The Major League Baseball deadline came and went, stripping the Fresno Grizzlies of one of their top hitters but also subsequently bringing back their former top slugger.
Fresno’s pitching staff, meanwhile, has remained intact, though Grizzlies pitchers weren’t exactly thrilled by that.
Nonetheless, the Grizzlies are in prime position to finish strong and close out what has long been shaping up to be perhaps the most historic season in the Triple-A franchise’s 18-year history.
“I think we’re in a great place,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said Saturday as the team returned to Chukchansi Park to open a nine-game homestand against Albuquerque and Sacramento. “We just got to keep battling.”
The Grizzlies (59-47) entered August owning the largest divisional lead throughout Triple-A — a 7 1/2-game advantage on the Tacoma Rainiers.
In addition, the Grizzlies get to play 25 of their final 37 games at Chukchansi Park, including nine straight to kick off this month, while seeking to clinch their first playoff berth since their inaugural season in 1998.
The Grizzlies are 28-19 at home this season, the fifth best home mark in the 16-team Pacific Coast League
“Our guys really like playing here,” Grizzlies catcher Max Stassi said. “We’re comfortable at home. We’re ready to make that playoff push.”
The Grizzlies did lose prospect outfielder Domingo Santana after major league parent club Houston made a six-player trade that allowed the Astros to acquire two-time All Star outfielder Carlos Gomez and starter Mike Fiers.
Santana, 22, was hitting .320 with 16 homers and 37 extra-base hits for Fresno and also had scored 62 runs and driven in 59. He ranked second on the team in runs and home runs and third in RBIs.
But the trade also forced the Astros to remove a player off their 25-man big league roster, prompting Houston to send first base slugger Jon Singleton back to the Grizzlies.
Singleton, 23, led all of Triple-A with 17 home runs, 56 runs, 66 RBIs and 47 walks while batting .280 with a .387 on-base percentage prior to his promotion that lasted just over a month.
With the Astros, Singleton hit just .205 (9 for 44) with one homer and six RBIs in 16 games.
“We lost a good bat but we’re getting a big bat back, so I think we’ll do fine,” Grizzlies outfielder L.J. Hoes said. “We’ve got a good team. We find ways to win games.”
“Everything is going to be key and clutch this next month.”
Prior to trading for Gomez and Fiers, the Astros traded for starting pitcher Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s.
And with Kazmir and Fiers immediately slotted into Houston’s starting rotation, Grizzlies pitchers were given another notice that their production has not been good enough to warrant their call-up to the majors.
Earlier in the season, Grizzlies pitchers were leapfrogged twice by prospects at a lower level — Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez. Both essentially skipped Triple-A, going from Double-A Corpus Christi straight to the Astros.
The Grizzlies went 1-5 during the final week of the trade deadline, with Fresno’s pitching allowing an average of 8.8 runs and 12.3 hits since July 25.
“I think it’s affected the pitching,” DeFrancesco said of the the Astros’ trades. “Kazmir showed up, Fiers shows up. It’s part of baseball. But baseball isn’t always easy.
“The message I told the guys was it’s about finishing strong, trying to get a September call-up and help us and the Astros make the playoffs.
“Let’s finish strong and help each other out.”
Hoes and Stassi added that the passing of the trade deadline could help players feel a bit more at ease for the final five weeks, rather than constantly paying attention to potential baseball movement.
Months prior to the flurry of MLB trades, the Astros were projected to be a major player in the wheelings and dealings.
“Everyone is pretty interested with all that,” Stassi said. “Guys in our own clubhouse, guys we played with before. It’s an interesting process. But it’s fun.
“We were all anxious to see where everyone would go. But I don’t think anyone was on edge, really. They understand there’s a business side to this game and there are some things you can’t control as a player.”