The youngest Triple-A and Double-A clubs in baseball both made the playoffs, the first time that was accomplished by Cardinals’ clubs in a quarter of a century.
Despite a down year overall across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, the top two levels not only contributed players to the success of the major league club, but were winners on the field as well. Triple-A Memphis was league champion while Double-A Springfield made the playoffs.
You don’t think that was a big deal? Well, it was.
2009 was the first time the Cardinals’ top two minor league teams played in the postseason in the same year in a quarter of a century. Not since the 1985 Louisville Redbirds won the American Association crown and the Arkansas Travelers appeared in the Texas League playoffs had St. Louis’ Triple-A and Double-A clubs made the playoffs together.
The 2009 success bodes well for the future as it was accomplished despite each having been the youngest teams at their respective levels in all of minor league baseball. Not just the youngest in their league, mind you, but in all of Triple-A and Double-A!
Chris “Hammer” Maloney’s 2009 Memphis Redbirds finished on top of the Pacific Coast League, earning their first league championship since 2000 in their only appearance in the playoffs since then. The Redbirds posted a 77-67 regular season record, then stormed to the PCL title over Albuquerque and Sacramento before falling to Durham in the single-game Triple-A championship.
At the Double-A level, Ron “Pop” Warner led Springfield to their third consecutive winning campaign and returned the Cardinals to the Texas League playoffs after a one-year absence. It was a year of contrasts as they began with a first-place divisional finish and a 38-32 record, clinching a post-season berth in the process.
After several of their league-best nine All-Stars were lost, the Cards limped home with a second-half record of 33-37. Among the most painful subtractions were first-half offensive leader Daniel Descalso, promoted to Triple-A, and 2008 organization Player of the Year Daryl Jones, sidelined by a slow-to-heal hamstring injury.
Springfield tied for last place after the break, though they were only four games out of first. Had the Texas League used full-season standings, Springfield would not have made the post-season. Their overall regular-season record was two games over .500 at 71-69, their poorest result since 2006. Springfield then quickly exited from the North Division finals as they were swept by second-half winner Northwest Arkansas in three games.
Memphis’ championship season was far from a wire-to-wire, coasting-to-the-championship cake walk. As late as June 21, the Redbirds were 8 ½ games out of first at what would be a season-low six games under .500 at 32-38. At the time, they were coming off a 4-14 stretch of losing baseball.
It would have been easy to leave the Redbirds for dead, especially after the Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday trades stripped them of their top starter, Clayton Mortensen (ten quality starts, seven wins, 105 innings, 82 strikeouts), top reliever, Jess Todd (24 of 26 in save opportunities), and top hitter, Brett Wallace (.298 BA, number one Cardinals prospect).
St. Louis made at least 21 different calls for players from Memphis during the season, many of them taken away multiple times, yet Maloney held his team together, buoyed by reinforcements from Springfield.
After their late-June low point, the Redbirds put together an impressive 26-13 (.667) run over the next month and a half. On August 4, they had climbed back to seven games over .500 at 58-51, tying their season high water mark first set on May 9. Despite a very tough schedule over the final month, the Redbirds held serve with a 19-16 finish that carried them into their successful playoff run.
Allen Craig led the Redbirds offense and was named the Player of the Year by both the Cardinals organization and us at The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com. The 25-year-old posted a line of .322/.374/.547 with 26 home runs and 83 RBI. He led the Redbirds in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases and RBI.
Springfield workhorse starter Lance Lynn took home Pitcher of the Year honors from both the Cardinals and The Cardinal Nation. Lynn delivered an 11-4 record and a 2.92 ERA, the latter good for third in the Texas League. He fanned 98 but also walked 51 in 126 1/3 Double-A innings.
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