The Las Vegas 51s have been, pardon the pun, out of this world this season. The New York Mets' affiliate has the best record (51-36) in the Pacific Coast League despite a slew of injuries and players moving back and forth between Nevada and Queens.
Las Vegas arrives in Albuquerque on Friday at 6:05 p.m. for the first of four games to be played over three days. There will be a split doubleheader Saturday with games at noon and 7:05 p.m., followed by a 6:05 p.m. finale on Sunday.
Despite now being division rivals, this will be the first meeting of the season between the 51s and Isotopes. Albuquerque (39-48) enters the series 12 games back in the Pacific South, where Las Vegas' 9.5-game lead on El Paso is as big as the gaps between first and last place in two of the other divisions.
The 51s have seized first place between a bruising offensive attack. Las Vegas leads the league in on-base percentage (.374), slugging (.465), runs (556), home runs (108) and walks (410).
Pitching has been a bit more average, with the 51s ranking ninth in ERA (4.56), fourth in strikeouts (691) and seventh (313) in walks allowed. The 51s staff has allowed the fourth fewest home runs (70).
Scroll down for a more in-depth look at Las Vegas this season. The 51s are managed by former Met Wally Backman.
Rotation: Left-hander Darin Gorski (2-2, 3.97 ERA), pictured, will start Friday's opener. Rated as a fringe prospect by Baseball America, he started the year 4-2 with a 2.22 ERA at Double-A Binghamton.
For Saturday's doubleheader, struggling right-hander Greg Peavey (1-3, 10.24) will take the mound for the opener. He was also much better (6-1, 2.86) at Binghamton.
The starter for game two has not been named. Other pitchers who have started for Las Vegas this year include Giancarlo Alvarado (3-3, 6.41) and Logan Verrett (6-2, 4.82).
Sunday's series finale will feature Mets top prospect Noah Syndergaard (6-4, 5.70). For more on him, scroll below to Prospect to Watch.
Bullpen: The Las Vegas relief corps has lacked a true closer for much of the season as Vic Black was promoted to New York and Jeff Walters has been on the disabled list. In their stead, it's been a by-committee approach.
Veteran right-hander Buddy Carlyle (4-2, 2.16, 3 saves), pictured, has been used in the ninth inning of late. He is one of several experienced arms in the bullpen, though right now all are right-handed.
The only lefty reliever on the roster is former Isotope Scott Rice, but he is on the disabled list along with Walters, swingman Joel Carreno and starter Rafael Montero. That should work in Albuquerque's favor as the Isotopes have struggled against southpaws this year.
The best of the rest include Chase Bradford (1-0, 2.79, 1 save), John Church (1-1, 3.15), Ryan Reid (3-1, 4.06, 2 saves) and Miguel Socolovich (1-2, 3.65, 1 save). None of that group have started a game this season, but someone could Saturday night.
Lineup: As noted in the introduction, Las Vegas' position players have been brutalizing PCL pitching all season. Leading the way is right fielder Andrew Brown (.323/.414/.641, 14 HR, 41 RBI), pictured.
Joining Brown in the outfield at present are the well-traveled Brandon Allen (.279/.399/.479, 10 HR, 32 RBI) in left field and Matt den Dekker (.292/.352/.489, 6 HR, 35 RBI) in center field. Backing them up is Cory Vaughn (.244/.333/.333, 2 HR, 11 RBI), the son of former big-league slugger Greg Vaughn.
Prospect Juan Centeno (.291/.347/.336) has handled the bulk of the catching duties. New to the team is prospect Kevin Plawecki, though he has gotten off to a rough start (2-for-23, HR, 4 RBI) since coming up from Binghamton.
The infield is anchored by first baseman Allan Dykstra (.283/.427/.526, 12 HR, 56 RBI). With Zach Lutz having opted out to sign with a Japanese team, the versatile Josh Satin (.301/.400/.435, 3 HR, 24 RBI) has taken over at third base of late.
Up the middle, Daniel Muno (.262/.379/.406, 8 HR, 35 RBI) has handled the bulk of the duties at second base. Shortstop has been split between veteran Omar Quintanilla (.245/.272/.403, 3 HR, 24 RBI) and prospect Wilmer Flores (.315/.358/.510, 6 HR, 33 RBI), both of whom have spent time in New York as well.
Prospect to watch: Right-hander Noah Syndergaard entered the year as the Mets' No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America. The PCL, though, has taken a bit of luster off of him.
Syndergaard has gone 6-4 with a rough 5.70 ERA in 15 starts. He has struck out 74 batters in 72.2 innings, while giving up 91 hits and 23 walks.
In addition to getting hit around, Syndergaard has had two stints on the disabled list. The first was for some minor soreness in his pitching shoulder, while the second stint was due to soreness in his left shoulder following a collision at home plate.
When he is at his best, Syndergaard can be impressive. His fastball can hit 98 mph, while his 12-to-6 curveball has been improving as he has gained experience.
The Isotopes will take on Syndergaard in Sunday's series finale. They have hit right-handers much better than lefties all season.
Outlook: The Isotopes will face a major challenge to even split the series with the best team in the league. Albuquerque's pitching staff has been beaten up all year and Las Vegas figures to show no mercy.
If there is good news, the 51s do not have a lights-out pitching staff, including former Isotope Giancarlo Alvarado, pictured. The lack of lefties beyond Gorski on Friday also bodes well.
Despite injuries to key players like Montero and Walters, plus the frequent call-ups and demotions for players like Brown, Flores, den Dekker and Quintanilla, the 51s have endured all season atop the division. Las Vegas is playing with plenty of confidence right now.