Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2015 Week 21

The Double-A Cardinals are just two games back in the standings with four games remaining. Corey Baker has sparked the rotation.

This report covers the period from Thursday, August 27th through Wednesday, September 2nd.

As the minor league season narrows, the calendar has flipped from the speedy Dog Days of August to much more refreshing weather of autumn for the last couple of weeks of the regular season. The month of September typically means that post-season play is rapidly approaching and the Springfield Cardinals (STL) have significantly bridged the gap on the division-leading Arkansas Travelers (LAA) over this last week.

Springfield finished slightly above .500 with a 4-3 overall mark for Week 21. Although, the NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) completed a four-game sweep last Friday night, the Cardinals didn’t dwell and finished the road trip in a positive manner by sweeping the Tulsa Drillers (LAD) in the final road series of the season, a three-game set that pulled them back to within two games of the Travelers.

Coming home for the last of seven games at Hammons Field before season's end, Springfield welcomed first-place foe Arkansas of the North Division. So far, the first two games have split, but the Cardinals remain within striking distance to keep playoff hopes alive for the final two games of the series.

Thursday, August 27th, Springfield 4 at NW Arkansas 5

NW Arkansas took the third game in a row, guaranteeing a series win, with the finale still ahead on Friday. Springfield spoiled a quality six-inning effort from Jimmy Reed who struck out a season-high eight batters.

Reed gave up four earned in the third inning, but the lefty recovered to retire his final nine of ten batters faced. Losing pitcher Silfredo Garcia pitched a scoreless inning, but was charged with an unearned run after a fielding error by Patrick Wisdom. It was the go-ahead run for the Naturals and eventual winning one.

Jonathan Rodriguez clobbered his 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot. Charlie Tilson and Mike O’Neill contributed RBIs.

Friday, August 28th, Springfield 1 at NW Arkansas 9

NW Arkansas and Springfield closed out a 32-game season series against each other on Friday night, with the former taking the seasonal match-up by capping it off with a four-game sweep. The Naturals struck for eight of their nine runs in the first inning, six off Cardinals starter Andrew Morales, who was knocked out after getting just one out.

Ryan Sherriff and Mike O’Neill provided bright spots on a rather gloomy game for Springfield, Sherriff tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief while O’Neill collected two hits and the offense’s sole RBI.

Saturday, August 29th, Springfield 3 at Tulsa 2

Springfield began their final road series on Saturday night against the third-place team Tulsa. The Cardinals claimed the opener thanks to Ronnie Shaban pitching out of a ninth-inning jam.

The matchup featured two of the top prospects in Minor League Baseball - Alex Reyes and Dodgers prospect Jose DeLeon. Despite some struggles to control counts at times with three walks through five innings of one-run ball, Reyes outdueled his counterpart. The flame-throwing Jersey born right-hander racked up eight strikeouts to even up his Double-A record at 2-2 on his 21st birthday.

Thomas Lee followed to eat up three shutout innings in relief before Robby Rowland took over in the ninth. Rowland gave up an earned run on three straight hits before Ronnie Shaban picked up his seventh save of the season.

Offensively, runs came at a premium in the early going, but Springfield was able to scratch out three runs. The Cardinals knocked DeLeon out the second time through, in the fifth. Michael Ohlman and David Washington had RBI doubles, Ohlman’s for two RBI. Charlie Tilson added a single and a triple while Patrick Wisdom smacked three singles.

Sunday, August 30th, Springfield 4 at Tulsa 2

With eight games remaining on the season, Springfield pushed to three games behind first-place leading Arkansas by winning the final road series of 2015. In a bullpen start, Kurt Heyer yielded two earned runs over three innings before Silfredo Garcia supplied an additional three innings.

Robby Rowland followed with two shutout innings before Ronnie Shaban converted his team-leading eighth save by tossing a clean ninth. Breyvic Valera and Brett Wiley added RBIs, Wiley's first in Double-A. Michael Ohlman had the game-winning two-run hit for the second straight night.

Monday, August 31st, Springfield 6 at Tulsa 0

Predominantly a relief pitcher throughout his professional career, but inserted into the rotation of late, Corey Baker made the start. The right-hander spun around a nine-inning complete game shutout, a three-hitter against Tulsa on Monday night. With the win, Springfield secured a series sweep against the division-rival.

Baker threw an even 100 pitches - 68 for strikes. Thanks to a sharp sinker/changeup combination, the right-hander struck out four and induced 13 Driller ground-outs in the longest outing of his career. The last Springfield Cardinal to throw a complete-game shutout was Mike Mayers earlier this season. Baker joined Mayers and an exclusive company of five others to do so in franchise history.

Not much was needed offensively, but Jonathan Rodriguez homered and hit an RBI single while Nick Martini, Michael Ohlman, and Patrick Wisdom each contributed RBIs. Martini and Wisdom doubled.

