El Paso, Texas
The San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas, will play game 5 of the PCL Championship tomorrow.
What a ride it has been. After stumbling through the season, the Chihuahuas surged and won eight of their last ten games to secure the PCL Southern Division title. Then they swept Reno, which landed them in the PCL Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
Memphis took advantage of their games at home, and when the Chihuahuas got to El Paso on Friday, they were one loss away from being swept. But the Chihuahuas are loose. They are having fun, and they are at home. The team won Friday 3-0 and Saturday 5-1, with their starters putting in great outings.
First, Andrew Lockett went five strong shutout innings in his start, and then Jacob Nix went 6.2 IP while only giving up one earned. Both pitchers scattered hits, but solid defense kept runners from scoring. Christian Villanueva has been looking like a big league third baseman and Nick Buss, who was moved to first base to make room for Hunter Renfroe, has been solid at the position. This team features two outfielders who were supposed to be big league starters in Renfroe and Travis Jankowski. With Franchy Cordero and Rafael Ortega also in the mix, it’s easy to see why Buss is starting at first.
Although the Chihuahuas’ pitching has been phenomenal in the past two or three games, they still have not shown Memphis what they’re truly capable of with the offense. After hitting over .500 in 55 regular season Triple-A at-bats, Renfroe is only 2-15 in the PCL Championship Series. The 2016 PCL MVP appears impatient and undisciplined, consistently swinging at breaking balls that break away from him and far out of the zone. Today’s scoring all occurred in the third after Franchy Cordero walked and local musician, Chase d’Arnaud, hit a single.
Former Memphis Redbird, Rafael Ortega, who hit .318 in the regular season, also singled, driving in Cordero. Renfroe then knocked in d’Arnaud with a sacrifice fly, bringing up Nick Buss. Nick Buss took a 1-1 breaking ball over the right field wall to break the game wide open. The 5-0 lead was a lot more than the Chihuahuas pitching staff would need. Jason Jester relieved Nix with two outs in the top of the 7th. He would go on to pitch 1 1/3 innings relief, giving up just one hit, before handing it over to Eric Yardley, who retired the side in order in the 9th to end the game.
The Chihuahuas will start Kyle Lloyd, who made his MLB debut this year, but has struggled at times in Triple-A. He’s given up an earned run in each of his last 10 starts and more than one run in nine of those ten. Fortunately for El Paso fans, while Lloyd has given up 37 earned runs in his last ten starts, his projected opponent, Matt Pearce, has given up 36, and also has not had a scoreless outing. It’s gearing up to be a slugfest, and with El Paso’s lineup, there is room to feel great going into the game.
Following the game, it’s expected that Hunter Renfroe will get called up. Walker Lockett could be a candidate for a September promotion, but with him heading for the Arizona Fall League, I’m guessing they will stick with that plan. Jose Rondon seems like another likely promotion, but what will be interesting to see will be if Ryan Schimpf, Travis Jankowski, or Dusty Coleman get a little bit more big league time before the end of the season. Guessing what front offices will do is exceedingly difficult, and I’ll only be disappointed if they do not promote three or more Chihuahua players. I am prepared for disappointment. In a perfect world, the PCL batting title winner would be assured a promotion as a way to acknowledge his contributions and give him a chance to audition for a big league job next season, but I’m not holding my breath on a Nick Buss promotion.
Follow me at @USKillian on Twitter Sunday, for Game 5, as I provide up-to-the-second updates throughout the game.