The Peoria Chiefs’ home stand didn’t quite go as they had planned, as they dropped four of seven games at Dozer Park. Peoria hosted the top team in the league for the first half of the week and then proceeded to host the last place team, but the two series yielded two losses in three tries and a 2-2 split, respectively. Peoria found it tough to win despite some stellar pitching performances. The final six of the seven games were played last week and are highlighted following.
Tuesday, April 19: Peoria Chiefs 7 vs. Clinton LumberKings 10 (10)
Steven De La Cruz and Tyler Bray combined to blow a four-run lead in the top of ninth to hand the game away to the LumberKings. De La Cruz left the game in the top of the ninth with the score tied with two outs and bases loaded. Bray was not able to get out of the jam, and proceeded to blow the save and give up three runs in the tenth.
The bullpen spoiled a four-run eighth inning by the Chiefs in which R.J Dennard and Craig Aikin each plated a pair of runs. Dennard went 2-for-5 with a double while Sierra belted a double en route to a 2-for-4 performance.
Starter Derian Gonzalez went six strong innings, giving up three runs on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Wednesday April 20: Peoria Chiefs 4 vs. Clinton LumberKings 6
Jake Woodford was knocked for four runs in the fourth inning, and the Chiefs were never able to bounce back. Though only three of those runs were earned, Woodford did allow seven hits in his five innings of work with an alarming six walks and only five strikeouts.
The Chiefs had seven hits in the ballgame, with six courtesy of Dennard, Eliezer Alvarez and Edmundo Sosa. Alvarez reached base four times as he earned two walks and two hits and also scored a run.
Chris Chinea started his second consecutive game behind the plate. It was his first 2016 action as he had been on the DL since the beginning of the year.
Thursday April 21: Peoria Chiefs 3 vs. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 0
Thanks to four consecutive hits and a pair of Wisconsin errors, Peoria started the game with a commanding 3-0 lead. Starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara was able to hold onto that lead for the entirety of his start as he held Wisconsin scoreless through six innings.
The Dominican righty was hit hard at times and had some control issues, but showed resiliency in his ability to work out of trouble in multiple innings, including stranding the Timber Rattlers with the bases loaded three times. Alcantara finished with six strikeouts, five walks and four hits.
The only runs came in the first inning. In fact, no Peoria baserunner advanced past second after that opening frame. The only Chief to have more than one hit on the night was Sierra, who went 2-for-4.
Steven Gallardo contributed three scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts, one hit and no walks.
Friday April 22: Peoria Chiefs 6 vs. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 0
Ryan Helsley toed the rubber for Peoria on Friday and produced the best pitching performance of the week throughout the entire MWL. Helsley was awarded the league’s Pitcher of the Week honors after he blanked Wisconsin through six innings, allowing only one hit and two walks with six strikeouts and earned the win. In fact, Peoria would only give up one more hit over the final three innings.
The Chiefs would only need one run to win, but the offense exploded for six runs. Alvarez, Chinea, Sierra and Orlando Olivera each recorded two hits, while Sosa had his best game of the year, going 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI and a run scored.
Aside from a Vaughn Bryan single, the aforementioned Chiefs recorded every hit for Peoria on this evening.
Saturday April 23: Peoria Chiefs 1 vs. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 2
Though Helsley was the MWL Pitcher of the Week, Junior Fernandez may have provided the better performance. Unfortunately, he couldn’t provide the same outcome. Fernandez was routinely in the high-90’s all day, leaving Timber Rattlers’ hitters frustrated all afternoon. Fernandez impressively didn’t give up a single walk but struck out 10 in eight innings.
A two-run third inning proved to be too much for Peoria to overcome as they only plated one run - on a Sosa home run. The shortstop was 2-for-4 in the ballgame. The only other Chiefs to record a hit were Dennard and Olivera, each going 1-for-4.
Fernandez was dealt the tough luck loss and now finds himself 2-1 on the year with a 2.57 ERA, third best among the team’s starters.
Sunday April 24: Peoria Chiefs 1 vs. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 5 (11)
Brennan Leitao was impressive once again on the mound, mowing down Wisconsin hitters for eight innings on Sunday. Leitao gave up only one run on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts. Leitao continues the trend set by Chiefs starting pitching since opening day as every Chiefs starter has gone at least five innings.
Leitao’s performance was in vain, however, as the Chiefs were only able to provide one run in the first nine innings thanks to doubles from Dennard and Jose Godoy.
Peoria relievers did their best to keep the team in the game, but they could not hold Wisconsin scoreless for long. Reliever Landon Beck, who had not given up a run all year till Sunday, yielded the go-ahead runs in the 11th inning and suffered the loss.
Monday April 25: Off Day
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was in town for a few days last week to watch some of his organization’s prized pitching prospects.
Some speculated that after Sandy Alcantara’s latest outing, in which he held Wisconsin scoreless through six innings, that he may get the call up to Palm Beach. Fernandez may also be on the move soon as well as he has been dominant at times, flashing a fastball in the high 90’s along with an excellent slider.
