Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2015 Week 22

The Double-A Cardinals’ second half playoff push went until the final day of the regular season. Outfielder Mike O’Neill had another .300 season.

This report covers the period from Thursday, September 3rd through Monday, September 7th.

The Springfield Cardinals’ 2015 season came to an abrupt conclusion on Monday evening, despite winning five of their last seven games. The four-game separation between division-leading Arkansas Travelers (LAA) and the second-place Cardinals proved too much to make up over the season-ending homestand.

To begin the stretch of the final seven games at Hammons Field, Springfield went on to claim thee of oufof-4 over Arkansas to force a 2-way tie atop the North Division on Friday night. The Cardinals carried momentum and finished the year by winning 2-of-3 against Tulsa, but the Travelers took care of NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) on their way to the 2nd half playoff berth in the North Division.

After starting off the season losing 26 of their first 36 games, the Cardinals reflected on what they had accomplished between the 1st and 2nd halves. They made a 10 game improvement from the North Division’s cellar to prominent contenders for a second-half playoff opportunity.

Manager Dann Bilardello was satisfied with the end result even without postseason. Bilardello told the Springfield News-Leader, “We’ve battled hard all year to put ourselves in this position. It was in our hands. We had three games against Tulsa, and we knew that we probably had to win two, then if (Arkansas) sweeps, you give them credit. To Arkansas’ credit, they did what they had to do. I don’t have a problem with that. Our guys didn’t give up, so I don’t have a problem with how this whole thing ended up.”

Thursday, September 3rd, Springfield 7 vs. Arkansas 3

A first inning grand slam by David Washington lifted the Cardinals past the Travelers on Thursday night, pulling Springfield to within a game of a first-place tie in the North Division with just four games left to be played.

Washington capped a five-run tally in that first inning. The fifth run came off the bat of Nick Martini who drove in Charlie Tilson who reached on a double to lead-off the game. Tilson, finishing a home run shy of the cycle, later tripled and pushed across three tallies. Mike O’Neill also added three hits with an RBI.

Making his last regular season start, the Cardinals top prospect Alex Reyes held Arkansas to just two hits over his first five shutout frames. The right-hander was pulled after 5 1/3 innings having allowed an earned run on three hits, with three free passes and five strikeouts. Reyes earned his third Double-A win.

Chris Perry yielded Reyes’s lone run, but limited damage to a hit and walked one through two scoreless innings behind Reyes. Newcomer Tyler Melling and Robby Rowland had varying results, both recorded one out nonetheless. Jhonny Polanco gave up two earned runs in his Double-A debut before Ronnie Shaban picked up his team-leading 10th save via the strikeout to execute the game three win for Springfield.

Friday, September 4th, Springfield 5 vs. Arkansas 1

Springfield claimed the series and finale against their first-place rival Arkansas, whom they trailed by a game entering Friday night’s action. The Cardinals also forced a tie with the Travelers atop the North Division, with three games remaining on the 2015 season.

Thomas Lee delivered perhaps the most clutch start for the Springbirds on the season, Lee held the Travelers to just three hits over five shutout innings for his eighth Double-A win. Joey Donofrio gave up an unearned run but threw two scoreless innings by technicality. Silfredo Garcia and Ronnie Shaban slammed the door with scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

Jonathan Rodriguez produced the big blow for the Springfield offense, a three-run jack, his 13th home run of the season. Mike O’Neill added an RBI single, finishing with two hits overall.

Saturday, September 5th, Springfield 2 vs. Tulsa 5

The Cards started the day in a first-place tie with Arkansas, who lost as well on Saturday night. Despite losing the final opening game of the regular season, Springfield remained in the playoff race for another 24 hours.

Coming off his most accomplished start of his career, three runs through seven strong innings of work in a tough-luck loss against the Drillers, Corey Baker posted another great outing but dealt with a lack of run support. Another Missouri State draftee, Cody Schumacher, made his return to Hammons Field with two earned runs given up over two innings.

An RBI double by Bruce Caldwell and a sac fly from Nick Martini would be all the offensive output for the Cardinals in the opener.

Sunday, September 6th, Springfield 4 vs. Tulsa 10

Facing a steeper hill to climb for the regular season finale and with a playoff spot on the line, Springfield lost on consecutive nights to the division-rival Tulsa. As a result, the Cards were one game back of Arkansas, who had beaten NW Arkansas on Sunday.

