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VOL. 133 | NO. 127 | Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Redbirds Rolling Toward Another Playoff Berth

By Don Wade

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The only potential negative to having the special season the Memphis Redbirds did in 2017 when they won 91 regular season games and were Pacific Coast League champions? All that success has the potential to morph into quiet satisfaction, which eventually can devolve into ease and comfort.

And there is no room for ease and comfort in baseball – not if you want to chase titles.

“In the beginning, everybody was talking about last year and it was hard to get rid of last year,” said Memphis manager Stubby Clapp. “The more the season went on, the more we stopped talking about it and now last year’s last year and now we’re doing what we’re doing this year.”

Redbirds center fielder Oscar Mercado rounds third base and heads toward home plate during a game against Tacoma in early June. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

Which is basically producing an encore – at least so far. Through their first 75 games, the Redbirds were 45-30 and held an 8.5-game lead in their division.

This season’s success has not come without challenges. The Redbirds had made 104 transactions (moves to and from St. Louis, putting players on the disabled list, rehab assignments etc.) through their first 75 games, or 1.4 per game. Before this season, Memphis had never reached 104 transactions before July 20.

“That’s where the cliché of adjustment comes in,” Clapp said.

They’ve adjusted well enough that through those 75 games they had a mark of 16-6 (.727) in one-run games, the best in the PCL. Last year, they were 29-15 (.659) in one-run games.

Like last season, their pitching has set the standard in the league. They rank first in team earned run average among the 16 teams with a mark of 3.43. Starter Dakota Hudson leads the PCL in wins (10) and ERA (2.04) and starter Daniel Poncedeleon ranks third with a 2.43 ERA while his 80 strikeouts also rank third in the league.

“The starting pitching has been phenomenal,” said catcher Steve Baron.

Amazingly, with all the up-and-down from Memphis to St. Louis, Hudson, 23, had not been summoned yet as the Cardinals have preferred to let him stay in his routine in Memphis. Of course, there also has been movement from lower in the system to Memphis.

Rather than unsettling things, the pitching staff again has been the strongest link in a chain apparently absent any weak ones.

“The guys that are up and down (to St. Louis) share the knowledge with the guys that are just getting here,” Hudson said. “So we do have older guys helping younger guys mold into what we need to be to advance and do well. There’s just let a lot of back and forth among the pitching staff.”

Position players also have been up-and-down and the Cardinals are not hesitant to make moves.

“It keeps everyone pretty motivated, the fact the organization isn’t afraid to put their trust in us,” said outfielder Oscar Mercado, who was hitting .300 in his first season in Triple-A. “We know we gotta stay on top of things every day because you never know when your opportunity is going to come.”

Meantime, there is the Triple-A season in front of them. In 2017, Hudson was promoted from Double-A Springfield to Memphis late, but in plenty of time to contribute two wins in the PCL playoffs.

“We’re coming off a good season,” Hudson said. “And we’ve got a lot of new faces with old faces. It’s just a matter of piecing the camaraderie together so we can build into another great season.”

The Redbirds were to start a nine-game homestand on Monday night at Colorado Springs and return to AutoZone Park on July 4 for a 6:35 p.m. game with the Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City) that includes postgame fireworks.

Summer’s heat is in full force and the season grinds on. The winning, as it did a year ago, makes it easier.

“A winning culture definitely helps the confidence and the mood in the clubhouse,” said third baseman Patrick Wisdom.

“It gives you that extra wind if you are a little tired that day, just knowing that, `Hey, we’re pretty fricking good.’”

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