For the first time since 2008, the Palm Beach Cardinals made it to the Florida State League playoffs, edging the Bradenton Marauders for the second-half Division Title. The Charlotte Stone Crabs knocked them out quickly, however, so the Cardinals were unable to bring home their first championship since 2005.
The first month of the season went well for Palm Beach as their starting pitching emerged early as one of their strengths, winning four shutouts and two additional games in which they allowed just one run. Their playoff fate was eerily foreshadowed though, as the Cardinals were swept twice by the Charlotte Stone Crabs, resulting in six of their nine losses in the month.
Their most impressive performer was lefty Rob Kaminsky, who pitched to a 2-0 record with an impressive 1.50 ERA in the month. Kaminsky’s co-ace, right hander Alex Reyes, was named the organization’s Pitcher of the Month as he turned in a similarly impressive performance with a 1-1 record, a 1.77 ERA, and 25 strikeouts in just 20 1/3 innings.
After a decent start to the season, Palm Beach began to really struggle in May. A pitching staff that had shown flashes of brilliance in April stumbled a bit, and the sluggish offense slowed to a crawl as the Cardinals scored fewer than two runs in nine of their 29 games.
A bright spot amongst the chaos was Trey Nielsen’s performance, as he posted a 2-1 record with a sparkling 1.69 ERA in four starts.
June First Half (8-9)
The Cardinals finished the first half of the season just under .500, leaving them with a final first-half record of 32-38. This showing netted them a tie for last place in the division as the Charlotte Stone Crabs took first place easily with a record of 45-25.
Flame-throwing Alex Reyes dazzled, pitching to a 1.62 ERA and 1-1 record over three starts in the beginning of June, while striking out an incredible 24 in just 16 2/3 innings.
Voit was the only Cardinals representative to appear in the game, as Caldwell was already promoted to Springfield and Reyes was unavailable to pitch. Voit helped his team win the game handily by a score of 6-0.
June Second Half (4-5)
With new hope and a second chance at a playoff berth, the Cardinals performed as well in the second half of June as they did in the first: one game below .500. In spite of the uninspiring record, there were signs of hope, as four of the team’s five losses were by two or fewer runs.
Palm Beach’s pitching continued to be stellar, as Trey Nielsen and Rob Kaminsky dominated during the month. By the end June, Nielsen had stretched a streak of seven consecutive starts in which he gave up one or no runs, and his June ERA was an unbelievable 1.03. Kaminsky did his best to keep up, posting a 3-1 record with an amazing 1.16 ERA over the month.
As Palm Beach entered the heart of summer, the team really began to heat up. Behind some extraordinary pitching, the Beach Birds became a nearly unstoppable force, taking and retaining first place in the Southern Division.
Corey Littrell was particularly brilliant, going 4-0 with an 0.91 ERA and an 0.78 WHIP. Incredibly, Luke Weaver nearly outpitched him, with a 3-1 record and an 0.94 ERA, earning the Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month award for July.
In the second half of July, the Palm Beach Cardinals lost two of their best starters as Alex Reyes was promoted to Springfield and Rob Kaminsky was traded to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Brandon Moss. Nonetheless, the Cardinals and their stellar pitching staff continued to excel, as Luke Weaver managed to top his July performance, posting a miniscule 0.89 ERA with a 4-0 record.
Although the Bradenton Marauders stayed hot on their tail throughout the month, the Cardinals retained a healthy lead within their division.
With a spot in the playoffs nearly assured, the Cardinals sputtered to the finish line. Although they got a number of solid performances from both the lineup and pitching staff, Palm Beach brought their second-half division title down to the wire. Injuries to the back end of the rotation left the pitching staff weaker than usual and Palm Beach’s impressive half came to an end with a fizzle, rather than a bang. With just three games left, however, the 43-25 Cardinals secured their spot in their playoffs by finishing one game ahead of Bradenton, and prepared to duel the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Division Championship Series.
In spite of their preparations, the Division Championship Series was one sided in favor of Charlotte. Neither Corey Littrell nor Luke Weaver were able to slow the Stone Crabs’ ferocious offense, and the Cardinals lineup was unable to contribute enough to earn a single victory. The Cardinals were swept out of the way as Charlotte ran to its first Florida State League Championship.
With an overall record of 75-63, the Cardinals were second in the division, as the Fort Myers Miracle topped them by half a game (the Cardinals had one game cancelled entirely), although the Miracle finished second in each half and thus missed the playoffs. As already noted, each half’s record is what really matters.
The name of the game for the Beach Birds in 2015 was pitching, as they led the league with a shocking 2.65 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, just 358 earned runs, and only 438 runs allowed. In terms of run prevention, there was no doubt that they were the best around, and although Roger Dean Stadium certainly helped them keep their home run total down to a mere 29 on the year, Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky, Luke Weaver, Corey Littrell, Trey Nielsen, and a whole host of others contributed far more to their overall record and incredible performance.
On the other side of the coin is hitting. The Cardinals didn’t do a lot of hitting this year, with a team .238/.313/.316 slash line. They were near the bottom of the 12-team league in nearly every offensive category, including batting average, slugging, OPS, runs, RBIs, home runs, total bases, and hits. The one thing they did really well was walk, taking a base on balls 424 times, good for second in the league. It’s fair to note that the Florida State League is notoriously a pitcher friendly league, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals were among those at the bottom of the hitting heap by almost every metric.
There is an oddly interesting parallel between the Palm Beach Cardinals and their Major League counterpart, in that their pitching is amazingly good while their offense remains lackluster at best. It’s a formula that seems to work at least reasonably well for both sets of Cardinals, but if you’re hoping to see a great offensive boost in the near future for St. Louis, look somewhere other than the 2015 Palm Beach roster.
All in all, the season was a good one for the Cardinals, as they managed to put up some outstanding pitching numbers while making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Although they exited from the playoffs quickly, it was a good sign, and perhaps they can go a little farther in 2016.
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 Palm Beach Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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