With their division clinched almost a week ago, the Fresno Grizzlies appeared to have hit a funk in the motivation department.
The Grizzlies had lost five straight entering Monday and finished 1-7 last week during their final road trip of the regular season, marking their worst stretch this season.
And yet, the Grizzlies remain the only Triple-A team that’s wrapped up its division, having locked up the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division on Aug. 25.
The Grizzlies (79-56) are in the hunt for the best record in Triple-A and trail only the PCL’s Oklahoma City Dodgers (81-54).
But with the postseason format pre-determined and homefield advantage not impacted by which team has the better record, the Grizzlies are running out of reasons to care much about their final stretch of games.
Except, of course, pride and individual achievements.
And that shot of joining the parent-club Houston Astros when big-league rosters expand Tuesday, Sept. 1.
From a team standpoint, though, the Grizzlies have only two goals left: Win three more games to set the franchise season record for wins and play better going into the playoffs.
“We definitely want to play better than we have lately and get back on track, get on fire again going into the playoffs,” Grizzlies designated hitter Tyler White said. “It’s not that we’ve been cruising since we won the division. We just ran into a stretch that we haven’t won much lately.”
The Grizzlies, who started August winning 19 of their first 20 games, do have the benefit of getting back on track at home.
The Grizzlies’ final eight regular-season games are at Chukchansi Park, as are their first two PCL playoff games.
“It’s baseball – you’re going to have your highs and lows,” Grizzlies second baseman/outfielder Tony Kemp said.
“It is good to be back here. We just need to keep moving forward. We still have playoff baseball to look forward to. But we can’t look too far ahead.”
Fresno’s opening-round opponent remains unsettled with the Las Vegas 51s (74-62) and El Paso Chihuahuas (72-63) battling for the PCL Pacific Southern Division title.
It’s also unclear which Grizzlies players will get promoted to the Astros with rosters expanding from 25 to 40 players.
The Grizzlies lost two players Monday with outfielder Preston Tucker and relief pitcher Joe Thatcher on their way to Houston to rejoin the Astros as September call-ups.
Will there be other Grizzlies players summoned, too?
Tucker’s departure does allow the Grizzlies to get back to their more usual outfield rotation that proved successful during the first half of August.
On Monday, Alex Presley was back manning right field, with L.J. Hoes in left and Andrew Aplin in center.
Though Tucker led the Grizzlies in home runs before his initial promotion to the Astros in early May, he wasn’tnearly as productive when he returned. Last week, he hit 6 for 29 (.207) with a homer, one run and three RBIs in eight games.
Thatcher, meanwhile, was 0-0 with a 0.94 ERA and 10 strikeouts to four walks in 82/3 innings in nine appearances with the Grizzlies.
“We’ll be fine,” White said. “We just need to get back on track. We’ve got a good opportunity ahead of us.”