, Junior Fernandez.
The other 2014 DSL Cardinals should compete in the Dominican version of instructs, which normally commences at the Cardinals academy in mid-October.
Expect a number of the more advanced members of the 2014 DSL Cardinals to be invited to extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla. starting in April.
In conclusion, the DSL Cardinals will hopefully learn from their bumpy 2014 experience and rebound for a better 2015.
Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the DSL Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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