Saints Split with Cubs, Head to Columbus
The Saints Story is a weekly publication that is focused on the St. Paul Saints, the AAA-affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Saints Story will discuss the past week’s games, take a look at what lay ahead, and discuss who’s hot and who’s not, plus much more. Also, news from throughout the Minnesota Twins minor league system will be provided, including from the Wichita Wind Surge (AA), the Cedar Rapids Kernels (High-A) and the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels (Low-A).
Record: 15-13, Third place in International League West Division.
Week Record: 3-3
Batting Average: .234 (11th in International League)
Team ERA: 4.76 (13th in International League)
St. Paul Saints Week in Review
The St. Paul Saints welcomed the Iowa Cubs to town this past week, splitting the six games. That moved St. Paul to 8-8 through their first 16 home contests.
Iowa opened the series with a decisive 7-3 victory on Tuesday. Saints starter Devin Smeltzer had his first tough outing of the season, giving up six runs on eight hits in 2.0 innings before his evening was over. Smeltzer had allowed just three earned runs to his first 19.0 innings, but a four run first and a two run second drew the early hook for the left-hander. St. Paul tried to keep pace with runs in the bottom half of both the first and second innings however, Iowa held a 7-2 lead coming out of the third and never looked back.
St. Paul responded with victories on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday the Saints turned the script, scoring three in the first in two in the bottom of the second to jump out to a 5-0 lead. Mark Contreras got things started for St. Paul. After recording two hits on Tuesday evening, Contreras hit a three-run homerun in the bottom of the first, his fifth of the season. Elliott Soto hit a two-run blast in the bottom of the second, his first homerun of the year to put St. Paul in command of this game. Ronny Henriquez started for the Saints and only gave up one run in 3.1 innings, but he gave up six hits and his evening was over after reaching the 67-pitch mark in the top of the fourth. JC Ramirez came on and was brilliant in relief, tossing 3.2 innings of scoreless ball to move to 2-0. Curtis Terry added a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning.
On Thursday, St. Paul rallied from a 3-0 deficit, scoring two runs in the seventh and four in the eighth to earn a 6-3 victory. Chi Chi Gonzalez started and gave up three runs in five innings before his evening was over. Daniel Gossett took over and provided three innings of no-hit relief. The bullpen was the story through the early part of the series, as the bullpen allowed one earned run in the first three games of the series. St. Paul scored two in the bottom of the seventh thanks to an RBI ground out by Jermaine Palacios and an RBI single by Jose Goday, who was called up to the big club later in the week. In the bottom of the eighth, Terry doubled home Royce Lewis to tie the score, and Soto followed with a triple, clearing the bases to give St. Paul the lead. Soto was 3-10, with three runs scored and six RBI through the first three games of the series.
On Friday, the Minnesota Twins recalled Lewis, joining Jose Miranda who had been recalled a few days earlier. Cole Sturgeon was also called of the St. Paul from Wichita, changing the complexity of starting lineup, and it showed. Iowa scored runs in each of the first three innings to take a 4-0 lead on their way to a 6-2 victory. Jake Faria struggled for the second straight outing, giving up four runs in four innings to take the loss. The right-hander has given up 10 earned runs over his last 6.0 innings, allowing 13 hits and six walks. Caleb Hamilton produced the only offense of the game, blasting his first homerun of the season, a two-run shot.
On Friday, St. Paul Rally late again, scoring three in the sixth, a run in the seventh, and for the eighth to earn a 9-2 victory. The score was tied entering the bottom of the sixth, but Kevin Merrell, playing second base with Lewis up with the Twins, hit his first homerun of the season, a three-run shot to put St. Paul on top for good. Derek Fisher hit his third homerun in the bottom of the seventh and two errors helped the Saints add to the lead in the eighth. Despite giving up two runs, Mario Sanchez (2-0) earned the victory. Wladimir Pinto finished off the contest for his first save of the year, tossing two perfect innings while striking out five.
On Sunday, the Cubs completely dominated this contest, scoring for in the second to take the early lead then cruising to a 10-3 victory. This was the only contest of the series were the bullpen struggled, giving up six runs in six innings of work. Cole Sands started for St. Paul and had his fourth rocky outing for the team, dropping to 0-4 within 8.62 ERA. Catcher David Bañuelos hit his second homerun of the season for the Saints.
The Week Ahead
The Saints had to the road for the next two weeks, starting with a six-game series in Columbus on Tuesday. The Clippers are 18-12, second in the International League West, but they enter this series on a four-game losing streak and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Columbus has been spectacular at home this season, going 10-2. The club has a 3.92 ERA, fifth in the league, but that ERA drops to 3.39 at home. The same has been true for the offense. The Clippers are ninth in batting average (.246), but are hitting .278 with 20 home runs in 12 games in their own home park.
Luke Maile has been an absolute beast since coming down from the Cleveland Guardians, hitting .563 with a 1.713 OPS and six games. He has nine hits in 16 at bats, scoring six runs and driving in six. Oscar Gonzalez is having a huge season as well, hitting .311 and 28 games. Gonzalez has 16 extra-base hits, including eight home runs, has scored 17 runs, and driven in 25. He is fourth in the International League in both homers and RBI.
The bullpen has been led by the combination of Ben Krauth and Nick Mikolajchak. Each reliever has made 10 appearances, combining to go 3-2 with four saves. The combo has allowed two earned runs in 24.2 innings pitched, with Krauth posting a 0.64 WHIP and Mikolajchak a 0.84. Peyton Battenfield has been spectacular in the starting rotation, going 2-2 with a 2.81 ERA in six starts. He has a 1.16 WHIP.
Down on the Farm
AA-Wichita Wind Surge
The Wichita Wind Surge had a condensed week thanks to three rainouts to start their series against the Tulsa Drillers. That led to double-headers on Friday and Sunday, with the teams only getting in one of the two games on Saturday. Wichita finished 3-2 for the week, moving the team 1.0 games ahead of Tulsa in the Texas League North at 16-10. The Wind Surge also extended their winning streak to eight straight games before losing the final two games of the series. The eight-game winning streak is a new franchise record.
The offense had a great week against the Drillers, producing 31 runs in five games. Outfielder Matt Wallner led the way, hitting .500 with two homers and eight runs driven in and five games. Second baseman Spencer Steer also had a huge week, hitting .400 with three homers and eight RBI.
The pitching staff had its moments during the week, including shutting out Tulsa in the second game of Friday night’s double-header. Matt Canterino tossed four shutout innings, earning a no decision. Ben Gross came out of the bullpen and tossed 1.2 innings of scoreless relief in his best outing of the season, earning the victory. Austin Schulfer earned the save, striking out three of the four batters he faced. Right-hander Tyler Viza continues to rock out of the bullpen for this club, tossing another scoreless inning of relief and he is now 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA in eight appearances, striking out 26 in 16.1 innings.
The one player to watch will be Simeon Woods Richardson. After cruising through his first four starts of the season, Woods Richardson allowed four runs on five hits in 5.1 innings. Those were his first four earned runs allowed this season, increasing his ERA to 1.33. His numbers are still unbelievably impressive and the organization will be looking to see how he responds to a little adversity.
This week Wichita travels to take on Northwest Arkansas. The Naturals are in third in the North Division at 14-13, 2.5 games behind Wichita. They have won their last two contests and are 5-7 at home this season.
The Naturals are led by Michael Massey, who is hitting .320 with five homers and 26 runs driven in in 25 games. His 26 RBI is third in the Texas League. Nick Loftin had a big series against Springfield, going 10-22 (.455) with a homer and five runs driven in. Drew Parrish leads this pitching staff, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP in six starts. Beyond Parrish, Wichita is going to have some opportunities as the Naturals starters have a 5.14 ERA, allowing 15 homers in 112.0 innings while posting a 1.40 WHIP and a .244 opponent batting average. Walks have been a huge issue for the starting staff, allowing 53.
