The Memphis Redbirds have contributed mightily to an extraordinary 2015 season (thus far) for the St. Louis Cardinals. From a single plate appearance by Dean Anna to game-changing heroics by the likes of Tommy Pham and Greg Garcia, no fewer than 15 players have made the trip north on I-55 and impacted the team that calls Busch Stadium home. But the Cardinals’ season is extraordinary not so much for their current record — 63-35, the best in all of baseball — but for posting that record despite the accumulated casualties that have necessitated an open-flowing Memphis-St. Louis pipeline.
A quick review of the Cardinal infirmary:
• Ace Adam Wainwright tore an Achilles heel in his fourth start of the season, leaving behind a 1.44 ERA and a gaping void at the front of the St. Louis rotation. • Two everyday players from 2014 — first baseman Matt Adams and centerfielder Jon Jay — have endured lengthy stays on the disabled list, Adams permanently (this season) with a torn quad muscle. • The team’s most dependable power threat, All-Star Matt Holliday, came off the disabled list just over a week ago having missed more than 30 games with a quad injury of his own. • A pair of new acquisitions to strengthen the bullpen — Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle — have been sidelined with arm ailments. Irony. • Oft-injured starter Jaime Garcia surprised an entire fan base by making his way back to the starting rotation and posting a 1.69 ERA over seven starts in Wainwright’s spot. Garcia injured his hamstring on June 24th, though, and hasn’t pitched since. (He’s expected to return to the rotation this week.)
The minor leagues, it’s often emphasized, are about development, and that includes the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate here in Memphis. A player’s value at Third and Union is measured first by how he might impact the parent club. But this summer has been less about developing players for that final leap to The Show than playing musical chairs (in Memphis) when they become newly vacant (in St. Louis).
Lefties Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons have combined to start 12 games in Wainwright’s stead (that is, when Garcia hasn’t). When not called to duty in St. Louis, Cooney has helped Memphis with a record of 6-4 and a 2.74 ERA, a season after setting a franchise record with 14 wins. He earned his first big-league win (over the Braves) last Friday, then was promptly demoted to Memphis when the Cardinals acquired reliever Steve Cishek in a trade with Miami.
Merely three years after being converted from shortstop to pitcher, Sam Tuivailala earned a Pacific Coast League All-Star nod with 12 saves and a 1.78 ERA. He missed the exhibition game, though, when the Cardinals promoted him in early July to relieve their ragged relief corps. He’s pitched in 10 games and helped bridge innings from the Cardinal starters to Trevor Rosenthal (or Kevin Siegrist) in the ninth.
The outfield injuries in St. Louis afforded the 27-year-old Pham his first extended stay with the Cardinals. Having hit .321 in Memphis after returning from, yes, a stay on the disabled list, Pham scored the only two Cardinal runs in a July 4th win over San Diego, then drove in all three St. Louis runs the next day in another victory over the Padres. He returned to the Redbirds last week when Stephen Piscotty (11 homers and 41 RBIs in Memphis) was promoted in the team’s latest attempt to fill the power void left by Adams.
What’s to come from all this roster shuffling? The Cardinals hope to find full strength — or a close approximation — by the time the postseason arrives, perhaps with reinforcements gained on or before this Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline. In Memphis, the Redbirds remain in contention for a playoff slot, four games behind Round Rock in their division of the PCL. As the Cardinals get healthier, so will the Redbirds’ playoff chances. Marco Gonzales, remember, hasn’t pitched for Memphis in more than two months. On his way back (he toes the rubber Monday night at AutoZone Park), Gonzales could end up helping a pair of pennant races on either side of the Mississippi River.