Through the first 10 weeks of the regular season, the Springfield Cardinals are in the midst of arguably their worst stretch in franchise history, having lost nine straight games and plummeting down the Texas League North Division first-half standings as the result.
Not only that, the opposition has outscored the Springbirds 45-to-15 during that span, and things will need to turn around quickly in the next week as the club's elimination number dwindles.
The Cardinals Double-A affiliate looks a lot like the big-league squad during their recent skid: nonexistent offensive attack and floundering bullpen.
This report covers the period from Thursday, June 8 through Wednesday, June 14.
June 8: Springfield 0 at NW Arkansas 5
A four-run first against Matt Pearce resulted in a 5-0 loss to NW Arkansas to open the week's action. Pearce settled down to go seven innings, but the Springfield offense failed to come up with anything in support of the hurler. The visitors were stifled by the Naturals righty Corey Ray, who tossed a complete game shutout.
June 9: Springfield 1 at NW Arkansas 5
For the second straight night, the S-Cards offense could not gain any traction against NW Arkansas pitching. Casey Grayson drove in the long Springfield run on a double in the seventh inning. Fresh off the disabled list, Austin Gomber suffered his fourth loss of the season, allowing three runs on five hits in an abbreviated three innings of work.
June 10: Springfield 2 at Tulsa 3
Springfield dropped a tough one in the opener in Tulsa, jumping out to an early lead before the Drillers came back in later innings. Sandy Alcantara pitched five innings of one-run ball. Corey Littrell got the final two outs of the seventh inning, but returned for the eighth and gave up two unearned runs to give Tulsa the lead and the win. Oscar Mercado collected two singles in four at-bats and was brought home on an Adolis Garcia sac fly.
June 11: Springfield 1 at Tulsa 2
The S-Cards dropped their fifth straight, falling to Tulsa by a final of 2-1 on Sunday. Zac Gallen went 5 1/3 innings, permitting two runs on five hits and three walks. The Cardinals offense managed only five hits with Magneuris Sierra driving in Oscar Mercado on an RBI single.
June 12: Springfield 3 at Tulsa 4
In what has been the theme of the week, Springfield's offense foundered as Tulsa downed the visitors, 4-3 on Monday. Anthony Garcia accounted for two of the three runs with a two-run homer. Jacob Wilson contributed a solo shot. Dakota Hudson delivered a quality start, allowing four runs (three earned) over six innings, but three defensive miscues put him on the losing end.
June 13: Springfield 1 at Tulsa 8
A grand slam and 5 2/3 shutout innings by their starter was enough for Tulsa to breeze past the Springbirds for the four-game sweep, 8-1 on Tuesday. Matt Pearce went five innings, allowing four runs and eight hits in the Texas League game. He also struck out two and walked one.
June 14: Springfield 0 vs. Arkansas 9 – Game 1
June 14: Springfield 2 vs. Arkansas 5 – Game 2
In the afternoon affair, Austin Gomber was roughed up in his 4 2/3 innings, allowing six runs and six hits as Arkansas cruised to a 9-0 blanking over Springfield. Magneuris Sierra singled twice, and stole two bases.
Despite an inside-the-park home run from Sierra, the S-Cards dropped the final game of the week, 5-2, to the Travelers on Wednesday. Suffering his second loss since joining the club from Memphis, Chris Ellis gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Dakota Hudson - On Monday, Hudson turned in his sixth straight quality start for Springfield. The righty has allowed no more than three earned runs in 10 of his 11 starts in 2017 and showing no signs of letting up.
Further details to come on Hudson in the next week.
Sandy Alcantara - On June 3, Alcantara had his best start since his debut in April, throwing six one-run frames. On Saturday, the Dominican flamethrower went five strong innings, allowing one run once again. His ERA has lowered from 7.09 to 6.05 over his past two starts, so it appears he is starting to get accustomed to the Double-A level.
