After an uneven 4-4 Week 21, The Springfield Cardinals are three games away from being eliminated from postseason consideration in the second half.
The North Division first-half champs have already secured a playoff spot and await the winner of NW Arkansas (KC) or Arkansas (LAA) as they host the first two games of the divisional round of the Texas League playoffs starting next Wednesday, September 7th.
This report covers the period from Thursday, August 25th through Wednesday, August 31st.
Thursday, August 25th, Springfield 4 vs. NW Arkansas 3 - 11 innings
Allen Staton’s big blast lifted the S-Cards over the Naturals, 4-3, in 11. Springfield held a two-games-to-one series lead with one remaining.
Staton’s second hit in four at-bats was his team’s second home run. Blake Drake launched a game-tying two-run shot in the seventh, eventually sending the game into extras. Paul DeJong and Alex Mejia had two hits apiece. Mejia and Staton both swiped a base.
Corey Baker served up two home runs accounting for all three of the tallies charged to him over six. Baker gave up seven hits in all, fanning six.
Justin Wright (2 1/3) and Josh Lucas (1 2/3) kept the opposition off the board, Lucas striking out three. Kevin Herget, who earned the win, worked around a two-out single in the 11th.
Friday, August 26th, Springfield 2 vs. NW Arkansas 1
Springfield squeaked out a win against the Naturals on Friday. The Cardinals tied the game in the third on an RBI double by Alex Mejia, then plated the winning run in the eighth on an Allen Staton single. Staton, Paul DeJong and Blake Drake had two hits apiece.
Starter Daniel Poncedeleon hurled five innings, giving up one unearned run on six hits and seven strikeouts. Trey Nielsen, Robby Rowland, and Josh Lucas combined for the remaining four scoreless innings. Rowland earned the win, his first, and Lucas picked up his 16th save.
Saturday, August 27th, Springfield 8 vs. Tulsa 11
The Cardinals offense churned out eight runs against the Drillers, but Tulsa cranked out more.
Starter J.C. Sulbaran had a rough night, lasting 4 1/3 innings and giving up seven runs, six earned, on seven hits. Blake McKnight surrendered four more runs in his 2/3 of an inning, capping off the seven-run fifth. Chandler Hawkins and Rowan Wick pitched two scoreless innings each. Sulbaran took the loss, his fourth with Springfield.
The bats were working, but it wasn’t enough. Luke Voit was 3-for-4 with two RBI. Paul DeJong also plated two runs while going 2-for-5. Harrison Bader drove in a run on a sac fly in the seventh inning. Blake Drake had a pinch-hit RBI double, also in the seventh inning, as the Cards plated three to pull within three.
Sunday, August 28th, Springfield 7 vs. Tulsa 5
Springfield scored five times in the first two innings then held on to claim a 7-5 victory over Tulsa.
The home team accumulated 12 hits, including five doubles and a home run. Catcher Jesse Jenner led the way, going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Three players had two hits each: Bruce Caldwell, Paul DeJong, and Luke Voit. Caldwell and DeJong both went 2-for-4 with a double and RBI. Caldwell blasted a solo bomb, and Voit went 2-for-3 with a sac fly, touching home once and driving in two.
Ian McKinney was a tad shaky in his Double-A debut, yielding five hits and five bases-on-balls in 3 1/3 innings, but somehow only allowing three runs, including a long ball with the bases clear.
Kevin Herget blanked the Drillers on a hit and walk in 2 2/3 and was credited with his fifth win in as many decisions. Herget also worked around a bases-loaded with one out inherited jam in the fourth. Justin Wright was charged with two runs on three hits in the seventh. Trey Nielsen held the opposition to a hit over the final two innings for his first save.
Monday, August 29th, Springfield 3 vs. Tulsa 7
Springfield lost on Monday, bringing their second half record to 29-33, two games out of first in the Northern Division, but still in the last place among the four teams.
