It was a year filled with so much promise, but ultimately did not live up to its true potential.
That is the way to describe the Palm Beach Cardinals’ 2014 campaign (76-63), as they fell three games short of winning the second half and making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The post-season seemed unlikely when Palm Beach got off to a slow start in April. The Beach Birds went 10-16 through that first month. Last season’s most dominant hurler Joe Cuda got off to a terrible start. The right-hander went 0-4 with a 12.50 ERA over five starts. However, the Cardinals utilized strong starts from Kyle Helisek (0-1, 1.59 ERA) and Marco Gonzales (1-1, 1.90 ERA) to battle back to the middle of the pack.
The Cardinals turned it around in May, winning 16 of 29 games, including eight of their last 11. New arrival Nick Petree was dominant, going 3-1 with a 1.07 ERA over four starts. He struck out 19 in 25 1/3 innings, while Thomas Lee posted a 1.65 ERA in six games (five starts). The pitching staff was so dominant that three different hurlers recorded three wins each during the month (Lee, Helisek and Petree).
Offensively, the Cardinals batted .264 as a team, but their power numbers dropped as they connected for six less homers than in April (15-to-9). However, that didn’t stop the club from recording two four-game winning streaks, from 5/1 to 5/4 and 5/20 to 5/23.
June first half (10-4)
Those impressive, mini-win streaks were outdone in the month of June as the Cardinals won eight straight games from June 3 to 10 and finished the first half with a 36-33 mark. The resurgence of Cuda inspired the staff and the offense. Cuda won two games during the streak while the offense averaged 6.25 runs a game.
The Cardinals’ string finish pushed them to third place in the Florida State League South Division, but it wasn’t enough as the Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) finished 41-28 and won the first half.
While FSL All-Stars Charlie Tilson, Breyvic Valera and Helisek headed to the FSL’s mid-summer classic, the rest of the Cardinals prepared for the second half of the season. Tilson and Valera were starters in the game. Also initially voted onto the team were Starlin Rodriguez, since promoted to Springfield, and Casey Rasmus, who retired.
Tilson was the only Cardinal named to the FSL end-of-season all-star team.
June second half (10-4)
The Cardinals received some great news as they added Tyrell Jenkins, former first-rounder in the 2010 draft, for the second half run. Jenkins shined in his first month back since a 2013 shoulder injury. Jenkins made three starts, going 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings. He helped the Cardinals win their first six games of the second half and nine of their first 10.
Palm Beach led the FSL South with a 10-4 record and looked prime to compete for the second-half crown.
The Cardinals continued to roll in July, winning 18 of 29 games in the month. Despite losing Valera to promotion, the offense continued to click on all cylinders. Tilson batted .273 (18-for-66) with a double, four triples and nine RBI in 18 July games.
Tilson wasn’t carrying the offense alone, as Nick Martini batted a team-high .319 (30-for-94) with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBI.
After Tilson was promoted in late July, the Cardinals could not find consistency from the top of the order. As noted, Martini had a great July, but the wheels started to wobble in August. The outfielder batted just .209 (24-for-115) with five doubles, two homers and 14 RBI in the final 29 games of the season.
With Martini struggling at the top spot and the Cardinals trying to fend off Bradenton (PIT), St. Lucie (NYM) and Fort Myers for the top spot in the FSL South, the Cardinals found ways to win games behind strong pitching performances. On August 7, Jenkins tossed six innings of one-run baseball with a season-high seven high strikeouts to beat the Charlotte Stone Crabs 4-1.
The series win with Charlotte kept the Cardinals within striking distance of Bradenton, but it wasn’t until their four-game winning streak from August 19 through the 22nd that the Cardinals regained the top spot in the South. On August 22nd, Jimmy Reed tossed six innings of one-run, six hit baseball to top of the Marauders in game one of a critical three-game series. The Cardinals took the set two games to one and held a 1.5 game lead in the division heading into the final week of the season.
The Beach Birds’ season came to a crashing halt as they dropped five of their last seven games while the Marauders won five straight and claimed the second-half crown. The Cardinals, which hadn’t lost more than four games in a row since early May, couldn’t stop the negative momentum and finished outside of the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
The first-half winning Miracle went on to take the 2014 Florida State League title.
In the overall standings, the Cardinals were fourth in the division with a 76-63 mark, but only the first- and second-half winners advanced. Despite having a chance to make the playoffs after the break, the late promotions of Tilson and Valera hurt the Cardinals’ hopes.
Despite the offensive ups and downs, Palm Beach scored the third-most runs in the league over the course of the season. Their team batting average of .261 was fifth as was their home run total of 82. Interestingly, the Cards legged out the second-most triples with 47, yet were dead last with just 63 stolen bases.
The Cards’ pitchers finished fifth in the 12-team FSL with a 3.47 ERA. The staff was third in strikeouts and also issued the third-fewest walks.
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 Palm Beach Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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