The Johnson City Cardinals
completed the final three games of the regular season with a 3-0 record to
finish 45-23 (.662 win percentage) overall. They clinched the title and the top seed
in the playoffs in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League last
The Cardinals clinched a playoff
spot on Wednesday, August 24. Their
first round playoff opponent, the Danville Braves, was decided on Monday night,
I attended the last three regular
season home games and all three of the home playoff games in person. I listened to the internet broadcast of
Nick Pierce of the Danville Braves on Wednesday night and charted pitch counts
based on his account of the action from
In case you missed a previous 2011 report, you can review them here:
There were no changes over the last three games to the active roster. The Cardinals took 18 pitchers, 3 catchers, 5 outfielders, and 7 infielders into the final week and the playoffs. The active roster was 33 players (max of 35).
Injuries and Playing Time
LF Anthony Garcia (Garcia: Absence Explained) missed six of the last seven regular season games and two of the five playoff games. Garcia visibly grimaced on his last strikeout in Game 1 of the Championship series, in which he was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Garcia was just 2-for-13 (.154) in the last four games he played. Unfortunately, Garcia never completely recovered from his injury.
C Jesus Montero suffered a minor leg injury Monday night. Montero missed the last regular season game and all five playoff games.
Of the 33 players on the active roster, 22 saw action in the playoffs (11 pitchers and 11 position players). The players missing action in the playoffs included: P Juan Bautista, P Brandon Creath, P Ben Freeman, P Tyler Melling, P Tyler Mills, P Willy Paulino, P Matt Rein, C Jesus Montero, C Kolby Byrd, 3B/1B/DH Hector Garcia, and OF Charlie Tilson.
Regular Season Statistical Review
The first place offense hit
slightly above their season average for the last three games. After posting a line of .303/.353/.434
last week, they recorded a similar line of .301/.357/.437 over the last three
regular season games. They hit 9
doubles, one triple, and one home run in three games. Their AVG/OBP/SLG line through 68 games
this year was .279 (1st)/.339 (3rd)/.449
(1st). The Cardinals led
the league in runs (415), hits (673), doubles (167), total bases (1083), average
(.279), slugging (.449), and on-base plus slugging or OPS (.788). They were tied for fourth in the league
in triples (21), third in on-base percentage or OBP (.339), second in at bats
(2412), second in home runs (67), and second in RBIs (354). They remained in tenth (last) in the
league in drawing walks (186).
Much of the offensive success this year (and last year) is due to the work of Ramon "Smokey" Ortiz. Ortiz worked with each batter this year to improve their approach and swing at the plate. Ortiz did a great job of getting the most out of the Cardinals hitters this year.
The defense committed 3 errors over the last three games but they led to no unearned runs. The season total finished at 92 errors (85 by batters and 7 by pitchers) for an average of 1.35 errors per game. Their .966 team fielding percentage was third behind the Bluefield Blue Jays (.971) and the Danville Braves (.968). The team allowed 55 unearned runs in 68 games and finished second best in that category behind the Blue Jays.
The Cardinals pitching staff, consisting mostly of end of year promotions and lesser used relievers the last three games, had a so-so week (4.33 ERA). Despite the mediocre ERA, the 0.93 WHIP was excellent. Over two thirds of the innings pitched the last three games were by pitchers who didn't appear in the playoffs.
Regular Season Weekly Summary
Sunday's game was Ben Freeman's
last start. Freeman (4-3, 5.11 ERA)
struggled with his control and lasted just three innings. Freeman fell behind 10 of the 16 batters
he faced but still left with a 4-3 lead.
