With the majority of last year’s Triple-A national championship team back, the Fresno Grizzlies had high hopes of repeating.
But with the first two months wrapped up and just over a third of the 144-game season completed, the Grizzlies have yet to perform at a championship level.
And much of the dropoff stems from underwhelming hitting.
Should the Fresno franchise continue at its current pace – the Grizzlies were 24-28 entering Friday and had the fifth-worst record in the 16-team Pacific Coast League – Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco would finish with his worst record in his nine seasons in Triple A.
“There’s a lot of frustration on this team,” DeFrancesco said this week. “It’s starting to carry over now as we get into June. Their stats aren’t where they want to be. There’s a lot of disappointment.
“We’ve really got to buckle down and try to get these guys focused on one game at a time. And just keep preparing every day.”
Good news for the Grizzlies is they might be starting to turn things around, having won seven of their past 10 games.
Nonetheless, this year’s start has been a disappointment compared to the bar set during the Grizzlies’ first season as an affiliate of the Houston Astros. At this point last year, Fresno was in first place in its division at 30-22.
Hitting has been the Grizzlies’ primary problem.
The Grizzlies have the second-worst average in the Pacific Coast League at .246 and the fifth worst on-base-plus-slugging percentage at .722.
Fresno has the PCL’s second-worst batting average at .246 and the fifth-worst on-base-plus-slugging percentage at .722.
The Grizzlies rank 10th in runs and 10th in RBIs, and are hitting just .242 with runners in scoring position.
And that’s with seven position players who spent the majority of last season with the team.
Reigning PCL MVP Matt Duffy, who hit .294 with 20 homers and 104 RBIs last year, is batting .224 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 44 games this season.
Duffy, 27, made the Astros’ season-opening roster before he was optioned to the Grizzlies 10 games into the major-league season.
“I’ve started off slow before, but it’s just been kind of a different year for me,” Duffy said. “Starting in the big league but not playing much, then coming over here and playing pretty much every day right away, it was kind of like spring training all over again.
“I’ve produced numbers in the past. You’ve just got to show up every day. Just come to the yard and put in my work and I trust that the numbers will come.”
.275 Grizzles third baseman Matt Duffy’s average since a brutal April when he hit .120
Duffy has steadily improved, hitting .120 in April, then .275 in May and .286 to begin June.
First baseman A.J. Reed also has started to find a groove, hitting .314 with a homer and five RBIs in his past 10 games.
But overall, Reed has started his first Triple-A season slowly compared to a year ago when he led all minor-league hitters with 34 homers and 127 RBIs between Class A and Double A.
He is batting .254 with seven homers and 26 RBIs, along with a .834 OPS in 39 games this season.
Then there’s fellow first baseman Jon Singleton, who’s tied atop the league with 13 home runs.
But his average has plummeted from .254 to .220, and his on-base percentage has dipped, too, from .359 to .335, along with his OPS from .865 to .811.
In addition, most teams have incorporated significant shifts when Singleton bats, some going extreme and leaving the infield area between second and third bases completely unoccupied.
“Definitely getting pitched a lot differently this year, not as many fastballs most of the time,” Singleton said. “Seems like they’re shifting more, wanting me to hit it to the right side.
“The second time around we play these teams, I think I’ll know better what to expect. It’s going to come around.”
EL PASO CHIHUAHUAS AT FRESNO GRIZZLIES
- Series: 7:05 p.m. Saturday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday, 7:05 p.m. Monday, 11:05 a.m. Tuesday at Chukchansi Park
- Records: Bulldogs 24-28, Chihuahuas 31-22 (entering Friday)
- Radio: KYNO (AM 1430)
- Of note: El Paso is coached by former major league catcher Rod Barajas; Chihuahuas second baseman Nick Noonan played for the Grizzlies in 2011-13; right fielder Hunter Renfroe is batting .325 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.