High-A-Cedar Rapids Kernels
The Cedar Rapids Kernels went 4-2 against Quad Cities during the week. The team split the first four contests of the series, but Cedar Rapids earned victories on Saturday and Sunday to take the series. That moved the Kernels to 19-8, 2.0 games ahead of Wisconsin in the standings. Cedar Rapids is fourth in team batting average (.238) and are tied for sixth in homeruns with 21. The Kernels have the best ERA in the league at 2.98.
Catcher Jeferson Morales is warming up as the temperature rises, going 5-10 with three runs scored and an RBI during the week. In fact, the catching combination of Morales and Jair Camargo (4-13) had a huge week for the club. However, Christian Encarnacion Strand is starting to come back to earth, going 3-15 (.200) with two runs scored and an RBI in four games. Encarnacion Strand is still hitting .364 and leads the club in homeruns (5) and RBI (25).
Starters Brent Headrick and Sawyer Gipson-Long have played a huge role in why this pitching staff has been so good early on. Each hurler has made five starts so far, with Headrick going 3-1 with a 1.90 ERA and Gipson-Long posting a 2.01 ERA to go along with a 1-1 record. Both have WHIPs under 1.00. Bobby Milacki gave up his first earned run of the season last week, but is still at 0.68, allowing one earned run in 13.1 innings pitched.
Cedar Rapids travels to take on Peoria this week. The Kernels are 7-5 on the road while Peoria is 10-2 at home. The Chiefs are ninth in team ERA at 4.15, but have been slightly worse at home, posting a 4.29 ERA. Peoria is fifth in team batting (.231), but have stepped up their game at home, posting a .251 batting average and a .372 on-base percentage. The Chiefs have the best home on-base percentage in the league.
The Chiefs are led by Masyn Winn, who has been an on-base machine this season, hitting .378 in 22 games. Winn has walked 12 times already and has a .448 on-base percentage to go along with a .610 slugging percentage. The shortstop has six triples through the first 22 games.
Peoria has a few outstanding starters at the top of their rotation as well, led by Gordon Graceffo, who is 2-1 with a 1.07 ERA in six starts, striking out 46 in 33.2 innings while posting a minuscule 0.56 WHIP. Michael McGreevy has a 2.10 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP, while Dionys Rodriguez is 0-1 with a 2.74 ERA in five starts. The bullpen has been the issue for the Chiefs, 10th in the league with a 4.92 ERA.
A- Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
The Fort Myers Mighty Mussels split their six-game series with Lakeland last week. The Mighty Mussels went 4-6 over their last 10 games and hold a 0.5 game lead over Bradenton. Fort Myers has the second-best ERA in the Florida State League at 3.25 but have yielded only 75 walks in 219.0 innings pitched, giving them a 1.17 WHIP, best in the league. The offense is fourth in hitting (.235).
Noah Miller and Jake Rucker both had a great week against Lakeland. Miller went 11-21 (.524) with five runs scored and five RBI in his last five games. That raised his average to .287. He had entered the series with just one RBI through his first 18 games. Rucker hit .500, scoring six runs and driving in three. He also dramatically raised his average, reaching .238 and now has 12 runs scored and six RBI. Rucker has been an on-base machine, however, drawing 15 walks. Emmanuel Rodriguez leads the club in homers (5) and has walked 27 times. He has a .229 batting average, but a .450 on-base percentage.
Pitching is what the Mighty Mussels are all about, led by John Stankiewicz, who was 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA through his first four starts. That has helped to move the right-hander up to Cedar Rapids where he tossed five scoreless innings in his debut with the Kernels, allowing just one hit while striking out seven. Travis Adams may be the next moving up. Adams has made four starts, posting a 1.80 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP. He did give up two runs in five innings in his last start.
Fort Myers welcomes Palm Beach to town beginning on Tuesday. The Cardinals are in last place in the East Division and 11-16. The club did when their last two games of their most recent series, but are 4-6 in their last 10. Palm Beach is seventh in batting average (.216) and are fifth in ERA (3.57). The pitching staff has struggled on the road, posting a 4.99 ERA, worst in the Florida State League. Fort Myers has the best home ERA at 2.85.
By Robert Pannier