It was an up-and-down 2014 season for the Memphis Redbirds, but the team closed out strongly. The Cardinals Triple-A affiliate finished the regular season with a 79-64 record, clinching a spot in the Pacific Coast League playoffs by winning the American Southern Division.
Due to a combination of Major League call-ups and hitters going cold, Memphis was unable to win its first-round postseason series in spite of the team coming in on a hot streak and holding home-field advantage.
The Redbirds started the season off hot with three consecutive blowout victories on the road against the Iowa Cubs, but then came crashing back down to earth by going 5-8 over the next two weeks, punctuated by a 20-3 beating handed out by the defending league champion Omaha Storm Chasers (KC).
Memphis continued to struggle throughout the remainder of the month, and entered May with a losing record despite the quick start. Outfielder Joey Butler torched opposing pitchers throughout April, recording a batting average of .388 in 25 games while reaching base in half of his at bats.
Memphis hovered on or just below the .500 mark for the duration of May, as the team seemed to drop the next couple of contests each time it evened up the wins and losses. The Redbirds’ longest streak of the season came in the final week, when Memphis defeated Iowa four times in two days — the last win being a 4-0 nationally televised game in which starting pitcher Tim Cooney hurled a one-hitter.
Outfielder Tommy Pham emerged as one of the team’s top-hitters during May, hitting .396 in 48 at bats compared to just .139 in April.
In June, the Redbirds continued the effort to get their record above .500, but instead saw the losses pile up towards the end of the month. Much like in May, Memphis continued to swap wins and losses, with no streaks of two games or more coming in either direction until the final week of the month, when the wheels came off and the Redbirds dropped five consecutive contests.
For the third consecutive month, a different outfielder led Memphis at the plate, as Stephen Piscotty hit .364 with nine doubles and 16 RBI in June.
The Redbirds turned the ship around, and dominated their opponents in a 20-9 July during which the squad racked up eight victories against division opponents. A loss to Nashville (MIL) in the second game of the month dropped Memphis’ record to 38-46 — their lowest mark of the season — but the team looked unstoppable from that point forward as they finished July with a 58-53 record overall.
Another month meant another outfielder stepped forward. Randal Grichuk swung for the fences throughout July, totaling eight homers and 15 RBI in 111 at bats. On the mound, Tim Cooney had his best month of the season, going 3-0 with an ERA of 1.95 over four starts.
August and September (21-12)
Memphis kept the train rolling in the final weeks of the season, as the team used a strong finish to surge past Nashville and win the American Southern Division in comeback fashion.
August featured the Redbirds’ longest winning streak of the year — a nine-game stretch from September 9-18 in which three of the victories came by 10 runs or more. From that point forward, the team cooled off before closing the season on September 1 with a 7-6 win at New Orleans.
The Redbirds received a huge boost from Xavier Scruggs in the month of August, who hit .345 with eight homers and 28 RBI while appearing in 31 games.
The Redbirds may have torched the Pacific Coast League for the final two months of the season, but ran out of gas when it came time for the playoffs. Memphis went into the postseason with a roster depleted by St. Louis call-ups, and found hits hard to come by as they ultimately dropped their opening round playoff series with the Omaha Storm Chasers three games to one.
The Redbirds were shut out in two of those contests, and scored only six runs in the four-game series. Scott Moore was one of the lone bright spots on offense against Omaha. The third baseman went 4-for-13 with a homer, two RBI and three walks.
Omaha went on to take its second straight PCL crown.
As noted above, the Redbirds had a revolving door of big-time hitters in outfield throughout the season, but were actually a slightly below-average team at the plate in the offense-dominated Pacific Coast League. Memphis ranked 10th of 16 teams in the PCL with a batting average of .273 and were ninth in runs scored. The Redbirds totaled a league-worst 18 triples while hitting 250 doubles and 133 home runs, ranking 12th and ninth, respectively.
Individually, Joey Butler and Kolten Wong had the highest batting averages of the season at .360, but both players only spent a short time with the club. Butler's contract was sold to a Japanese team and Wong returned to the majors, apparently for good.
Of those who played at least 60 games for the Redbirds, Tommy Pham led the way with a batting average of .324, which was also good for third in the PCL. Randal Grichuk had the most long-balls with 25, and Xavier Scruggs’ 97 RBI were the most on the team. Both of the latter totals also led the Cardinals organization.
Memphis may not have boasted the most prolific offense in the league, but the team’s pitching kept them in almost every game. The Redbirds’ ERA of 3.97 was good for third in the PCL, and the team’s 410 walks were the second least in the league. Interestingly, they were dead last in strikeouts.
Tim Cooney finished with a record of 14-6, winning more games than any other pitcher in the PCL and setting the Memphis franchise record for victories. Lefty Marco Gonzales’ ERA of 3.35 over eight appearances was the lowest by a Redbirds starter.
Reliever David Aardsma was the team’s ERA leader with a mark of 1.29. Over the season, Aardsma surrendered just five earned runs and 20 hits in 35 innings pitched, but missed significant time due to injury. Three bullpenners logged double-digit save totals, led by Eric Fornataro with 15, followed by Aardsma with 11 and Jorge Rondon with 10.
In an odd decision, the league added pitcher Angel Castro as a replacement player to the PCL All-Star Team. That occurred despite the fact Castro had been removed from the Redbirds’ rotation and was sold to Oakland shortly after.
Piscotty was Memphis’ other all-star representative. Despite being one of four division winners, the Redbirds were shut out of participation on the league’s post-season all-star squad.
The Big Picture
The Redbirds finished with the franchise’s ninth winning record in 17 years and fourth division title, including three of the last six. Memphis recorded a 10-victory increase over last season’s 69-75 mark. The team spent 18 days in sole possession of first place, all at the beginning and end of the season.
Not including major leaguers on rehab assignments, 18 different Redbirds also spent time in St. Louis this season.
Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Memphis Redbirds Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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