2011 Memphis Redbirds Team Review

The Memphis Redbirds missed the Pacific Coast League post-season for the first time in three years but there were many individual highlights.

A quick summary

Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Record: 77-66 (.538), -2.5 games
Second place, American North Division

Despite missing the Pacific Coast League playoffs, the 2011 Memphis Redbirds' accomplishments were considerable. They finished 11 games over .500 (.538) by overcoming an offense that was among the worst in the league. The pitchers won the ERA title despite the club's winningest pitcher being tied for just 23rd in the league.

In terms of the bottom line, the club increased attendance while logging its fourth consecutive winning season, erasing memories of last decade's concerns about perennial losing teams keeping fans away.

The start

Maloney
2011 held great promise for the St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate, coming off two consecutive PCL playoff appearances, including a 2009 championship. The Memphis coaching staff, headed by manager Chris Maloney, returned as did a number of their 2010 contributors.

Of the 24 players on the opening active roster, Maloney welcomed back 15 former Redbirds. Six other players were promoted from Double-A Springfield with the other three being veteran free agent signees, all with past major league service.

14 members of The Cardinal Nation top 40 prospects opened with the Redbirds, including three of the top six. They were 2009 organizational Pitcher of the Year Lance Lynn (#3), reliever Eduardo Sanchez (#4) plus 2010 Player of the Year, third baseman Matt Carpenter (#6).

Dickson
The opening day starting rotation was anchored by major league-inducted hurlers P.J. Walters and Adam Ottavino, plus Lynn, The Cardinal Nation 2010 Pitcher of the Year Brandon Dickson and veteran left-hander Raul Valdes, signed as a minor league free agent during the winter.

Four members of the Redbirds relief corps, all with closing experience, were ranked among the system's top 40 prospects – Sanchez, Adam Reifer (#13), Fernando Salas (#14) and Francisco Samuel (#35).

The battery looked strong with a group of returnees that included catchers Bryan Anderson (#12) and Tony Cruz (#16). Three of the four starting infielders were also top 20 prospects in first baseman Mark Hamilton (#20), shortstop Pete Kozma (#17) and third baseman Carpenter.

The outfield featured fast-rising prospect Adron Chambers (#15) and Redbirds returnees Shane Robinson and Jim Rapoport. Versatile Andrew Brown, capable of playing all four infield and outfield corners, veteran Nick Stavinoha and former system Player of the Year Daryl Jones (#37) were the other flycatchers.

The regular season

The Redbirds stumbled out of the gate, winning just one of seven road games in April on the way to a 9-13 first month. Memphis was swept twice in four-game series, first at home by New Orleans and then at eventual American North Division champion Omaha. They ended April five games out of first.

Expected to be their strength, the Redbirds' relief depth evaporated within a few days in mid-April. As Cardinals' Bryan Augenstein and Brian Tallet went down on the same day, Salas and Sanchez were called up to St. Louis. In what was a terrible series in Des Moines, Reifer slipped on the wet mound and blew out his knee, ending his season. Samuel was almost continually injured. None of the four top prospect closers would save even one game for the 2011 Redbirds.

Marte
Suddenly short on relievers with no strong candidates to bring up from Springfield, the club purchased veteran right-handed reliever Victor Marte from Kansas City and anointed him the new closer.

The worst blow was during that same series against Iowa occurred when outfielders Shane Robinson and Andrew Brown had a terrible collision that put sent them both to the hospital then onto the disabled list. Robinson was most severely injured, suffering a fractured second metacarpal in his left hand and broken orbital bone in his face. He did not rejoin the Redbirds until late July. Brown missed two weeks due to a concussion.

Memphis' struggles continued in May as they went 14-15. Despite that, they lost only a half-game in the standings, finishing the month at 5.5 games back.

As the heat of June arrived, so did the team on the field as the Redbirds went 19-10 on the month. The closed within a half-game of the division lead multiple times, but couldn't quite catch Omaha.

Following the July 10 game, Memphis headed into the all-star break just 1.5 games out of first with a 48-42 record.

The Redbirds' road woes continued after the break, however. A 1-7 road trip to Oklahoma City and Round Rock led to a 4-11 July road mark and a 12-16 month overall. Still, they were only five games out despite a 54-54 record.

