Dennis Ortega (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Exclusive, in-depth weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League for the period August 8-14.

The GCL Cardinals went 4-1 last week and remain in first place. Dennis Ortega, Starlin Balbuena and some familiar pitchers are leading the way. Farm director Gary LaRocque talks development.

If the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (27-15) win the East Division title this season, they can chalk it up to their dominance of the Marlins.

With essentially a doubleheader sweep Saturday – they completed Monday’s game that had been suspended due to rain, then played the regularly scheduled contest shortened to seven innings by league rule – the Cardinals improved to 10-1 against the Marlins, who are 18-13 against the rest of the division.

After starting 0-5 vs. the Nationals, the Cardinals have won four of their last five meetings. They have split 10 games with the Mets and are 8-3 vs. the Astros, having won the last five.

The Cardinals won four of five this past week after taking six of seven the previous week, adding a half-game to their lead over the second-place Nationals, the only team now with any reasonable chance of catching the Cardinals.

Since starting the season 7-9, the Cardinals are 20-6.

Winning the Close Ones

Looking at this team’s composite statistics, however, you would never guess they are leading their division by three games with 14 left to play in the next two weeks.

With the third-most hits and third-most walks allowed, the Cardinals pitching staff has the highest WHIP in the league at 1.42. Their 3.28 team ERA ranks 11th among the 17 GCL teams. Though it is second-best behind the Marlins in the East Division, their ERA is a bit misleading because the Cardinals are among the league’s worst in unearned runs allowed.

Nor are they bludgeoning their way to victory.

Their .253 team batting average ranks fourth in the league, as does the .335 on-base percentage. They rank eighth in the GCL in slugging percentage (.347) and Isolated Power (.094) and fifth in OPS (.682).

The second-place Nationals are ahead of the Cardinals in each of those categories. While the Cardinals are 12 games over .500, they have a run differential of only plus-4, while the Nationals are plus-29.

So how are the Cardinals winning so often?

Baseball statistics, even sabermetricians’ newer formulas, generally are about counting how many times players and teams do something, not so much about when, or in what situations.

In games decided by four or more runs, the Cardinals are 7-8, but in games decided by one or two runs they are 18-4. Approached another way, the Cardinals have won 27 games by an average of 2.85 runs, but lost 15 games by an average of 4.87 runs.

Winning Isn’t Everything

Manager Steve Turco is managing more aggressively this season, at least in using his bench on both offense and defense in the late inning of close games to try to win every game.

The Cardinals’ director of player development, Gary LaRocque, takes a longer view of what determines a successful season.

“Having had the privilege of managing back a number of years ago and understanding how some years turned out pretty well and other years not as well, the one thing about ‘contending vs. not contending’ and what the team was doing, I look back on some of those years when some have said it was not a great year, and when you look back five years later and you see that six players were significantly impacted on a major-league roster, then you say it was a successful year,” LaRocque said in an interview Monday in Jupiter. “So there’s a lot of ways at looking at what is a successful year.”

LaRocque said, “I’m impressed overall with how this entire group has come together this year. These players have come in here and gotten very comfortable with the level of the league. It’s been an exciting team to watch.

“We start in spring training and we talk about the importance of being a winning culture, a winning organization, then we right away shift gears into the preparation and that’s where our talk is every day – let’s prepare to do it well,” he said. “It’s the preparation that goes into it, the results will clearly take of themselves.”

Rehabbers Contribute

Turco got outstanding pitching all week. In 42 innings, the pitchers allowed eight earned runs on 35 hits and 10 walks while striking out 47.

After losing early-round draft picks Dakota Hudson and Connor Jones to promotion, the GCL Cardinals’ pitching staff was bolstered by a couple of rehabbers.

Right-hander Will Anderson, who is recovering from a shoulder injury after pitching for Peoria and Palm Beach last season, picked up wins for both of his scoreless, two-inning appearances, allowing a total of three hits and no walks while fanning one.

Right-hander Andrew Morales, who missed parts of the past two months with recurring shoulder issues, also looked strong in a two-inning rehab start, whiffing five around a hit and a walk.

The organization’s Pitcher of the Month in April is scheduled to throw at least once more for the GCL Cardinals before returning to Springfield, where he was 4-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 14 starts for the S-Cards.

Zac Gallen, the Cardinals 3rd-round pick in June out of the University of North Carolina, also pitched in with two more scoreless, two-inning appearances. In five outings so far, Gallen has allowed two runs on five hits and no walks in 7-2/3 innings while striking out 14.

Who’s Hot

With the promotion of designated hitter Hunter Newman to Johnson City, catcher Dennis Ortega became the team leader in OPS (.870) after going 6-for-11 with two walks in three games this past week. Ortega is now hitting .361 for the season, and with 13 walks his OBP is an impressive .448.

After missing eight games because of a sore hamstring, shortstop Delvin Perez returned to the lineup Tuesday with a leadoff double that led to a run in his first at-bat. Perez was 4-for-12 in four games since his return.

Infielder Starlin Balbuena was 6-for-11 with at least one hit in all four games he played.

Who’s Not

Outfielder Walker Robbins, the Cardinals’ 5th-round pick in June out of George County High School in Lucedale, Mississippi, was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts. Since going 9-for17 in a four-game stretch at the end of July, Robbins has two singles in his last 25 at-bats with two walks and 14 strikeouts.


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