In his third game since returning to the Springfield roster, Harrison Bader went 1-for-4 with a walk batting leadoff. He now has a .266 BA on the year across both Memphis and Springfield. Jonathan Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. Luke Voit went 1-for-3 with a stolen base, and Cole Lankford picked up a pinch-hit double.
Johnny Walter took the loss after pitching 6 2/3 innings, yielding six runs, five earned, and striking out three. Blake McKnight finished the game with 2 1/3 innings of relief, allowing one run.
Tuesday, August 30th, Springfield 0 at Arkansas 5
Springfield was shut out by Arkansas, 5-0, in the road series opener.
Corey Baker took the loss, his eighth against three wins, yielding five runs – four earned – on nine hits and three free passes through seven. He fanned seven. Rowan Wick walked one in the eighth.
The visitors managed just five hits – two each by Harrison Bader and Jonathan Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Bader went 2-for-4 at the top of the order and Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a base-on-balls out of the five hole, so the two could not team up to generate any scoring.
Wednesday, August 31st, Springfield 2 at Arkansas 4
Wednesday, August 31st, Springfield 2 at Arkansas 1
In Game 1 of the doubleheader, Daniel Poncedeleon went the distance (six innings), but gave up four earned runs on six hits in his eighth loss of the season as Springfield dropped the opener, 2-1 to Arkansas.
Vaughn Bryan accounted for the entire offensive output, producing two RBI via one single. Paul DeJong doubled in three at-bats.
The nightcap was a different story as the S-Cards received timely pitching on their way to a 2-1 victory over the Travelers.
Fresh off the DL, Austin Gomber lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits. Trey Nielsen followed with 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn his eighth win. Robby Rowland and Kevin Herget slammed the door, pitching the last 1 1/3 innings.
DeJong guided the offense with a perfect 3-for-3 game, including two doubles and a RBI. Jonathan Rodriguez knocked in one on a RBI single
Paul DeJong - The 23-year old has shifted back and forth between hot and cold all season, but this past week, the third baseman was clicking on all cylinders. DeJong is currently hitting .394 (15-for-38) over his past ten games with a homer, six doubles, and five RBI.
Blake Drake - The outfielder, who is a defensive highlight machine, is riding an eight-game hitting streak after extending it with two hits on Wednesday night. Drake has increased his average from .211 to .241 over that stretch.
Trey Nielsen - Nielsen has shown no ill effects off the DL, throwing 6 1/3 scoreless frames as a reliever after missing time due to fatigue.
Kevin Herget - Herget continues to be a staple in the late innings for Springfield. The righty, who did not allow a run over 23 innings for Palm Beach earlier this season, has 4-0 record and 1.74 ERA in his last ten outings. Herget has given two earned runs over 10 1/3 innings during that stretch.
Jacob Wilson - Since being demoted to Double-A for the second time, starting on August 23rd, Wilson has not hit. The infielder carries .133 average (4-for-30) through his past ten games.
Ian McKinney - McKinney's Texas League debut did not go according to plan. The lefty lasted an abbreviated 3 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits. He walked five and struck out four in a no-decision effort.
Blake McKnight - The former Evangel product, a university based in Springfield, MO, was ambushed for four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning against Tulsa in his Texas League debut. McKnight bounced back in his second appearance, pitching 2 1/3 innings of one-run ball two days later.
Two Lukes Receive TL Post-Season Honors
Luke Voit and Luke Weaver were named to the 18-man Texas League postseason All-Star team, announced Wednesday. Corpus Christi (HOU) led the way with four selections.
Voit, the league leader in batting average (.301), hits (138) and OPS (.862), took the designated hitter spot but lost out on the league Player of the Year Award to A’s third baseman Matt Chapman. Voit was also a mid-season TL all-star and started for the North Division in the midsummer game.
Weaver, now in St. Louis’ rotation, is one of eight pitchers on the all-star squad. The right-hander made nine second-half starts for Springfield, logging a 1.59 ERA to go with 63 strikeouts and just eight walks in 56 2/3 innings.
Springfield post-season All-Stars in 2015 were Arturo Reyes, Michael Ohlman, and Charlie Tilson.
