Magneuris Sierra (Brian Walton / The Cardinal Nation)

News from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate in Peoria for the period June 14-20

The first half of the season concluded for Peoria on Sunday, with the Chiefs atop the Western Division, earning them a spot in the MWL playoffs in the fall. The Chiefs take a break for All-Star week festivities, with seven players invited to the MWL All-Star Game on Tuesday, including outfielder Magneuris Sierra.

Game Summaries

Tuesday, June 14: No Game (postponed to Wednesday)

All-Star Brennan Leitao was scheduled to start, but inclement weather and multiple warmup sessions forced him to throw too many pitches and he was deemed unable to pitch the next day

Wednesday, June 15: Game 1 Peoria Chiefs 4 at Clinton LumberKings 7

Game 2 Peoria Chiefs 1 Clinton LumberKings 2

Due to a deluge of rain last Tuesday, Peoria and Clinton were forced to play a doubleheader on Wednesday, when the Chiefs were dished a pair of losses.

All-Star Derian Gonzalez started Game 1 but only lasted 1 2/3 innings as he experienced shoulder discomfort and was taken out of the game. The righty gave up one unearned run with three walks and one strikeout.

Nick Frey was hammered in his three innings of relief, yielding seven hits and six runs with three strikeouts and one walk. He was credited with the loss.

Peoria scattered hits throughout, but despite a bit of a rally in the late stages, the Chiefs were unable to come all the way back.

Brian O’Keefe blasted his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot in the second. O’Keefe was 2-for-2 and was the only Chief to record multiple hits.

Game 2 was much closer, but Peoria’s efforts to plate runs were mostly futile. In fact, the Chiefs struggled mightily to get runners on base. The Chiefs only managed six base runners and scored once, thanks to a Magneuris Sierra RBI-single in the fifth.

For a while, it seemed that the lone Peoria run might be enough to carry the Chiefs to a win. Thanks to Juan Perez’s performance on the mound, Peoria was in contention for the win all afternoon. Perez’s first start of the year was very solid as he went a scoreless five innings, yielding only four hits and walk with six strikeouts.

That sole run would not hold up, however. Harley Holt worked a scoreless sixth inning but failed to retire a batter in the seventh. Steven De La Cruz could not hold Clinton from scoring the winning run.  Holt was credited with the loss while De La Cruz blew his third save of the season

Thursday, June 16: Peoria Chiefs 4 vs. Burlington Bees 3

Sandy Alcantara had a polarizing start to his most recent outing. The Dominican allowed a single, double and a triple to three of the first four batters en route to two early runs, which did not bode well for his night. However, Alcantara also struck out eight of the first nine retired batters.

Clearly, the righty’s stuff was electric but was occasionally hit hard. Regardless, he worked out of trouble multiple times thanks to his blistering fastball and excellent off-speed pitches. Alcanatara ended up going five innings, giving up six hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts.

Leitao came out of the bullpen in this game as he missed his start earlier in the week. The righty was just as effective in relief as he is starting as he threw the last four innings, giving up one run on two hits with three strikeouts while earning the win.

O’Keefe put Peoria on the board with an early game-tying double to score Sierra and Edmundo Sosa. An inning later, Vaughn Bryan tripled and then scored on a wild pitch. Bryan also knocked home the go-ahead run in the eighth on a single that scored R.J. Dennard. The outfielder’s 2-for-3 performance made the difference in the close win.

Friday, June 17: Peoria Chiefs 4 vs. Burlington Bees 3 (11 innings)

Jake Woodford, the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May, toed the rubber last Friday night and had another quality start. Woodford was dinged around a bit in the first, yielding a run on three early hits, but the 19-year-old quickly settled down.

He was very effective with his low-90’s fastball while his changeup and curveball kept opposing hitters off balance. The Florida native routinely worked with runners on base and did an exceptional job of stranding them. Woodford went six innings, giving up two runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

Jorge Rodriguez showed why he had not seen much action lately. The Dominican blew the one-run lead in the eighth after committing an error and then giving up a double. De La Cruz and Tyler Bray held Burlington scoreless for the next three innings.

Peoria base runners were hard to come by for most of the game. O’Keefe, Chinea and Dennard strung together singles in the second to plate two runs and Sierra blasted a home run over the right field fence in the fifth. Other than that, the Chiefs had nothing going.

Finally, in the 11th inning, Alvarez nearly belted a walk-off home run, but he settled for a double off the center field wall to lead off the frame. Two at-bats later, Thomas Spitz knocked home Alvarez to secure the victory.

Saturday, June 18: Peoria Chiefs 8 vs. Burlington Bees 3

Peoria secured a spot in the playoffs with their wire-to-wire win on Saturday. The Chiefs unloaded all eight runs in the first two innings and never looked back.

Alvarez blasted a two-run home run in the first inning, his second of the season. The Chiefs plated six runs in the second inning thanks to six base hits. Alvarez ended the night 3-for-5 with two runs scored and four RBI while Sosa, Chinea and Jose Godoy each recorded two hits.

Ryan Helsley delivered another All-Star performance on the mound. The righty went six innings, allowing one unearned run on eight hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. Helsley’s fastball command was solid while his curveball fooled Burlington hitters all evening.

Sunday, June 19: Peoria Chiefs 2 vs. Burlington Bees 1

Though Peoria had already clinched a playoff spot, the Chiefs still had winning on their mind. With a win and Clinton loss, Peoria could clinch the first half division crown, which had home field advantage attached.

