The Redbirds had quite the topsy-turvy week going 2-5 while the complexion of the team changed tremendously with the graduation of Ryan Ludwick and Brian Falkenborg to the Cardinals. Memphis also broke in a couple new relievers in Chris Lambert and Hugo Castellanos. The Redbirds won only one game on their latest homestand against the Albuquerque Isotopes and now go on an eight-game road trip starting in Salt Lake City.
Where they Stand
Memphis is now at .500 with a record of 16-16, leaving them two and a half games behind 18-13 Nashville. The Iowa Cubs jumped ahead of the Redbirds and are now 16-15, a half game up, while the Omaha Royals are 14-17.
Mike Sillman is still out with tenderness in his shoulder, as is Jolbert Cabrera who is recovering from Appendix surgery. Rico Washington left the game Saturday night with cramps but appears to be fine.
The Redbirds were hurt tremendously with the departures of their best hitter, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and closer Brian Falkenborg. Cardinals fans can expect Ludwick to take good at bats and drive in runs while showing plenty of power and playing solid defense. Falkenborg won't wow anyone with his stuff, but composure and control play a big part in his game and he led the Pacific Coast League in saves with nine in his time in Memphis. Rejoining the team is reliever Dennis Dove, who was sent down after a couple rocky innings in St. Louis. Relievers Hugo Castellanos and Chris Lambert, up from Springfield, bring fresh arms to an ever-changing bullpen.
Over the last ten games, Tagg Bozied has been hitting .382 with two home runs and seven RBI. Tagg has really cut down his strikeouts lately and has had two clutch singles late in games this week. What's more impressive is that he's done so with two strikes against him each time. Bozied has done a terrific job of shortening his swing and making adjustments when needed at the plate.
Rick Ankiel's power swing may have subsided a little but he's still producing, batting .290 with a home run and eight RBI over the last ten games. Rick has been solid in center while splitting time with the other talented outfielders on the team. I expect Rick to be in there everyday now with Ludwick up, leaving John Rodriguez and Nick Stavinoha to the corner spots.
Brendan Ryan had been in an elongated slump but has busted out over the last ten games hitting .349 with 15 hits and 11 runs. Ryan also had three RBI in that span and was a thorn in the side of every pitcher he managed to get on base against. Ryan's defense was up and down the past week with the low point being Sunday's game in which he didn't cover third, allowing former Redbird John Gall to score all the way from first on a sacrifice bunt and subsequent throwing error by Bozied.
Blake Hawksworth has really started to get comfortable his last two starts and we may be seeing the real pitcher he is. In that time, spanning 12 innings, Hawksworth is 1-0, and allowed only two earned runs. He's given up twelve hits while striking out five. In his last start on Sunday, Blake was pitching very effectively through five innings but then rain hit and the game was delayed 30 minutes and the staff decided not to send him back on the hill. Blake said that he feels more composed and his location has been better because of that. The evidence supports him as he hasn't walked a batter the last two starts.
Before being called up, Brian Falkenborg had converted saves in his last four opportunities, spanning five innings. In those five innings, he had only given up a single run while only walking one batter as well. As I said earlier, Falkenborg was the PCL leader in saves and the most reliable pitcher out of the Memphis bullpen.
Catcher Brian Esposito has been working hard in the batting cage but it has yet to translate onto the field. Esposito has only two hits in his last 26 at bats and defensively, he and Ryan Christianson were ran on quite a bit by the speedy Isotopes.
Third Baseman Travis Hanson has not been productive at the plate for Memphis all year and he's only batting .167 over his last ten games. His play at third base has been terrific but batting below .200 all season while showing no power is not ideal out of the third base position.
Chris Narveson has had a tough go of it his last two outings, a combined 11 earned runs in nine and two third innings. Narveson has walked five while striking out seven during that span.
What We Know
Anyone can see that Ryan Ludwick and Brian Falkenborg are huge losses to this team, but the question remains, who will pick up the slack?
In Ludwick's case, it enables guys like Nick Stavinoha and Rick Ankiel to play every day, no matter who's on the mound for the opposition. Stavinoha is the right-handed power hitter with the ability to take Ludwick's spot, but needs more AAA seasoning to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. John Rodriguez has stepped his game up as of late with a handful of extra base hits, but it hasn't been typical J-Rod production. John Nelson led this team in home runs last year, but also in strikeouts. He did start a game in left field on Sunday, an indication that he can fill in as an outfielder and provide some pop.
As for the bullpen, Dennis Dove's return to the team might not be a confidence boost in his mind, but he will need to step up. Although I expect Mark Worrell to take over the closer spot on this team, Dove may be the guy that the Cardinals higher-ups want in that spot. Matt Ginter and Mike Smith, both moved to the bullpen, could also fill the closer spot with their big league experience.
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