Nothing has been reported about him or any of the other top prospects receiving a promotion yet, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone like Fernandez, Alcantara or even Leitao get called up in the near future, especially considering the depth of the Chiefs rotation.
Starters Going Deep
Sunday’s start from Helsley marks the 17th straight start that a Chiefs starting pitcher has made it five innings or deeper in a game. This is important for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the starting pitching is the forte of this team, and it shows how special this group is. All six starters have proven that they can effectively pitch at this level, and some have exhibited true dominance.
While Helsley was named of the MWL Pitcher of the Week, Fernandez, Leitao or Alcantara could have easily been selected for the honor. The starters all offer something a little different, but they are clearly effective. Further, like other MWL teams, the bullpen leaves a bit to be desired. The more innings starters eat up, the better, especially with Steven Gallardo going on the DL.
Edmundo Sosa. Remember when Edmundo Sosa was on the “Not” list because of his lack of production? Those days are long gone. Sosa has been seeing the ball much better this last week, boosting his average to .302 on the season. He is still not getting on base as much as he would like and is striking out frequently, but we are beginning to see why the Cardinals are so high on him. He has an opposite field approach, has great speed to leg out doubles in the gap, and has finally flashed some power. Overall, it's encouraging to see Sosa turn things around and flash all five tools.
Brennan Leitao. Leitao now has the lowest ERA on the team among starting pitchers at 1.80. He may not have the best stuff and isn’t a big name, but he is certainly deserving of some more attention. The 22-year-old is second on the team in innings pitched (20.0) and second in WHIP (0.90), so he is showing he can work deep into games while staying in the zone. His fastball only sits in the low-90’s, but he is locating it well along with a solid slider and changeup, which are making opposing hitters swing and miss. If a pitcher was to be promoted from Peoria solely based on merit, it would certainly be Leitao.
Vaughn Bryan. Bryan saw playing time in every game last week but did not show that he is worthy of playing every day. The right fielder was 2-for-18 with only four walks and six strikeouts. Bryan missed significant time last year with an injury, but his comeback this year hasn’t yielded results. He is only hitting .205 and his OBP is .300. Peoria needs more offensive production, especially in the outfield, but Bryan is not helping the cause at the moment.
Tyler Bray. To date, the reliever has yielded seven runs, six earned, on 10 hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings (five appearances). That works out to a 10.12 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting .400 against the 24-year-old right-hander, though he does have five strikeouts.
Last Week’s Hot and Cold Players
Eliezer Alvarez. Alvarez did not have a fantastic week, but is still playing reasonably well. He is hitting .250 now, which is not stellar, but he is drawing more walks than he was before. The Dominican second baseman does lead the team in errors with eight, so that is something to look out for moving forward.
Junior Fernandez. As was mentioned before, Fernandez suffered a tough luck loss after a phenomenal performance. There are not many negative things to say about Fernandez at this point; he has only impressed.
Leobaldo Pina. Pina did not play very much last week because Casey Turgeon deservedly took most of the playing time at third base. Even when Pina did get opportunities, he did not make the most of them; The Venezuelan is still hitting .100 through his first 40 at-bats of the season.
Chris Chinea was activated from the 7-day DL early last week, which led to catcher Brian O’Keefe to be called up to Palm Beach.
Outfielder Orlando Olivera was assigned to Peoria from Palm Beach last Wednesday.
RHP Nick Frey was assigned to Peoria from Palm Beach last Saturday.
Relief pitcher Steven Gallardo was placed on the 7-day DL. Gallardo has been effective for the Chiefs this year, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. His presence will be missed in the bullpen, which has struggled as of late.
Pitcher Jery Then remains on the 7-day DL.
Team Stats – Season to Date
The pitching is clearly the strong suit of the team, but their bullpen brings them down. Offensively, they struggle with getting runners on and getting them in scoring position. The Chiefs will have to make some major adjustments to contend in the Midwest League.
|Offense||Season Stat||MWL rank of 16 (Last week’s rank)|
|Stolen Bases||16||10 (15)|
|Pitching||Season Stat||MWL rank of 16 (Last Week’s rank)|
|HR Allowed||6||T-6 (T-2)|
Midwest League Western Division Standings
|Club (Previous rank)||W||L||Pct.||GB||L10||STRK|
|Kane County (2)||10||7||0.588||1||6-4||L1|
|Cedar Rapids (1)||10||8||0.556||1.5||4-6||W1|
|Quad Cities (8)||7||11||0.389||4.5||5-5||W1|
Peoria goes on a road trip this week, first to Fort Wayne (9-9) for three games and then to Lake County (12-6), who own the best record in all of the MWL, over the weekend. Derrian Gonzalez will be on the bump on Tuesday, and then the rotation will turn back over, as Woodford will throw on Wednesday.
Follow Alex Kryah on Twitter @ar_Kryah9.
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