ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Front-running Dodgers might need to drain talent from Isotopes
They pitch better than any other of the previous six Isotopes teams. They hit worse.
That combustible formula has Albuquerque one game (45-44) over .500 and with a precarious one-game lead in the American South Division of the Pacific Coast League.
As they return from the All-Star break tonight at home against New Orleans, the Isotopes’ chances of winning the division and advancing to the PCL playoffs for the first time since the 2003 season hinge really on one factor: How much the parent Los Angeles Dodgers, amid a special season, need to draw sustenance from the Isotopes roster.
That understood, some story lines to watch in the balance of the season.
n KNOCKOUT PUNCH? The Isotopes are hitting only .262 collectively, which seems to suggest that they don’t have one. No Isotopes team has hit less than .277 in a full season, and this year only three teams in the PCL are hitting worse than them.
In April, it looked like Mitch Jones and Valentino Pascucci could combine for 65 homers in a full PCL season. Instead, Jones got called up after hitting 21, and Pascucci got the boot after a .207 average in 60 games.
Some of the other proven hitters at this level have had their moments, Hector Luna among them. But Luna (.353) has missed the last month with what the club has called a knee strain.
Jones is back, though he struggled to make contact on the recent trip after sitting home for the 10 days once the Dodgers designated him for assignment. He blasted No. 22 on Sunday just in time to have to sit again over the All-Star break.
Outfielder Dee Brown (16 homers, 58 RBI) has been a steady power source. Blake DeWitt is better than his .246, but he’s seemingly this season’s designated position player to ping-pong between here and L.A.
n TRADE BAIT: The Dodgers have an obvious need to upgrade their pitching staff (wanted: innings-eating starter) and will be buyers as the deadline nears. Typically, prospects are part of the package going to the seller. A couple of live arms opposing teams should at least ask about are now in Albuquerque, right-handers Josh Lindblom and Travis Schlichting among them.
n DISPLAY ARMS: Albuquerque’s pitching, front end and back end, is good enough to win the league. The team earned-run average of 4.19 is better than the standard-bearing 2006 team (4.58). But if Dodgers GM Ned Colletti can’t find a deal for a Roy Halladay or a Cliff Lee to his liking, the Isotopes’ staff will obviously be in flux.
n FIRST-HALF HERO? Nobody was better than lefty-on-lefty specialist Erick Threets (3-0, 1.62). Pity for him that the guy pegged to do the same thing in L.A., Brent Leach, has been good, also.
n HELP FROM ABOVE? Look to the Dodgers’ casualty list. Albuquerque’s getting some now in rehabbing lefty Hong-Chih Kuo. Others to watch for, either on rehab or otherwise: RHP Ronald Belisario (15-day DL), 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (60 days), OF Xavier Paul (15).
n HOME BREW: If the ’Topes are to continue a trend of hitting around .300 at home and in the low .200s away, good thing that 33 of the remaining 55 games are at Isotopes Park.