Memphis Redbirds Notebook: 2015 Week 18

St. Louis’ Triple-A ball club is struggling to stay afloat in the playoff race. Tommy Pham has been the beating heart of an inconsistent offense.

The Memphis Redbirds (62-57) are coasting at a time where coasting could cost a ball club at the chance of making the Pacific Coast League playoffs. The Redbirds, who at one point were 3.0 games behind behind division leader Round Rock (68-51), went .500 during Week 18 after going 2-1 at the Nashville Sounds (54-65) and 1-2 at the Omaha Storm Chasers (65-54).

Here’s how the 3-3 week unfolded:

Friday, August 7: Memphis (STL) 7 at Nashville (OAK) 4

The Redbirds snapped their two-game skid against the Nashville Sounds with a 7-4 win during which eight of Memphis’ nine batters each recorded at least one hit.

Tommy Pham (3-for-5) and Rafael Ortega (3-for-5) were the biggest contributors while home runs from Cody Stanley (two-run blast in the fifth) and Dan Johnson (solo shot in the ninth) bolstered the Redbirds. Dean Anna, Jeremy Hazelbaker and Alex Mejia recorded one RBI each.

Starter Zach Petrick (7-5, 4.30) got the win thanks to a 6 1/3 inning night with five strikeouts, one walk and three runs off nine hits. Memphis’ primary closer Sam Tuivailala came on in the ninth to earn his team-leading 15th save of the season.

Saturday, August 8: Memphis (STL) 1 at Nashville (OAK) 4

The Redbirds were held to five hits as the club dropped their third of four games against Nashville in a 4-1 loss.

The Sounds scored all four of their runs in the first three innings. Xavier Scruggs (3-for-4 with one RBI) did all he could to try and keep Memphis in the game, but only two other Redbirds batters – Johnson and Pham – had a hit.

Starter John Gast (5-9, 5.05) took the loss after the lefty pitched six innings while allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits, one strikeout and two walks.

Sunday, August 9: Memphis (STL) 11 at Nashville (OAK) 2

Memphis ended its five-game road trip to Nashville with a 11-2 thrashing of their cross-state rivals.

Pham (4-of-5 with four RBI) was Memphis’ player of the game for what seems like the umpteenth time. Anna, Johnson and Stanley contributed multi-hit games while Jacob Wilson plated two with a fifth-inning single and Stanley blasted a solo shot in the seventh.

Starter Nick Greenwood (11-3, 5.02) has now recorded five wins in six outings as the lefty struck out three and scattered five with two runs in 5 2/3 innings pitched.

Tuesday, August 11: Memphis (STL) 5 at Omaha (KC) 0

After seven scoreless innings, Memphis scored five in the final two innings for a 5-0 win over the Omaha Storm Chasers.

Pham’s force out in the eighth gave Memphis its first run when Anna crossed the plate from third. Then, with two-outs in the ninth, Hazelbaker blasted a two-run homer to left field give the Redbirds a 3-0 lead. Anna and Johnson (3-for-5 with one RBI) each plated a runner to increase the edge to 5-0.

Marco Gonzales made the start, but reliever Heath Wyatt (2-0, 1.34) got the win. Wyatt, who relieved Gonzales after six innings with three strikeouts and three walks, pitched only one inning with two hits.

Wednesday, August 12: Memphis (STL) 3 at Omaha (KC) 4

The Storm Chasers scored four unanswered runs to beat the visiting Redbirds 4-3.

Wilson (2-for-4 with one RBI) and Ortega (1-for-5 with one HR and two RBI) scored for Memphis as the Redbirds could not capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities. Anna, Johnson, Scruggs, Hazelbaker and the returning Greg Garcia recorded one hit each.

Petrick made the start for Memphis, but reliever Mitch Harris (0-2, 3.38) was charged with the loss. Harris allowed one run on one hit in one inning after Petrick struck out seven and scattered six hits with three runs in six innings.

Thursday, August 13: Memphis (STL) 5 at Omaha (KC) 6

Omaha came from behind for the second consecutive game to take down the visiting Redbirds, 6-5. Memphis surrendered six unanswered runs in the sixth and seventh frames.

Pham (2-for-4) broke his two-game hitless streak while Garcia, Wilson and Ed Easley each batted in a run. Omaha gave Memphis two easy runs during the fifth via a pair of errors (Omaha made four miscues), but the Storm Chasers – led by Cheslor Cuthbert (3-for-4 with one HR and four RBI) – came back to win.

Gast started but reliever Miguel Socolovich (2-2, 1.88) took the blown save and loss. The lefty fanned four, walked one and allowed two runs on six hits in five innings while Socolovich walked one and allowed two runs on one hit in one inning.

