Eliezer Alvarez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

News from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate in Peoria for the period May 10-16

Inclement weather forced two postponed games for the Chiefs, leading to a pair of doubleheaders. Despite the disruptions, Peoria strung together four wins, including three over league-leading Clinton. Eliezer Alvarez is sparking the offense.

Game Summaries

Tuesday, May 10: Game Postponed (Rain)

Wednesday May 11: Game 1 - Peoria Chiefs 4 at Beloit Snappers 0 (7), Game 2 – Peoria 0 at Beloit Snappers 4 (7)

The opening game of the doubleheader featured Jake Woodford, who produced his first scoreless outing of the season. In fact, Woodford only allowed four baserunners, yielding three walks and one hit. One could argue that it was Woodford’s best start of the year as he finally earned his first win.

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The Chiefs only recorded four hits, but thanks to some timely hitting, they were all the offense needed. After an Edmundo Sosa RBI-single, Eliezer Alvarez belted a two run double in the third inning.

Craig Aikin also recorded an RBI on a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

The script was completely flipped in game two as Peoria was blanked. Sandy Alcantara rebounded reasonably well from his previous miserable start by going five innings and giving up only one earned run. However, the righty committed an error and paired with a couple of walks, allowed three runs in the second inning.

Alcantara was credited with the loss, giving up three walks, three hits, a home run and six strikeouts.

There were no offensive fireworks for Peoria as the Chiefs recorded just five hits. Alvarez was 1-for-1 with another double and two walks. While Peoria was 2-for-5 with runners in scoring position in game one, they were hitless in eight opportunities in game two.

Thursday May 12: Peoria Chiefs 4 at Clinton LumberKings 5

Ryan Helsley dealt with trouble all afternoon but mostly able to limit the damage in his five innings of work. Helsley attacked the zone, striking out seven and walking none. However, the right-hander was dinged for eight hits, which led to two runs

The 23-year-old put Peoria in a good position to win, but Harley Holt, who debuted, was not able to keep the tie. Holt gave up a solo-shot in the sixth and ultimately allowed three runs in his 1 1/3 innings of relief.

Once again, Peoria was only able to produce four hits. Brian O’Keefe’s home run in the eighth inning cut the deficit to one, but the Chiefs could not find a way to tie the game. For the second consecutive contest, they were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Friday May 13: Game Postponed (Rain)

Saturday May 14: Game 1 - Peoria Chiefs 3 at Clinton LumberKings 1 (7), Game 2 – Peoria Chiefs 7 at Clinton LumberKings 2 (9)

Peoria seemed to take Thursday’s loss to heart as they entered the Saturday double header with Clinton (SEA). Brennan Leitao was phenomenal once again, throwing a complete game (seven innings). The righty improved to 3-2 after giving up only five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.

Leitao might have had a no-decision if not for a clutch two-RBI single from Thomas Spitz in the sixth inning. Spitz plated R.J. Dennard and Chris Chinea to give the Chiefs the lead and, ultimately, the win. Dennard and Alvarez each recorded two hits.

The Chiefs were very fortunate that Leitao was on in game one because they desperately needed their bullpen for game two. Starter Junior Fernandez lasted only 2/3 of an inning, giving up two runs on a pair of hits and walks.

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http://www.scout.com/player/176244-tyler-bray?s=321

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The bullpen carried the load the rest of the way as Jorge Rodriguez, Tyler Bray and Steven De La Cruz held Clinton scoreless through the remaining eight innings. The trio combined to allow three walks, two hits and seven strikeouts.

The game was tied at 2-2 until the top of the ninth when Peoria popped off for five runs. A five hit inning with doubles from Jose Godoy and Alvarez and a triple from Brian O’Keefe fueled the extra innings win.

Alvarez, O’Keefe and Aikin clubbed three hits. Alvarez belted a pair of doubles while O’Keefe and Aikin had two RBI each.

Sunday May 15: Peoria Chiefs 8 at Clinton LumberKings 2

A three-run second inning spurred the Chiefs’ highest offensive output for the week. Five Chiefs had multiple hits, including a four-hit performance from Thomas Spitz. The right-fielder was 4-for-5 with a triple and a pair of RBI. Magneuris Sierra, Dylan Becker, Godoy and Aikin each had at least two hits. In all, Peoria produced 15 hits.

Starter Derian Gonzalez was solid, as usual. The 21-year-old threw six innings, striking out three and walking three while earning his second win on the year. Gonzalez gave up two runs with five hits, which now makes his ERA 2.60 for the season.

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The bullpen was once again perfect as Juan Perez carried the load once Gonzalez finished. Perez tossed three innings, yielding no runs on three walks and no hits with four punch-outs.

Monday May 16: No Game

 

All Coming Together

This looks like a completely different team from two weeks ago. In late April, Peoria was below average in nearly every offensive category and the bullpen was a wreck. While the Chiefs starting pitching was still solid, they were having difficulty winning games.

