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Another first for a former Spikes coach, and Figuera is hot but the team is not

After a shining stint as an interim manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Shildt earned himself the full-time gig. The Cardinals announced on Tuesday that they had signed Shildt, who was a bench coach for the Spikes during their inaugural season in 2006, as their manager through the 2020 season.

“Mike is a veteran member of the Cardinals organization who has demonstrated strong leadership and coaching traits, formed by his many years of experience in the game, including his 15 years in the Cardinals system,” Cardinals’ Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Bill DeWitt, Jr. said in a release. “The team’s focused, high-level style of play under Mike is a standard that his teams consistently displayed during his prior years in the minors, and it has continued here at the Major League level.”

When Shildt took over St. Louis’ big league club on July 15, a day before the all-star break, the Cardinals were 47-46 and 7.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central standings. The Cardinals had a 27-13 record in 40 games under Shildt’s leadership entering Thursday’s contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now, St. Louis (74-59) sits 4.5 games back from Chicago in the NL Central. The Cardinals also look poised for the postseason as the top team in the wild card standings.

Shildt’s path to big league manager was quite different than most. He never played in the minors or majors. Along with stints as a high school and college coach following the end of his college career, Shildt began his career in baseball by working for the Major League Scouting service.

The North Carolina native got his start in the Cardinals’ organization as an area scout before becoming a part-time coach in 2004. Shildt spent the 2006 season as a bench coach in State College before the Cardinals’ moved their affiliation. Shildt got his first managing position with the Johnson City Cardinals (Rookie-level) in 2009 and later spent time managing the Springfield Cardinals (Class AA) and Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA) from 2009-2016.

He joined the big league club in various coaching roles in 2017 and entered this season as the Cardinals’ bench coach. Shildt became the first former Spikes coach to manage in the big leagues when he took over for Mike Matheny as the Cardinals interim manager earlier this season. Now, he is the first former Spikes coach named a full-time manager of a big league club.

Figuera back on track

Edwin Figuera looked to be in the midst of a career season back in early July. As a 19-year-old in 2017, Figuera hit .284 with a .330 on-base percentage for the Spikes. Through the first three weeks of July he was hitting .343 with a .420 on-base percentage in his second season in State College.

Then, however, the Spikes’ third baseman hit quite the rough patch from July 24-Aug. 19, going 12-for-79 at the plate for a .151 batting average. His season average slipped to .266 and season OBP slipped to .348.

But Figuera is ending his fourth professional season with a strong finish. He is hitting .350 with 10 runs scored in his last 10 games. He has recorded a base hit in nine of his past 10 games and entered Thursday on a 10-game on-base streak. With five games left to play, Figuera is hitting .281 with a .359 on-base percentage, both just below his career highs.

Spikes on brink of elimination

It was fun while it lasted. After an unbelievable 19-game stretch from Aug. 5-19, in which the team went 16-3, the Spikes dropped five in a row to all but eliminate themselves from the New York-Penn League playoff race.

State College had climbed its way back into both the Pinckney division and wild card races, but the Spikes entered Thursday five games back in the division and 4.5 games back in the wild card with just five games to play.

The Spikes have been outscored 39-12 in their last five games. Spikes pitchers have an 8.14 ERA, while the State College lineup is hitting .201 and averaging 2.4 runs per game.

Some of the Spikes top players have struggled during the skid. Stanley Espinal, the team’s top hitter, was just 1-for-16 in his previous four games before a two-hit game against West Virginia on Wednesday. Righthander Franyel Casadilla, who had given up just one earned run in his last 21 innings, gave up 10 earned runs in an 11-6 loss to the Batavia Muckdogs on Monday.

What’s On Deck?

After finishing up a series against the West Virginia Black Bears on Thursday and Friday, the Spikes end their season on the road against the Williamsport Crosscutters. The Crosscutters (30-40) are 5-5 in their last 10 games and have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

State College has three series wins against Williamsport this season and a 7-3 record against the Crosscutters. The Spikes took three of four from Williamsport from Aug. 20-22. However, it has been a tight series as the Spikes have outscored the Crosscutters by a narrow margin, 43-38.

Catcher Rafael Marchan and outfielder Ben Pelletier are Williamsport’s top two hitters. Marchan is hitting .301 this season with eight doubles and two triples. Pelletier is hitting .272 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs.

It’s possible 6-foot-10 lefty Kyle Young, who currently ranks No. 18 among the Philadelphia Phillies top prospects, makes an appearance during the series. Young threw three no-hit innings for Williamsport on Tuesday during a rehab assignment.