The Albuquerque Isotopes were just gearing up for their recent five-game series in Oklahoma City when word came down Friday about a major shake-up in the Pacific Coast League.
With the Tucson Padres moving to El Paso for 2014, the league opted to undergo a significant realignment that includes the Isotopes shifting to the Pacific Conference’s Southern Division after having spent their entire existence in the American Southern Division.
“What we’re doing here, it’s a business but it’s also about player development,” general manager John Traub said. “If you look at the way our schedule works, playing 144 games in 152 days, that’s only five off-days not counting the all-star break.
“It is a very, very grueling schedule on the players that are playing this game. If we can make the travel easier or if we can keep player development more top of mind I think your major-league affiliate is going to recognize and hopefully appreciate that.”
The move does make for a good geographic fit for Albuquerque, which will now be in the same division as El Paso, Las Vegas (Mets) and Salt Lake (Angels). It also puts the Isotopes in the same conference, meaning eight home and eight away games a year, as Fresno (Giants), Reno (Diamondbacks), Sacramento (A's) and Tacoma (Mariners).
“Travel-wise it makes so much more sense to be on this side and that we’re going to spending time in El Paso and Vegas and Salt Lake and the other division with Fresno, Sacramento and Reno and Tacoma,” manager Lorenzo Bundy Bundy said. “That’s going to be good for us travel-wise. You’re going to be missing some of those early wake-up calls.
“But all in all it’s still going to be the same. You’re going to be in a division where you’re going to have to compete day in and day out. You’re just going to see some teams a lot more than you’re used to seeing him in the past.”
Playing 16 games a year against the Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants and Angels farm teams will not hurt, either.
“I think it allows us to have more information, especially on some of these guys that go up and things like that,” Bundy said. “There’s so much technology floating around now we have film on a pitcher and we have film on a hitter as far as what we see. With we’re able to send film to our major-league people and they’re able to see a pitch they wouldn’t have stuff on otherwise.”
Travel costs should also go down for the Isotopes. They can bus the 269 miles to El Paso and catch direct flights to Las Vegas. Even Salt Lake and Tacoma, via Seattle, are easier to reach from the Albuquerque Sunport than Memphis, Iowa or Omaha ever were.
One awful August
The Isotopes (67-64) lost all five of those aforementioned games at Oklahoma City. They are currently in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and have lost 15 of 19 this month.
“Yeah, obviously we came off a horrendous road trip as far as needing to win two or three games in Oklahoma City and not winning any,” Bundy said. “It pretty much puts us in a mathematical position that’s almost impossible to reach the playoffs.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing. Now it’s a matter of survival as trying to finish strong and get this bad taste out of your mouth as far as not having to linger with this the whole offseason.”
Hitting has been the biggest problem. As a team Albuquerque is batting just .231/.305/.341 with only 13 home runs in August. The pitching staff has a respectable 4.18 ERA in that span.
“I’ve gone into my bag of tricks as far as motivating tactics, things like that,” Bundy said. “It’s a tough time of year, we understand that. A lot of things are going through these young men’s minds, September call-ups and the like. The bottom line is you need to put yourself in position to be a September call-up.”