R.J. Dennard (Brian Walton / The Cardinal Nation)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate in Peoria

The Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate is off to a 4-1 start behind the hot hitting of R.J. Dennard.

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The Peoria Chiefs kicked off their 2016 campaign last Thursday in Burlington with high expectations for an extremely talented team.

Six members of the Chiefs are ranked among The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and all six were on display in the team’s first four games.

Peoria had to deal with frigid conditions throughout the week in Burlington and at home. The conditions were so rough that last Friday’s game was postponed due to high winds. However, the conditions didn’t stop the Chiefs from playing four other contests. They opened the season with a loss to Burlington but then rebounded to win their next three at home.

Game Summaries

Thursday, April 7: Peoria Chiefs 2 at Burlington Bees 3

The Chiefs debuted one of the organization’s top prospects in Jake Woodford in the season opener and the 21-year-old didn’t disappoint. Woodford mowed through Bees hitters for six innings, giving up only two runs on two hits, two strikeouts and two walks.

He yielded the pair of runs in the third inning on a single, which set the Chiefs down 2-0 in the third inning. The Chiefs struck back in the top of the fifth when R.J. Dennard, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, scored on an error and Craig Aikin scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly from Thomas Spitz.

The game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, but relievers Steven Gallardo and Steven De La Cruz were unable to hold the lead. Gallardo left the game with runners on first and third when he was pulled for De La Cruz, who gave up a single. Gallardo was credited with the run and the loss.

Friday April 8: Game Postponed – Weather

Saturday April 9: Peoria Chiefs 8 vs. Burlington Bees 6

Peoria’s home opener was nothing like the season debut as they scored seven runs in the first three innings and never relinquished the lead.

Eliezer Alvarez and Edmundo Sosa reached to start the bottom of the first and were later driven in on an error from Brian O’Keefe and then a single from Dennard. Two innings later, the Chiefs belted in four runs thanks to a trio of hits from Magneuris Sierra, Vaughn Bryan and Jose Godoy. Godoy was 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored.


Starter Sandy Alcantara debuted on Saturday and was effective through 4 2/3 until giving up three consecutive walks and allowed two wild pitches, leading to three runs. Alcantara touched 95 mph on the night as he struck out and walked four in his five innings of work.

Sunday April 10: Peoria Chiefs 4 vs. Burlington Bees 3

Alvarez led the game off with a bang in the bottom of the first with his and the team’s first home run of the season. The lead was erased a few innings later as Peoria starter Ryan Helsley gave up a no-doubt 3-run home run in the fourth inning.

Peoria clawed their way back into the game in the sixth and seventh, plating a run in each inning thanks to some small ball strategy to tie the game at three apiece. Chiefs’ relievers Chandler Hawkins and Luke Harrison quieted the Bees’ bats, providing 3 1/3 innings of scoreless work, combining for five strikeouts and no walks.

The Chiefs lucked out in the bottom of the ninth when Leobaldo Pina lifted a routine pop fly to center and the Burlington centerfielder fell down, allowing the ball to drop, resulting in a double for Pina. He then reached third on a single from Aikin and finally scored on a walk-off single from Thomas Spitz.


Alvarez went 1-for-2 on the night with a home run, two RBI and a walk.

Monday April 11: Peoria Chiefs 8 vs. Quad Cities Bandits 4

Junior Fernandez’s debut for the Chiefs couldn’t have started out worse. The 19-year-old gave up hard hits to three of the first four batters, giving up two runs early. The right-hander recovered and even though he was kind of erratic, he was effective, going six innings giving up four runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts and ended up earning the win.


The Chiefs were thwarted offensively throughout most of the game as they got two base runners on through four innings, both only reaching first. A six-run sixth inning changed all of that as the Chiefs drew three walks and earned four hits, including a mammoth homerun from Dennard.   

Dennard continued to stay hot, going 2-for-3 with that home run and three RBI. Casey Turgeon also had a solid night going 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.

Deuces Are Wild

The Chiefs have gone doubles-crazy four games into the year, erupting for 12 doubles in their first four games, which is the best in the Midwest League. Dennard leads the team with four doubles while Aikin has two and Vaughn Bryan, Leobaldo Pina, Ryan McCarvel, Sierra, Sosa and Alvarez all have one. The team’s only other extra base hit came on a home run from Alvarez on Sunday. Peoria is in the top three in the MWL in slugging as a team.

Pitching Prospects Debut

Top prospects Jake Woodford, Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez all made their Class-A debuts this week and all had reasons to leave fans encouraged for the season to come. Woodford probably performed the best of all, but Alcantara and Fernandez flashed mid-90’s fastballs with good off-speed stuff. Woodford was very consistent in his outing, notching a quality start while Alcantara and Fernandez had stretches in which they had serious trouble commanding their pitches. The trio combined to go 2-0, giving up eight earned runs with 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 innings.

Who’s Hot


R.J. Dennard. Dennard has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball through the Chiefs’ first 4 games. In 13 at-bats, the Chiefs first baseman has seven hits, five for extra bases, including four doubles and a home run. Dennard has four RBI and two runs scored. It is obviously early, but Dennard is slugging over 1.000 and has an OBP of nearly .600, which is strikingly impressive. Dennard is really seeing the ball well thus far; even his outs have been hit hard. Manager Joe Kruzel has moved him into the cleanup spot because of his success at the plate.


Jake Woodford. There is a reason Woodford is one of the top pitching prospects in the Cardinals system. Woodford did not strike out a ton of hitters, but he did a great job of keeping opposing hitters off base, by only giving up two walks and two hits in his six innings of work. Though he did not record the win, he was credited with the quality start. It was extremely encouraging to see Woodford flash good control and good stuff in his first start in Class A.

Who’s Not

Sasha Kuebel. He only threw one inning in the last week but it was a pretty ugly one. The lefty, who is one of the six returning players to the roster from last season, gave up three hits and three runs on a massive three-run home run on Saturday to the Bees. The home run brought the Bees within one and nearly spoiled the Chiefs home opener.

Edmundo Sosa. Sosa has had a rough go at it thus far at the plate, producing only three hits in 16 at bats. What’s worse is that he is hardly even putting the ball in play as he has also struck out four times. He has looked uncomfortable at the plate and in the field, where he has made a pair of errors as well. Sosa did go 2-for-4 on Monday, but two of his three total hits this year have been bloopers. He is clearly talented and will likely turn it around, but it has been a difficult start to his season in Peoria.


Before the first game, catcher Chris Chinea suffered an oblique injury and was replaced on the active roster by Ryan McCarvel.


Reliever Jery Then opened the season on the seven-day disabled list.

Team Stats – Season to Date

It is pretty early to tell much from these stats, but if Peoria expects to continue to win, they will have to rely on more than just one bat (Dennard) to carry them offensively.

Offense Season # MWL Rank of 16
BA 0.271 7
Runs 22 7
HR 2 T5
Stolen bases 3 T9
OBP 0.338 7
OPS 0.749 5
Pitching Season # MWL Rank of 16
ERA 3.09 4
Strikeouts 28 T12
Walks 13 T10
HR Allowed 2 T4
Saves 1 T4

Midwest League Western Division Standings








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What’s Next

The Chiefs continue their first homestand of the year Tuesday night and Wednesday against Quad Cities. Probable pitchers Brennan Leitao and Derian Gonzalez will get their first starts of the year. Peoria then travels for a road series this weekend at Wisconsin where Woodford, Alcantara and Helsley are scheduled to pitch.

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