Peoria entered the 2016 season with a lot of optimism, much of which was justified. Despite a rotation sourced from rookie-level ball, the Chiefs boasted the most promising starters in the Midwest League entering opening day along with arguably the league’s best players up the middle.
The first half of the season proved the optimism was justified. As the new arrivals adapted to Class-A play, Peoria started a bit slowly, but once June arrived, it was a well-oiled machine. Jake Woodford and Brennan Leitao were virtually unhittable while Magneuris Sierra and Eliezer Alvarez pummeled opposing pitching. The Chiefs dominated June, winning 13 of 19 games and clinching the number one seed in the playoffs in September.
As the team succeeded, so did the individuals. Major roster turnover occurred as many of the team’s vital contributors were promoted while less capable players were assigned to Peoria. The Chiefs closed the second half of the season under .500 and were swiftly swept in the first round of the MWL playoffs.
By the Month
The Chiefs were pretty average through the first couple months of the season, hanging around .500 in the middle of the pack in the Western Division. The Chiefs’ clear strength was their pitching. It seemed like the only way they could win for awhile was if their starting pitching allowed four or fewer runs. Offensively, the Chiefs’ results were paltry.
Jake Woodford was electric in the month of May as he allowed went on a three-start stretch without allowing any earned runs. Woodford continued to be brilliant through June, and along with stellar pitching from his rotation companions and an uncanny burst of offense, Peoria clinched the Western Division on the final day of the first half.
The Chiefs needed some help to win the first half and got it when Clinton lost on the last day. Junior Fernandez led Peoria to the division title in the deciding game against Burlington by flashing his filthy stuff, as he had all season long.
Peoria mostly kept the same core of players throughout the first half, which was a huge factor into their success. Sierra, Alvarez and shortstop Edmundo Sosa anchored the strongest unit up the middle in the entire league while starting pitchers Ryan Helsley, Sandy Alcantara and Derian Gonzalez blew away the opposition.
After clinching the division title in the first half with a 40-30 record, the team took on a totally new complexion in the second half. Fernandez and Sosa were quickly called up to Palm Beach while the injury bug bit Helsley and Gonzalez. The team had to rely on State College call-ups for help.
Those State College call-ups could not replace the void that the first half stars left. RHP Dailyn Martinez was polarizing, as he was regularly hot and cold while position players like Bladimil Franco, Josh Swirchak and Carlos Torres seemed to be almost automatic outs.
In the end, Peoria was a very weak team entering the playoffs. A below average offense, decimated starting rotation and a dismal bullpen equaled a two-game sweep at the hands of Clinton. The Chiefs were out-hit 22 to 10 and outscored eight to three in the pair of losses to end the first-round and the 2016 season.
|Pitching||Season Stat||MWL rank of 16|
Peoria’s starting pitching was its saving grace throughout the first half of the season, when the Chiefs were at their best. Once Peoria lost the core of its rotation and had to rely on Woodford, a 19-year-old in his first full season, it led to the club’s downfall.
The starting rotation boasted four Midwest League All-Stars, but based on individual results, every one of the six rotation members could have been an All-Star. Alcantara and Fernandez were the two left off the team, but they were each in the top of the league in strikeouts during their tenure in Peoria while Fernandez had a fabulous record.
Peoria finished the first half of the season second in staff ERA and fifth in strikeouts.
Throughout the year, the bullpen brought down the collective stats of the entire pitching unit. Relievers like Steven De La Cruz and Tyler Bray routinely blew saves and gave up multiple runs in short spurts.
During the second half, though, both the bullpen and the starting rotation drove down Peoria’s overall stats. From June 20th to September 12th, Peoria’s ERA jumped from 3.16 to 3.57, while they allowed 49 home runs in the second half compared to just 26 in the first half.
