Twice the Peoria Chiefs put themselves in great playoff position with two weeks remaining and twice the team struggled badly enough to knock them out of contention by the end of both halves of the season. Overall, the team finished at 72-67, a half-game behind the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The 72 wins were the fifth-most in the entire Midwest League, yet the Chiefs did not qualify for the post-season in either half.
The Chiefs spent the majority of the first half holding onto second place in the Midwest League’s Western Division, but faltered on the road late. The team won 20 of 33 games at Dozer Park but finished two under on the road, including a 2-4 trip just before the All-Star break.
In the second half, the struggles faced by the Chiefs’ offense began to weigh more and more on the results of the games. The Chiefs lost a couple of starters, including Nick Petree, to higher levels, but majority of the rotation remained intact. The starters had little room for error, however, as even giving up one run could result in a loss. 50 times this season the Chiefs scored 0, 1, or 2 runs in a game. The Chiefs went 35-35 in the second half, again finishing one game out of the playoffs.
|Pitching||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
Like in 2013, the Chiefs pitching staff was by far the team’s strength. The Chiefs were led early on by Petree, who allowed just three runs in 21 innings pitched while striking 24 batters. The right-hander did not last long with the Chiefs, however, making just four starts before receiving the call up to Palm Beach.
A vacuum that formed in the rotation was quickly filled by Rob Kaminsky. The 19-year-old was brilliant in his 18 starts for Peoria, striking out 79 batters in 100 2/3 innings while walking 31. With better support, Kaminsky would have won more than eight of those 18 starts as he held opponents to just a collective .194 average. Even when he didn’t have his strikeout stuff, Kaminsky was able to limit damage all season long and rarely, if ever, gave up more than three runs in a game for the Chiefs.
He also allowed only two home runs the entire season, something the entire Chiefs pitching staff did an excellent job at limiting. The Chiefs gave up just 68 homers as a staff, six more than the team hit offensively but still good enough for second-fewest in the entire Midwest League.
The Chiefs’ most impressive pitcher this season was Alex Reyes. The 20-year-old went 7-7 with a 3.62 ERA in 109 1/3 innings pitched, but struck out a whopping 137 batters while allowing a mere .207 batting average against. Reyes gave some of his best effort at the end of the season, striking out at least seven batters in six of his last ten starts without allowing more than three runs in any of them. Granted, he did have issues with control, walking 61 batters, including seven in one start against the Cougars in July. But for the most part, Reyes and Kaminsky were Peoria’s most consistent pitchers.
|Offense||Season #||MWL rank of 16|
Hitting was not necessarily this team’s thing this season. That does not mean there were no standouts, it just means the different players stood out for different reasons.
By far the most consistent hitter was Juan Herrera. The shortstop hit .274 and posted a .320 on-base percentage in nearly 380 at-bats. He also stole 27 bases in 40 attempts, a large part of the team’s offensive strategy. Herrera tallied 104 hits and scored 50 runs, but more importantly also knocked in 56 runs on his own. He was a run producer for the Chiefs, one they missed greatly after his call-up to Palm Beach.
Justin Ringo, meanwhile, may have been the team’s best hitter, but injuries derailed his chance to prove it. Ringo landed on the disabled list twice, but when he was active, he put up a solid .294 average with nine home runs and 47 runs batted in. He also reached base at a decent .365 clip and scored 46 runs.
Ringo started his Peoria career with an average over .400, but was forced to miss time after sliding into second base awkwardly. He came back and hit .375 as the team was looking to make a playoff push. If Ringo can stay on the field in 2015, he should put up decent offensive numbers, be they at Peoria or a higher-level team in the Cardinals’ system.
The Chiefs as a team hit 62 home runs this season. Mason Katz was responsible for 15 of those, and he only played in 75 of the team’s games. C.J. McElroy, meanwhile, swiped a team-leading 41 bases, giving him 49 steals in his career for the Chiefs and placing him in the team’s all-time top ten. McElroy also was named the team’s MVP.
April - Overall record: 15-9
The team hit .257 in the month of April, the second-highest average of any month this season. The pitching wasn’t great, as the staff posted a 4.09 ERA. However, the team’s first home game, a 1-0 victory over the Dayton Dragons, would epitomize them. No offense, but excellent pitching leading the team to a win. We just did not know that yet.
May - Overall record: 15-16
The Chiefs’ pitching took a gigantic step forward in May, shaving a half a run off their earned run average, but it came at a cost. The offense struggled, yet somehow managed to hit nearly 1/4th of their home runs in the month. The team split 14 games at Dozer Park, but was one game under .500 on the road.
June - Overall record: 15-10
June was, without a doubt, the team’s best month, yet their only bad week cost them a first-half playoff berth. The Chiefs won 11 of 16 home games, hit .272 while their pitchers dominated to a tune of a 2.94 ERA. However, a bad road trip at the end of the month knocked them into a playoff hole from which they couldn’t climb out. The team won just four of nine road games in June.
Chiefs Western Division all-stars were pitchers Arturo Reyes, Zach Loraine and Chris Perry, catcher Carson Kelly, shortstop Juan Herrera and outfielders C.J. McElroy and Ronald Castillo. The latter was named to the starting lineup, but was unable to participate in the June 17 game due to injury. McElroy started in Castillo’s place.
July - Overall record: 13-15
Continued poor road results hurt the Chiefs in July. The club won just six of 10 road games and the offense’s batting average dropped 40 points from the month before. Unlike in the first half, the Chiefs were not in a position to win a playoff berth outright; instead they found themselves battling with other teams for most of the month.
August/September - Overall record: 14-17
Call-ups throughout the organization began to take their toll. The bullpen was rocked by injuries and ineffectiveness, negating the job the starters did by keeping the team’s paltry offense in the game to begin with. The lineup changed as the better hitters, like Juan Herrera, were promoted and no player was able to step up to fill the void. The ones that tried, like Vaughn Bryan, suffered injuries of their own. The team was stuck in a rut that it did not have enough time and firepower to recover from.
The final word
The Chiefs played decent baseball for most of the first half and walked away empty handed. They played worse in the second half than the first and still came away with nothing, losing out on a playoff spot by one game. Both teams below them, Johnson City and State College, earned championships, so there seems a chance next year will be better. Until then, manager Joe Kruzel and company are left wondering what might have been.
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 Peoria Chiefs Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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