Springfield hitting coach dismissed?
A source close to the situation informed The Cardinal Nation that Springfield hitting coach Ramon 'Smokey' Ortiz has been relieved of his duties. The source said, "He has worn people pretty thin," though the individual did not go into specifics.
When contacted by TCN, a senior official would neither confirm nor deny that Ortiz has left the organization, only stating the obvious, that the coach “is away from the team right now.”
The Cardinals official directly denied a rumor that roving infield coordinator Ron 'Pop' Warner would serve as Ortiz's interim replacement for the remainder of the season and the Texas League playoffs.
Though in his first season at the helm as hitting coach for Springfield, Ortiz is one of the longest tenured coaches in the Cardinals organization, having spent parts of the last 17 years wearing the Birds on the Bat. His 2016 offense ranked in the middle of the Texas League pack in average runs per game, at 4.23.
In preparation for the playoffs next week, the roster changes continue as two pitching leaders from High-A Palm Beach were promoted to help Springfield along with the return of a potent bat promoted to Triple-A Memphis in July. The S-Cards also regained two integral pieces of its rotation, though one has been making appearances out of the bullpen.
8/26: RHP Trey Nielsen activated from DL
8/26: RHP Ronnie Shaban to Memphis from Springfield
Relief pitcher Ronnie Shaban was assigned to the Memphis Redbirds from Springfield. The 26-year-old first reached Double-A in 2014, and will be making his Triple-A debut.
In the corresponding move, Springfield activated starting pitcher Trey Nielsen from the seven-day disabled list. Out for the last three weeks, the 24-year-old has made 19 starts with Springfield and one spot start with Memphis.
8/26: RHP Chris Perry placed on DL
8/26: RHP Blake McKnight to Springfield from Palm Beach
Springfield placed reliever Chris Perry on the seven-day disabled list. The 26-year-old, who has been with the Double-A club all season, has a 3.37 ERA over 37 appearances totaling 53 1/3 innings.
Right-handed pitcher Blake McKnight has been promoted to Springfield from Palm Beach. The 25-year-old from O’Fallon, MO has been on the Beach Birds all season.
8/27: RHP Matt Pearce to Memphis from Springfield
8/27: LHP Ian McKinney to Springfield from Palm Beach
Matt Pearce was promoted to Triple-A Memphis on Saturday afternoon in what will likely be a spot-start situation, and perhaps becoming a more significant role if needed. Pearce struggled in his first two Double-A starts before striking out a career-high 11 batters over eight strong innings in his previous Springfield outing last Tuesday night.
Taking the rotation spot of Pearce, Springfield added Palm Beach left-handed starter Ian McKinney on Saturday.
8/27: OF Harrison Bader to Springfield from Memphis
8/27: OF Thomas Spitz to Palm Beach from Springfield
Harrison Bader returned to Springfield on Saturday - likely in preparation for the Texas League playoffs. Bader slashed a disappointing .231/.298/.354 with three homers and 17 RBI for Memphis since his July 4 promotion to Triple-A. The return of his bat will provide a huge boost for a team that has experienced a revolving door at lead-off in his absence.
With Bader falling back to Springfield, Thomas Spitz was returned to Palm Beach. Spitz was 4-for-16 (.250) in four games for the Springbirds. He doubled once and knocked in two.
8/29: RHP Josh Lucas to Memphis from Springfield
8/31: LHP Austin Gomber activated off the DL
With the call up of reliever Dean Kiekhefer to St. Louis on Monday, the Memphis Redbirds received reliever Josh Lucas from Double-A Springfield for the third time. The 25-year-old had made his Triple-A debut in June, and though he struggled then, Lucas had a very good week with Memphis in late July.
The replacement at Springfield for Baker is left-handed starter Austin Gomber, activated from the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday to start for the Double-A club in their doubleheader that evening.
