Albuquerque Faces Omaha in 1st Round
Flat as Omaha, Neb., may be, it presents an uphill assignment for the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League’s American Conference playoffs will pit the ‘Topes against the Omaha Storm Chasers tonight at Werner Park.
The first two games of the best-of-five series are set for Omaha before the teams return to Albuquerque for Friday’s third meeting and Games 4 and 5 if necessary.
PCL conference playoffs: Albuquerque at Omaha, 6:05 p.m. Radio: KNML-AM (610)
Based on what happened during the regular season, it stacks up as a competitive series. Omaha won 83 games and was particularly good at home, going 44-28. Albuquerque won 80 games and went 48-24 at home.
The Storm Chasers won the head-to-head series 9-7, but the Isotopes won four of the last five.
However, this is not the regular season.
With their respective parent clubs in decidedly different situations, Omaha and Albuquerque appear far from equal for their postseason matchup.
The Kansas City Royals are out of playoff contention and called up just one player (outfielder David Lough) from Omaha when major league rosters expanded Saturday. The Storm Chasers have their pitching rotation set and seem primed to make a PCL title run.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, meanwhile, are trying desperately to hang on in the National League playoff chase. They’ve taken some major pieces from Albuquerque’s roster, including three of the Isotopes’ four All-PCL players. Catcher Tim Federowicz and ace starting pitcher John Ely were called up Saturday, and closer Josh Wall was recalled Tuesday.
It might not stop there.
“(Shortstop) Dee Gordon is technically on rehab, so he could be yanked up anytime,” Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “It’s kind of a crazy situation for us.”
When the ‘Topes hit the field tonight, their roster will include four pitchers, a catcher and an infielder who were not with the club a week ago. Only one of those players (reliever Francisco Felix) had played for Albuquerque earlier this season.
Significant underdogs or not, expect the Isotopes to put up a battle. Veterans Josh Bard and Josh Fields have made it clear to their teammates that anything less is unacceptable.
After Sunday’s division-clinching victory at Isotopes Park, Fields and Bard put a brief halt to the postgame victory party. Fields turned off the music, and Bard called the players together for a quick speech.
“At this time of year, every player wants to either go up or go home,” Bard said. “I told the guys, ‘You need to make it bigger than yourselves.’ The playoffs are a big deal to a lot of people. It’s about respecting the game and playing to win.”
Bundy, who will be managing in a playoff series for the first time in his career, appreciated the perspective provided by his veteran players. It played into his decision to let Bard serve as honorary manager for Monday’s regular-season finale.
Bard, 34, won a PCL championship with Tucson in 2010, has appeared in more than 500 major league games and said he wouldn’t mind trying a full-time managing gig when his playing days are done.
For now, he’ll try to lead by example. With Federowicz gone, Bard will be Albuquerque’s everyday catcher for as long as the postseason lasts.
“He and Josh Fields have given us good leadership all year,” Bundy said. “I know we’re playing one of the best teams in the league, and I know (the Storm Chasers) have played really well at home, but I look forward to our guys giving a good effort. We still have a good, competitive team and it’s a short series. Anything can happen.”
NOTES: Relief pitcher Red Patterson and infielder Charlie Mirabal were to join the ‘Topes today in Omaha. Patterson, a right-hander, was 7-1 with a 3.07 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga this year. Mirabal, who played for the Isotopes briefly last season, hit .191 at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. … Albuquerque’s 80 wins match the franchise mark set by the 2009 club. The Isotopes have finished first or second in eight of their 10 seasons but are seeking their first playoff series win. The ‘Topes made the postseason in 2003 and ’09.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal