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Expectations are high for the Memphis Redbirds in 2015 and deservedly so. Following up a Pacific Coast League division crown with anything less than another postseason run to the semifinals would be a disappointment, especially with the majority of the roster returning and the considerable talent of the team.
Opening the 2015 season after an exhibition loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Redbirds’ major league older brothers, the Birds of the Bluff had an eight game homestand against the Iowa Cubs and then the Omaha Storm Chasers - though one of the games versus the Storm Chasers was rained out and then postponed for a doubleheader on May 17th. The Redbirds enter their game against Omaha on Thursday, April 16, sitting at an identical win-loss record of 3-3 and needing a victory before embarking on an eight game road trip.
The roster, headlined by the Cardinals top pitching prospect Marco Gonzales, is deep and talented. We expect a few players will called up before the trade deadline, but the good news is that the Cardinals’ farm system is fairly deep. According to The Cardinal Nation, four of the top ten and seven of the top 40 overall prospects are on the Redbirds’ roster.
And with all that having been said, let’s recap the past week’s games.
April 9: Iowa at Memphis, Memphis wins 7-4
The Redbirds started their season versus third baseman Kris Bryant, the top prospect in all of baseball, and the Iowa Cubs. Toeing the hill for the Birds was Marco Gonzales, and though he had a somewhat solid pitching line, he left the game after six innings with a no decision. Scott Moore kicked off the action with a double that plated Stephen Piscotty.
The Cubs, though, followed suit with a four run third inning that was initiated by two seemingly routine plays being missed by Dean Anna at shortstop and Piscotty in right field and further punctuated by a bizarre shift against Bryant in which the entire Redbirds infield dramatically shifted right, save for Xavier Scruggs at first. Bryant later singled into the spot that Greg Garcia vacated at second base.
That was all the offense the Cubs could muster that night, however. The Redbirds stayed consistent and scored every other inning. Their steady hitting included a two-run shot by Scruggs in the seventh inning that propelled the Birds to a three run advantage that was maintained by Memphis’ relief pitchers. Nick Greenwood received the win and Mitch Harris earned the first of his two saves so far.
April 10: Iowa at Memphis, Memphis wins 8-1
Tim Cooney, the seventh-ranked prospect in the Cardinals system according to TCN, was tasked with following the steady outing by Gonzales. Cooney actually improved upon Gonzales’ start, throwing six innings, striking out three batters, allowing four hit. The lone run Iowa scored that night was unearned after a wild throw by Cody Stanley. Again, the Redbirds relief staff more than handled their own, only allowing one hit in three innings after Cooney departed.
Stephen Piscotty homered in the first inning to get the party started, and Xavier Scruggs continued the home run outburst in the following inning with a grand slam. Ty Kelly and Dean Anna drove in a run apiece with another Memphis score coming on an error. In all, Memphis scored eight runs on eight hits.
Going back to Cooney, I noted during the exhibition game that he had a tendency to induce popups instead of groundouts, which in pitching is a lot like playing with a flamethrower near a fireworks stand. In this his win, Cooney decreased the amount of popups while simultaneously matching the amount of groundballs put into play off him.
April 11: Iowa at Memphis, Iowa wins 13-0
Not a lot of good came from this game. Of Memphis’ four hits, one came from the backup catcher and another came from Zach Petrick, the Birds’ starting pitcher. Contributing to the Redbirds’ offensive woes was their lack of plate discipline: Iowa threw 141 pitches combined from four pitchers and only walked three batters; Memphis threw 176 combined from three pitchers and walked five Cubbies. Also, Iowa was 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position, while Memphis was 0-for-3 with six runners left stranded on base.
Baseball’s top prospect, Kris Bryant, finally looked the part as he had three hits in four at-bats, including a double off Petrick and a two-run shot off Boone Whiting. Joining Bryant in the home run escapades was Iowa catcher Chris Valaika, who hit a two-run homer of his own in the sixth inning after Tyler Waldron came into the game. Five Iowa players had at least two hits, and six Cubbies had an RBI.
April 12: Iowa at Memphis, Iowa wins 7-2
Well, at least Memphis did not get skunked by 13 in the last game of the opening series with Iowa. They did still lose, however, landing both teams at 2-2 to open the season.