Tuesday, September 1st, Springfield 6 vs. Arkansas 3

In perhaps the most significant game of the 2015 season for Springfield, with seven games left to play, the Cardinals showed no hesitancy. Tuesday’s win closed the gap to one game behind the first-place Travelers of Little Rock.

Timely hitting has been a rather sparse commodity for the Cardinals offense at times this season. Though David Washington jolted the offense with his 15th home run, a two-run shot with a sacrifice fly for a total of three runs driven in. Bruce Caldwell doubled twice, one for an RBI while Mike O’Neill and Michael Ohlman ripped RBI singles.

Jimmy Reed gave up three earned runs on ten hits through 4 2/3 innings, leaving with a no-decision. A trio of relievers followed to throw the remaining 4 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, Joey Donofrio, and Robby Rowland pitched 1 2/3 scoreless each. Ronnie Shaban executed his team-leading ninth save in a scoreless ninth.

Wednesday, September 2nd, Springfield 2 vs. Arkansas 4

Arkansas ended Springfield’s hot-streak at four straight wins. The Travelers got excellent pitching from Albert Suarez, who pitched the second deepest outing of his season on Wednesday night, 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball. Suarez’s efforts increased his team’s lead back to two games.

Andrew Morales logged seven innings for Springfield. All but one of those frames were scoreless as Morales’ only scar was a three-run blast served up in the third inning.

Charlie Tilson and Mike O’Neill were a combined 0-for-7 at the plate. Nick Martini managed the lone blow for Springfield, a two-run shot.

Who’s Hot

Bruce Caldwell – A repeat mention in this “Who’s Hot” segment, the infielder continued hitting at a robust rate through this last week with a .343 (12-for-35) average. He smacked a home run with five RBI.

Corey Baker - To say Baker dominated in his nine-inning shutout against Tulsa on Monday, would be an undeniable understatement. It was a great accomplishment for a pitcher who was a 49th round pick and has shifted roles between starting and relieving throughout his professional career.

His pitching coach Jason Simontacchi told the Springfield News-Leader, “I’m not going to say he is going to throw a complete-game shutout every time, because that’s not going to happen,” Simontacchi said, “But he is capable of throwing something close to that. Just early contact makes the defense work, and if he stays ahead, then obviously guys are going to swing the stick. With him, and the sinker he has and the changeup he has, it makes it hard for hitters to do something real positive.”

Who’s Not

Patrick Wisdom - Wisdom has hit safely in three of his last four games at the plate, but overall in the last ten games the third baseman’s average is just .176 (6-for-34) with 12 punchouts.

Joey Donofrio - Donofrio threw a scoreless outing his last time out against Arkansas, but the right-hander yielded three earned runs in three innings of work on Tuesday. He has allowed 16 earned runs over his last 18 2/3 innings pitched.

Springbirds batting order

Charlie Tilson led-off for all seven games followed by Mike O’Neill at two for six of the seven games, with David Washington slotting at two for the others. Nick Martini moved into the three-hole while Bruce Caldwell was penciled in that spot once this week.

Jonathan Rodriguez continued as the clean-up hitter, with Bruce Caldwell moving down to five after Martini’s recent rise up the batting order. Michael Ohlman dropped down to the sixth spot as of result.

The final three slots were a combo of Patrick Wisdom and David Washington at times, Washington batted eighth as the DH as Breyvic Valera followed at nine. Valera batted eighth without the DH this week.

Team transactions

8/28 RHP Chris Thomas was assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

With Sam Tuivailala joining St. Louis over the weekend, the organization quickly shuttled Thomas to Memphis for his third stint at Triple-A. The right-handed reliever has appeared in two games since his recall, Thomas has allowed three earned runs over 1 2/3 innings in two games as a Redbird.

8/28 INF Andrew Sohn was assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

Last Friday, Sohn was promoted to Springfield to take Thomas’ roster spot. The middle infielder had just rejoined Palm Beach eight days prior from Peoria. His overall 2015 line is .240/.307/.318 with three home runs and 36 RBI over 292 at-bats in 89 games. In his first Double-A at-bat, a pinch-hit appearance, Sohn flied out.

8/30 LHP Kyle Hald was assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

Hald succeeded disabled John Gast on the Memphis roster, a move announced Sunday. The 26-year old, Hald made his first Triple-A start since May 8th and threw six quality innings of two-run ball in a win. Earlier in his first stop at Triple-A, Hald took hard-luck losses in his two starts.

9/1 INF Brett Wiley was assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

After just four games with Springfield, Wiley made the jump to Memphis and was thrown right into the fire on Tuesday night with a starting nod. The middle infielder got three at-bats in his Triple-A debut, with a single.

9/2 RHP Kurt Heyer was assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

Heyer was among those assigned to Memphis to add a fresh arm to a roster drained by September call-ups. The former 6th rounder last pitched for Memphis on May 28th. For the 2015 season, Heyer has an accumulated a 4.29 ERA with a 56-to-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 79 2/3 innings between Springfield and Memphis.

