The Memphis Redbirds usually do not make their first trip to Albuquerque in August. The realignment of the Pacific Coast League, however, kept the Redbirds in the American Conference and moved the Isotopes into the Pacific Conference.
This four-game series, which begins Tuesday at 6:35 p.m., will be the only meeting of the season between the two old rivals. Memphis has twice eliminated Albuquerque from the PCL playoffs, most recently in 2009.
The Redbirds (65-58) are locked in a battle for the American South Division with in-state rival Nashville (66-56). The Sounds will be the Isotopes' next opponent.
Memphis arrives with five of the St. Louis Cardinals' top 15 prospects as re-ranked at midseason by MLB.com. With outfielder Oscar Taveras, the previous No. 1, now in St. Louis, that leaves outfielder Stephen Piscotty as the new top prospect.
The other top prospects are left-hander Marco Gonzales (No. 3), oufielder Randal Grichuk (No. 8), lefty Tim Cooney (No. 10) and right-hander Zach Petrick (No. 15). This will be the first trip for all four to Albuquerque.
Cooney (11-6, 3.69 ERA) will start Tuesday's series opener. Gonzales (2-1, 3.45) will make his sixth start for the Redbirds on Wednesday after he began the year at Single-A Palm Beach and also had stints with Double-A Springfield and made three spot starts in the big leagues.
Former prospects Tyler Lyons (7-1, 3.63) and Carlos Martinez (1-0, 0.00) will start on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Martinez had spent much of the season in the Cardinals' rotation before they acquired veterans Justin Masterson and John Lackey at the trade deadline.
Memphis' bullpen is led by the duo of right-handers Eric Fornataro (3-4, 2.47, 12 saves) and Jorge Rondon (3-4, 3.47, 6 saves). Rondon was the pitcher who hit Justin Sellers last year in Albuquerque, igniting a benches-clearing brawl between the Isotopes and Redbirds.
Petrick (6-5, 4.54) had struggled in 17 starts, so he is now in the bullpen. The primary lefty is Dean Kiekhefer (2-3, 2.54, 1 save).
Piscotty (.282/.347/.397, 7 HR, 60 RBI, 10 stolen bases) and Grichuk (.273/.328/.512, 22 HR, 64 RBI) lead the outfield. Tommy Pham (.338/.400/.509, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 13 stolen bases) has been on fire since replacing Taveras alongside the two prospects.
Memphis' infield features two power bats on the corners in first baseman Xavier Scruggs (.273/.358/.457, 15 HR, 70 RBI), a former UNLV standout, and veteran Scott Moore (.244/.335/.431, 15 HR, 52 RBI) at third base. The Redbirds are solid up the middle with glove-first second baseman Greg Garcia (.272/.357/.385, 8 HR, 37 RBI) and shortstop Pete Kozma (.230/.316/.346, 6 HR, 42 RBI), who started at that position for the Cardinals in the World Series last year.
Ed Easley (.274/.338/.415, 7 HR, 32 RBI), a Memphis native, shares the catching duties with Audry Perez (.297/.300/.406, 4 HR, 26 RBI). Perez was up briefly in the big leagues after Yadier Molina went on the DL earlier this summer.
The first three games of the series with the Redbirds start at 6:35 p.m. Friday's finale is at 7:05 p.m.