Plenty of folks look forward to a late summer trip to California.
Pacific Coast League players are unlikely to ever say they are looking forward to playing in Sacramento and Fresno this time of year. The Central Valley can often be stiflingly hot in late July/early August.
On top of that, the River Cats and Grizzlies are typically formidable opponents.
The Albuquerque Isotopes will face all of those challenges in an eight-game swing through the Golden State that begins tonight at 8:05 p.m. in Sacramento.
“I haven’t seen (either) of these teams so I have no idea,” first baseman Scott Van Slyke said. “I’m just going to play baseball. I can’t imagine they’re going to be any different than what we’ve seen.”
This year’s River Cats are not as good as years’ past when they have dominated the Pacific Southern Division. Sacramento (57-53) currently sits in third place in the division, four games behind Las Vegas (60-48).
That does not mean the Isotopes (62-48), who are tied with Round Rock atop the American Southern Division, should take the River Cats lightly.
Sacramento still has a strong lineup led by outfielders Michael Choice (.304, 13 HR, 71 RBI) and Michael Taylor (.296, 15 HR, 64 RBI). Choice is Oakland’s No. 2 prospect, according to Baseball America.
The infield features some veterans as well in shortstop-third baseman Hiroyuki Nakajima (.285, 4 HR, 21 RBI), corner infielder Daric Barton (.285, 6 HR, 57 RBI) and middle infielder-outfielder Jemile Weeks (.278, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 13 stolen bases). Throw in second base prospect Grant Green (.325, 11 HR, 50 RBI) and scoring runs has not been a problem for the River Cats.
Pitching has been an issue and in that regard Albuquerque catches a break. PCL All-Star Sonny Gray (9-7, 3.38 ERA) will not pitch in the series after he started Monday.
That leaves right-handers Bruce Billings (10-4, 4.37) tonight, Travis Banwart (6-5, 4.95) on Wednesday and Arnold Leon (1-2, 5.76) on Thursday. Lefty Andrew Werner (9-12, 5.96) starts Friday’s finale.
The Isotopes will counter with right-handers Matt Magill (3-0, 2.76) tonight, Angel Castro (6-2, 3.73) on Wednesday, Matt Palmer (6-4, 3.83) on Thursday and lefty Rob Rasmussen (0-5, 5.59) on Friday.
All four games in the series will start at 8:05 p.m.
The series with Fresno will commence Saturday. The Grizzlies (49-60) have struggled this season and are in last place in their division.
Fresno’s rotation has been a mess due to injuries, call-ups and injuries. Lefty Mike Kickham (3-7, 5.29) has been up and down between Triple-A and the Majors. The rest are fairly recent additions or began the year in the bullpen like Mitch Lively (4-4, 5.68).
Closer Heath Hembree (1-3, 4.57, 22 saves) has been decent but the guys in front of him have scuffled.
The Grizzlies can still hit, led by catcher-first baseman Johnny Monell (.293, 17 HR, 47 RBI), third baseman Chris Dominguez (.293, 13 HR, 27 RBI) and outfielder-third baseman Juan Perez (.306, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 15 stolen bases). Center field prospect Gary Brown (.242, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 12 stolen bases) has improved after a woeful April.
Saturday, Monday and Tuesday’s games at Fresno will be at 8:05 p.m., with Sunday’s game at 7:05 p.m.
Following an off-day the Isotopes will return to Albuquerque to start an eight-game homestand on Aug. 8.