The Fresno Grizzlies have a sub-4.00 team ERA, a rarity in the Pacific Coast League. Unfortunately, it has not produced a winning record so far as the Grizzlies are just 12-16.
Fresno rolls into Albuquerque this weekend still looking to get on a roll. A lack of consistent hitting in a hitter-friendly league has been the biggest culprit as the Grizzlies sit between the middle and bottom in most offensive categories.
Getting healthy is a priority for Fresno. Currently catcher Andrew Susac (.291/.391/.455), corner infielder Marc Minicozzi (4-for-9) and outfielder Darren Ford (.350/.417/.400) are all on the disabled list.
The Grizzlies did split four games with the Isotopes last weekend in California. Albuquerque swept a doubleheader with back-to-back shutouts by Matt Magill and Stephen Fife. Fresno figures to catch a break then as Magill pitched Thursday and Fife is expected to be recalled by the Dodgers to start against the Marlins on Sunday in Miami.
For a breakdown of the Grizzlies, click on the slideshow below. The series continues Saturday at 7:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:35 p.m. and concludes Monday at 11:05 a.m.
Rotation: The Grizzlies will send out one of their top prospects, lefty Edwin Escobar (0-2, 4.88 ERA) in Friday's series opener. Escobar sports a 92-93 mph fastball and a plus slider. While his ERA is high, his peripheral stats are good. He has not allowed a home run and has only walked six batters in 24 innings.
Veteran Jason Berken (3-1, 2.48) has thrown the ball quite well so far this year. He dominated the Isotopes in Fresno last Sunday, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out eight batters. Berken gets the nod Saturday night.
Right-hander Chris Heston (1-2, 3.45) goes Sunday. He is showing signs of bouncing back from a rough 2013 campaign (7-6, 5.80).
Lefty Mike Kickham (1-3, 3.30), pictured, will start Monday. He spent some time in the big leagues last year, though it was not very memorable (0-3, 10.16).
Bullpen: Heath Hembree, pictured, is now in his third season as the Grizzlies' closer. So far he has a 1.74 ERA and is five-for-five in save opportunities. He had 31 saves last year and 15 in 2012, but in those seasons his ERA was over 4.00.
Hembree is still ranked as the Giants' No. 7 prospect by Baseball America. He no longer throws 98 mph, but he has better command at 92-94 and his slider has improved.
Other relievers of note include right-handers Brett Bochy (1-1, 2.77), who is the son of Giants manager Bruce Bochy, plus Jake Dunning (0-1, 2.51), George Kontos (0-2, 4.32, 2 saves), Adam Reifer (1-0, 3.45) and Mason Tobin (1-0, 3.52). The only left-hander currently in the bullpen is Jose DePaula, who has one save in his only appearance.
Lineup: As noted before, Fresno has not hit all that well as a team. Injuries have played a part, but so far the Grizzlies' bats have been inconsistent.
Corner infielder Adam Duvall, pictured, is the team's top power threat (.250/.310/.442, 6 HR, 19 RBI). He can play both first and third. Former Isotope Tony Abreu (.295/.340/.432, 2 HR, 10 RBI) can play second, shortstop and third base and has also swung the bat well of late.
The outfield is anchored by Gary Brown (.270/.344/.409, 2 HR, 15 RBI) in center field. Veteran Tyler Colvin (.269/.320/.398, HR, 9 RBI) can play either corner spot.
Prospect to Watch: The Giants have been dealing with some issues at second base this season. They might have a long-term answer already at Fresno.
Former first-round draft pick Joe Panik, pictured, can play both second and shortstop. He is off to a good start (.306/.364/.380, HR, 15 RBI) with the bat as well this season.
Because he is a contact hitter without much power, but has good plate discipline, Panik draws a lot of comparisons to Marco Scutaro. Even with Scutaro on the disabled list, the Giants have opted to keep Panik with the Grizzlies to continue his development.
Series Outlook: The Grizzlies are starting two lefties in the series, which should even things out a bit between the two teams. The Isotopes have scuffled against southpaws this season.
Still, Fresno's lack of offensive punch could be a problem in a place like Albuquerque. The recent addition of infielder Nick Noonan, pictured, should help the lineup a little. He has hit .429 (12-for-28) in seven games since coming off the disabled list.
If Fresno can get enough out of Escobar and Kickham, another series split is not out of the question. If Albuquerque can finally break through against a lefty, the Isotopes should be favored to win the series.