In the second week of the second half of the season, the River Cats find themselves 13 1/2 games out of first place with the second-worst record in the Pacific Coast League, and it doesn’t really matter.
The existential purpose of a minor-league baseball team, after all, is to support the big club. And in their backup role to the Giants’ effort to play deep into October, the River Cats are more accurately located right in the middle of the National League West race.
Remember, it was in these dog days of 2014 that Joe Panik moved up from Triple-A Fresno to second base at a nicer address at AT&T Park. It also was about this time a year ago when the Giants gave up a couple of Triple-A pitchers to acquire Jake Peavy, who plugged a hole in the rotation and helped them win the World Series. In 2012, a collection of minor-league stalwarts figured into deals where the Giants landed outfielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro, important pieces in that World Series run.
They’re like individual contractors. You still want to be a team player and play the game the right way, but realistically, these guys are looking out for their careers.
River Cats manager Bob Mariano on his players’ mindsets
You can make an argument the Giants wouldn’t have won the Series last year without Panik or Peavy or the one in 2012 without Scutaro and Pence.
With El Paso in town tonight at Raley Field, you review the River Cats’ roster and wonder: is there a Panik in the house? Or, who wants to be the next Charlie Culberson, whom the Giants gave up for Scutaro? Can anybody make like Tommy Joseph or Seth Rosin, the players from the Pence acquisition? Or like Edwin Escobar or Heath Hembree, the principals in the trade for Peavy?
“They’re like individual contractors,” River Cats manager Bob Mariano said of the men on his roster. “You still want to be a team player and play the game the right way, but realistically, these guys are looking out for their careers.”
As for the organization, “We’re trying to make them the best players possible,” Mariano said, while focusing on winning the World Series.
Right now, the hot guy down on the farm is Ryan Lollis, the 28-year-old outfielder who began the season in San Jose, where he roughed up the California League well enough to move up to Richmond. In Virginia, Lollis pounded Eastern League pitching to the tune of .471. Such a bat bought Lollis a ticket to Sacramento, where he larded his average to .352 by going 11 for 20 over the weekend in Tacoma, Wash.
The first week in July, Lollis received a call from San Francisco to report to the Giants. With the promotion, Lollis completed a rare single-season advancement up baseball’s food chain – Single to Double to Triple A, and on to the majors.
“To tell him he was going to the major leagues, that was one of the most special times for me in all my years in baseball,” Mariano said.
Lollis failed to get a hit in five at-bats over two games with the Giants, and they sent him back to Sacramento. He struggled for a week before he caught fire in Tacoma the first series out of the break.
“Now he’s got his timing back and he’s raking the ball,” Mariano said.
Adam Duvall, the infield corner man, has been up to the Giants before. He leads the PCL with 23 home runs, and what team can’t use a few of those?
“He’s getting locked in again,” Mariano said. “You never know, potentially, how he could help a club down the road.”
Hard-throwing right-hander Erik Cordier struck out nine batters in seven innings last year in a short stay with the Giants, and Mariano said it wouldn’t surprise him to see San Francisco again send out a summons. A large fellow at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Cordier has struck out 37 in 30 innings for the Cats this year. Batters are hitting a measly .149 against him, although he has walked 19.
“He hit 99 on the gun the other night,” Mariano said. “I think he’s found his rhythm.”
As the second half of the season unfolds, it might be worth keeping an eye on a couple of players recently up from Richmond as longer-term prospects, for San Francisco or some other club with a proven veteran the Giants might want.
You like to win at Triple A, but it isn’t the biggest priority for us. Our priority is to win championships at the major-league level.
River Cats manager Bob Mariano
Mac Williamson is an outfielder who once hit 25 home runs with San Jose but hurt an arm and now is in search of the old power source. Williamson should be getting back from the Pan American Games this week. Utility infielder Kelby Tomlinson has hit .319 since coming up from Double A, where he was batting .324 this year and where he stole 49 bases last year.
Left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt looked like he shored up a sore shoulder with three hitless innings in Tacoma and should be going back soon to San Francisco.
Catcher Hector Sanchez got a recall to San Francisco on Sunday on news of Andrew Susac’s sprained thumb. But you have to worry about Sanchez. He suffered another concussion before the All-Star break, Mariano said. He took 10 days off. Sanchez returned to action in Tacoma and got a couple of hits Saturday.
Looking over the last-place Cats, you learn that winning isn’t everything in Triple A, or even the only thing – or hardly anything.
“You like to win at Triple A, but it isn’t the biggest priority for us,” Mariano said. “Our priority is to win championships at the major-league level.”