In losing four of five this past week, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (17-17) fell into a virtual tie for second place with the Marlins, three games behind the East Division-leading Mets.
Except for one game in which they lost 12-1 to the Marlins, the Cardinals pitching staff held its own for the week with a 4.40 ERA, close to the 4.36 for the season to date.
Nine errors by the defense, however, led to seven unearned runs, all while starters were in the game. The Cardinals lead the 16-team GCL in runs allowed (188), but are second in earned runs allowed because of a league-high 46 unearned runs.
So while the starters’ ERA this past week was a respectable 3.25, they actually allowed 5.5 runs per nine innings. And the ERA for the bullpen was 6.46.
Meanwhile, what had been the league’s leading offense took a nosedive for the week, scoring only 12 runs on 25 hits and nine walks in five games.
In their 1-4 week, the Cardinals were outscored 28-12 and outhit for a third consecutive week 59-25.
Starting July 6, the Cardinals won seven in a row, lost five, then won six of seven, before losing four of five this past week.
“We are a team of streaks, both good and bad,” manager Steve Turco said.
Not only the Cardinals, but the other three East Division teams as well.
The Mets went 4-0 this week to surge into first place, but had lost five in a row the previous week after winning seven of eight.
The Marlins were 3-3 this week, but before that won eight in a row after losing nine of 10.
The Nationals went 2-3 to fall six games off the pace, but had won six after losing eight in a row.
“It’s all about momentum,” Turco said, noting that it is generally true that the younger the team the more they are affected by the emotional ebbs and flows.
Turco said the momentum of the whole week turned on the ninth inning of Monday’s game.
The Cardinals led 2-1, and Estarlin Arias had retired the first two Marlins batters in the top of the ninth when he walked DH Josh Naylor, the Marlins’ first-round pick in June and their hottest hitter, who finished the week hitting .365. After Naylor was pinch-run for, the next batter lined a single to center. Arias loaded the bases with another walk. The next hitter slapped a line drive than glanced off first baseman Luis Bandes’ glove into right field for a two-run single that turned the game around.
“If we had won that game, the momentum stays on our side,” Turco said. “The team that beats themselves loses, and we’re finding ways to help the other team win.”
Arias took the loss Monday, but came back to pitch a clean inning in the ninth Wednesday to earn the win when the Cardinals overcame a two-run deficit with three in the ninth to beat the Marlins 7-6.
Teams moved past the halfway point of the 60-game GCL season this week. If one team has not already established itself as the class of the division, it usually happens around the midpoint. It’s usually not the best hitting team, but the team that pitches well and plays sharp defense.
“It’s very difficult to stay hot offensively,” Turco said. “If you’re relying on your offense, it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
This week, the Mets looked like they were ready to pull away from the rest of the division.
“The Mets have played us very well recently,” Turco said. “They take advantage and capitalize on all the mistakes we make and don’t beat themselves.”
With the way momentum has shifted with the wind so far this season, who knows what the next breeze will bring?
Coming and going
There were only two roster changes this past week:
Ismael Brito was promoted to Johnson City. The 22-year-old Venezuelan lefty had posted a 1.77 ERA in seven relief appearances covering 20-1/3 innings. He allowed 22 hits and 10 walks while fanning 19.
Mason Katz was sent across the clubhouse from the Palm Beach Cardinals on a rehab assignment. Katz singled in the first of his two at-bats Friday.
Ian Oxnevad allowed one earned run on four hits and a walk, but took a loss in his first career decision as the Mets won 2-0 on Thursday. Oxnevad pitched well with his mother, Carrie, who had traveled from Seattle for the week, watching from the stands in Port St. Lucie.
Jake Woodford pitched five shutout innings as the piggyback starter following Oxnevad.
Dylan Tice was 5-for-12 with a home run, a walk and two RBI.
The Cardinals top three hitters -- Luis Bandes, Bladimil Franco and Allen Cordoba -- were a combined 10-for-44 (.227) for the week, but remain among the league leaders in several categories. Bandes leads the league in hits (42), total bases (60) and RBI (23).
Cordoba leads the league in runs scored (26).
Franco is second in the GCL in hits (41) and batting average (.376).
Though hitless in his last 13 at-bats, Nick Plummer (.189 BA) drew four walks during the week and leads the league with 24 (.374 OBP).
David Oca wasn’t as sharp Friday as he had been in previous outings (three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings) and took his first loss of the season, but leads the GCL with five wins.
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