photo: Luken Baker (Springfield Cardinals)
2021 was another losing season for the Springfield Cardinals, their third in a row dating back to 2018 and worst since the franchise arrived in Missouri in 2005. The St. Louis Cardinals Double-A affiliate was held back by the pitching – both starting and relief. Luken Baker led the offense with 26 home runs.
Springfield’s 45-75 record ranked dead last in the Double-A Central and third worst in all of Double-A. Only Hartford (39-79, Rockies) and Harrisburg (42-76, Nationals) won fewer games across the 30 organizations. The Cardinals’ winning percentage of .375 was the lowest since the franchise moved to Springfield in 2005.
The Cardinals finished in the same spot in which they resided for most of the season, looking up at the rest of the Double-A Central. Springfield finished 24 games out of first place in the North Division with a run differential of -217, the worst of all 30 Double-A clubs. They were unable to post even one winning month.
Despite hitting a record-high in attendance at Hammons Field this season, the Cardinals failed to gain any home field advantage, going 22-38 (.367) at home. Road trips weren’t much better as the ballclub went 23-37 (.383) in opposing ballparks.
Month by Month
Though the Cardinals finally took the field after missing the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was far from a regular season. It began with a one-month late start and a schedule of only 120 games instead of the usual 140 and six-game weekly series. Compared to the 2019 season that stretched from April 4th to September 2nd, this year’s season didn’t kick off until a month later on the fourth of May, with the final game slated for September 19th.
The Cardinals both began and ended the first month of the season against the Wichita Wind Surge, scuffling to 6-17 overall record during May. This included an eight-game losing streak from May 7th-15th.
Despite the slow start, the team’s offense recorded a .253 average in the opening month, which was second best in the division. The pitching staff on the other hand finished May with the second-highest ERA in all of Double-A at 6.40 (trailing only Reading at 6.76). This theme continued for most of the season.
Springfield lost 17 games for the second straight month, going 10-17 in June with the pitching staff posting an ERA over six (6.13) once again.
The club finished July with their best monthly record at 12-14, highlighted by a six-game winning streak from July 3rd-9th. While averaging .254 at the dish, Springfield scored the third most runs in the Central with 147 baserunners coming across the plate.
August was the Cardinals’ worst month of 2021 as they went 9-18 including a six-game losing streak from August 18th-24th. The offense slowed as they recorded their lowest monthly batting average (.232) and only scored 102 runs, eighth of 10 league clubs.
In the final month of the campaign Springfield came the closest to a monthly .500 record finishing September at 8-9. The Cardinals pitching staff allowed 81 runs in 150 innings for a season-best 4.86 ERA.
At the Plate
Springfield had their fair share of issues offensively but the most glaring one for the Birds on the Bat was lack of consistency. The Cardinals were led by big-name prospects including Delvin Perez, Luken Baker, Nick Plummer and Ivan Herrera, who all showed glimpses of big league talent.
Baker finished with a team-leading 26 home runs, third most in all of the league despite a lengthy stint on the COVID-related injured list. His 68 RBI was also the best on the team. Despite only averaging .248 (86-for-347), the slugging first baseman showed his power with a slugging percentage of .530 and OPS of .852.
The leading Springfield catcher for the entirety of 2021 was Ivan Herrera, who ranked second on the club with 17 home runs in 98 games. Despite his .231 average, Herrera drove in 63 (second most) and tied second baseman Nick Dunn for the fourth-most hits with 84.
Nick Plummer had arguably the most noteworthy season for Springfield highlighted by breaking a franchise record and etching his name into the history books. The outfielder recorded the longest on-base streak in the history of the ballclub, reaching in 33 straight games while breaking the record held by now major leaguer Tommy Edman. The former 23rd overall pick in 2015 also tied the Springfield Cardinal record with three home runs in one game on July 8th and was awarded the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation Player of the Month and Double-A Central Player of the Week during July.
Perez finished the season at the top of the mountain with 103 hits (Plummer with 88 ranked second) while also recording the most at bats with 389. The flashy shortstop’s .265 average trailed only Plummer (.288) for the highest on the team, Perez is one of only two Springfield players with over 300 at bats to record more hits than strikeouts.
Of these four standouts, all except Perez finished the season with Triple-A Memphis.