9/2 LHP Ryan Sherriff was assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield

Along with Heyer went Sherriff to get a taste of Triple-A and increase the depth of Memphis’s bullpen as the minor league season comes to a close. The lefty reliever at Springfield struck out 31 batters and walked 12, allowing 12 runs on 36 hits in 34 1/3 innings for a 3.15 ERA in 2015. Sherriff debuted on Wednesday for Memphis by retiring two over the minimum in 1 2/3 innings.

9/2 RHP Jhonny Polanco was assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

Shortly after an August 14th promotion to Palm Beach, Polanco received a more challenging assignment, a rung ahead with the Texas League Cardinals. Splitting time between starting and relieving this year, Polanco has a 4.06 ERA in 68 2/3 innings with a 76-to-37 strikeout to walk ratio between Peoria and Palm Beach. The right-hander has been said to reach the mid-90s with a slider and changeup.

9/2 LHP Tyler Melling was assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

Melling is replacing Sherriff as the lone lefty reliever at Springfield for the last week of the season. The Cardinals’ 39th round pick in the 2011 draft owns a career-best 2.84 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 44 1/3 innings pitched at Palm Beach.

Hammons Field tops among Texas League honors

For the fifth consecutive season, Hammons Field, home of the Springfield Cardinals since the inaugural season in 2005, was named the Texas League Field of the Year. It is the seventh time has Hammons won this award overall. The Springfield Cardinals and Hammons Field are also three-time winners of the Double-A Field of the Year (2008, 2013 and 2014). The Double-A Field of the Year will be announced during the off-season.

Long-time Cardinals Head Groundskeeper Brock Phipps was also selected as the Texas League’s 2015 Turf Manager of the Year. "To have Hammons Field named as the Texas League Field of the Year is really an incredible honor," said Phipps. "This league is full of excellent facilities and top notch playing surfaces, and to once again be voted as having the best field in the league really is a testament to the hard work of Assistant Groundskeeper Derek Edwards and our entire field crew."

"Brock, Derek, and the staff have an unwavering dedication to making Hammons Field an elite playing surface for the Future of Cardinals Baseball," said Vice President/General Manager Matt Gifford. "It is our continued honor to uphold Mr. Hammons' tradition of excellence at Hammons Field, and we would like to thank everyone at Hammons Industries for helping us do so. It is not only our commitment to providing an unmatched playing surface, but also a beautiful ballpark for the best fans in Minor League Baseball to enjoy."

This all came after Phipps and his crew worked tirelessly to completely replace the playing surface following the 2014 season.

Texas League North Division Standings (Second half)

Club  W L Pct GB Elim# Home Away L10
Arkansas Travelers (LAA)  33  32  .508  -  -  16-17  17-15  5-5
Springfield Cardinals (STL)  31  34  .477  2.0  4  16-15  15-19  4-6
Tulsa Drillers (LAD)  29  36  .446  4.0  2  13-18  16-18  4-6
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC)  27  37  .422  5.5  E  16-17  11-20  6-4

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#2 Alex Reyes - Reyes was among the trio of Springfield Cardinal top 40 prospects to be named to the Arizona Fall League. The newly turned 21-year old on August 29th this week, struck out eight batters in five innings of one-run ball for his second Double-A win, a solid birthday gift from the baseball gods.

#10 Charlie Tilson - Not only did Tilson break his career-high in stolen bases this season, the outfielder essentially tripled his previous career-high, 15 in 2013 with the Peoria Chiefs. He set the Springfield franchise record in stolen bases in a single season. Tilson was also named to his second Arizona Fall League opportunity in as many years, after a broken foot held him out of action last year.

#12 Aledmys Diaz - Diaz was promoted to Triple-A Memphis last week. The Player of the Week in the Texas League for August 10-16 was also announced as a Cardinal representative in the Arizona Fall League.

#25 Mike Mayers - Out with an elbow injury. No further update on his status. He did not get an Arizona Fall League opportunity which means he will likely use the off-season as a time to rest and recover his elbow for next spring.

#27 Patrick Wisdom - Wisdom’s month of August has been a tough one to say the least after coming off the June Player of the Month and solid July. The third baseman received an invitation to the Arizona Fall League. This will give him a chance to face consistent high-profile pitching and should be telling of where he is developmentally.

#35 Andrew Morales - Morales followed his clunker on Wednesday night by throwing seven solid innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts. I imagine that the former UC Irvine product will see plenty of Double-A in 2016 and should be battle tested the second time around.

#NR Michael Ohlman - Ohlman is another of the Springbirds Arizona Fall League representatives. The catcher has retooled his offense with a terrific opening season in the Cardinals organization. His defense will be heavily emphasized this fall to be fine-tuned as it has since his arrival.

What’s Next

Down two games in the standings after dropping Wednesday night’s contest, Springfield will finish up a four-game set with Arkansas on Thursday and Friday nights. This series will likely decide the Cardinals’ post-season fate.

The 2015 minor league season will come to a close on Monday, September 7th in a noon start time game against the Tulsa Drillers, the finale to a three-game series.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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