Starting pitching led the way as the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (26-22) won five of seven this past week, including taking all three from the then-first place Mets. Completing the sweep with a 2-1 win Saturday, the Cardinals reclaimed the lead in the GCL East Division.
With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Cardinals lead the Mets and Marlins by one game, with the Nationals six back. There are four divisions and the semifinals are one game, seeded by record, with #4 traveling to #1 and #3 playing at #2, with the winners of those games playing a best of three.
Last week, the Cardinals outscored their opponents 28-21 and outhit them 55-42, breaking a four-week streak in which they were outhit. Perhaps more importantly, though, the Cardinals’ six errors led to only two unearned runs, while their opponents made 10 errors that the Cardinals offense capitalized on for nine unearned runs.
The Cards retook the league lead in hits (405) from the Marlins (403) and are also first in the 16-team GCL in runs scored (222), though several teams in the other divisions have played fewer games.
In the percentage categories, they have dropped to fourth in batting average (.256), fourth in on-base percentage (.330) and seventh in slugging (.342).
Bladimil Franco went 6-for-25 to fall to second in the GCL in batting average (.346), though he still leads in hits (56), with Allen Cordoba (55) on his heels. Nick Plummer still has the league’s most walks (30) and is tied for the lead in runs scored (33).
As the offense has tapered off, perhaps in part due to Luis Bandes’ season-ending injury (dislocated elbow), the pitching has been getting stronger. Pitching is the main reason the Cardinals recaptured first place, especially the starting rotation.
Even on the occasions this season when relievers have pitched effectively, the Cardinals’ bullpen has been thin. Now, after promotions of some and injuries to Rowan Wick, Max Foody, Paul Salazar and Silas Bohannan, manager Steve Turco is down to five available relievers – left-handers Brady Bowen and Jordan DeLorenzo and right-handers Estarlin Arias, Gerwuins Velazco and newcomer Ronald Medrano.
That’s not enough, especially when several starters were on very short leashes earlier in the season. So the more innings Turco can get from his starting pitchers, the more the team wins.
This past week, starters pitched a season-high 42-1/3 innings, an average of six innings per game or 73 percent of the week’s innings. In those 42-1/3 innings, the starters had a 1.91 ERA, allowing 25 hits and 12 walks for a 0.87 WHIP and fanned 43. They followed a season-low 1.83 ERA the previous week with a 2.65 ERA this past week, lowering their season ERA to 3.79.
Left-hander Jacob Schlesener, the Cardinals’ 12th-round pick from Rogersville, Missouri, had his first start and longest outing – allowing two hits and no walks in three scoreless innings of an exciting 5-4 comeback win in the second game Monday.
Ian Oxnevad, the Cardinals’ 8th-round pick in June, earned his first career win and Jake Woodford, the supplemental first-round pick (39th overall) from Tampa, got his first save as the two combined to go all nine innings in 4-2 win over the Nationals on Thursday after the Cardinals had lost two of the first three.
Once again, though, David Oca outdid his brethren. Oca set the tone for the crucial series with the Mets by retiring the first 16 in a row, eventually yielding only two singles and a walk in eight scoreless innings, his longest outing yet, of the 2-0 win.
After retiring the first Mets batter in the top of the ninth, DeLorenzo gave up a single and a walk, but Arias earned the save by inducing a double play on his first pitch
With that win, the Cardinals became the last GCL team to record a shutout.
The lefty Oca leads the GCL in wins (six) and innings pitched (49-1/3).
After growing up in the Seattle area, which he describes as the “polar opposite” of coastal Florida, Ian Oxnevad is making great strides in his first pro season after the Cardinals selected him in the eighth round out of Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Washington.
“I had been here (Florida) for a couple of tournaments, so I had a taste of it, but nothing like this,” Oxnevad said of South Florida’s heat and humidity. “It has been an adjustment.”
The weather hasn’t been the only adjustment for the 18-year-old left-hander, who has allowed only two earned runs on 16 hits and six walks while whiffing 11 in 18 innings.
In high school, he said, echoing a typical refrain, “There is usually one good hitter, maybe two. Here, everyone is here for a reason – they are all good hitters.”
Oxnevad said he quickly discovered he cannot dominate by mixing in curve balls and sliders with his low-90s fastball, which overpowered most high school hitters. “Now I am having to learn to mix in my changeup more to throw batters’ timing off,” he said. “They’ve seen upper-90s and mid-90s, so the changeup is becoming a very valuable pitch for me now.”
Oxnevad said he is working on “improving my fastball command and being able to locate pitches.” He said he was upset with himself because he walked at least one batter in each of his first five outings, but was much happier with his no-walk performance this past week. “In high school, I hardly walked anyone.”
Coming and going
Ryan McCarvel was returned to Johnson City after spending a week with the GCL squad, helping out when two catchers were injured - Frankie Rodriguez (bruised knee) and Stephen Zavala (sprained finger).
The Cardinals led 1-0 in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader when the Nationals, after two outs and no runners on, scored four runs against DeLorenzo and Medrano. The Cardinals bounced back in the top of the seventh with a four-spot of their own and held on for a 5-4 win.
Carlos Torres and Dylan Becker started the rally with singles. One out later, pinch-hitter Ryan McCarvel’s infield hit loaded the bases. A wild pitch scored the first run, then Nick Plummer tied the score with a triple. Plummer scored the go-ahead run on Allen Cordoba’s sacrifice fly.
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