Monday night saw the first American start for 18-year-old Dominican pitcher Juan Bautista (0-0, 6.00 ERA). Bautista seemed to struggle with his off-speed offerings as he hit three batters and threw one wild pitch. Bautista also allowed two home runs but he pitched into the sixth inning and left the game with a 4-4 tie. Three doubles (Washington, Hector Garcia, and Jesus Montero) in the seventh inning gave the Cardinals a 5-4 lead that held up after good relief efforts by Matt Rein (2 IP, 4 K, 2nd Win), Logan Billbrough (1 IP, 1 K, 5th Hold), and Heath Wyatt (1 IP, 4-for-4 first-pitch strikes, 1 K, 8th Save).
|Team autograph signing|
Tuesday night was Fan Appreciation Night as everyone received free admission. The first 250 fans received free team pictures (lead picture for this article) and a team autograph session before the game. The line was long but great weather greeted over 1,000 fans.
Tuesday night was also the
|Hald, John Vuch, Shildt, Mark Fox and Rahmatulla|
Tyler Melling (0-0, 5.40 ERA) started and pitched five innings (3 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 3 K), Brandon Creath (1-0, 0.00 ERA) followed and pitched a perfect two innings (3 K, 3 groundouts), and Willy Paulino (0-0, 0.00 ERA) finished off the game with a near perfect two innings (1 BB, 4 K, Save).
Melling made a couple of bad pitches in the second inning (home run and triple) and was victimized in the fifth inning by a couple of doubles that were each barely fair down the third and first base lines. The combo of C Jonathan Keener and LHP Melling caught two runners stealing that really helped his cause. Melling faced the minimum in the first, third, and fourth innings and went to a three-ball count on just one of the twenty batters he faced.
Creath clearly relies on deception as one of his best attributes. The lanky right-hander makes almost a complete turn toward second base during his windup (Luis Tiant style) before uncoiling in a wild looking pitching motion that hides the ball until the last moment possible. In the one appearance I saw him, it was very effective.
Paulino acts like a closer on the mound. He overthrew a few pitches in the one outing I saw but neither of the two balls put in play were hit well and both of his swinging strikes were on low off-speed pitches that required a 2-3 putout. He looks like a bulldog on the mound and should provide some interesting late-inning mound entertainment next year.
Matt Williams (.293) finished the regular season with a team high thirteen game hit-streak. Breyvic Valera (.397) ended with a seven game hit streak and David Washington (.248) ended with a five game hit streak.
8/28: Ben Freeman: 74 pitches, 44 strikes, and 7-for-16 first pitch strikes.
8/28: Dyllon Nuernberg: 41 pitches, 23 strikes, and 4-for-8 first pitch strikes.
8/28: Tyler Mills: 33 pitches, 17 strikes, and 2-for-7 first pitch strikes.
8/28: Michael Santana: 24 pitches, 16 strikes, and 6-for-6 first pitch strikes.
8/28: Roberto Canache: 12 pitches, 9 strikes, and 3-for-3 first pitch strikes.
8/29: Juan Bautista: 87 pitches, 58 strikes, and 9-for-21 first pitch strikes.
8/29: Matt Rein: 28 pitches, 18 strikes, and 3-for-7 first pitch strikes.
8/29: Heath Wyatt: 10 pitches, 8 strikes, and 4-for-4 first pitch strikes.
8/30: Tyler Melling: 54 pitches, 36 strikes, and 15-for-20 first pitch strikes.
8/30: Brandon Creath: 32 pitches, 21 strikes, and 3-for-6 first pitch strikes.
8/30: Willy Paulino: 29 pitches, 18 strikes, and 4-for-7 first pitch strikes.
Round 1, Game 1: Johnson City opened the first round on
the road in Danville, VA and sent their first round supplemental pick from 2010
Tyrell Jenkins (4-2, 3.86 ERA) to the mound for the Wednesday night start. Things looked good from the start as
Jenkins threw his first pitch with a 3-0 first inning lead. LF Breyvic Valera, SS Matt Williams, and
2B Tyler Rahmatulla led off the top of the first with three consecutive singles
to get the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
Two outs put runners at second and third for 3B Neal Pritchard; who
delivered a big two-out, two-RBI single to right field for a quick 3-0
Jenkins allowed one run on two hits in the first when Appy Co-Player of the year Brandon Drury took an 0-2 pitch down the right field line for a double and Billy Beckwith followed with a 2-2 pitch RBI single past 1B David Washington. The 3-1 game remained that way for four and half more innings as both starting pitchers settled down.
