The Memphis Redbirds came into the week at 3-4 with one game against Omaha being postponed until May. Their offense was hot and cold, led by the superb hitting of first baseman Xavier Scruggs.
With an eight game road trip following an eight game homestand, Memphis was not ready for its hitting to receive the anti-Midas touch. Despite Memphis reeling early in the season, two of the team’s best players were called up to St. Louis due to their strong play.
After the 2-5 period that followed, for a 5-9 overall record, the season has not started the way the reigning division winners wanted. With more than 130 games left in the season, there is more than enough time to reverse the tide, though, especially if Stephen Piscotty continues to do his best Katniss impersonation and catch hold of some fire. And with all of that being said, let’s recap some games!
April 16, Omaha at Memphis, Omaha won 9-4
Also known as the Brett Eibner show, last Thursday’s bout between the Storm Chasers and the Redbirds was a lot like an average Ronda Rousey fight: one-sided and over quickly. Tim Cooney tried his damndest to keep the Birds in it, going 6 1/3 innings despite giving up six earned runs to an Omaha offense that was potent and quite productive against Memphis’ pitching. In their first series of the year, both of Omaha’s wins were blowouts and the team’s offense outscored Memphis 16-9.
The game stretched Stephen Piscotty’s hitless streak to 15 at-bats, lowering his batting average to .167 (though the light bulb would soon click on for Piscotty against Round Rock). The other bright side for Memphis was the emergence of Greg Garcia, who plated three other Birds while going 2-for-3 with two singles. Dean Anna continued his stellar streak at the plate, with three hits in four at-bats, including two doubles, and keeping his batting average hovering around .400. It comes as no surprise that St. Louis rewarded his play with a call-up.
But the night and the shine belonged to Brett Eibner. Eibner loved the Memphis pitching staff, as evident by bringing in eight runs in three games against the Birds. Managing only two hits in five at-bats, he subscribes in the “quality, not quantity” side of the debate as both of his hits were home runs, one a two-run shot and the other a grand slam that put the game out of reach from Memphis. Journeyman and crazy-eyed Joe Blanton got the win for Omaha, with a pitching line of 5 2/3 innings, four earned runs, and six strikeouts.
April 17, Memphis at Round Rock, Round Rock won 7-4
This was a game that was rained out and completed two days later, a game that Dean Anna could not complete due to being called up, and a game that Memphis could have won but did not have enough in the tank late to pull out the “W”. Memphis’ relief pitching, a highpoint so far in the year, was not up to snuff. Tyler Waldron and Dean Kiekhefer gave up a combined three runs - the deciding edge in the game.
The division leading Express, who padded their lead with a 3-1 series win over the Birds, are not world beaters. As a team, they are near or below average in every major statistical category as ranked against other PCL teams. Problem for Memphis is/will be that they are worse in just about every category, ranking near the bottom. It does not take Einstein to conclude that those numbers are a problem.
But let’s talk about the game. Round Rock scored seven runs on 11 hits; Memphis only managed four runs while also nabbing 11 hits. Zach Petrick was hit hard early, giving up a three-run homer to Michael Choice in the first inning. Thomas Field and Kyle Blanks followed suit with longshots of their own in subsequent innings.
The Memphis offense rested on the shoulders of Stephen Piscotty, who pulled himself out of a slump. Piscotty, who was hitless in his previous 15, went 2-for-3 from the plate while scoring one run and driving in two others. Outside of another game with another RBI from Xavier Scruggs, not much else was heard from the Birds offense.
April 18, Memphis at Round Rock, Memphis won 5-0
It’s alive! Memphis’ offense came back from the dead to salvage a win against Round Rock, but really, the focus should be on Tyler Lyons. Lyons gained a win and tossed a beauty Saturday, going six strong innings, striking out nine Express batters, and only allowing five hits and zero runs. Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala, two upcoming terms in the Scripps Spelling Bee, secured Lyons’ win with three more scoreless innings in relief.
All of Memphis’ runs came courtesy of the bats of Ed Easley and Ty Kelly. Kelly, the do-it-yourselfer and utility player, plated two Redbirds on 3-of-4 hitting with a triple. Easley’s three RBI came on two hits- both singles- in four at-bats. Scott Moore had two hits and also scored a run.
Obviously, Round Rock had nothing going on offense. The team only managed six hits in 32 at-bats. The starting pitching was not that much better, either. Chi Chi Gonzales, a nominee for the all-name team, surrendered all five runs and received the loss. Of Memphis’ 10 hits, nine came against Gonzales in 4 2/3 innings; the Birds only had one more hit in the final four innings.
April 19, Memphis at Round Rock, Round Rock won 11-4
Whoever won this game would be .500. Round Rock won. Therefore, Round Rock was .500. That’s some analysis, and really, that’s just about all of the good you can take out of this game as a Memphis fan other than Cody Stanley’s hitting. John Gast was rocked for eight earned runs as he and Zach Petrick are in a competition to see who can keep their ERA above 10 the longest. Petrick is winning right now, by the way.
As mentioned above, Cody Stanley was the lone bright spot for Memphis. Both of his hits were solo home runs as someone other than X-Man and Piscotty finally went yard. Of Memphis’ eight hits, half came from Stanley and Ty Kelly, the 1-2 hitters in the lineup. Kelly and Rafael Ortega each also had an RBI.
Thomas Field hit his second home run of the series, and Ed Lucas also gave one lucky fan in the outfield a souvenir. The star, though, was Alex Hassan. The former Red Sox minor leaguer went three-for-four with two doubles and five RBI. The right fielder is on the Texas Rangers’ 40-man roster and needed a performance akin to what he had Sunday to boost his confidence.