Now, Peoria ranks in the top six in three vital offensive categories and the bullpen has proven to be highly effective at times. There are various factors to thank for the turnaround.

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For one, Alvarez now ranks in the top-20 in the league in both slugging and on-base percentage, which sets the table nicely for the rest of the lineup. Brian O’Keefe is also playing every day, and he provides a great presence at the plate for Peoria. The pitchers in the bullpen know their roles now and are filling them nicely.

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The biggest factor is simple; the players are just getting into a grove. As the year has gone on, everyone is becoming more comfortable with playing at this level. There is a lot of talent on this roster, and it is showing now.

 

Who’s Hot

Eliezer Alvarez. Here he is again on this list. Alvarez may be the most talented hitter on the team, and when he is on, he is tough to handle. The second baseman was 8-for-24 last week with multiple extra base hits and, as was mentioned before, he is slugging .459 with an OBP of .383.

The offensive outburst is likely because he is seeing the ball so much better. The 21-year-old, like his other young counterparts, have had a difficult time being patient and with swinging and missing. Now, Alvarez is drawing more walks and striking out less, which has obviously been helping him get on base.

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Brennan Leitao. The right-hander was recognized here last week, and a complete game performance certainly earns him a return. There is not much more to say about Leitao than has already been said; he has a great command of all of his pitches, he attacks the zone and simply gets the job done on the mound.

The righty now has a 2.01 ERA through 40 1/3 innings this year with 36 strikeouts and a 0.94 WHIP.  Leitao eats up quality innings each and every outing, and he has set the bar high for his other starting pitching teammates.

 

Who’s Not

Junior Fernandez. This was the second straight week a Peoria starting pitcher was unable to last beyond the first inning. Fernandez was pulled at 2/3 of an inning after giving up a pair of walks, hits and runs. This was obviously disappointing as the Dominican had been fabulous all season long. Obviously, he is very young so he is prone to starts like this. He will likely bounce back next week like Alcantara did.

R.J. Dennard. The first-baseman has been hitting relatively well all year after his blistering start. Lately, however, he has been underwhelming. Dennard struck out six times in his last four games and went 3-for-15 last week. Based on his performance all year, this was simply just a bad stretch for the 23-year-old. Expect the slugger to bounce back soon.

 

Last Week’s Hot and Cold Players

Chris Chinea. Chinea had a hit in all four games in which he played, but went just 4-for-15 with an RBI and a run scored. The catcher cooled off, but was still productive.

Sandy Alcantara. The Dominican bounced back from his 2/3 of an inning performance by going five innings with three hits, three walks, six strikeouts and one earned run.

Dylan Becker. Becker had a three-hit performance on Sunday to salvage an otherwise mundane week. The third baseman boosted his average to .250 thanks to his 3-for-5 output.

 

Transactions

A series of moves were all designed to re-shape the bullpen and offer relief to Palm Beach.

Luke Harrison was returned to Peoria from extended Spring Training on Sunday.

Harley Holt was assigned to Palm Beach from Peoria on Sunday.

Nick Frey and Landon Beck were assigned to Palm Beach from Peoria on Saturday.

Brady Bowen and Jordan DeLorenzo were assigned to Peoria from the GCL Cardinals on Saturday.

 

Injuries

Relievers Jery Then and Steven Gallardo remain on the 7-day DL.

 

Team Stats – Season to Date

As long as the pitching, especially the bullpen, continues to be solid, Peoria will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the remainder of the season.

Offense Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last week’s rank)
BA 0.257 5 (5)
Runs 152 6 (5)
HR 5 15 (15)
Stolen Bases 25 T-11 (11)
OBP 0.320  6 (6)
OPS 0.664 5 (5)
     
     
Pitching Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last Week’s rank)
ERA 2.96 2 (5)
Strikeouts 295 7 (8)
Walks 122 7 (7)
HR Allowed 14 T-4 (4)
Saves 7 14 (T-14)

Midwest League Western Division Standings

Club (Previous rank) W L Pct. GB L10 STRK
Clinton (1) 21 15 .583 - 5-5 L3
Cedar Rapids (2) 20 16 .556 1.0 5-5 L1
Kane County (3) 19 17 .528 2.0 4-6 L2
Beloit (4) 18 18 .500 3.0 4-6 L1
Peoria (5) 18 18 .500 3.0 8-2 W3
Wisconsin (6) 17 20 .459 4.5 4-6 W1
Burlington (8) 15 21 .417 6.0 4-6 W2
Quad Cities (7) 15 21 .417 6.0 4-6 W1

What’s Next

Peoria remains on the road Tuesday through Thursday at Kane County (ARI 19-17) and then will return home for a weeklong home-stand. They host Beloit (OAK 18-18) Friday through Monday.

 

Follow Alex Kryah on Twitter @ar_Kryah9.

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