Omaha wrapped up the first half of its season last weekend, going 2-3 in a road series against reigning PCL champion Memphis. While the five-game set was only a sample of an 88-game stretch, it encompassed the Storm Chasers’ level of play.
The Redbirds, who boast the league’s best record at the All-Star break at 56-34, claimed the final three games by a combined four runs. The series verified how much closer Omaha (40-48) is to the top of the PCL now than it was in April, when it recorded eight wins.
The Chasers opened the season 8-16 in the first month, playing the majority of those games without injured regulars Adalberto Mondesi and Bubba Starling. Catcher Cam Gallagher, who opened the season with the Royals, wasn’t available, either, leaving manager Brian Poldberg with an everyday lineup that was a lot different than the one that took the field in Memphis last weekend.
“If you take away April, it’s a whole different ball game,” Poldberg said. “We ran in cycles early on. We had a lot of guys who were Double-A guys starting because Mondesi, Bubba and (others) weren’t here.”
The Chasers were 11 games out in the American Northern Division at the end of April. They’ll open the second half of the season hosting Memphis and trailing first-place Colorado Springs by nine games.
Omaha finished the first half near the bottom of the PCL in several offensive categories. But its pitching, for the most part, has been solid and its defense, especially in the infield, has been stellar.
“We were kind of going by our starting pitching,” Poldberg said. “Our starting pitching was good, and our defense was phenomenal. And we’ve done a great job — 95 percent of the time — of making most of the plays.
“When we were going good, that defense went two or three weeks without making an error.”
The recent addition of former Creighton star and Kansas City prospect Nicky Lopez to an infield that already included Ramon Torres, Jack Lopez and Humberto Arteaga has made the defense even better. All four can play second base, third base and shortstop, giving Poldberg flexibility.
“We have three or four different combinations that I wouldn’t hesitate to put out there,” he said. “And that’s a good feeling because you know you can give a guy a day off and not really miss a beat. It’s a good feeling to have to know we have four guys that are interchangeable about anywhere out there.”
In the outfield, offseason acquisition Donnie Dewees joined Terrance Gore and big league veterans Billy Burns and Paulo Orlando in an equally impressive defensive group. And Starling, out since May with another oblique injury, is rehabbing at the rookie league level and may return soon.
PCL All-Star Frank Schwindel and Ryan O’Hearn will continue to share time at first base, while Gallagher and Parker Morin handle catching duties for a staff that should have a strong second half.
Trevor Oaks (5-3), also a PCL All-Star, leads the league with a 2.00 ERA, and Jonathan Dziedzic (3-7) provided the Chasers with eight quality starts during the first half of the year. They’ll be joined in the rotation by Glenn Sparkman (4-1), who suffered his lone Triple-A loss in his latest outing, and Jake Kalish. Kalish (3-3) has gone seven innings in each of his past two starts and boasts a 2.90 ERA.
Omaha, however, will be without Scott Barlow (1-3) as it opens the second half. The right-hander, who has appeared in six games for the Royals this season, is on the disabled list because of a strain.
“It’s going to be a week to not throw, see how he feels, and then a gradual progression,” Polberg said. “It’s going to be a minimum of two to three weeks before he’s ready to put some pressure on it.”
The Chasers will have to make some adjustments, and perhaps rely on a Double-A starter, Poldberg said. A bullpen featuring Eric Stout, Josh Staumont, Richard Lovelady, Kevin Lenik and former Nebraska standout Michael Mariot will continue to carry a heavy workload.
Overall, Omaha’s roster appears capable of a positive surge as it returns to Werner Park on Thursday to open the second half. But with the MLB trade deadline approaching and Kansas City expected to be an active participant, the Chasers could have a different look soon.
Additionally, Poldberg expects some players who are at Double-A Northwest Arkansas will get a taste of the PCL in the coming weeks.
“We’ve got some pieces to go to, and I think there’s going to be some more changes down the road here with some guys in Double-A,” he said. “(The Royals) want to get a feel of what they can do in Triple-A. There’s a chance to see some other stuff here.”