April 20, Memphis at Round Rock, Round Rock won 4-3
Another former Red Sox minor leaguer, Anthony Ranaudo, toed the hill for Round Rock in the fourth game of the series. Known back to his LSU pitching days for having a strong fastball but inconsistent demand and lack of a third pitch, Ranaudo proved just as much throwing against the Redbirds with seven strikeouts, five walks, and one earned run in five innings. He was in line for the win until Kyuji Fujikawa gave up a two-run homer to Stephen Piscotty, finally hitting on the right side of the Mendoza Line.
Marco Gonzales continued his streak of no-decisions to open the season, with three starts and a record of 0-0, though this was his best time on the mound in 2015 so far. Going six innings and striking out six Express batters, Gonzales only gave up two runs on a Tomas Telis single and a Kyle Blanks double. I’m looking for Gonzales to improve on his first quality start of 2015 in his next time out on the mound.
Blanks is a Redbird poacher, using this game to get over the Mendoza Line himself and knocking in three RBI, including a two-run shot off Marcus Hatley in the eighth that put Round Rock ahead. The right-handed first basemen hit two homers in this series, using his bat to extend the Express lead or to give them the win.
April 21, Memphis at Omaha, Omaha won 4-2
Zach Petrick started the game for Memphis, his second start of the year, and he did not have a terrible start, though it was not a quality start either. All of Omaha’s hits and runs came against Petrick. His ERA is still above 10. At this point in the season, a starting pitcher should not have more earned runs than innings pitched, especially when that pitcher is third on the team in innings pitched. Petrick went three scoreless, but as with his other times on the mound, his struggles turn into lead changes.
Former Angel third basemen and current Storm Chaser Casey Kotchman plated two teammates on a double to highlight the fourth inning offensive outburst. Reymond Fuentes and Matt Fields both singled in runs also.
The Redbirds scored two runs in a late rally in the ninth inning, led by a solo homer by Scott Moore. His only hit of the night was too little, too late for Memphis despite another solid showing by the relief staff.
April 22, Memphis at Omaha, Memphis won 7-2
Coming off a three game losing streak and sinking to last in the division standings, Memphis needed a win Wednesday night. Good thing for them that Tim Cooney, the team’s best starting pitcher so far, was eyeing his second win of the season. Cooney went five innings, struck out eight batters, and gave up one earned run on three hits. Considering that his last start was against Omaha and he gave up six earned runs, this was nothing but a vast improvement.
The Redbirds offense, led by the triple-headed monster of Stephen Piscotty, Greg Garcia, and Matt Williams, scored seven runs. Five of them came in the fifth inning via triples hit by Garcia and Williams. Piscotty then drove in two runners in the ninth to put the game away.
April 23, Memphis at Omaha, Omaha won 6-5
Another too little, too late effort by Memphis, and now the Birds are alone in last place in the division and three games back from the division leader, Round Rock. Memphis jumped out early with a 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to doubles by Xavier Scruggs and Scott Moore. That was all the offense the Birds could muster until the ninth inning, however.
Whit Merrifield, Jose Martinez, and Francisco Pena each had an RBI, but it was a three-run shot by Cheslor Cuthbert that gave the Storm Chasers an insurmountable lead. In six games against Memphis this year, Cuthbert has two homers and four RBI.
Ultimately, 16 hits were too much to overcome. Tyler Lyons came into the game as the Redbirds second most consistent pitcher, but he just could not get through the fourth inning, getting pulled after giving up three runs and leaving men on base for Tyler Waldron.
The Hot List
Stephen Piscotty - It seems fitting that Piscotty, with an OPS of .853, makes The Hot List after being on The Not List last week. He’s batting .348 in his last six games with one homer, six RBI, and five runs scored. He’s now tied for second on the team in homers with two, holds second all on his own in RBI with eight, and is fifth in batting average.
Greg Garcia - Garcia’s batting average won’t blow you away. He’ll likely be a career .270 hitter. But, he has a knack for coming through with timely hitting. In the past week, he’s knocked in three RBI twice. Garcia leads the team in walks drawn and is third in RBI.
Tim Cooney - Cooney only took the mound once in the past week, but it was a beauty. He threw five innings, gave up one earned run, and he struck out eight Omaha batters. The right-hander has proven me wrong and is the Birds most consistent starting pitcher so far this year.
The Not List
Zach Petrick - It is hard to kick a person when he or she is down, but Petrick has been putrid to start the year. He’s winless in three starts with two losses. His runs given up outweigh his innings pitched. His WHIP is above 1.5, which is considerable since he hasn’t walked anyone yet. His pitching has been so bad that he will go against the grain and progress to the mean eventually.
Xavier Scruggs - If Petrick had almost as bad a start to a season that you can have, Scruggs had the opposite occur: his start was fantastic. He hit four home runs in the first week of the season with nine RBI. Since, he’s only hitting .250 with three RBI. While still leading the Redbirds in numerous batting categories and having an incredible OPS of 1.096, a regression was expected.
Dean Anna and Mitch Harris were called up to St. Louis. Both moves were expected as they had been having great season in Memphis. Mike O’Neill was finally activated off the disabled list, while Marco Gonzales was placed on the DL. Gary Brown was designated for assignment and subsequently picked up by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Alex Mejia was called up from Springfield.
Memphis concludes their road trip with a final game at Omaha on Friday before returning home to play Round Rock again. Afterwards, the Birds will travel to New Orleans for a four game series against the Zephyrs.
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