After falling short of the playoffs last year, Peoria Chiefs skipper Joe Kruzel wanted to assure his team competed at the same level as in 2014 with a better end result in 2015. Kruzel and Co. did just that with a 75-63 overall record, including a 42-28 second half showing that sent them into the Midwest League post-season.
The Chiefs had high hopes for many of their top prospects, such as Nick Thompson, Jack Flaherty and Magneuris Sierra. However, injuries and cold streaks affected some of the highly-anticipated players within the St. Louis system.
A combination of second half call-ups from short-season ball, stellar pitching, and clutch hitting came in bunches and became the difference maker for the Chiefs.
On and off the field, the Chiefs had quite a few famous faces stop by Dozer Park this season. St. Louis Cardinals Jon Jay and Jaime Garcia made separate appearances as part of rehabs, former major leaguers Mark Grudzielanek and Edgar Martinez both made road trips with their affiliated teams, and finally, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky came by for the last homestand to see his son, Trevor, play with the Burlington Bees.
By the month
It was a slow start for the Chiefs as they concluded the first half with a 33-35 record and could not secure a playoff spot. The Opening Day injury to 2014 first-round pick Jack Flaherty wounded the starting rotation significantly, which resulted in heavy use of the bullpen early on.
While receiving wonderful contributions from players such as Collin Radack, Luis Perdomo and Danny Diekroeger, their call-ups to Palm Beach made a big difference in the team’s performance in the first half.
The second half of the season turned into a whole new ballgame, highlighted by a franchise-best 21-8 July.
The arrivals of 2015 draft picks Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong helped rejuvenate the team both at the plate and on the field. Youth led the way with many of the younger players putting together solid numbers in the second half. 2014 Cardinals fifth-rounder Darren Seferina was another player of honorable mention as he finished the year with a .293 average while transitioning from the nine hitter to leading off.
The Chiefs battled their way through the Western Division and went toe-to-toe with the Kane County Cougars (ARI) for the division lead. Peoria fell short in clinching the division over Kane County, but the Chiefs capped off their exciting, roller coaster season of 2015 with and a playoff berth for the first time in six years.
Peoria actually finished in third place, six games behind, with Quad Cities (HOU) in second, one game ahead of the Chiefs. However, the River Bandits had won the first half, so already qualified for the post-season.
The wild card Chiefs exacted their revenge in the playoffs. A first-round sweep of Kane County made a big statement for the Chiefs as pitching and a little bit of postseason magic at the plate propelled Peoria into a position to contend for a championship title.
After winning their first playoff series in 10 years, the Cedar Rapids Kernels (MIN) halted the Chiefs’ triumphant run at the league title with a two-game sweep of Peoria in the semi-finals, taking the Western Division crown. The Kernels are facing the West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) in the finals.
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The pitching staff was the team’s strength, yet was a day-and-night story throughout the season. Unfortunately, inconsistency hurt the Chiefs in the long run.
The rotation changed often along the way, but All-Stars Austin Gomber and Luis Perdomo paved the way through the season for the Chiefs. After Perdomo’s early August promotion to A-Advanced Palm Beach, Gomber picked up the slack with ease, finishing with a 15-3 record, a 2.67 ERA, 135 innings pitched, 140 strikeouts, and a complete game, which was a one-hitter.
Matt Pearce also received notable mention, especially with his MWL record of most innings without allowing a walk. While Pearce went 11-10, the right-hander notched a 2.34 ERA in 144 2/3 innings pitched.
The back end of the bullpen was a bit shaky at some points in the season. With Tyler Bray being sent down to State College and coming back up, the improved reliever showed his value in his second chance with Peoria in 2015.
To call closer Kyle Grana phenomenal is without a doubt an understatement. In his first season with Peoria, the 24-year-old turned in a 2-2 record, a 0.78 ERA and converted 24 of his 26 save opportunities.
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Offensively, the Chiefs stepped up when needed in clutch situations. However, hot-and-cold streaks became a big concern through the year. Hitting with runners in scoring position was either dismal or unstoppable, depending on the game.
Danny Diekroeger and Collin Radack became a great one-two punch early on for the heart of the lineup. Once they moved up to Palm Beach, the offense and lineup faced major changes.
Paul DeJong’s bat in the regular season provided a huge pickup in the two hole. DeJong finished his first season of professional baseball with a .288 batting average, nine home runs, 41 RBI, and a .519 slugging percentage in just 56 games with Peoria.
Speed killed for the Chiefs thanks in part to Oscar Mercado, who stole 50 bases. Seferina contributed 23.
Four Peoria players were initially selected to the Western Division All-Star Team – pitchers Perdomo, Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon plus shortstop Mercado. Reliever Robby Rowland became the fifth Chief recognized when added to the team as a replacement for another. Perdomo and Mercado were in the starting lineup for the mid-season classic, held at Dozer Park on June 24.
The Chiefs were also well-represented on the MWL post-season All-Star Team, taking three of the 13 spots for the entire league. Recognized were Seferina (2B), Gomber (LH starter) and Grana (RH reliever).
Games of the Year
July 23 – Peoria Chiefs 2 vs. Clinton Lumber Kings 0
With a little help from the bullpen, a successful rehabilitation start for Jaime Garcia turned into a combined no-hitter for the Chiefs. The pitching staff faced just one over the minimum as a hit batsman turned out to be Clinton’s only baserunner.
The Cardinals lefty went five near-perfect innings with six strikeouts. Garcia was limited to approximately 60 pitches and ran through the LumberKings lineup swimmingly. Steve Sabatino entered in the sixth and pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings with two K’s. Cody Schumacher earned the win with his 1 2/3 innings to preserve the no-hitter and ended the game with an easy groundout to first baseman Alex De Leon.
July 25 - Peoria Chiefs 3 vs. Kane County Cougars 2
“Better late than never” seemed to be the mentality for Chiefs bats in the bottom of the ninth to ignite the ninth-inning rally.
With two outs and their backs against the wall, Alex De Leon kept the game alive with a double down the left field line. Nick Thompson followed up with a double in the right-center field gap to tie the game up. After Harrison Bader walked, Brian O’Keefe smacked the first pitch he saw nearly out of the park and off the wall in center to give the Chiefs an exciting comeback win.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Peoria Chiefs Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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