Who’s Hot

Tommy Pham: In an offense that ranks among the bottom-feeders in the PCL, Pham has been one of the few bright spots. Even with two hitless games at Omaha on August 11 and August 12, the outfielder went 10-for-27 with five RBI during the week. The 27-year-old also sits in second place in batting average on the team (.348), fifth in home runs (6) and fourth in RBI (39) in nearly half the games played compared to most of his teammates.

Jeremy Hazelbaker: Aside from Pham, Hazelbaker has been one of the surprises of the year after joining from Springfield July 3. Even with one hitless game August 8 at Nashville, the outfielder continues to be a consistent threat at the plate as he went 6-for-22 with three RBI during the week. In only 36 games, the 28-year-old leads the Redbirds in batting average (.349), is fourth on the team in home runs (8) and second in triples (4).

Nick Greenwood: The lefty has won five of his last six starts (the other a no-decision) while logging a 3.72 ERA since July 6. He leads the team in wins (11) with a 5.02 ERA for the season.

Who’s Not

Xavier Scruggs: The case of Scruggs is a peculiar one. The 1B ranks second on the team in home runs (11) and RBI (45), but his batting average is a lowly .235 and his strikeouts are at a team-high 81. He can have games like August 8 at Nashville (3-for-5 with one RBI), and then go cold the rest of the week. The 27-year-old started the season as one of the hottest hitters on the team. If Scruggs can return to that form, he could fire the Redbirds offense into the next level.

John Gast: Gast has not earned a win since July 7 at Colorado. The lefty made two starts this week, pitching 11 total innings while allowing five earned runs on 12 hits. Gast actually lowered his season ERA to 4.98 from 5.08 this week, but the 26-year-old’s inconsistencies have allowed too many runs at inopportune times.

Miguel Socolovich: Socolovich had a Week 18 to forget. The right-hander from Venezuela started the week with a 0.89 ERA, but three runs in 3 2/3 innings has bumped that up to 1.88 and gave the 29-year-old his second loss of the season. Socolovich has done well in the majors with a 4-1, 1.54 ERA record for the Cardinals and has shown the ability to be a reliable reliever for a very good bullpen. This week may have just been a blip.

Transactions

All of Memphis’ transactions during the week occurred on August 7 with Tyler Lyons getting his fourth call up to St. Louis to replace Greg Garcia, who was returning from his duty in St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Redbirds swapped Matt Williams for Springfield’s Chris Thomas and the club placed Marcus Hatley on the disabled list.

08/07/2015: St. Louis Cardinals recall LHP Tyler Lyons from Memphis Redbirds.
08/07/2015: St. Louis Cardinals option 2B Greg Garcia to Memphis Redbirds.
08/07/2015: Memphis Redbirds assign SS Matt Williams to Springfield Cardinals.
08/07/2015: Springfield Cardinals assign RHP Chris Thomas to Memphis Redbirds.
08/07/2015: Memphis Redbirds place RHP Marcus Hatley on the 7-day disabled list.

Memphis Stats

Memphis continues to be near the bottom of the PCL in batting average – although they have risen to third to last at .259 since Week 17 (second to last at .257) – while the club is still in eighth place in RBI at 516. On the mound, the Redbirds are league leaders in walks (league-low 286), one shutout (12) behind league-leaders New Orleans (13), third in the league in WHIP (1.32) and fifth in ERA (3.91).

Standings

The 62-57 Redbirds have been in second place in the American Southern Division for 11 straight weeks, but have fallen six games behind division leader Round Rock (68-51). Meanwhile, Memphis has kept its eight-game cushion over the Nashville Sounds while New Orleans has dropped to 11 games behind the Redbirds.

Playoff Procedures

To qualify for the Pacific Coast League playoffs, the Redbirds must finish in first place in the American Southern Division. The American Southern Champion will play the American Northern Champion in a Best-of-5 series. The American Conference Champion will then take on the Pacific Conference Champion for the PCL title in a Best-of-5 series. After dropping down to six games behind Round Rock, time is not on the Redbirds’ side with 3 ½ weeks remaining in the regular season.

What’s Next

Memphis will open Week 19 with the conclusion of its four-game road series at the Omaha Storm Chasers (KC, 65-54) on Friday. The Redbirds then open an eight-game homestand against two clubs Memphis has not played this season, starting with a four-game series vs. the Albuquerque Isotopes (COL, 51-68) on Saturday before hosting a four-game set against the El Paso Chihuahuas (SD, 60-57) on Wednesday.

With 3 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season, this is crunch time for the Redbirds. We’ve seen Memphis go on a hot streak (the Redbirds went 18-4 between May 16 and June 6). We’ve also seen Memphis not show up for contests several times this season. The Redbirds must find that form and consistency that once had them as one of the hottest teams in the Pacific Coast League if the club hopes to make a playoff run.



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