Zac Gallen - Since his promotion to Springfield, Gallen has given up just three earned runs over 11 innings pitched for a 2.45 ERA.
Austin Gomber - Gomber returned from the disabled list following a two-week stint with a groin injury last Friday and the struggles continued. The lefty has gone a combined 7 2/3 innings over two starts this past week, surrendering seven walks and 10 earned runs.
His ERA has escalated to a season-high 5.32 on the season.
Pedro Echemendia - Echemendia got off to a fast start with a 2.70 ERA in April before it jumped up to 5.11 in the month of May. The downward trend continues in month of June for the Cuban righty. He has given up 11 hits and nearly more earned runs (six) than innings pitched (seven).
Blake McKnight – The return of McKnight, who attended local college Evangel, to Springfield has gone from bad to worse in his first full stint at Double-A. The Cardinals 2013 38th round posted a 6.17 ERA in April, 6.59 ERA for May, and whopping 10.80 mark (six earned runs in five innings) this month.
Jacob Wilson - After a hot start to June, Wilson's bat is now ice cold amid a 5-for-27 stretch at the dish. The 26-year old is batting just .205 for the season.
Adolis Garcia - Another cold bat in the Springfield offense, Garcia is hitting .156 over his past ten games (5-for-32) with 10 punchouts.
The Oscar Mercado success story has become less of a revelation by the day as the outfielder continues to maintain his high level of offensive performance.
In fact, Mercado paces the Texas League with 79 hits, entering Wednesday night's action. He has hit safely in 21 of his last 24 games with a .351 average (34-for-97) during that stretch.
The 22-year-old also began his first Double-A season with a 34-game on-base streak, which included a team-record 20-game hitting streak.
"(I attribute my results) to trusting my approach and building it off the confidence that I started off with this season," Mercado said. "I think as a hitter the biggest thing is believing you can get it done. Once you have a little success, you build off of it and you can take off from there."
In the Texas League, where the few teams means pitchers adjust to the competition, this causes hitters to have dips throughout a season. Mercado has yet to go through that down stretch at the plate.
"I try not to change anything," he said. "Obviously, they will pitch you differently and stuff, but as long as you stick to your approach and you have to believe in what you are doing - eventually, it will help you stay consistent as possible."
Much more on Mercado is coming up in a new article to be posted in the next week.
- 20-game hitting streak from 4/11 – 5/5.
- (34-for-97) during that stretch.
Five Springbirds named TL All-Stars
On Wednesday afternoon, the Texas League announced rosters for the 2017 Texas League All-Star Game.
All five have been integral pieces of the Springbirds’ first half success. Mercado has been one of the best all-around players in the circuit this season. Mejia has provided steady defense at short with veteran production in the lineup.
Flaherty, who will not participate because he is at Triple-A Memphis, took the league by storm as one of the more dominant starters to pass through the league in some time. Hudson and Pearce have each been a model of consistency in the rotation for the S-Cards as well.
Last year, the S-Cards featured eight mid-season all-stars. Starters were Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and Carson Kelly with reserves Bruce Caldwell and Paul DeJong. Pitchers were Mike Mayers (promoted before the game) and additions to the staff Daniel Poncedeleon and Josh Lucas.
The All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday, June 27 at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas.
First-half standings - Texas League Northern Division
Currently, NW Arkansas (KC, 33-31, and .516) paces the divisional race with a one-game lead over Tulsa (LAD, 32-32, and .500). Arkansas (SEA, 32-33, and .492) sits a game and half behind the Drillers while Springfield (31-34, .477) has fallen to dead last, trailing by two and a half games.
The Cardinals’ first-half elimination number is just four. That means any combination of Springfield losses and NW Arkansas wins totaling four will officially end the Cards’ hopes.
