It was reasonable to assume with Adron Chambers returning and the addition of other players such as Eugenio Velez and Ryan Jackson, that the offense would be a force to reckon with, but injuries, disappointing seasons, and mid-season call-ups combined to lead to the worst offensive numbers in the Pacific Coast League in the 2012 season.
Despite a rough first half by Shelby Miller, the team relied on his strong second half, Brandon Dickson's solid season and other noteworthy pitching performances from Tyler Lyons, Joe Kelly, Barret Browning, and Sam Freeman to finish in the upper half of the Pacific Coast League in pitching.
A 1-9 start to the season signaled a bad omen for the rest of the season. During no one month with a full slate of games did the Redbirds post a winning record. The closest the team sniffed to .500 after the first two games of the season was when they defeated Round Rock on May 5th to bring their overall record to 13-16. Then, they dropped their next nine straight games. Memphis swept the Nashville Sounds on the road to finish out their last series of the season, three games of which were in September.
Memphis finished with a dismal 57-87 record, but was enough to finish two games ahead of the Iowa Cubs and escape the cellar of the American Northern Division of the Pacific Coast League. The team's batting average of .257 was worst in the league, while their OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .717 was also dead last. The Redbirds' 4.59 earned-run average ranked fifth in the league at the end of the season, and their 1,100 strikeout total was good for second.
Overall record: 10-14
Starting off the season with a 4-3 win over the Oklahoma City Redhawks, the Redbirds went on to drop nine straight games. In taking three of four against Iowa later in the month, the Redbirds won their only April series. They limited the Cubs to 11 runs led by strong starts from Brian Broderick, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller. Though they split home series against Oklahoma City and the Omaha Storm Chasers, their nine game losing streak paved the way to a rough start.
Matt Adams, Adron Chambers, Joe Kelly, and Eugenio Velez all earned honors for multiple weeks on the ‘Who's Hot' list. Adams belted nine extra-base hits with a .325 batting average, Chambers posted a .372 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, and Velez ripped eight extra-base hits in addition to seven steals to lead the team. Kelly won only one game in April but also shut down the opposition with a 2.17 earned-run average and 22 strikeouts in 29 innings over five starts.
Overall record: 9-21
One month into the season with a chance for the players to get accustomed to each other, May instead became the deepest valley of the Redbirds' tumultuous season. Falling short in 21 games, their loss total would be the highest of any month in 2012. If you counted the April 30th win against Iowa, the first series of the month was the only series the ‘Birds came out on top of in the month of May. In seven series spanning the month, the Redbirds won one, split two, and lost four, including being swept by the Reno Aces.
Matt Adams and Adron Chambers once again earned multiple ‘Who's Hot' honors. The former hammered out 10 extra-base hits (five long balls) and the latter upped his on-base percentage from the month prior to .386.
As good as Eugenio Velez was in April, the utility player suffered in May with a lackluster .167 batting average, while Nick Additon was just as bad on the hill by yielding 26 total runs for a 7.14 earned-run average in six starts.
Noteworthy transactions: Eduardo Sanchez and Sam Freeman were each sent to Memphis, the former having been demoted with severe control issues and the latter up from Springfield. Freeman provided a great presence from the left side in dominating fashion over the rest of the season.
Enjoying a much deserved promotion on the 20th, Matt Adams spent about a month with St. Louis before being sent back down. One last noteworthy transaction was the promotion of John Gast from Springfield, who spent the rest of the season in the rotation.
Overall record: 12-17
Continuing an ugly trend, the Redbirds dropped their first four series of the month before splitting a four-game series at Omaha. They did win a short three-game home stand against the Albuquerque Isotopes at the end of the month by plating 20 runs and nabbing two wins.
Noteworthy transactions: Joe Kelly made his final start of the year for Memphis on June 4th by limiting the opposition to one run over eight innings. Kelly would make a significant contribution to the St. Louis Cardinals over the next several months. Following Kelly's promotion, Tyler Lyons received one of his own from Springfield.
Matt Adams rejoined the Redbirds on the 22nd and played with the ‘Birds until his season was prematurely cut short due to injury. Barret Browning was promoted to St. Louis to make his MLB debut on June 30th.
Overall record: 12-16
The Redbirds ended the first half in similar fashion to the way they began it by losing seven of their last eight games before the break. Memphis scored only two runs over their final three games against Nashville before resting over a much needed three-day stretch over the All-Star Break.
Barret Browning was named a PCL All-Star but was ineligible to participate since he was on the 25-man roster in St. Louis. He was replaced by Brandon Dickson, who walked a batter and collected an out in the game.
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Redbirds opened eyes by running out of the gate with nine wins over their first 11 games. However, reality settled in as the team then lost seven of their next nine games to finish out the month.