August had to be a very frustrating month. Though they logged a 19-11 record that included winning marks both home and away, the Redbirds made up no ground in the standings. Owning the tie-breaker, the Storm Chasers clinched on the final day of August.

The Redbirds finished 4-1 in September to close the final gap to 2.5 games.

The record

With their 77-66 record, Memphis posted its fourth consecutive winning season. It was 4.5 games behind their 2010 pace, a season in which they reached the conference championship round, but it was an almost identical regular season record to 2009 (77-67), when they won the PCL title.

Memphis logged an impressive 45-26 mark at AutoZone Park, but just 32-40 on the road. The offensive woes showed when noting the team's 71-37 record when scoring at least three runs.

Against conference foes, the Redbirds enjoyed the season edge over Oklahoma City (11-5) as well as Nashville and Iowa (10-6 each). Memphis had losing marks against Round Rock (6-10) along with Omaha (6-9) and New Orleans (7-9).

Attendance

AutoZone Park
This is a good-news story. The Redbirds drew 493,528 to AutoZone Park this season. The per-game average of 7,050 ranked fifth in the 16-team Pacific Coast League. It is up over 500 per game or eight percent compared to the 6,507 average logged in 2010 (7th in the PCL). Overall, PCL attendance was down three percent this season, making Memphis' results even more notable.

Roster changes

As always, Maloney, pitching coach Blaise Ilsley and hitting coach Mark Budaska managed through considerable roster churn. Obviously, there were too many transactions to list individually, but here are some of the most notable ones.

Injuries in St. Louis led to major league trials for first baseman Hamilton, shortstop Kozma, third baseman Carpenter and outfielder Brown. The latter three made their MLB debuts. Same with pitchers Dickson and Maikel Cleto. Valdes spent a month with the Cardinals before his July departure. He was claimed off waivers by the Yankees.

A former Redbird sent to Cleveland in the Chris Perez-Mark DeRosa trade two years earlier, Jess Todd, was claimed off waivers from the Yankees and joined the Memphis pen in mid-May. Later that month, Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick was returned to the Cardinals from the Washington Nationals. The right-hander later slipped into the rotation, where he remained for the rest of the season.

Left-hander Nick Additon first joined the Redbirds in mid-May and made 16 starts around one trip back down to Springfield. Catcher Steven Hill returned from Double-A in late June only to soon suffer a season-ending broken foot.

Bullpen lefty Rich Rundles was released at the end of May, only to be re-signed a month later. Another MLB veteran, second baseman Ramon Vazquez, requested his release at the start of June.

Greene
Though shortstop Tyler Greene began the season in St. Louis, he was sent down in mid-June and spent most of the summer with Memphis.

Two veteran relievers were signed by the Cardinals in early July. Both ended up with the Redbirds before being released. 40-year-old left-hander Ron Mahay pitched well in a dozen games with Memphis but didn't want to stay around waiting for a call to St. Louis that apparently wasn't coming. Right-hander Blaine Boyer was moved to starting and after four disastrous outings, was cut loose.

Walters, then up with St. Louis, was included in the Colby Rasmus trade and headed to Toronto and their PCL Las Vegas club at the end of July. David Kopp, a starter when he received a brief Memphis trial in 2010, returned in mid-August as a reliever.

Several Springfield players received time with the Redbirds only to be sent back down. They include outfielder Aaron Luna, reliever Blake King (later claimed off outright waivers by Houston) and infielder Jose Garcia. More established Redbirds such as Jones, Rapoport and Donovan Solano each received one-way tickets back to the Texas League during the season.

Well-traveled outfielder Amaury Cazana was again loaned to the Mexican League, but unlike in 2010, he did not return to the Redbirds for the stretch run. One has to wonder why the 33/37-year-old remains in the organization.

Injuries

As noted above, impact of the April injury by Robinson was felt most of the season. Hill, whose bat could have been useful, played in just 17 games with Memphis before breaking his foot. He started the season on Springfield's disabled list.

Sanchez had an injury-riddled year which began with a shoulder problem in spring training. He started the season on the Redbirds' DL and ended on Springfield's DL. Reifer pitched in just five games prior to his April injury.

Ottavino had a rough stretch mid-season, including two weeks on the DL in July with forearm tightness.