Starter Junior Fernandez put Peoria in a great position to take the title. Fernandez’s fastball was excellent – consistently in the high-90’s with wicked movement. The righty only allowed four hits, two walks and struck out four in his six scoreless innings.

Peoria was lucky to get such a quality pitching performance because the offense was anemic. Peoria did not have a runner advance past second base until the seventh when Godoy knocked Alvarez home on a double.

With the game tied in the eighth, Alvarez scored Sierra from second to give Peoria the lead. Alvarez finished the night 2-for-4 while Sierra was 0-for-3 with a walk and Sosa was 1-for-4.

Frey worked the final three innings in relief to earn the win.

Monday, June 20: All-Star Break

Peoria Clinches Division Title

With Saturday night’s win, Peoria clinched a spot in the MWL playoffs. Entering Sunday, Peoria needed some help from Kane County if they had any chance at winning the division. Luckily for the Chiefs, they handled business at home with a dramatic win while Kane County defeated Clinton.

While Peoria got off to a bit of a slow start this season, they have been on quite the roll for the last month and a half. It will be interesting to see how the team handles their young arms and manages their roster in the second half, where it does not really matter how well the team does. Regardless, the whole team will be looking forward to hosting a playoff game in September.

Seven Chiefs Highlight Western Division All-Stars

Shortstop Edmundo Sosa, second baseman Eliezer Alvarez, centerfielder Magneuris Sierra and starting pitchers Derian Gonzalez, Ryan Helsley, Brennan Leitao and Jake Woodford were announced as Midwest League All-Stars.

Sierra and Woodford were added as late selections due to other injuries around the league and unfortunately, Gonzalez went on the DL himself over the weekend. Sosa’s selection was a bit surprising, considering he is only hitting .255 this season. More shocking was Sierra’s initial snub as he is playing a major league caliber center field while hovering around .300.

Despite the surprises, it is still special that these seven talented players were selected to the team and especially noteworthy that four of Peoria’s six starting pitchers are among them. The pitching staff was among the best in the league so it seems fitting that more than half of Peoria’s starters will be represented in Cedar Rapids.

Who’s Hot

Eliezer Alvarez. This is the third consecutive week the second baseman has found himself on this list because he continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the entire league. Alvarez ranks in the top-6 in average, OBP, slugging, OPS and stolen bases thanks to his gap-to-gap power and quick feet to beat out infield dribblers.

At this point, there is not much else to say about Alvarez. He is clearly extremely talented and has quite the knack for terrorizing opposing pitchers. The next step for him will be to improve defensively. Alvarez has a tough time reading in-between hops and he lets the ball eat him up at times. After that, we may see a quick rise through the system if the Dominican continues to rake.

Sandy Alcantara. Alcantara has had a pretty solid stretch of games lately. In his last two starts, the hard throwing righty has 21 strikeouts in only 12 innings. He has continued to get better with runners on base, sneaking out of jams with his powerful stuff. When he gets hit, he gets hit hard, but his stuff is so good that hitters do not often make contact. He and Fernandez were the only two starters to not be named All-Stars this year, so look for him to come out next half with a chip on his shoulder to prove himself even more.

Who’s Not

Craig Aikin. The outfielder has flown under the radar this season, and upon further examination, the Oklahoma alum has had a pretty miserable year. Aikin is only hitting .230 with a .304 OBP. There is obviously a reason he is placed in the nine-hole in the order. Aikin had three hits last week with five strikeouts and one walk. However, Aikin will likely continue to play because the Chiefs have little outfield depth.

Last Week’s Hot and Cold Players

Ryan Helsley – hot. The 21-year-old of course had another solid outing, winning his seventh game of the season thanks to six powerful innings. Helsley allowed one unearned run on eight hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.

Vaughn Bryan – cold. Bryan had a better week this time, going 4-for-12 with a pair of RBI and runs scored. I have heard speculation that he may be released soon after the All-Star break, but if he begins to hit with at least some consistency, then the Cardinals may consider keeping him around.



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

All-Star starting pitcher Derian Gonzalez was placed on the 7-day DL with a shoulder injury.

Team Stats – Season to Date

Offense Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last week’s rank)
BA .265 4 (3)
Runs 302 5 (5)
HR 16 15 (15)
Stolen Bases 57 T-5 (6)
OBP .327 6 (6)
OPS .679 T-4 (6)
Pitching Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last week’s rank)
ERA 3.16 2 (5)
Strikeouts 569 5 (T-6)
Walks 215 9 (T-8)
HR Allowed 26 T-10 (10)
Saves 17 10 (T-8)

Midwest League Western Division Standings

Club (Previous rank) W L Pct. GB L10 STRK
*Peoria (1) 40 30 .571 - 7-3 W4
*Clinton (2) 39 31 .557 1.0 7-3 L1
Cedar Rapids (3) 36 33 .552 3.5 3-7 L2
Wisconsin (6) 34 36 .486 6.0 6-4 W2
Kane County (5) 33 37 .471 7.0 5-5 W1
Beloit (7) 32 37 .464 7.5 4-6 L2
Burlington (4) 32 38 .457 8.0 3-7 L5
Quad Cities (8) 31 38 .449 7.5 6-4 W2
* Clinched Playoff Berth            

What’s Next

Peoria will be off until Thursday when they start a 10-game road trip, beginning in Burlington, then to Beloit for games next Monday through Thursday.

Follow Alex Kryah on Twitter @ar_Kryah9.

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