Those Redbirds sure are having one heck of a season.
Not the colloquially named Redbirds you know–those of the National League Central–more formally known as the Cardinals. No, to see Redbirds truly thriving in 2017, you must travel a few hundred miles down I-55 South from Busch Stadium to AutoZone Park.
That’s where the Memphis Redbirds are doing the birds on the bat proud. Led by first-year manager Stubby Clapp, the Redbirds are winning at a historic clip–their 67-35 record tops the Pacific Coast League. And they’re doing it as the big-league Cardinals–a substantially less successful unit on the season–continue to dip into the Memphis talent pool on a pretty regular basis.
Imagine where St. Louis would be without that luxury.
The Cardinals are 49-51, sitting in fourth place and 4.0 games out of the lead in the Central. Without the contributions from promoted Redbirds, the doom and gloom surrounding the St. Louis club would be amplified considerably.
Paul DeJong is the current Cardinals starting shortstop–he began the season in the role for Memphis. The best performing outfielder in St. Louis, Tommy Pham, also began the season as a Redbird. In fact, each and every outfielder on the St. Louis active roster–Pham, Randal Grichuk, Jose Martinez, and the most recent addition, Harrison Bader–have spent time with the Class-AAA squad this year.
Luke Voit and Carson Kelly have relinquished starting roles with the Redbirds to shore up the strength of the St. Louis bench. The bullpen has enjoyed successful stints from Memphis relievers like John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala. Luke Weaver is likely set to join the Cardinals rotation this week.
Memphis Mafia 2.0?
The fingerprints of the Memphis Redbirds are all over the Cardinals roster in 2017–and if they weren’t helping the club to win games, they wouldn’t be here.
Harrison Bader became the latest example to produce an immediate impact Tuesday when his first-career major league hit went for a ninth-inning double. After Greg Garcia bunted him to third, Bader scored on a Jedd Gyorko sac fly to short right field.
In his first big-league game, Bader helped show the Cardinals a skill his former club has long since mastered: thrilling walk-off wins.
Speed. Defense. Timely hitting. Swagger.
These Redbirds have a winning spirit. I’m not sure you can say that about the Cardinals roster as it was originally constructed. Realizing this as the year progressed, John Mozeliak pivoted course, and 2017 quickly became a transition year for St. Louis. He infused burgeoning talent onto the scene, while dumping a considerable amount of dead weight as the summer developed. It was probably long overdue, and it’s a pleasure to see it happening. But with the Cardinals still on the brink of the postseason chase, now is the time to double down on those principles.
The young guys are here, so let’s see what they can do. Mozeliak and Mike Matheny have watched as these former Redbirds have injected life into a lackluster group on multiple occasions throughout the season. Why not give them significant run the rest of the way?
Injuries have allowed for opportunities in the outfield; with the return of Stephen Piscotty on the horizon, guys like Harrison Bader might only have a short window to prove their worth. It’s always a timing issue. We’ve seen it several times with Magneuris Sierra, who has done nothing but hit for St. Louis–yet he’s in Springfield.
Others, like Tommy Pham, were able to carve out regular opportunities after thriving out of the gate. In a season that would be all but over without the influence of the youth movement, the Cardinals should employ that mindset for the final two months, in an effort to not only give 2017 a run for its money, but prepare the organization for a rebound year in 2018.
Is Harrison Bader a franchise centerfielder? Is Luke Weaver a legitimate starting pitcher on a contender? Could Dakota Hudson be the answer as a weapon out of the bullpen? What kind of player can Luke Voit really be?
To learn answers to these questions, it would require the Cardinals to decrease playing time for veterans–or strategically trade the ones that may be clogging the path for the next generation.
The Cardinals have made clear their intention to run with Paul DeJong as the everyday shortstop, to discover whether he can handle the gig for the long haul. Tommy Pham figures to get the same treatment in the outfield. These decisions are making the Cardinals a better team today, and allowing them to plan appropriately for the future.
There’s an argument to be made that the rest of Memphis Mafia 2.0 should get similar opportunities in 2017.