Though later arrivals Ronnie Williams and John Kilichowski showed some promise, they were both inconsistent. Jake Woodford was out of gas later on while Ryan Helsley was the only pitcher to perform above average as August and September rolled around, finishing the season with a stellar 1.61 ERA in 17 starts.
|Offense||Season Stat||MWL rank of 16|
Peoria’s offense was peculiar this year. At times, they were absolutely dismal.
April through May provided little promise for the future as they were hitting just .258 as a team through the end of May with only seven home runs. Though the Chiefs led the league in doubles, they had a difficult time driving in runs.
Then, something totally changed in June. Peoria boosted its team average by eight points over three weeks while scoring nearly 100 runs during that span. They continued their doubles roll and clubbed their way into the first-half division title.
As the second half went on, the offense was incredibly top heavy. At the top of the lineup, Sierra, Alvarez and Chinea each finished the season over .300 and regularly each went on terrorizing hitting stretches. They held Peoria’s average up throughout the second half and kept their OBP near the top of the league.
The remainder of the Peoria lineup was incredibly streaky. Some weeks, Peoria would routinely score five or six runs per game, while the next week they would only score a combined seven runs. Hitters like Brian O’Keefe, Craig Aikin and Leobaldo Pina would exhibit flashes of excellence and then follow it up with periods of low-caliber performances.
Peoria relied on Sierra, Alvarez and Chinea for most of their offense in the second half. While the power production improved over the last couple months, their ability to score runs consistently was subpar.
Four of the six rotation members were All-Stars for Peoria while the Cardinals’ top three position prospects on Peoria’s roster made it. Jake Woodford, Brennan Leitao, Ryan Helsley, Derian Gonzalez, Eliezer Alvarez, Edmundo Sosa and Magneuris Sierra were all elected to the Western Division All-Star team.
Originally, Woodford and Sierra were left off of the All-Star roster, which were objectively terrible snubs from the roster. Sierra was the best defensive centerfielder in the entire league while hovering around .300 at the dish with impressive base stealing ability. Woodford was electric as well, composing on of the best months of pitching in the league during the month of May.
They were both added due to other injuries.
The other selected members certainly deserved as well. Sosa was one of the best offensive shortstops in the league while Alvarez was a top-three hitter in the league all year as he ranked in the top five in average, .OBP and .OPS.
Each of the pitchers selected had ERA’s below 2.80 entering the break, highlighted by Leitao and Helsley, who had ERA’s below 2.00.
Games of the Year
Saturday, June 18: Peoria Chiefs 8 vs. Burlington Bees 3
Peoria secured a spot in the playoffs with their wire-to-wire win. The Chiefs unloaded all eight runs in the first two innings and never looked back en route to clinching a playoff berth.
Alvarez blasted a two-run home run in the first inning to get Peoria off to a 2-0 lead, his second on 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.
Thursday, July 14: Peoria Chiefs 3 vs. Lansing Lugnuts 2 – Game 1 (7)
In Peoria’s doubleheader, the opening game’s theme was runs scored on errors. Edmundo Sosa scored in the first thanks to a wild pitch after a triple before Magneuris Sierra scored the same way in the third after a double and an error.
Sosa added a single in three at-bats while Sierra was also 2-for-3 with a double and a single. Carlos Torres and Eliezer Alvarez each notched a pair of hits.
Lansing could not afford to give any easy runs to Peoria because Sandy Alcantara was once again on his A-game. The Dominican had an amazing feel for his curveball on the evening, throwing it unusually often. Alcantara threw it on normal fastball counts and pounded the zone consistently while also blowing his heater by the opposition.
The righty was one out away from a complete game win, but Dylan Becker committed a throwing error at third, allowing the tying run to score. Alcantara finished with a line of 6 2/3, one earned run on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
The game was decided in the bottom of the seventh when Sierra hit an infield single with Torres on second. The Lansing shortstop threw it past the first baseman attempting to get Sierra out, which allowed Torres to score the winning run.
Alcantara was promoted to Palm Beach right after this dominating start.
10 Chiefs have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins this month. Full details on instructs can be found here, with first-hand reports from Jupiter coming, both exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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