Sure enough, the Salt Lake Buzz are in a pennant race. Who would have thunk it? Especially since the Buzz were down 14 1/2 games to the first-place Fresno Grizzlies at the All-Star break.
The Buzz will have a second chance to catch the front-running Grizzlies as they begin a four-day, six-game series tonight at 7 p.m. at Franklin Covey Field - but this time they can't afford to blow it.The Buzz faced a similar situation in mid-June as they trailed Fresno by five games heading into a pivotal four-game series at Fresno. The Grizzlies swept the Buzz, which subsequently sent Salt Lake into a tailspin when it went 8-15 to end the first half of the season to fall to 39-41.
"Fresno hasn't cooled off yet," Salt Lake manager Phil Roof said. "They've played well continuously. It's time for then to have a cool spell."
The Buzz, meanwhile, are thermal viscosity breakdown hot. Since the break they're 20-7 and have whacked 10 games off the Fresno lead. They're in the middle of a six-game winning streak following a four-game sweep of the New Orleans Zephyrs.
"We want to have control of our own destiny, we really don't want to have to worry about what other teams do," Buzz left-hander Benj Sampson said. "Hopefully we'll have a good series against them and get right up there."
Roof says the Buzz haven't been looking ahead to Fresno by looking past New Orleans - a fact supported by the fact the Buzz completed the four-game sweep over the Zephyrs.
He said his team will tackle the Grizzlies with the same cliched approach that's served them so well the past three weeks - one pitch, one out, one inning, one game at a time.
"It should be thrilling, because, I think, we're the team that's played them heads up this summer," Roof said. "I don't think we're playing with a lot of pressure. We're playing hard and playing good."
And that, the relaxed attitude, may be a key heading into this weekend's series.
"I think the last time we may had put a little too much pressure on ourselves and too much pressure on that series and we went in there and struggled and lost four of five to them," Sampson said. "I think the biggest thing right now is to go in there when they come in and play like we've been playing. Our pitching has been pretty steady and we're getting the runs when we need them."
"You've got to put that past you," Sampson said of the weak previous series with the Grizzlies. "It's a long season and you never want to build you're whole season on one series. For us to make a move on them we have to play steady."
While the situation may be similar, the cast of characters are definitely different this time around.
Most notably, the Grizzlies lost outfielder and top prospect Jacob Cruz in the multi-player deal that sent Cruz to the Cleveland Indians for right-hander bullpen-fireballer Jose Mesa to the parent San Francisco Giants.
"They have been playing great all year," Sampson said. "They have lost a few of their players with trades and guys getting called up, but they're still playing good ball, so we're going to have to play good to beat them."
BEELINES: The parent Minnesota Twins recalled pitchers Frank Rodriquez and Travis Baptist and outfielder Chris Latham from Salt Lake. . . . If the Buzz fail to make a significant move in the series), they will have a difficult time making up ground as they still have to make the tough Midwest swing at Iowa and Omaha - currently first and second place respectively in the Central Division. The Grizzlies, who just completed a 12-game homestand, follow the Salt Lake roadtrip with 12 more games at home with Las Vegas, Colorado Springs and Nashville. . . . With only eight more series' left in the season for both clubs, the Buzz face only two teams (Albuquerque and Tucson) with losing records, while the Grizzlies meet three teams with sub. 500 marks in Colorado Springs, Nashville and Tucson twice.
Buzz's games remaining
Aug. 6-10 FRESNO (65-44)
Aug. 11-14 at Las Vegas (58-53)
Aug. 15-18 CALGARY (60-49)
Aug. 19-22 TUCSON (46-65)
Aug. 23-26 at Iowa (68-44)
Aug. 27-30 at Omaha (63-47)
Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at Albuquerque (45-66)
Sept. 4-7 IOWA (as above)
Combined records 405-368
Grizzlies' games remaining
Aug. 6-10 at Salt Lake (60-48)
Aug. 11-14 LAS VEGAS (58-53)
Aug. 15-18 COLO. SPRINGS (45-66)
Aug. 19-22 NASHVILLE (49-63)
Aug. 23-26 at Tucson (46-65)
Aug. 27-30 EDMONTON (58-53)
Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at Tacoma (58-54)
Sept. 4-7 at Tucson (as above)
Combined records 374-402