Good Luck, Memphis Redbirds

In just over an hour from now, the Memphis Redbirds will play the Oklahoma City Red Hawks in the final game of the regular season.  If Memphis wins, they will be the champions of the American North division of the Pacific Coast League.  They will play the very same Red Hawks in a best of five series, starting on Wednesday.

6_rockey_redbirdIt is a bit too early to put together a report card on this season, but with all that has happened to the Redbirds roster this season, it is amazing that they are in contention and have a chance to make the playoffs.  Sure, you can point at a weak division as all four team have records under .500.  That has a lot to do with the strength of the American South where all four teams will finish .500 or better.  For Memphis, it might mean more about the success of the St. Louis Cardinals and maybe some hidden talent down in Springfield.

When we first saw the open day roster for the Memphis Redbirds, we knew it was a strong one. Their early play proved that our optimism was well placed.   The rotation alone was eye-popping: Seth Maness, Michael Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and after an extended spring training, Carlos Martinez.  None of them are on the Memphis roster now.  Similar turmoil has happened in the bullpen as well.  Let’s take a look.

Starting Pitchers
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Seth Maness 2-2, 4.23 Boone Whiting 5-5, 4.09
John Gast 3-1, 1.16 Scott McGregor 6-10, 4.83
Michael Wacha 5-3, 2.65 Richard Castillo  1-2, 1.93
Tyler Lyons 7-2, 3.32 Eric Fornataro  1-4, 6.61
Nick Additon 9-7, 4.10 No fifth starter

That’s right. Four of the five starters are now in St. Louis, or hiding out in Springfield so that they can be quickly recalled as soon as their season ends. Nick Additon has had a very good year, but is now on the disabled list and unavailable.  The current Memphis Redbirds starting rotation consists of three pitchers who started the season in AA, a reliever that has been struggling with injuries, and an open spot that will be some combination of a bullpen game started by Nick Greenwood or Keith Butler.

Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Victor Marte 2-3, 4.94 Keith Butler 3-2, 3.62
Eric Fornataro 1-4, 6.61 open roster spot
Michael Blazek 1-2, 2.77 Kevin Thomas 0-1. 10.80
Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63 Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63
Barret Browning 1-2, 4.58 Lee Stoppleman 1-0, 0.00
Maikel Cleto 2-3, 6.92 Jose Almarante 0-0, 0.00
Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06 Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06
Sam Freeman 7-2, 2.97 Deryk Hooker 0-0, 5.68

It is important to remember that the bullpen also included the final days of both Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski in the Cardinals organization. Of the two, Rzepczynski turned it around and was pitching effectively up to the time when he was traded. But Victor Marte totally lost whatever mojo he had and is now on the disabled list.  The continuing saga of Maikel Cleto finally came to an end, but not before the middle part of the schedule was blown apart.

Because Memphis had been playing with such a short roster, Kevin Thomas and Deryk Hooker were sent up to bolster the bullpen.  When it became apparent that Springfield would not win the second half of their division, two more arms were sent: Lee Stoppleman and Jose Almarante.  Both of these relievers have been impressive, but both started the season in A ball.

Barret Browning and Eduardo Sanchez are both gone, Sanchez being recently removed from the Cubs 40 man roster.  Eric Fornataro has been plagued by injuries and was recently inserted into the rotation because there were no other options.

There is no other way to describe 2013 than to say it was a tumultuous season for the bullpen.

The position players were not impacted quite as badly, but the two best players are no longer available – Kolten Wong is on the active roster in St. Louis and Oscar Taveras had a season ending injury.

Position Players
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI
Kolten Wong .303, 10 HR, 45 RBI Ryan Jackson .278, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI
JR Towles .237, 5 HR, 14 RBI Travis Tartamella .246, 3 HR, 18 RBI
Rob Johnson .236, 7 HR, 32 RBI Audry Perez .207, 0 HR, 7 RBI
Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI
Justin Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI Justian Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI
Adron Chambers .252, 8 HR, 43 RBI James Ramsey .000
Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI
Oscar Taveras .306, 5 HR, 32 RBI Mike O’Neill .296, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Chris Swauger .212, 2 HR, 12 RBI

The infield has stayed largely in tact, with Vance Albitz starting the year in Memphis and Ryan Jackson in St. Louis.  Brock Peterson spent a few days in St. Louis, as did Jermaine Curtis.  The big loss came in mid August when Kolten Wong was called up to St. Louis.

The outfield has had a nearly complete makeover as Tommy Pham took over center field when Oscar Taveras was initially injured.   The biggest blows to the Memphis offense happened when both Pham and Taveras had season ending surgeries.  Mike O’Neill was called up from Springfield and has played very well.  James Ramsey was a late minute addition to the roster when Adron Chambers got his annual September call up.  Adding to the outfield woes was a long disabled list stay by Justin Christian.

It is easy to forget that Memphis was running away with the American North early in the season, on the strength of that starting rotation.   John Gast did not allow an earned run in the first month of the season and both Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons were keeping pace.  The addition of Carlos Martinez made it almost unfair to the opposing teams.  By the end of May, all four of these plus Michael Wacha were in St. Louis.  That’s also when the bullpen drama began.   The result was a long and often frustrating season and a sub .500 record heading into the final game.  All of that can be forgotten with a win and another divisional title in the history of the Cardinals AAA Affiliate.

Don’t look too closely at the final record, regardless of how this season ends.   When your AA team can keep pace with most other organization’s AAA squads, you have a very deep and impressive farm system.  We have seen that play out this year in Memphis, and it is been fun to watch.   I am not ready for that to come to an end, so I really would like to see Memphis win today and give the Red Hawks a tough time in the first round of the playoffs.

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