Jimmy Reed didn’t make it out of the second inning, as the Drillers tagged the lefty for six earned runs. Dann Bilardello utilized six different relief pitchers the rest of the way, Silfredo Garcia, Joey Donofrio, Jhonny Polanco, Chris Perry, Robby Rowland, and Tyler Melling combined to hurl the final 7 1/3 innings of four run ball.

The Cardinals offense showed signs of life in a three-run fourth inning to pull within striking distance, but other than were kept at bay by the stellar work of the Drillers relief corps. Four runs were mustered on 11hits. Bruce Caldwell, Jonathan Rodriguez, and Mike O’Neill accounted for three of the runs via singles. Michael Ohlman also ripped his 12th home run of the season, a solo shot.

Monday, September 7th, Springfield 6 vs. Tulsa 3

Arkansas beat their eventual foe in the Texas League North Division series in NW Arkansas to claim the second half division championship and eliminate the Cardinals. Springfield showed a ton of growth between the first half to the second half, from finishing in last place with the worst first half record in the league to completely turning around a season with a second-place finish in the second half.

Andrew Morales delivered a seven-inning gem, as the right-hander gave up just two runs scattered across four hits, two walks, and six strikeouts for his fifth Double-A win. Silfredo Garcia pitched a clean eighth before Ronnie Shaban slammed the door on Tulsa for just an earned run on two hits in the ninth.

Keying the offense was Breyvic Valera, who produced a two-run single and solo home run, his 3rd homer of the season. David Washington and Patrick Wisdom contributed RBI singles.

Hitting coach ejected and suspended

In a strange event, second-year hitting coach Erik Pappas was ejected and suspended for the Tulsa series by the Texas League for his actions last Saturday evening. Pappas was reportedly arguing about a close play involving first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez from the previous half inning before first base umpire Ramon Hernandez rung him up.

Who’s Hot

Mike O’Neill – Hitting at a .375 clip (12-for-32) in his final ten games of the regular season, O’Neill edged over the .300 average plateau over 57 games for the Double-A Cardinals in 2015. The outfielder has established himself as scrappy pest to Texas League pitchers.

All about a disciplined approach, O’Neill backed up that reputation by walking 16 times more than he struck out, with a 37-to-19 K:BB ratio in parts of five stints with Springfield. Pappas recently shared the news that the organization keeps charts of how many times a player swings and misses, with O’Neill’s the lowest in the organization.

Thomas Lee - Throwing in long relief and spot starting, Lee got an ever so rewarding start against first-place Arkansas and produced. The right-hander tossed a three-hitter over five shutout innings, helping Springfield to a two-team tie last Friday night.

Who’s Not

Michael Ohlman - Ohlman got off to a decent but not ideal start as an offensive-first catcher. But as the old saying goes, Ohlman heated up as the weather did. As June and July rolled around, he hit .324 over those two months with nine home runs and 23 runs knocked in. During that stretch, the catcher was named a Texas League mid-season and post-season all-star, as announced this past week. (Other Cardinals post-season all-stars were Charlie Tilson and Arturo Reyes.)

However, logging the most innings of his professional career behind the notorious wear-and-tear position came at the price of Ohlman suffering a downfall at the plate over the dog days in August through September 7th. His average dropped to .196 over the span of 28 games played. A strong Arizona Fall League showing would definitely be enough to overlook his late-season struggles in 2015.

Jimmy Reed - Reed made an early exit in his final 2015 start, when the left-hander was pulled after just 1 2/3 innings against Tulsa in one of the most pivotal starts of his professional career. The Drillers tagged him for six earned runs on five hits.

Springbirds batting order

There were a couple of adjustments to manager Dann Bilardello’s order in the final week, Charlie Tilson was still penciled in his typical lead-off spot, but midway through the week Mike O’Neill’s second spot was taken by Bruce Caldwell for the final three games. Nick Martini hit third all week.

Following Martini was clean-up hitter Jonathan Rodriguez. Michael Ohlman was in the fifth spot for five of the six games. Big-bopper David Washington was right behind at six with Patrick Wisdom and Breyvic Valera at seven and eight without the designated hitter. While the DH was in play, they were eight and nine.