8/29: INF Bruce Caldwell to Memphis from Springfield
8/29: OF Cole Lankford to Springfield from Palm Beach
To replace injured Dean Anna at Memphis, the Cardinals promoted infielder Bruce Caldwell from Double-A Springfield. The 24-year-old is making his Pacific Coast League debut after first reaching the Texas League in late May of 2015.
Caldwell’s backfill at Springfield is utilityman Cole Lankford, up to Double-A for the first time from A-Advanced Palm Beach.
Chris Perry - No word on his status.
Casey Turgeon - Turgeon is out with a pulled muscle in his side. No timetable set for his return.
Mason Katz - Katz was shut down with leg problems and will miss the remainder of the minor league season. He is expected to be healthy and ready next spring.
Andrew Morales - Morales, who last appeared in a rehab game on August 16th, is no longer assigned to the GCL squad. No update on his shoulder, but an official said he is "probably back rehabbing and working at the Cardinals' Jupiter facility." I suspect he has had another setback which will end his season.
Chris Thomas - Underwent elbow cleanup surgery in late June.
Jimmy Reed - Reed is four months removed from Tommy John surgery. The lefty told The Cardinal Nation's Paul Ivice he expects to start playing catch in September and is on schedule to be ready for spring training in 2017.
C.J. McElroy - McElroy suffered a torn ACL in June. There have been no updates on his rehab.
The Cardinal Nation Top Prospect Watch
#4 Harrison Bader - Since returning to Springfield on Saturday, Bader is 3-for-18 with two walks and seven strikeouts. The outfielder slowed considerably after his breakout first half, slashing .231/.298/.354 with three homers and 17 RBI through 49 games for Triple-A Memphis. Bader will also play in the Arizona Fall League this fall.
#12 Austin Gomber - Gomber came off the DL on Wednesday and delivered 2 1/3 innings of work against Arkansas. The big lefty allowed one earned run on three hits, walking two while striking out two. He threw 50 pitches, 29 for strikes, in his first start since August 3rd.
#15 Paul DeJong - DeJong is finishing his regular season off stronger than he started. The S-Cards mid-season All-Star third baseman is batting .333 with .919 OPS versus .197 average and .560 OPS as he made the transition from Low-A Peoria in April. DeJong went combined 4-for-6 with three doubles in Springfield's doubleheader on Wednesday, giving him 29 two-base hits on the season.
In addition, the Cardinals 2015 4th round draft pick will be competing in the Arizona Fall League.
#27 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon made two starts over this past week, spinning five shutout innings in a no-decision against NW Arkansas on Friday. The righty finished his week with four earned runs through six innings in a loss against Arkansas in Wednesday night's doubleheader.
#28 Trey Nielsen - It appears Nielsen has at least a temporary role change at the moment - to relief. Coming off an injury that involves fatigue, the righty, who has made 20 starts and a career-high in innings this season, is now pitching exclusively out of the stretch, perhaps to avoid further fatigue from the long season. Nielsen has worked 6 1/3 scoreless relief innings since coming off the DL.
#34 Matt Pearce - As mentioned, Pearce was promoted to Triple-A Memphis for perhaps a spot-start or two. The righty gave up three earned runs on five hits over five innings in his Pacific Coast League debut marked by errors.
#37 Rowan Wick - Wick did not allow an earned run over two outings this week, tossing three scoreless frames against Tulsa and Arkansas. The power arm was also selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League.
#41 Luke Voit - Voit was named a Texas League Post-Season All-Star, but did not receive the Player of the Year honor, which went to Midland's Matt Chapman. The barrel-chested first baseman received consideration for his offensive consistency, but could not top Chapman, who still leads the league with 29 long balls despite his promotion to Triple-A on August 16th.
Following their 4-4 week, the Cardinals conclude the road series against Arkansas on Friday after dropping two of three to start the five-game set. Springfield finishes the 140-game minor league regular season with a three-game series in Tulsa, starting Saturday.
After that, the S-Cards will have a day-off Tuesday and open up the Texas League playoffs against either NW Arkansas or the Travelers on Wednesday at 6:30 PM CT. The series are decided by a best of five games for both the divisional and championship round.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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