The Memphis Redbirds are back in town and thanking their lucky stars to be playing in the division opposite the Albuquerque Isotopes.
At 35-33, Memphis actually has a worse record than Albuquerque (35-32) but thanks to the fact it plays in the American Northern Division, the Redbirds are in first place while the Isotopes are third in the American Southern Division.
Memphis has overcome a slew of recent call-ups by the St. Louis Cardinals, largely focusing on pitchers, and is looking for some payback after losing six of eight games against Albuquerque so far this season.
The Redbirds still have a talented team with eight players ranked in Baseball America‘s top 30 Cardinals prospects list.
The Isotopes and Redbirds kick off their third go-around tonight at 7:05 p.m.
Rotation: The Isotopes may face an entirely different rotation than the one they went up against in Memphis back on May 28-31. Right-hander Scott McGregor (1-3, 6.95 ERA) will make his fifth career Triple-A start tonight, hoping for better results than his first four outings.
Right-hander Maikel Cleto (2-3, 5.72), pictured, gets the nod Saturday. He pitched well against Albuquerque back on May 29, allowing just one run in 6.1 innings but ultimately did not factor in the decision.
Sunday’s starter is to be determined, while Cardinals No. 3 prospect Carlos Martinez (1-0, 1.56) will make his fifth career Triple-A start on Monday. Martinez has already made seven relief appearances in the Majors and at the age of 21 can already run his fastball up to 100 mph.
Bullpen: Closer Victor Marte (2-0, 2.55, 11 saves) is still a tough guy to beat in the ninth inning. He was called up briefly to St. Louis recently but is back down.
The other relievers are a mixed bag, with some new faces scattered about. Right-hander Michael Blazek (0-0, 3.18, 1 save), pictured, has recently come up from Double-A.
More familiar faces include right-handers Jorge Rondon (2-5, 3.38) and Eric Fornataro (0-3, 5.67, 1 save), plus left-handers Sam Freeman 95-2, 3.96, 1 save) and big-league veteran Marc Rzepczynski (0-1, 2.55).
Catching: Former New York Met Rob Johnson (.234, 7 HR, 27 RBI), pictured, is still the primary starter behind the plate for Memphis.
The Redbirds released backup J.R. Towles, who is now an Isotope but unlikely to play in this series due to injury.
Memphis is now relying on former Pepperdine standout Travis Tartamella (.140, 2 HR, 6 RBI) as its backup.
Infield: The starters here have not changed much since the Redbirds’ last visit to Isotopes Park. The big difference is third baseman Jermaine Curtis (.281, 3 HR, 34 RBI) is back with the club after a brief stint in St. Louis.
First baseman Brock Peterson (.310, 12 HR, 39 RBI) is one of Memphis’ biggest power threats.
Second baseman Kolten Wong (.314, 5 HR, 22 RBI) is a standout defensively and remains one of the Cardinals’ top prospects.
Shortstop Ryan Jackson (.320, 3 HR, 21 RBI), pictured, is another defensive wizard who continues to lead Memphis in batting average.
Greg Garcia (.248, 8 RBI) is the primary backup at the middle positions.
Outfield: Cardinals No. 1 prospect Oscar Taveras (.319, 4 HR, 22 RBI) is back after a short stint on the disabled list. He continues to man center field, though he is expected to play right field when he gets to St. Louis.
Veteran Justin Christian (.296, 3 HR, 23 RBI), pictured, has recovered from a slow start and is the primary left fielder.
Power hitter Jamie Romak (.257, 12 HR, 39 RBI) has primarily played right field though he can also play both infield corners.
Adron Chambers (.213, 4 HR, 23 RBI) has alternated between right and center, though he remains in a season-long slump at the plate.
Veteran Chad Huffman (.315, 6 HR, 21 RBI) has been a valuable bat off the bench.
Prospect to watch: Wong, the Cardinals’ No. 5-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, has put his team in somewhat of a bind. His glove is certainly Major League ready and while some questions linger about his bat, Wong is definitely knocking on the door.
The problem St. Louis faces is that Matt Carpenter has taken over second base in the big leagues and excelled this year. Wong could ultimately force the Cardinals to trade away someone, possibly third baseman David Freese, shift Carpenter back to his natural position at third and call up Wong.
He is an exciting player and should be one to watch in Cardinal red sooner rather than later.
Outlook: The Isotopes have had the Redbirds’ number this season despite their nearly identical records.
Memphis’ pitching staff has already lost a slew of arms to the big leagues, including Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons and John Gast. Albuquerque can relate with Stephen Fife and Chris Withrow in Los Angeles while Matt Magill has constantly bounced back and forth.
The team whose pitching staff holds together better this weekend should come out with the series victory.