Adron Chambers started the scoring off with an RBI and a double off his former teammate Tyler Lyons, and Addison Russell and Jonathan Mota followed with two-run and solo homers, respectively. Bryant, seeing the light and not chasing pitches outside, went yard off Dean Kiekhefer in the seventh for his second home run during an anticipated short stay in Iowa, and he later drove in another run in the ninth inning just for kicks.
The Redbirds’ only offense came in the fourth inning when they scored two runs against Barret Loux. Of the five hits notched by the team, two came from Scott Moore, including a double. Moore and Xavier Scruggs were plated in the fourth inning by Cody Stanley and Mike O’Neill, respectively.
After a great offensive start, the Redbirds offense came to a screeching halt to tie the opening series versus Iowa 2-all.
April 13: Omaha at Memphis, Postponed
April 14: Omaha at Memphis, Omaha wins 5-1
The reigning AAA champions visited Memphis for a four game series, and through two games played, the teams are tied up 1-1.
The first game was an offensive stalemate for five innings until the Storm Chasers brought home four runs to take an insurmountable lead. Brett Eibner drove in two while Matt Fields, an appropriate baseball last name, plated another run. One run was scored on a wild pitch by Sam Tuivailala and another on an error.
Cody Stanley, spending the night at DH instead of his usual catcher position, drove in Greg Garcia in the seventh inning for the only run of the night for the Birds. Piscotty, Moore, and Scruggs, the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, combined to go 0-for-11 on the night, contributing to the Birds’ offensive struggles.
April 15: Omaha at Memphis, Memphis wins 4-2
The game started in a hurry with five combined runs scored in three innings. Memphis led 3-2 after that onslaught and managed to hold onto the lead while adding one more run for insurance in the eighth inning.
The bulk of the offense rested on Xavier Scruggs’ shoulders for the night as he went 2-for-4, and those two hits were big ones, literally. Scruggs went yard off Aaron Brooks with one runner on in the third inning, and he later went on a solo trip around the bases to ensure the victory for the home team. Greg Garcia also drove in a run.
Omaha managed to out-hit Memphis 9-6, but they only had three chances with runners in scoring positon, while Memphis had seven. Gonzales made his second start of the season, and again he only managed a no decision after giving up two earned runs on a 375 foot bomb by Jose Martinez.
Again, the Redbirds relief pitching carried the day, going five scoreless innings while only yielding three hits combined from Socolovich, Hatley, and Harris, with the latter getting his second save of the season.
The Hot List
Xavier Scruggs - What more can you ask for from a power-hitting first baseman? On the season, the Redbirds have hit five home runs; Scruggs is responsible for four, including a multi-homer game against Omaha, while also leading the team in RBI. If X-Man continues his torrid pace, I think it’s time for a rise up the farm system ratings.
The relief pitchers - This spot could have easily gone to Mitch Harris or Marcus Hatley or Sam Tuivailala, but instead, I decided to lump them all together. The three aforementioned pitchers have all been great so far to open 2015, and neither of them has allowed an earned run yet. Their effectiveness is further punctuated by the starting pitching’s ineffectiveness. For instance, the starting pitchers are 1-3 on the year, and the relief staff is 2-0 with approximately a two point improvement in combined ERA.
The Not List
Stephen Piscotty - The right fielder is currently batting on the wrong side of the Mendoza Line at .190, while also only being responsible for two runs batted in, though he does have Memphis’ other home run not hit by X-Man. Piscotty only has one hit in his last 14 at-bats.
Marco Gonzales - The top-ranked lefty has struggled in both of his starts so far. His ERA is sitting at 5.40, and each game he’s started has resulted in a no decision for him. For a swing-and-a-miss type pitcher, his K:BB rate is not looking great at 7:3, and he’s not logging innings like a number one starter should.
Ed Easley was promoted to St. Louis for three days before being sent back down after Mike O’Neill was placed on the disabled list.
After finishing up with Omaha Thursday night, the Birds will be traveling with a four-game series at Round Rock and another four games against the Storm Chasers, this time in Omaha, before returning home with a quick turnaround to again play Round Rock.
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