The Cardinals relievers threw just
50% strikes and allowed two more runs to make the final 6-3 Braves.
|Shildt with four playoff umps|
There were a number of odd season "firsts" in the game. Matt Williams grounded into his first double play (229 AB). Roberto Canache collected his first balk (14 IP with runners on base). Michael Santana, after seven holds without a blown save, collected his first blown save.
Round 1, Game 2: The Cardinals returned home Thursday night in a must win situation. As expected, they sent All-Star southpaw Kyle Hald (Consensus Top August Pitcher) to the mound and he delivered. Hald (7-0, 1.84 ERA) threw a season high 98 pitches and faced the second most batters of the season (29; Hiraldo – 31). Hald struck out seven over seven solid innings as the Cardinals won 7-4.
Anthony Garcia (.308) had the
go-ahead RBI double in the fourth inning that gave the Cardinals a 2-1
lead. Two-out RBI singles from
Breyvic Valera (.397) and Matt Williams (.293) pushed the lead to 6-1 later on
in the fourth inning. 1B David
Washington (.248) led off the sixth inning with an opposite field home run that
just cleared the fence and landed in the netting. That ended the
Round 1, Game 3: The elimination game in the first round
was Friday night and it was another must win for
The Cardinals decided to send right
hander Eduardo Hiraldo (2-3, 3.71 ERA) to the mound. Hiraldo didn't disappoint either as he
kept the ball down in the zone the entire game and ended with his most
groundouts (11) of the season.
Hiraldo went seven and two thirds innings allowing just one earned run on
four hits as
The Cardinals sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run bottom of the first inning and cruised from there. David Washington had a big two-out, two-RBI single in the first inning to put the Cardinals up 3-0. Every starter had at least one hit as Breyvic Valera led the offense going 3-for-5 with two runs, a double, a stolen base, and an RBI.
Roberto Canache closed out the game and saved the bullpen for the finals against the East Division Champion Bluefield Blue Jays. The Cardinals finished the game 8-for-17 (.470) with runners in scoring position while the Hiraldo/Canache combo held the Braves to 0-for-7 (.000) with runners in scoring position.
Finals, Game 1: The Bluefield Blue Jays came to town on
Saturday night for their first every Appy Championship game as the Blue
Pasen walked the first batter on seven pitches and then got two quick outs. He then walked Appy All-Star first baseman Art Charles on five pitches to bring up Appy All-Star outfielder Kevin Pillar. A brief visit from Pitching Coach Doug White didn't seem to calm the early inning jitters for Pasen though as he fell behind 2-1 and then grooved an inside fastball to the righty that was pulled down the left field line for a three run home run.
The 3-0 lead held up until the bottom of the seventh as neither team could dent the scoreboard. Pasen settled down and allowed just a third inning 2-0 pitch leadoff single as his only other hit over five innings. The righty finished with 77 pitches but just 40 strikes. He walked four batters for his biggest walk percentage (19% of batters faced) in a start all year.
Chris Costantino (0-0, 0.00 ERA) came in and pitched no hit ball through three good innings. The right-handed reliever walked two and hit one batter but struck out three and grounded out five. Costantino held the Blue Jays off the scoreboard and allowed the Cardinal offense to finally string together some hits in the seventh.
Matt Williams (.293) led off the seventh with a four pitch walk and later scored on a double by Tyler Rahmatulla (.314). On the very next pitch, Gary Apelian (.298) doubled to almost the exact same spot that Rahmatulla hit the previous pitch; the left center field gap and one hop off the wall. The drive scored Rahmatulla, made the score 3-2 Blue Jays, and put a runner on second base with nobody out. However, the next batter Anthony Garcia went fishing on a 2-2 pitch that was low and mishandled by the catcher. Garcia broke for first on the swinging strikeout as Apelian led off second. The catcher faked a quick throw to first base and caught Apelian too far off second. Roberto De La Cruz followed with a double play groundout and the rally was over as fast as it started.
