The Gulf Coast League Cardinals (16-13) took care of business, winning five of six this past week. While a rainout against the Nationals kept them idle Saturday, they backed into first place in the East Division when the Marlins won two from the Mets.
The Cardinals hold a half-game edge over the Mets and the Marlins are 1-1/2 games back. The Nationals, who have lost their last seven games after winning the previous six, have fallen four games behind.
Though the Cardinals were outhit by their opponents for the second consecutive week, 57-51, they drew twice as many walks (28, including 13 in Monday’s 11-inning game) as their pitchers gave up. This is quite notable for a team that was near the bottom of the GCL in walks drawn for the first three weeks of the season. They outscored their opponents 35-25 in winning five of six.
Now leading the GCL in walks, including four this past week, is first-round selection Nick Plummer, the center fielder from Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who will turn 19 this Friday. Plummer also was 5-for-16 to push his batting average up to .220. With 20 walks and 18 hits, the leadoff hitter’s on-base percentage is a robust .396.
Despite being outhit for two weeks in a row, the Cardinals still lead the GCL in hits (273) by a wide margin over the Marlins (249).
Bandes and Cordoba are tied atop the league in runs scored with 23, and Plummer is next with 21. With the top three in runs scored, the Cardinals lead the league (155, or 5.34 per game). They also lead the 16-team GCL in batting average (.276), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.380), OPS (.732), doubles (50) and triples (13). All of that with the third-lowest strikeout total (167).
From the mound, the Cardinals pitching staff had a 3.75 ERA for the week, with the relievers’ 3.13 ERA outperforming the starters’ 4.32. The starters allowed 32 hits but only four walks in 25 innings. The relievers yielded 25 hits but 10 walks in 23 innings.
Not only do Cardinals hitters lead the GCL in hits, their pitchers have allowed the most hits (293), 18 percent more than the next-highest team total. Their 160 runs allowed also is the most in the GCL, though the league-leading 39 unearned runs allowed is a big factor.
To win that 11-inning game Monday, the Cardinals took advantage of some wild Marlins pitching to score four runs on only one hit.
Andrew Brodbeck started the inning when he reached first on a wild pitch/dropped third strike. Plummer’s sacrifice bunt pushed him to second. Cordoba then singled to score Brodbeck with the tie-breaking run, but the Cardinals were far from done. Bandes made the second out on a grounder. With Joshua Lopez at bat, Cordoba went to third on a wild pitch before Lopez walked and then stole second. Another wild pitch sent Cordoba scampering home before Carlos Talavera walked. Two more wild pitches ensued, scoring Lopez and advancing Talavera to third. Frankie Rodriguez then walked before the Marlins finally changed pitchers, bringing in Chase Patterson to replace Yonqueli Perez. Patterson wasn’t much better, walking Dylan Tice and Franco to score the fourth run before Brodbeck popped out.
The Next Babe Ruth?
I have long believed that if someone came along in the modern era with the talents Babe Ruth possessed as both a hitter and a pitcher, a smart, imaginative baseball team would make him the designated hitter and closer.
The GCL Cardinals left fielder Carlos Torres doesn’t have Ruth’s talents, but he is the first player I’ve seen hit a home run while playing outfield most of the game and then finish it as a reliever.
After Friday’s game, during which Torres opened the scoring in the second inning with his first home run of the season and then pitched a scoreless ninth inning to nail down a 5-4 win over the Nationals to earn his first save, manager Steve Turco said Torres “was a hero for me in more ways than one.”
“He threw balls over the plate, and that’s how you get hitters out,” Turco said. “He pitched to contact and they made the plays behind him.”
“We knew we were going to be short,” Turco said, because of pitch limits on several younger pitchers used in that game. “I didn’t have any other choices.”
Starter Ian Oxnevad was stretched out to three innings in his third pro outing. After Paul Salazar struggled through one inning in his second pro appearance, Steven Farinaro and Jordan DeLorenzo each pitched two innings.
Aided by a dropped third strike that allowed Plummer to reach base leading off the top of the seventh, the Cardinals scored a run to break a 4-all tie.
Torres was due up sixth in the top of the ninth, so Turco told him to go down to the bullpen to warm up.
The first batter Torres faced Friday, the Marlins’ leadoff hitter, lined a single to center, so Torres had to pitch from the stretch the rest of the inning against the meat of the Marlins’ order.
The next batter laid down a successful sacrifice bunt, pushing the tying run into scoring position. Torres then retired the Marlins’ DH on a fly to right, with the runner advancing to third. Then he induced the cleanup hitter to ground out to second base.
Turco said he doesn’t plan to use Torres as a pitcher, and hopes not to, but it’s nice to know he is available in an emergency.
The 22-year-old Venezuelan is hitting .286 in 16 games in his second tour of the GCL after struggling to a .541 OPS last year at Johnson City. The relief inning Friday was his third relief appearance without allowing an earned run. His last time on the hill on July 3, Torres came in to for the 13th inning of a scoreless tie. That time, Torres held the Marlins scoreless in the 13th, but after the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead in the top of the 14th, he was undone by a couple of fielding errors, one his own doing, and was charged with the loss and a blown save.
Coming and going
It was even slower for player movement this week than the previous week:
Jacob Schlesener, an 18-year-old lefthander out of Logan-Rogersville (Mo.) High School whom the Cardinals drafted in the 12th round and then lured away from a commitment to the University of Arkansas, joined the team but has not appeared in a game.
Steven Farinaro was promoted to Johnson City after collecting wins in both of his scoreless, 2-inning outings this week. Farinaro’s ERA was 6.30 and he’d allowed 13 walks and eight hits while fanning fine in 10 innings over seven appearances, but in his last five outings he allowed only two runs.
David Oca, who is now tied for the league lead with five wins, had his second start and second complete game, a rain-shortened, six-inning 6-2 defeat of the Nationals in which he struck out six while walking none.
Bladimil Franco collected 11 hits during the week, one-fourth of the team’s total, plus a walk and three RBI. That pushed Franco’s batting average to .392, third in the GCL and taking over the team lead from Luis Bandes, who finished the week at .375, fourth in the league. Both are also in the league’s top 10 in on-base percentage and OPS.
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