Individual recognition

Chambers
Despite pitching having been dominant on the 2011 Redbirds, no hurlers received Pitcher of the Month designation from the Cardinals organization. Brown was the system's Player of the Month for May and Chambers received the same award for June.

The Cardinal Nation recognized Walters as our June Pitcher of the Month and tabbed Greene as the August Player of the Month.

In terms of league-wide recognition, Brown was the PCL Player of the Week for the period of May 23-29 and Dickson was the circuit's top hurler for the week of August 1-7.

Brown was Memphis' only mid-season all-star, competing in the annual Triple-A All-Star Game against the International League. Closer Marte scored a spot on the PCL post-season all-star squad.

September call-ups

During the final week of August, Dickson, Robinson and Cleto were recalled to St. Louis. Robinson had to be returned to the 40-man roster first, culminating an admirable recovery from two injury-plagued seasons.

Following Memphis' regular season conclusion, the Cardinals promoted three others. All were already on the 40-man roster – Cruz, Chambers and Greene. Chambers made his MLB debut.

Passed over were Hamilton, Brown, Kozma and Carpenter, all on the 40-man, as well as Stavinoha. Third baseman Carpenter had a strong case, with a .300 average and the fourth-best OBP in the entire PCL. Hamilton improved his batting average substantially, but hit just two home runs all season long. Brown's first half was great (1.000 OPS), but his second was not (.706). Kozma (.214 BA) clearly needs more seasoning.

Lineups and batting orders

The most common regular-season lineups and batting orders used by Maloney this past season follow.

Starts  by position  Games  Batting Order Games
C  Anderson  85 #1  Rapoport  61
1B  Stavinoha 73 #2  Greene  38
2B  Bynum 39 #3  Stavinoha 104
SS  Kozma 61 #4  Hamilton  60
3B  Carpenter 115 #5  Carpenter 71
LF  Brown 39 #6  Carpenter 41
CF  Chambers 107 #7  Anderson 57
RF  Brown 44 #8  Kozma 44
DH  Stavinoha 13 #9  Pitchers  95

Carpenter
Despite his .417 OBP, Carpenter scored just 61 runs, tied for 65th in the league. He seems like an ideal #2 hitter, yet he made just five starts there. It was a spot in the order that did not have a clear owner, as evidenced by Greene's team-leading 38 starts there.

Brown's versatility was utilized as he had the most starts at both outfield corners. He also made three appearances as the designated hitter, two at first base and one at third.

Team hitting and pitching

A year after Memphis' offense was in the middle of the pack in the PCL, the 2011 hitters were consistently among the bottom three of the 16-team league by just about any measure chosen. The pitchers won the ERA title and just missed having issued the fewest walks.

Offense Season PCL rank Pitching Season PCL rank
# of 16 # of 16
BA 0.270 15th ERA 4.10 1st
Runs 722 14th Ks 1002 8th
OPS 0.766 14th Walks 493 2nd fewest
Doubles 252 14th HR allow 135 T3rd fewest
HR 129 13th Saves 37 7th
Steals 84 14th

Individual hitting and pitching leaders

Stavinoha's 109 RBI established a new Memphis single-season team record, passing Kevin Witt's record of 107 RBI set in 2004. He also set a number of Memphis career milestones, including games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles and home runs.

Marte's 31 saves not only led the PCL, it also shattered the club's single-season record of 26 set by Gene Stechschulte in 2000.

Offense # PCL rk Pitching # PCL rk
BA Carpenter 0.300 32nd ERA Dickson 3.95 5th
OBP Carpenter 0.417 4th Strikeouts Dickson 124 5th
SLG Brown 0.501 24th Ottavino 120 T6th
Stavinoha 0.488 T30th Saves Marte 31 1st
OPS Brown 0.883 20th Wins Dickson 8 T23rd
Stavinoha 0.880 22nd
Steals Chambers 22 T13th Walks Ottavino 71 4th
Doubles Stavinoha 30 T19th HR allow Dickson 22 T9th
Carpenter 29 T23rd
HR Stavinoha 28 T5th
RBI Stavinoha 109 T1st
Walks Carpenter 84 1st
Runs Stavinoha 84 T12th





Link to master article with all 2011 award winners, team recaps and article schedules.



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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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