It was a roller coaster of a 2015 for the Memphis Redbirds. The Redbirds finished with a 73-71 (.509) record, five games behind division leader Round Rock Express (78-66) due to inconsistent form all season.
Some of the inconsistency can be attributed to major league call-ups as St. Louis was constantly in injury trouble, but there were plenty of times that the lineup and bullpen went cold for a large number of consecutive games.
Memphis started off the season with close games, as 11 of the 20 were decided by three runs or less. The biggest loss, however, was April 11 vs. Iowa in a 13-0 drubbing. Future Major Leaguer Kris Bryant helped lead the Cubs, batting 3-for-4 with one home run and three RBI. Memphis starter Zach Petrick allowed six runs on 10 hits while striking out three in 4 1/3 innings while Memphis’ lineup was held to four hits during the outing.
The ball club knotted their first series of the season vs. Iowa at 2-2, but dropped seven of their last 11 games to end the month. Xavier Scruggs was a man on a mission, blasting five homers and plating 16 runners. The first baseman was named the Cardinals organization’s Player of the Month.
The month of May was much better to the Redbirds as the lineup and bullpen started to get comfortable on the field. Aside from a 10-3 loss May 13 at Colorado Springs, Memphis enjoyed an above .500-month that included a season-high eight-game win streak between May 17 and May 25.
Infielder Greg Garcia emerged as Memphis’ most consistent hitter during the month. The 26-year-old recorded a hit in 21 of the 27 games while bringing home another 12 runners and was the team’s second system-wide Player of the Month.
Meanwhile on the mound, Tim Cooney was hot after going 2-1 in five starts. The 24-year-old also brought his ERA down from 4.44 to 3.00 and struck out 21 opposing batters in 33 2/3 innings. The lefty was the PCL Pitcher of the Week for the period of May 11-17.
The Redbirds followed up their 16-14 May with another productive month with above .500 play. The club began the month with another eight-game win streak that followed from the May 30 win over Salt Lake. The worst it got for Memphis was three consecutive losses to league-leaders Oklahoma City but the Redbirds were able to rebound comfortably at the end of the month, going 5-4 in the last nine games.
A contributor to some of Memphis’ losses could have been Garcia’s call-up to the majors on June 19. The infielder enjoyed a 10-game hit streak at the beginning of the month and plated another six batters.
Veteran Tyler Lyons was the top pitcher in the PCL for the period of June 1-7 with no runs allowed in 13 innings with 13 strikeouts and no walks. The staff had its best month overall with a team 3.00 ERA in June.
The Redbirds recorded their third consecutive above .500-month in the middle of the season that included a three-day All-Star break. Starting pitcher Tim Cooney and reliever Sam Tuivailala each received All-Star nods, with Dean Kiekhefer also getting the All-Star chance after both Cooney and Tuivailala received call-ups to St. Louis. Even with all of the roster churn as St. Louis suffered an injury bug, Memphis seemed to rebound from the lineup changes and turned losses into wins.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, who debuted for the Redbirds on July 3 at Oklahoma City, was red-hot. The outfielder recorded 12 multi-hit contests during the month, six home runs and 28 RBI, including a July 7 outing at Colorado Springs in which he batted 4-for-5 with three RBI. For the period of July 6-12, Hazelbaker was the PCL Player of the Week.
August and September (10-20, 6-1)
When they needed wins the most, the Redbirds suffered through their worst month of the season. Memphis got as close as three games from the lead on August 4, but could pull no closer. The 20 August losses included a six-game skid between Aug. 12 and 17 that led to them falling well out of reach of the playoffs. The team ERA for the month was 5.26.
On a positive note, the Redbirds won six of their seven September games to finish above .500 for the season, but it was too little, too late.
In the final two weeks, newcomer Aledmys Diaz took over at shortstop and quickly adapted to Triple-A at the plate. The system’s Player of the Month finished the season with 14 games for Memphis with a line of .380/.448/.620/1.068 in 50 Pacific Coast League at-bats.
Hazelbaker also ended the season as one of Memphis’ best hitters. The outfielder was hitless in only one of his last 14 games while blasting two homers and plating 11 runners during the stretch.
In many categories, Memphis resided near the bottom of the Pacific Coast League’s team-batting leaders. The club finished third-to-last in the 16-team PCL in batting average (.261) and slugging (.387) and dead last in doubles (237). Although, Memphis was tied for seventh in runs (669) and its batters were very patient at the plate, second in walks at 604.
Hazelbaker, who arrived from Springfield in July, was the team leader in batting (minimum of 30 games) at .333. The outfielder was also fifth in homers with 10 and RBI with 46 despite having played half the number of games as many of his teammates (58).
Another in-season addition, journeyman first baseman Dan Johnson, led the team in home runs (15) and RBI (62), in just 94 games.
Though the Redbirds were average to below-average at the plate, they were better on the mound most of the season. The club finished 2015 with an ERA of 4.10 and WHIP of 1.37 (both tied for seventh), second in shutouts (14) and issued the fewest walks by a considerable margin (363, with next-best Oklahoma City at 408).
Cooney was one of Memphis’ better pitchers in the beginning of the season (2.74 ERA in 14 starts) before being placed on the disabled list in late July. Also injured for about half the season was the team's top prospect, lefty Marco Gonzales, who contributed just one win in 14 starts and a 5.45 ERA.
Swingman Nick Greenwood gets a nod after earning a league-leading 13 wins despite a 5.03 ERA. Sam Tuivailala was another notable pitcher with a team-leading 17 saves, fourth in the PCL.
Memphis initially had two pitchers chosen to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team (Cooney and Tuivailala) before both hurlers were called up to St. Louis in prior to the Triple-A All-Star Game. In response, the league chose reliever Dean Kiekhefer to replace one of the two invitees and represent Memphis.
The lefty worked a perfect top of the fourth on 10 pitches (seven for strikes) while retiring two on groundouts during the 4-3 win for the International League, in Omaha on July 15.
The Redbirds were shut out of the PCL Post-Season All-Star Team for the second consecutive season.
The AFL Invitees
Two Redbirds have been invited to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, Kiekhefer and Diaz. They will suit up with the Surprise Saguaros, with play beginning on October 13.
The Big Picture
Memphis finished the 2015 season with the franchise’s sixth winning record in the last eight years, and 11th in 17, but missed the division title and a fifth post-season appearance by five games. While stepping backward from their 79-64 playoff results last year to 73-71, the Redbirds were sniffing first place from just a few games back for most of the season.
In its most important player development role, 13 different Redbirds spent time in St. Louis during the 2015 season, not including major leaguers on rehab assignments.
Link to master article with all 2015 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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