The Gulf Coast League Cardinals (9-8) won all six games this week, sweeping both the Mets and Nationals, to move from last place to second, only one game behind the Marlins. While one might look back and assume the Cardinals’ turnaround began with their 10-inning, 13-12 win over the Marlins on July 2, ironically the turnaround actually began with a 3-2 loss to the Marlins the next day when neither team scored until the 14th inning.
An offense that had been reasonably productive during the first two weeks began firing on all cylinders this past week, averaging 9.2 runs on 12.3 hits per game. After two of the team’s hotter hitters – Orlando Olivera and Allen Staton – were promoted on Tuesday, GCL Cardinals manager Steve Turco said he told his team it wasn’t “a challenge but an opportunity for other hitters to fill their shoes, and they’ve done a tremendous job.”
Everyone has contributed on offense. Turco said, “Right now, we’re a much more confident team,” he said. “We’re not playing not to lose, but expecting to win.”
In winning all six games this past week, the Cardinals outscored their opponents 55-26 and outhit them 74 to 52. They also made only four errors while opponents committed 13.
After three weeks, the Cardinals are now first in the GCL in batting average (.287); on-base percentage (.354); slugging percentage (.395, up from seventh a week ago); hits (178); runs scored (90); triples (9); doubles (34, tied with Phillies); and, of course, OPS (.750). Furthermore, they have the second-lowest total of strikeouts and moved up from 13th to 10th in walks.
While the offense picked it up a notch, the big improvement was in pitching and defense.
A staff that had allowed 75 runs through the first 11 games yielded just 26 runs in the next seven games (not counting the three unearned runs scored against outfielder Carlos Torres in the 14th inning of that 3-2 loss on July 3).
Their 5.31 ERA through the first 11 games was the worst not only in the GCL, but in all of affiliated baseball. “We knew that was an aberration,” Turco said.
Furthermore, the team had allowed 18 unearned runs, tied for most in the league.
This past week, the staff posted a 2.88 ERA, with a 2.81 ERA by starting pitchers, including those used in piggyback relief.
The four errors by the defense led to 10 unearned runs, but Turco noted they did not occur in crucial situations.
“In this league, at least, if you don’t beat yourself, usually the other team will (beat themselves),” Turco said.
Certainly, two solid starts totaling seven shutout innings by Mike Mayers, on a rehab assignment from Double-A Springfield, helped.
If one pitcher set the tone for the turnaround, however, it was Sandy Alcantara, the 19-year-old Dominican right-hander who was shelled in his Opening Day start but has pitched progressively better in each of his three ensuing starts. In that 14-inning loss on July 3, Alcantara tossed seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and no walks. “Since then, we’ve played really well,” Turco said.
“When things start to go awry, how do you stop the unraveling? Slow the game down and stop the mental mistakes.”
In Alcantara’s latest start Friday, his second pitch of the game was belted over the left-field fence by rehabbing Class A-Advanced outfielder Rafael Bautista, but then Alcantara settled in and held the Nationals to three singles and a walk over six innings to earn his first GCL win in a 12-5 blowout.
Alcantara didn’t touch triple digits with his fastball like he did in his previous start, though he did touch 99 with 16 fastballs at least 97 mph. He was more efficient, throwing 72 pitches, 43 for strikes.
Coming and going
Mike Mayers (Springfield) and Steve Sabatino (Palm Beach) arrived for rehab assignments with the latter returning to the Florida State League club after one tune-up outing.
Orlando Olivera was promoted to State College and Allen Staton moved up to Johnson City.
Max Foody’s strong comeback after missing two years due to injuries was derailed when he was placed on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury.
Rowan Wick’s conversion from outfielder to pitcher is stalled by elbow soreness. Though Wick has not been put on the DL, he has stopped throwing for an indefinite period.
Dylan Becker, who was selected by his Missouri State teammates as the team’s 2015 most valuable player, joined the GCL Cardinals after signing as a non-drafted free agent. The lefty-swinging corner infielder wasted little time contributing. In his pro debut Saturday, the 22-year-old hit a sacrifice fly in his second plate appearance. His next at-bat, Becker hit a two-out RBI single and scored in the middle of a five-run rally that broke the game open.
Outfielder Luis Bandes was 13-for-27 with a home run and six RBI. “Bandes has been hot as a firecracker,” Turco said. “Everything is coming off his bat hard, and he’s frequently doing it with two strikes.”
Infielder Andrew Brodbeck, who started the week hitting .138 (4-for-29), was 7-for-12.
Outfielder Bladimil Franco went 11-for-23 with six RBI.
Shortstop Allen Cordoba was 10-for-24 with six RBI and two steals.
Several starters being used in piggyback relief had strong outings, but the best was by David Oca, a Venezuelan left-hander who turned 20 on July 4. Oca, who stood out in his two previous pro seasons in the Dominican Summer League, had an 0.90 ERA after four starts in the DSL this season before moving up to the GCL, where he has continued to pitch well. In his third four-inning relief appearance in the GCL, Oca allowed the Mets three hits and three walks, but no runs to earn his first win on US soil.
Third baseman Bryce Denton was 7-for-23.
Outfielder Carlos Torres went 5-for-13 after starting the season 3-for-15.
Despite playing only sparingly, catcher Stephen Zavala was 4-for-9.
First-round draft pick Nick Plummer, who was hitting .140 (6-for-43) in his first 12 games, had a key triple Friday and two doubles Saturday. Turco said the outfielder is a quiet sort who doesn’t show his emotions. “I’m not concerned whether Plummer is going to hit,” he said, “but I’m concerned about his psyche until he does.”
Not yet a member of The Cardinal Nation? Join today for as little as $7.95 after our seven-day free trial and be able to read all of our exclusive content year-round.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.