The score remained 3-2 until the bottom of the ninth inning when I got a good feeling about a comeback. Mostly because the Cardinals were sending the top of the order to the plate with one of the hottest hitters on the team leading off in the form of Breyvic Valera (.397). I also felt good because the Blue Jays pulled the reliever that had just struck out the side (all swinging) in the eighth.
The Blue Jays brought the infield
in but the next batter didn't waste any time as he swung at the first pitch he
saw. Matt Williams (.293) hammered
a high fastball to deep left centerfield that would definitely tie the game up
at worst and could get down for a double at best. The centerfielder made a nice running
After a mound visit from the Blue Jays pitching coach, Tyler Rahmatulla (.314) had a great at bat as he worked the count to 3-2 and then lined the sixth pitch he saw (and the first one offered at) between the second baseman and first baseman to right field. Gary Apelian (.298) then watched five consecutive pitches for a walk that put Rahmatulla into scoring position with just one out.
Neal Pritchard (.249) then came to the plate and watched five consecutive pitches to take the count to 3-2. Pritchard then lined a single over the shortstop on two hops to the centerfielder as Rahmatulla got a good read on the liner off the bat and motored toward home with the winning run. The 8-2 throw was late and up the first base line and the Cardinals ran toward first base to mob Pritchard. The exciting walk-off 4-3 win gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the series.
The pitch recognition and swing
decisions made by
The Cardinals pitchers allowed just two hits in the 4-3 victory while the batters put together 12 hits. Michael Santana (1-1, 1.45 ERA) got the win after facing four batters and recording the equivalent of four outs (Pritchard throwing error) in the top of the ninth inning.
Finals, Game 2: The Cardinals headed northeast for Game
The Cardinals got a gift in the fourth inning when they plated two runs (one unearned) on just one hit. The inning began with back-to-back lead-off hit by pitches to Gary Apelian (.298) and Neal Pritchard (.249). Apelian eventually scored on an RBI single by Keener and Pritchard scored on a fielding error by the Blue Jays shortstop.
Gillung cruised through his six innings allowing just one hit and one run. He gave a 2-1 lead to reliever Logan Billbrough in the seventh. The Cardinals added two two-out runs in the eighth inning on an Apelian single, a Pritchard RBI double, and a Roberto De La Cruz (.264) RBI double. The 4-1 lead was more than Billbrough needed as he retired all nine batters he faced over the last three innings (four strikeouts).
The Cardinals swept the Bluefield
Blue Jays in two games to win their second consecutive Appalachian League
title. The last time
They say pitching wins
championships and that could be the truth for
Playoff Pitch Counts:
8/31: *Tyrell Jenkins: 74+ pitches, 48+ strikes, and 11-for-22 first pitch strikes.
8/31: Michael Santana: 32 pitches, 16 strikes, and 4-for-8 first pitch strikes.
8/31: Roberto Canache: 8 pitches, 4 strikes, and 2-for-2 first pitch strikes.
8/31: Dyllon Nuernberg: 18 pitches, 9 strikes, and 1-for-4 first pitch strikes.
*The internet radio feed was intermittently interrupted. Pitch data is estimated.
|Pitching coach Doug White with Wyatt|
9/1: Kyle Hald: 98 pitches, 70 strikes, and 22-for-29 first pitch strikes.
9/1: Heath Wyatt: 14 pitches, 7 strikes, and 1-for-4 first pitch strikes.
9/2: Eduardo Hiraldo: 89 pitches, 62 strikes, and 17-for-28 first pitch strikes.
9/2: Roberto Canache: 32 pitches, 24 strikes, and 5-for-7 first pitch strikes.
9/3: Jose Pasen: 77 pitches, 40 strikes, and 9-for-22 first pitch strikes.
9/3: Chris Costantino: 45 pitches, 25 strikes, and 6-for-12 first pitch strikes.