As a whole, the Cardinals finished tied for the second highest batting average in the Double-A Central with .254, along with an on-base percentage of .339 (fourth) and slugging percentage of .404 (seventh).
The club sat right in the middle of the pack with 577 runs and 534 RBI despite recording the second most hits in the division with 1,029, trailing only Wichita with 1,038.
On the Mound
The glaring issue for the Birds on the Bat throughout the entire 2021 campaign was their pitching, both starting and relieving. The club’s 5.97 ERA was the highest in all of Double-A, with their starters finishing the season with an even 6.00 ERA and relievers posting a 5.95 ERA. Springfield shut out their opponents only twice in 120 games, lowest in the League.
The Cardinals staff was consistent, ranking 10th of 10 Double-A Central teams in hits (1,161), runs (794), earned runs (689), saves (17 in 37 opportunities), WHIP (1.61) and average against (.282).
A total of 178 home runs were hit off Springfield pitchers, the second most in the league behind Amarillo with 186.
1,063 opposing hitters were retired via strikeouts from Cardinal pitchers which was only eighth best. One of the rare bright spots for the club on the bump was their 507 walks, third fewest in the Double-A Central.
Despite missing time on the COVID-related IL, Andre Pallante tied Domingo Robles for the most starts, 21, and posted the lowest ERA among rotation members at 3.82. Despite that, the right-hander finished with just four wins against seven losses.
Nine different players collected saves for Springfield in 2021. Jacob Bosiokovic and Edgar Escobar each had four, but also blew three and two chances, respectively. Bosiokovic also won six of nine decisions. Later in the season, Freddy Pacheco arrived in Springfield and was a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities while compiling a 1.83 ERA in 15 appearances out of the pen.
Springfield’s original 28-man opening day roster included seven top-30 prospects according to The Cardinal Nation and nine players who had made previous appearances at Double-A in the past.
Right-hander Andre Pallante and left-hander Domingo Robles were slated to be the leaders in the starting rotation with lefty Connor Thomas, righty Kyle Leahy and righty Alvaro Seijas rounding out the five-man rotation. By the end of the season, only Robles remained among the starting five.
Patrick Dayton and Jacob Patterson were the minority left-handers in the Springfield bullpen on opening day, along with righties Grant Black, Jacob Bosiokovic, Edgar Escobar, Edgar Gonzalez, Salvador Justo, Dalton Roach, Griffin Roberts and Jake Walsh.
Springfield began the season with three catchers: Herrera, Nick Raposo and Julio Rodriguez.
Luken Baker, Nick Dunn, Nolan Gorman, Irving Lopez, Delvin Perez and Juan Yepez rounded out the infielders on the opening day roster giving Springfield fans plenty of hope for the season.
The Cardinals tapped Plummer, Justin Toerner, David Vinsky and Chase Pinder to man the outfield to begin 2021.
Throughout the 120-game schedule, the Cardinals added many players from both Triple-A Memphis and High-A Peoria who contributed and produced at Double-A.
Additions to the roster included infielders: Imeldo Diaz, Aaron Antonini, Brendan Donovan, Malcolm Nunez, Chandler Redmond and Moises Castillo. Outfielders Leandro Cedeno, Conner Capel, Alec Burleson and Matt Kopenriak also made appearances for Springfield.
The pitching staff looked more like a revolving door than a set lineup as the Birds on the Bat searched desperately to end their woes on the bump throughout the campaign.
Pitchers who appeared that were not on the opening day are as follows: Ramon Santos, Michael Brettell, Tyler Pike, Kevin McGovern, Alex FaGalde, Johan Quezada, Freddy Pacheco, Garrett Williams and Cory Thompson.
Pike, McGovern and Thompson were among those brought in from independent ball to try to stop the bleeding, but McGovern didn’t make it through the season before being released. Once-promising prospect Seijas was given his release, as well.
The Cardinals welcomed major-leaguers Kodi Whitley, Miles Mikolas, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty at the Double-A level on rehab assignments.
In total, Springfield made 87 transactions throughout the 2021 season.
The season was one of highs and lows, with the lows certainly outweighing the highs. In one of the worst seasons in recent memory, Springfield’s biggest weaknesses were exposed over 120 games. While plenty of big names from this season’s roster were called up to Triple-A and some are inching closer to their major league debuts, the overall team will be remembered as one with loads of potential that didn’t live up to it, highlighted by their struggles on the mound.
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