The Albuquerque Isotopes have a heck of a tough task awaiting them to start the second half of the season. The Sacramento River Cats return to Isotopes Park sporting the best record (56-41) in the Pacific Coast League.
Sacramento has been on a roll of late, overtaking Reno (52-46) atop the Pacific North Division. The River Cats have done so despite many roster changes since their first visit to Albuquerque May 6-9.
Their lineup has lost catcher Stephen Vogt, first baseman Nate Freiman and shortstop Andy Parrino, all of whom have been called up by the Oakland A's. Freiman's 14 home runs and 69 RBI still lead the team.
Outfielders Jake Goebbert (Padres) and Michael Taylor (White Sox) have been traded away. Second baseman-shortstop Tyler Ladendorf (.305/.387/.429) has been placed on the restricted list.
The team that remains still has plenty of talent, especially with the recent changes to the pitching staff in Oakland. After the A's added veteran starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, that meant lefties Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone were Sacramento-bound.
Pomeranz, who will start Thursday's series opener, and Milone, scheduled to start Saturday, have each made one start for the River Cats, allowing one run apiece in four innings of work. Milone has gone 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 16 starts in the Majors while Pomeranz posted a record of 5-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 games (eight starts).
Lefty Matt Buschmann (6-4, 4.46) will start Friday's game while right-hander Arnold Leon (9-3, 4.47) gets the nod in Sunday's series finale. The bullpen has been anchored by right-handers Evan Scribner (3-1, 3.03, 14 saves) and Jeremy McBryde (3-2, 2.62, 8 saves).
Sacramento still boasts a fairly strong infield. First baseman Daric Barton (.280/.364/.385, 2 HR, 21 RBI), second baseman Jose Martinez (.260/.339/.340, 4 HR, 40 RBI) and third baseman Alden Carrithers (.298/.396/.377, HR, 34 RBI, 12 stolen bases) have all been solid, though none will ever be called a power hitter.
The outfield features former Isotope Nick Buss (.281/.333/.352, 3 HR, 26 RBI), who has alternated between all three positions. Shane Peterson (.309/.386/.430, 5 HR, 57 RBI, 11 stolen bases) has primarily played center field, while recent addition Josh Whitaker has become a fixture in right field since Taylor was traded.
With two lefties with big-league experience in the rotation, this will be a difficult match-up for the Isotopes, who have struggled against southpaws all season. The series tips off Thursday at 7:05 p.m., with Friday and Saturday's games having the same start time and Sunday starting at 6:05 p.m.