photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre, El Paso Chihuahuas
The Memphis Redbirds finished the best season in team history, one that resulted in the Pacific Coast League title and a trip to the Triple-A Championship Game. The club posted a franchise-best 91-50 regular-season record, one of just four teams in MiLB with 90+ wins.
They finished 11 wins better than any other PCL team and won the American Southern Division by 22 games. The Redbirds also shattered their own record of 84 wins set in 2000, and is the first PCL team to reach 90 wins since 2006.
Memphis’ roster, especially the pitching staff, was constantly moving with players going up to St. Louis or down to Springfield. But through it all, the team kept steady under the first-year skipper, PCL Manager of the Year Stubby Clapp.
After a season as exciting as this, there were many highlights worth mentioning. Listed below are the ones that stand out in the overview of the team’s success:
- The first achievement has to be the PCL Championship. This was Memphis’ third time winning the PCL title (2000, 2009). Patrick Wisdom was named the Series MVP. He hit a two-run homer in Game 5 and made a run-saving diving catch at third.
- Clapp was named PCL Manager of the Year.
- Setting a franchise-high in wins on August 21 with their 84th. They went on to increase their record to 91-50.
- The Redbirds won 11 straight games from April 28-May 8. The streak bested their previous best of nine in 2000 and 2014. Memphis also added seven and nine-game win streaks this season.
- In July, Memphis won a franchise high 22 games in a single month. They went 22-6.
- Memphis won or split 27 consecutive series from April 19-21 through August 15-18.
- Wisdom was named to the All-PCL Team. The post-season honor is thanks to 31 bombs and 89 RBI, bests in the Cardinals system.
- 22 Redbirds went on to play with St. Louis during the season. Most are still up with the big league club for the final push.
- Carson Kelly and Ryan Sherriff were selected to the Triple-A All-Star Game. Luke Weaver was also selected but could not play because he was with St. Louis.
- Jack Flaherty pitched in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star festivities in Miami.
- Reliever-turned-starter Kevin Herget whiffed 15 batters in the Game 2 of the PCL Finals, one shy of Lance Lynn’s Redbirds record.
- Free agent addition Rangel Ravelo collected a 15-game hit steak from May 9 – June 3.
- In late July, Tyler O’Neill was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for starting pitcher Marco Gonzales. The outfielder hit 12 home runs and drove in 39 runs in 37 games with the Redbirds.
In the 16-team league, the PCL is divided into two conferences, the American and the Pacific. Each conference is split into two divisions – Northern and Southern.
Each team has 110 of the 142 game schedule set against conference opponents, but Memphis played 141 due to a cancelled game. The other 32 are split among the teams in the other conference.
The season started on April 6 as the Redbirds won the opener on the road and took the series 4-1 in route to a 13-11 April. It was an up and down month with at two streaks of at least three losses and two streaks of at least three wins.
After ending April with three wins, Memphis started May with eight more, which totaled an 11-game win streak. During the month, they posted a 19-10 record and jumped out to a division lead that they would never relinquish.
The Redbirds backed the 19-win May with a 17-10 June. The month was capped off with three straight wins, outscoring their opponents 22-5 in three game span.
Memphis had its best month in July, including seven and nine-game win streaks on their way to a 22-6 record. The hitting and pitching came around at the same time for the stellar month.
They followed up the July franchise-high wins with an 18-11 August. Memphis ended the month with five consecutive wins.
The Redbirds played four regular season games in September and went 2-2. The postseason started shortly after, as they defeated Colorado Springs in five games for the conference crown. They then beat El Paso in five games to claim the PCL title. But Memphis lost the Triple-A Championship Game to the International League Durham Bulls, dropping the franchise record to 0-3 in those contests.
The pitching and defense
The Memphis pitching staff was the strength of the team. They posted a league high and franchise record 3.77 ERA during the regular season. They allowed the fewest runs and earned runs during the season. Memphis whiffed the second most batters in the league and their 41 saves were tied for second.
The staff as a whole controlled games and did not walk a lot of batters. Memphis pitchers issued the fewest walks in the PCL and ranked second in hits allowed. That combination helped the Redbirds lead the league in WHIP.
Defensively, the Redbirds matched their franchise-best .984 fielding percentage, first set in 2014. They were solid in the middle infield with Aledmys Diaz, Wilfredo Tovar, Breyvic Valera and Paul DeJong sharing time at second and short.
The outfield was led by Harrison Bader for most of the season, who made a lot of highlight catches and showed off his range.
The Memphis hitters posted above league average numbers with a .278/.348/.447 in 4,826 at-bats. They ranked between sixth and seventh in average, OBP and SLG. The Redbirds finished seventh with 714 runs and eighth with 1,341 hits.
Much of the Redbirds’ offense relied on power. They placed third in the PCL with 164 homers and fourth with 278 doubles.
Although Memphis was in the middle of the pack with 683 RBI and 714 runs, it was more than good enough to win games because of the dominant pitching staff. The staff allowed 566 runs, which is a +148 run differential.
The Redbirds pitching staff looked a lot different on opening day with Luke Weaver taking the mound to start the season. He was the first among many to see time with the Cardinals in St. Louis.
John Brebbia, Mike Mayers, Ryan Sherriff and Josh Lucas were also on the opening day roster and were since called up to the big leagues. Jack Flaherty also came through Memphis on his way to the show.
Daniel Poncedeleon was dominant in six Triple-A starts before being hit in the head with a line drive and missing the remainder of the season. He held a 2-0 record with a 2.17 ERA with 25 strikeouts.
The biggest constants in the Redbirds lineup this season were Patrick Wisdom, Harrison Bader and Breyvic Valera. They were there for most of the season and posted solid numbers.
The lineup changed dramatically through the season, though, as Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, Luke Voit, Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham all left for the majors. DeJong and Voit were among the biggest contributors to the offense before being called up.
Valera started off slowly but finished the season with an organization high .314 average. Nick Martini joined the Redbirds from Springfield and finished third in the organization, batting .294.
Tyler O’Neill joined the team late when a trade brought him to Memphis. In his time with the Redbirds, he cranked 12 homers and collected 39 RBI in 37 games. In the post-season, O’Neill went deep four more times and plated 11 in 11 games.
Among the end-of-season Redbirds ranked in the most recent monthly top 50 prospect list compiled by The Cardinal Nation are #5 Tyler O’Neill, #7 Dakota Hudson, #10 Zac Gallen, #13 Adolis Garcia, #14 Ryan Helsley, #28 Matt Pearce, #30 Mike Mayers and #40 Arturo Reyes.
Already with St. Louis are #2-#4 Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader, #6 Magneuris Sierra and #26 Luke Voit. Luke Weaver and Paul DeJong graduated.
Link to master article with all 2017 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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