Team Transactions

9/5 INF Brett Wiley was assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis

In his only Triple-A game, Wiley had one single and one strikeout in three at-bats for the Redbirds. The middle infielder returned to Springfield after an abbreviated stint with Memphis.

For the Texas League Cardinals, Wiley struck out in his lone at-bat following his recent demotion. He is hitless in eight career at-bats at Double-A, five games overall.

9/6 RHP Cody Schumacher was assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

With the Cards in need of additional relief help to alleviate a heavily worked bullpen, Schumacher was routed to Springfield and gave up two earned runs over two innings in his Double-A debut against Tulsa. It was his first appearance at Hammons Field since pitching collegiately for the Missouri State Bears, from where he was taken in the 36th round of the 2014 draft.

Promptly after Springfield’s season came to a close, Schumacher was rushed back to High-A Palm Beach to pitch in the Florida State League playoffs.

Texas League North Division Standings (Second half final)

Arkansas Travelers (LAA) # 35 35 0.500 - 18-18 17-17 23-23 4-6 W2
Springfield Cardinals (STL) 34 36 0.486 1 19-17 15-19 25-21 7-3 W1
Tulsa Drillers (LAD) 32 38 0.457 3 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 L1
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC)* 29 40 0.420 6 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 L2
* 1H winner                  
# 2H winner                  

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#2 Alex Reyes - In his final regular season start in his third season in the Cardinals system, Reyes held the inner-division rival Travelers to two hits over his first five shutout frames on Thursday of last week. Reyes issued two free passes before walking two of his three in the sixth, eventually finishing with 5 1/3 innings to his credit.

On pitching with the newly-founded two-seamer to his arsenal of pitches, Reyes told Kary Booher of the OzarkSportsZone.com, “This is a level where hitters can hit fastballs, so if you have just a little bit of movement, it can add a lot,” said Reyes, who has spoken about the pitch with Martinez. “He said that hitters know that we’re going to throw fastballs because they read the scouting reports. But if you get something with a little movement and get weak contact, that’ll be a pitch I can go to.”

#10 Charlie Tilson - Tilson was the steadiest and most exciting of Springfield Cardinals lead-off men to pass through Double-A in the past half decade. The center fielder not only led the Texas League in hits (159), but the Cardinals organization as the next closest was former Missouri State catcher Luke Voit with 126. Over the last week, Tilson also passed Midland’s Jacob Bregman as the league’s leader in triples (9) as well.

Erik Pappas worked diligently with Tilson over the past winter and continued as his hitting coach for 2015, “His hard work is definitely starting to pay off, we’ve been working on getting his swing more flat through the zone, he was a little too steep to begin the season.” said Pappas. He added, “That’s why you see him starting to drive the ball in the outfield, especially the other way as he’s staying on the ball. That has a lot to do with his swing path.”

#15 Breyvic Valera - Valera had what you would call a developmental year for a prospect who thrived on success in the low minors. The middle infielder, a .300 career minor league hitter, fell well below that to .236 in 105 games for Springfield in 2015. Expect to see him repeat Double-A next year and build on what was an underwhelming season.

#25 Mike Mayers - Out with an elbow injury, with no word on his status.

#27 Patrick Wisdom - In spurts, Wisdom had flashed the promise that made him a former first-round pick. But there has also been times when the third baseman struggled to stay within himself and expanded his strike zone by offering at breaking pitches out of the zone. Multiple professional scouts don’t see him as a regular in the big leagues because of his plate discipline, but one who could carve out a career as a 3B/1B type with big power.

The Arizona Fall League will be a good indicator of his developmental progress over the last several months. His overall slash line for 2015 was .237/.294/.406 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI, 35 walks and 107 strikeouts in 114 games.

#35 Andrew Morales - The Cardinals season-ending game and playoff fate was on Morales’ shoulders. The right-hander delivered a seven-inning gem against Tulsa on Labor Day, despite Springfield being eliminated a few hours later with an Arkansas win. Known as a big-game collegiate pitcher for UC Irvine, Morales gave up just an earned run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts in one of his better outings of the season.

What’s Next

In the Springfield Cardinals 12th season as a minor league franchise, owned and operated by the St. Louis Cardinals, Springfield was 34-36 in the second half with a second-place finish a game behind Arkansas. They were 64-76 overall, third behind Arkansas and NW Arkansas, respectively, seven and a half games back for the season.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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