Looking for the Texas League championship title in their first playoff appearance since their last crown in 2012, the Springfield Cardinals were ousted by arch-rival and second-half North Division winner Northwest Arkansas (KC), three games to one, taking an early exit in the divisional round on Saturday.
The problem was not pushing across tallies as the S-Cards posted 22 runs over the four playoff games (average of 5.5 runs per game), but rather run prevention.
The Springbirds pitching staff yielded 31 runs (7.75 runs per game), including 60 hits and a whopping 10 home runs to the Naturals. The bullpen, which had been the backbone of the club all season, allowed a combined eight runs (seven earned) past the seventh inning.
"They played better than us the whole series," skipper Dann Bilardello told reporters following his team's elimination. "They swung the bats great for four games.”
This report covers the period from Thursday, September 8th through Wednesday, September 14th
Thursday, September 8th, Springfield 12 vs. NW Arkansas 11
Thursday’s Game 2 of the Texas League North Division series at Springfield was cut short due to weather with the Cards down 8-7 in the seventh. With a rough forecast for Friday, the completion of the suspended contest was moved to Northwest Arkansas to be held before Game 3.
When the contest resumed, the Cardinals went to work, putting up a five-run eighth inning - the cushion they needed to squeak by the Naturals. In total, the Cardinals scored 12 runs on 11 hits, eight fewer than their opponent, but it was sufficient.
Three runs came on a Jacob Wilson long ball in the fifth inning, the only home run for the Cardinals, while the Naturals hit five. Alex Mejia was 2-for-5 with two RBI. Luke Voit was 3-for-5 with an RBI and three runs scored. Luis Cruz was 3-for-3. Paul DeJong plated two runs on a first inning single. Allen Staton drove in two on a fifth inning ground out and an eighth inning single.
J.C. Sulbaran started for the Cardinals, but pitched only 2 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits, including three home runs. Corey Baker followed but gave up another run without recording an out. Kevin Herget got out of the inning, but allowed an additional run in his three innings of work.
Chandler Hawkins surrendered a score in one inning of relief. Rowan Wick pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings and was the recipient of the win. Josh Lucas pitched 2/3 of the ninth inning but yielded three runs and was rescued by Dakota Hudson, who secured the final out to earn the save.
Friday, September 9th, Springfield 3 vs. NW Arkansas 8
The Cardinals did not fare as well in Game 3 of the division series. Starter Matt Pearce pitched into the fifth inning but was lifted after three batters for Chandler Hawkins. Pearce gave up three runs in his four complete innings, allowing eight hits, including two home runs. Hawkins yielded three more runs in the fifth, his only inning. Ronnie Shaban went two innings, giving up one run. Robbie Rowland tossed the final frame, surrendering one unearned run. Pearce was the losing pitcher.
The Cardinals offense scored three runs on eight hits. Luke Voit was 2-for-4 with a two-run home run in the fourth inning. Jacob Wilson drove in a run on a ninth-inning double. Rehabbing St. Louis shortstop Aledmys Diaz was 2-for-4 with a double. Harrison Bader also doubled.
Saturday, September 10th, Springfield 2 vs. NW Arkansas 3 - 10 innings
The Cardinals were unsuccessful in extending their playoff run, falling in Game 4 to the Naturals in a tough extra inning defeat. The loss ended the season for Springfield.
The Naturals had a steadfast series offensively, but it was a bunt in extra innings that lifted them to the championship series in Game 4 on Saturday.
“Unfortunately our first baseman got it stuck in his glove a little bit,” Manager Dann Bilardello told reporters. “If he gets it out in time, he’s out. But that’s not to take anything away from them."
Starter Austin Gomber pitched well, tossing 4 1/3 innings, giving up one run on a solo home run, allowing eight total hits and fanning eight. Trey Nielsen followed for 2 2/3 innings, surrendering one run. Chandler Hawkins pitched the eighth inning, giving up a hit but no runs.
Rowan Wick secured the final out of the eighth after Hawkins was lifted with two outs. Josh Lucas pitched a scoreless ninth, but gave up the winning run in the 10th on a walk, a passed ball, groundout, an intentional walk and a walk-off sacrifice bunt.
A solo home run off the bat of Paul DeJong in the sixth inning provided one of the Cardinals’ two runs. Bruce Caldwell plated the other on a fourth-inning single. Luis Cruz was 2-for-3. Jacob Wilson doubled, and Luke Voit singled as Springfield managed just six hits.
Rehabbing St. Louis shortstop Aledmys Diaz went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.
Luke Voit - Springfield's MVP has been a bundle of consistency all season and carried that on over into the postseason this past week, as he went 9-for-18 (.444) with a home run and four RBI in the four games against NW Arkansas. At his stomping grounds at Hammons Field, the barrel-chested first baseman went 6-for-10 with a RBI and four runs scored.
Austin Gomber - Despite being limited due to a finger injury, Gomber came up big while his club faced elimination, tossing 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark. The big lefty issued one free pass and punched out eight batters over that span. His next stop is the Arizona Fall League.
Trey Nielsen - Nielsen took to a late-season move to the bullpen quite well, finishing his 2016 season by allowing just two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings between two relief outings against NW Arkansas. Expect to see more of the sinkerballer in a relief capacity of sorts next year.
The Cardinal Nation's annual series of minor league team recaps started on Monday, September 12. TCN will also announce our Player, Starting Pitcher, and Reliever of the Year by each level, plus system-wide awards, too, over the next month, so stay tuned! Full details here.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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