Adron Chambers and Mark Hamilton stood out during a month that saw improved offensive output. Chambers added to an already good season by posting a batting line of .349/.423/.470 to spark as a leadoff hitter, while Hamilton drove in 17 runs courtesy of eight extra-base hits and a .941 OPS.
Noteworthy transactions: Victor Marte, who had spent the whole season in St. Louis, was demoted on the 25th and would spend the rest of the season as Memphis' closer. The Redbirds lost Zach Cox, traded to the Miami Marlins in a deal that landed reliever Edward Mujica. Cox had lackluster numbers all season for the Redbirds and ended with a batting line of .254./294/.716.
Overall record: 14-19
By August, the Redbirds hopes for a playoff push had long been dashed, and they had been relying on unfamiliar faces in free agent additions and mid-season acquisitions in Lou Montanez, Aaron Bates, Lance Zawadzki, Jamie Romak, Brock Peterson, and Matt Young.
Though most of the month went the way of the rest of their season, they were able to put together an effort at the end to win six of their last seven. They swept the Nashville Sounds on the road to put a much needed positive finish on a trying season.
Sam Freeman ran his scoreless outing streak to 17 games before surrendering a run on August 14th. Shelby Miller finished a stellar second half campaign by fanning 53 batters over his final 37.1 innings in the month of August with an earned-run average of 2.89.
Noteworthy transactions: Matt Adams underwent season-ending surgery on his right elbow to remove bone chips in mid-August. Adams posted the best overall numbers of any Memphis batter with a batting line of .329/.362/.624 and will look to the off season for rest and rehabilitation.
After spending parts of the last four seasons with Memphis, Mark Hamilton was released. Bryan Anderson, Pete Kozma, Sam Freeman, Victor Marte, Ryan Jackson, Adron Chambers, and Shelby Miller were all promoted to St. Louis near or at the end of the Redbirds season.
Coming off a stellar season in which he won the Texas League Player of the Year award, Matt Adams joined Memphis in anticipation of earning another Player of the Year honor. Though Adams' overall batting line of .329/.362/.624 certainly warranted consideration, his decreased playing time due to a mid-season call-up, missing a little time with an elbow injury, and then ending the season prematurely with elbow surgery ultimately erased his chances at the crown.
His .986 OPS would have placed him third in the PCL behind Nick Castellanos and Adam Eaton had he enough at bats to qualify. Adams belted 18 home runs and slugged 58 points above his Texas League total in 2011 and remains the most potent bat outside of Oscar Taveras in the Cardinals' minor league system.
In a struggling offense, Adron Chambers remained a constant. The speedy leadoff hitter led the team in on-base percentage at .405 and was the most consistent hitter in a season of offensive unrest. Though Chambers stole only 13 bases, his .319 batting average was a career high for the center fielder. Chambers tied for seventh in on-base percentage among PCL hitters.
Joining the Cardinals organization for the first time, Eugenio Velez came with seven years of minor league experience. Velez drove in the most runs (58) on the team and steal the most bases (37). Though Velez's numbers didn't warrant a promotion or addition to the 40-man roster, his bat was much needed during the season.
Joe Kelly's win-loss record 2-5 was nothing to get excited over, but when you look closer at his numbers, you realize that he pitched a lot better than his overall record. Before being promoted to St. Louis, Kelly was Memphis' most dominant and consistent starter, having ended his AAA season with a 2.86 earned-run average with only two home runs surrendered in a span of 12 starts and 72.1 innings.
Finishing up his third straight solid season in Memphis, Brandon Dickson proved that he has Triple-A hitters figured out over a course of a season. Like Kelly, Dickson's 5-11 record doesn't paint an accurate picture. Dickson's 3.63 earned-run average was third-best in the PCL, as the right-hander fanned 104 batters and walked only 27 over 141.1 innings.
After being promoted from Springfield, Sam Freeman didn't miss a beat in posting dominant numbers out of the pen. That earned him a couple different promotions to St. Louis. The southpaw's 2.08 earned-run average combined with a 17-outing scoreless streak was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise mediocre Redbirds bullpen. Freeman struck out 27 batters over 30.1 innings.
Barret Browning was the other left-hander making an impression out of the bullpen, also earning a promotion mid-season to St. Louis. The Georgia native's 1.73 earned-run average was tops among Redbirds relievers, as he struck out 38 batters in 41.2 innings and coughed up only one home run.
The Final Word
Though the Redbirds narrowly missed the PCL cellar with a 57-87 record, brighter skies look to be ahead. Barring any unforeseen promotions or injuries, top hitters Matt Adams and Adron Chambers could be joined in the lineup for Memphis next season by recently-named Texas League Player of the Year and top prospect in Oscar Taveras and another top hitter and teammate, Kolten Wong.
Shelby Miller will be able to add to his stellar second half possibly joined in the rotation by Trevor Rosenthal and the eventual promotion of Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha.
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