photo: Johnson City Cardinals
2019 was a complete bounce back year in every way for the Johnson City Cardinals. The team recovered from a 31-37 record in 2018 with a 35-33 mark this season. Their record was good enough for the Western Division title. The Cardinals showed their resiliency in the playoffs, dropping the first games in the best of three against both the Bristol Pirates and the Burlington Royals, but recovering to win all four win-or-go-home matchups to take the 2019 Appalachian League Championship. Their title is the fifth of the decade and the 11th in the organization’s history.
Appalachian League West Standings
- Johnson City Cardinals (35-33, .515)
- Bristol Pirates (34-33, .507) 0.5 GB
- Kingsport Mets (34-34, .500) 1 GB
- Elizabethton Twins (33-34, .493) 1.5 GB
- Greeneville Reds (26-41, .388) 8.5 GB
Month by Month
Johnson City held the division lead for most of the season. Although the Cardinals were supposed to begin Appalachian League play on June 18, they had two postponed contests in their first series of the season against the Pulaski Yankees. The delay did not slow down the Cardinals, as they finished the month with a record of 7-4.
The Cardinals followed up the solid start with a 15-14 record in July, including winning 10 of 12 games at the end of July and into early August to give them a significant lead in the division.
August proved to be the toughest for the Cardinals, when they finished with a 13-15 record. The Cardinals sealed the division and a playoff matchup with Bristol after winning the last two contests of the season against the Kingsport Mets.
The Cardinals entered September and won both of their playoff matchups in three games to claim the championship.
Although the team won both the division and the Appalachian League, the Cardinals pitching staff was mostly pedestrian this season. They ranked ninth of 10 teams in both team ERA at 4.81 and in WHIP at 1.441. The staff also allowed the most hits to opponents, 628. The Cardinals pitching staff ranked second in saves with 19 and walked the second-fewest opposing hitters in the league, with 213 in 68 games played this season.
Like the pitching staff, the Cardinals lineup had a difficult time separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Appalachian League. The Cardinals offense finished the year ranked seventh in the league in batting average at .242, sixth in on-base percentage at .330, and sixth in slugging percentage at .390. The team also led the league in strikeouts with 696, 14 more than the Greeneville Reds’ total of 684. Johnson City ranked in the top half of the league in other offensive categories however, such as fourth in runs scored with 353 and third in home runs with 63 during the 2019 campaign.
The Cardinals pulled off a miraculous season despite not ranking in the top half in most of the major statistical categories concerning the three areas of the game. With regard to fielding, the Cardinals did not have a great year. The team committed the second-most errors during the season with 96, and also ranked ninth in fielding percentage at .960. The Cardinals were the best team however at catching baserunners stealing, as they ranked first in this category, stopping opponents 44% of the time.
Michael YaSenka – The Cardinals got a steal in the 2019 MLB Draft with the selection of YaSenka in the 17th round out of Eastern Illinois. During his stint with Johnson City before being promoted to State College, YaSenka went 2-1 with an impressively low 0.56 ERA in his 32 1/3 innings pitched. YaSenka allowed just two earned on 21 hits, while also recording 37 strikeouts during his seven game appearances and five starts. For his performance in July, YaSenka was awarded as the Pitcher of the Month for the Cardinals’ minor league organization.
Francisco Justo – St. Louis’ 12th round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft proved to be a mainstay in the rotation early in the season, and was productive whether he was starting or in relief down the stretch. Justo finished the year with a 3-2 record and 3.83 ERA through 54 innings pitched. In his 12 games, including eight starts, Justo’s opponents had a batting average of .226, struck out 43 times, and scored just 23 earned runs over those 54 innings of work.
Chandler Redmond – Like YaSenka, Chandler Redmond also proved to be a bargain from the 2019 MLB Draft, going in the 32nd out of Gardner-Webb. Redmond’s big bat was on display all season, as he finished with a .287 batting average, 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in his 54 games played this season. Redmond was also third in the Appalachian League in slugging percentage at .552 and in OPS at .935.
Jhon Torres – Despite dealing with nagging injuries, Torres still had an outstanding season in his 33 games played. The top prospect from Sincelejo, Colombia, batted an impressive .286 and recorded six home runs and 17 RBIs on the season. Torres also led the team with a .391 on-base percentage among players having a minimum of 75 at-bats.
Mateo Gil – The Cards’ third pick of the 2018 MLB Draft had a tremendous season for the Cardinals, proving to be the most productive player on the team when considering longevity and amount of games played. The shortstop finished the season with a .270 batting average and led the team in both hits (55) and runs scored (42). Gil also tallied seven home runs and 30 RBIs that were essential in aiding the top of the lineup for Johnson City.
Despite middling statistics and an up-and-down regular season, the Cardinals came away from 2019 with both the division title and their 11th Appalachian League crown. The Cardinals were used a strong start to the season to help propel them into a division lead that they would hold onto until the final week of the season. The 2019 Johnson City Cardinals will be remembered for their resiliency just as much as they will be for the championship.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our State College Spikes Team Review.
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