6/9: LHP Austin Gomber activated off the Springfield DL
6/9: LHP Chandler Hawkins to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield
6/14: C Gabriel Lino to 7-day DL
6/14: C Andrew Knizner to Springfield from Low-A Peoria
6/14: INF Bruce Caldwell to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis
6/14: INF Danny Diekroeger to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield
Gabriel Lino – The catcher is out with an undisclosed injury, creating the opportunity for Knizner. An update on Lino’s status will be provided as soon as possible.
Eliezer Alvarez - Alvarez remains sidelined with a high-ankle sprain. As of Thursday, he was walking without a boot and appears headed in the right direction with a return potentially sooner than later.
C.J. McElroy – The outfielder is reportedly at the Jupiter complex rehabbing his still injured ACL.
The Cardinal Nation Top 50 Prospect Watch
#7 Magneuris Sierra - According to one scout this week, Sierra runs a 3.93 home to first time, with a 3.9 considered 80 grade speed on the 20-80 scouting scale for a left-handed hitter. In essence, the Dominican's speed grades out in the world-class category. The same scout said Sierra's speed rivals that of Billy Hamilton, but he is not able to harness it as well as the Reds base stealing guru.
On Wednesday night, the outfielder put his wheels to good use, legging out an inside-the-park home run for his first roundtripper at any level this season.
#8 Sandy Alcantara - While Alcantara's results haven't looked particularly great, he is developing and has shown progress in his most recent two starts. However, it is interesting that the righty, who can dial his fastball up to 102 mph, is not striking more batters out.
General manager John Mozeliak addressed those issues at the Cardinals annual Blogger Day.
"Two things come to mind: one is command, and the second would be secondary pitches," Mozeliak told Redbird Daily. "When you watch his line, he is forcing himself into deep counts. He’s finding himself in a lot of hitters’ counts, 2-1, 3-1.
"When you are doing that, you are forced not to be able to throw breaking pitches. One of the things we’re trying to do is make sure he still works on that. So, even though he throws 101, we may force his first pitch to be a breaking pitch, just so we know we get one in the count.
"If you look at what he potentially has to be up here, he could be better than anything we’ve seen in many, many years from just a pure arm-strength standpoint."
If Alcantara will get a September call-up, Mozeliak said it will likely be in a bullpen role before breaking him into the rotation, but he still has a chance to become an elite starter at the big-league level.
#9 Dakota Hudson - See Who's Hot Above
#14 Austin Gomber - See Who's Not Above
#15 Zac Gallen - See Who's Hot Above.
#17 Eliezer Alvarez - See Injury Updates.
#20 Adolis Garcia - See Who's Not Above.
#36 Matt Pearce - After putting together one of the best months in the minors last month, Pearce has slowed considerably in the month of June. He has lost all three of his decisions, posting a 5.29 ERA in 17 innings. A part of those struggles can also be attributed to the organization monitoring his workload to keep him fresh for later this summer.
#37 Oscar Mercado - See Flying High Above.
#39 Andrew Knizner - In a bit of surprise, Knizner was promoted to Springfield on Wednesday in place of injured catcher Gabriel Lino.
In his first full season of professional baseball, Knizner was Peoria's top offensive performer, hitting .279 with eight homers and 29 RBI. There is no telling if this move is a temporary solution or not, but it appears the Cardinals promoted the right-handed hitter to beef up an offensive-starved Springfield lineup for the last week of the first half Texas League playoff push.
One pro scout said two weeks ago Knizner was the most impressive prospect on the Chiefs roster along with Tommy Edman, who has already been promoted to Palm Beach.
"It's a jump," the scout said. "No doubt he can handle the upper-level fastball. Would feel more comfortable if he was walking more but he also wasn't striking out much. I would think they know his maturity level.
"It's a test for sure, but if he fails, they can always repeat him."
Following a dismal 0-8 week, Springfield, swept by the Travelers in the doubleheader on Wednesday, will host Arkansas for three more games at Hammons Field. They then welcome Tulsa to town, starting Sunday for four games as well. Their first-half fate lies in the balance.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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