9/3: Michael Santana: 15 pitches, 8 strikes, and 2-for-4 first pitch strikes.
Playoff Starting Pitchers
Listed below was the rotation at the end of the regular season.
Starting Pitchers (6):
RHP Tyrell Jenkins (1)
LHP Kyle Hald (2)
LHP Nick Gillung (3)
RHP Eduardo Hiraldo (4)
RHP Jose Pasen (5)
LHP Ben Freeman (6)
In the playoffs, the Cardinals chose to mix up the sequence a little bit as they dropped LHP Nick Gillung from the three spot:
Starting Pitchers (5):
RHP Tyrell Jenkins (1)
LHP Kyle Hald (2)
RHP Eduardo Hiraldo (3)
RHP Jose Pasen (4)
LHP Nick Gillung (5)
End of Regular Season Hitters
Five different hitters used the
end of the regular season to end the year on a positive note as they recorded
.300 or better batting averages during the sweep of
Three hitters ended the regular season on hit streaks of five games or more: David Washington (5 games), Breyvic Valera (7 games), and Matt Williams (13 games). The 13-game hitting streak by Matt Williams was a season best for the 2011 Johnson City Cardinals.
End of Regular Season Pitchers
Pitching over the last three games by the starters was just average at best. Juan Bautista (7.20 ERA), Tyler Melling (5.40 ERA), and Ben Freeman (9.00 ERA) all had pretty high ERAs over three or more innings. The relievers looked pretty good but no one pitched more than two innings. Dyllon Nuernberg (16.17 ERA, 10.8 BB/9, and 1.80 WHIP) and Tyler Mills (6.77 BB/9 and 3 inherited/3 scored) each struggled in one brief appearance.
Top Playoff Performers
Last year, the offense outshined the pitching in the playoffs but this year, the pitching got the upper hand.
The pitching staff combined for a 3.07 ERA (1st) and 1.05 WHIP (1st). They led the playoffs with two saves and four wins.
Nick Gillung (1-0, 1.50 ERA) was first in WHIP (0.50), tied for fourth in innings pitched (6.0), fourth in ERA (1.50), and tied for sixth in strikeouts (6).
Eduardo Hiraldo (1-0, 1.17 ERA) was first in innings pitched (7.2), third in ERA (1.17) and fourth in WHIP (0.78).
Kyle Hald (1-0, 3.86 ERA) was tied for second in strikeouts (7) and third in innings pitched (7.0).
Logan Billbrough (1 SV, 2.25 ERA) was seventh in ERA (2.25).
As a team, the Cardinals batters posted a .287 batting average (1st). Gary Apelian (.389) was fifth and Breyvic Valera (.318) was tenth.
As a team,
As a team, the Cardinals batters posted a .415 slugging percentage (2nd). Gary Apelian (.500) and David Washington (.500) were both tied for eighth.
As a team,
Breyvic Valera was tied for first in runs scored (6), Gary Apelian and Tyler Rahmatulla (4 each) were tied for fifth, and David Washington and Matt Williams (3 each) were tied for eighth.
Gary Apelian and Breyvic Valera each tied for the lead in hits (7), Jonathan Keener, Tyler Rahmatulla, and David Washington (6 each) were tied for fourth, and Matt Williams (5) was tied for eighth.
Gary Apelian, Roberto De La Cruz, Neal Pritchard, and Tyler Rahmatulla each tied for fourth in doubles (2).
Breyvic Valera and Jonathan Keener each tied for first in triples (1).
Matt Williams tied for third in RBIs (5). Neal Pritchard tied for fifth in RBIs (4). Tyler Rahmatulla and David Washington each tied for seventh in RBIs (3).
Breyvic Valera and David Washington were each tied for third in total bases (10). Gary Apelian and Jonathan Keener were each tied for fifth in total bases (9). Tyler Rahmatulla and Matt Williams were each tied for eight in total bases (8).
Matt Williams was tied for first in walks (3). Neal Pritchard and Tyler Rahmatulla were each tied for fifth in walks (2).
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