photo: Leandro Cedeno (Peoria Chiefs)
After taking 2020 off due to the pandemic, the Peoria Chiefs’ 2021 campaign had some promising aspects, but it was not what was hoped for overall as the High-A club spent the majority of the season in last place.
In 2019, the Chiefs posted a .388 winning percentage (54-85), the worst for a St. Louis Cardinals Class-A Affiliate in 37 years. That low mark was once again broken in 2021 as Peoria posted a .375 winning percentage with a record of 45-75 at their new High-A level. That is the worst by a Cardinals High-A team in three decades.
This makes it two straight seasons in which the Chiefs failed to put up a .400 or better winning percentage. After reaching the playoffs in 2018, poor pitching and lack of consistent offense led Peoria to be on the outside looking in for the second straight season.
High-A Central League West Division 2021 Standings
Month by Month
In May, the Chiefs struggled immediately, winning just one of their first seven games followed by a four-game win streak on the way to a 9-15 record. Brendon Donovan quickly earned himself a call-up to Double-A Springfield by batting .270 with a .357 on-base percentage. On the mound, Jack Ralston racked up 30 punchouts in 20 ⅓ innings with a 2.21 ERA.
June was very similar to May as Peoria went 10-15 to push their record to 19-30 through the first two months of the season. The team racked up a three-game winning streak against Quad Cities before dropping four straight to Beloit the following week. Malcom Nunez was the next Chief to earn a promotion after building a .285/.351/.453 slash line while also hitting three long balls and driving in 20 runs. Leandro Cedeno was also on a tear, batting .355. Logan Gragg moved into the starting rotation and struggled in his six starts, tossing 18 ⅓ innings and allowing 15 earned runs for a 7.36 ERA.
The Chiefs really began to struggle in July as they dropped eighth straight games at one point, including suffering a five-game sweep to the Kernels. Peoria bounced back with a modest three game winning streak and ended the month at 11-17 to make their record 30-47. Jhon Torres really struggled, collecting just four hits while batting .125 with a .198 on-base percentage. Connor Lunn enjoyed a nice month as his ERA dropped from 5.14 to 4.31 in five starts.
After finishing the month of August at just 9-17, the team record sat at 39-64. Two separate times during the month the team had three-game losing streaks. Jordan Walker collected his first career home run at the High-A level while also batting .278 in his second professional month. Wilfredo Pereira also continued to display his consistency with a 2.63 ERA across five starts.
The team sputtered in the final month of the season, going just 6-11 and ending the season on a four-game losing streak to Cedar Rapids. Walker was a power machine in his final 14 games. The 19-year-old smacked five long balls and batted .316 to finish the Peoria segment of his season at .292 with eight home runs. Pereira finished strongly, going at least five innings in his final three starts and pitching to a 1.62 ERA. The right hander continued to display the strikeout, racking up 18 to finish the season with 115 in 97 1/3 innings.
Taking a look at the season’s big picture, it is no doubt that pitching was Peoria’s downfall. The Chiefs pitching struggled for a large part of the year and remained last in team ERA for most of 2021. However, the staff finished the season strongly and lowered their final ERA to 5.03 for 11th in the 12-team league. They were last in WHIP at 1.52. For comparison, the leading ERA in the league was 3.88 and the league leader in WHIP came in at 1.24.
On top of that, Peoria surrendered the most hits (1018), runs (661), and served up 124 long balls, fourth most in the league. The team ranked tied for fifth in saves with 28.
Peoria had a lot of moving pieces throughout the season, including the arrivals of St. Louis’ first and second draft picks from 2020, Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn. However, overall offensive production lacked for most of the season. The team ranked last in runs scored (503), RBI (456), walks (383), and on-base percentage (.314). The offense ranked seventh in hits with 916 while batting .231 for 11th in the league.
Cedeno was a very solid bat in the middle of the order for the Chiefs, finishing second on the team in batting average with .261 (minimum 200 plate appearances). The outfielder was third in home runs with nine and collected the most runs driven in with 44. The solid season in Peoria earned the 23-year-old a call up to the Springfield Cardinals during the final week of August. At Double-A, Cedeno hit .257 with three home runs and 16 driven in 74 at bats.
The 2020 first round draft pick really capitalized on his opportunity after being called up to High-A on the final day of June. Despite being known for his power, the third baseman did not collect his first long ball until the final week of July, but found the groove late, smacking four in the final month of the season to push his total to eight. To go along with that, the 19-year-old batted .292 with a .344 on-base percentage and stole 13 bases in 15 attempts. Expect Walker to begin next season with the Chiefs, but if all goes well, The Cardinal Nation’s no. 3 prospect could end up in Double-A shortly after.
Not only was the catcher one of the most consistent hitters on the team, he was a staple in the three hole, racking up 301 at bats. It was a bit of a sluggish first half as the 23-year-old was batting just .219 as of July 25. However, a 3-for-3 performance the following game bumped his average all the way to .231 and it never fell below .230 again as he finished at .249. Pages drove in 39, second-most on the 2021 Chiefs.
Torres was the Chiefs’ most reliable player, appearing in 97 games and collecting 383 at-bats, 72 more than anyone else. The 21-year-old had one rough month, batting just .125 in July, but improved with a .256 average in August and finished at .238 overall. The outfielder displayed a wide range of skills, smacking six home runs, driving in 32, stealing three bases and ranked tied for third most doubles in the league with 25.
After struggling out of the gate as a reliever, the right hander was moved into the starting rotation where he performed very well. After a 4.78 ERA as a reliever, the 22-year-old made 13 starts with a 2.62 ERA and finished with a team best 3.33 ERA. The 22-year-old from Panama also showed his reliability, racking up 97 ⅓ innings pitched for third most on the team. Pereira’s 15 strikeouts were second most on the 2021 Chiefs.
Ralston proved to be one of the most reliable arms for the Chiefs. The right hander opened the season primarily as a starter, making 10 starts by July 4th, before being shut down for three weeks. After the rest, the 24-year-old made 16 appearances, all but one coming out of the bullpen. Despite pitching just 67 innings, Ralston racked up 101 punchouts for the season, fourth-most on the team.
2021 was a challenging season overall. Peoria seemed to struggle putting everything together in order to win consistently. On days the pitching was on, the offense failed to score runs, and when the offense came to play, the Chiefs found themselves on the short end of a shootout.
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