The Cruz We All Knew

The feel-good story of former Isotope Luis Cruz and his stellar climb to the Dodgers has taken over Major League Baseball. From ESPN to and even Yahoo! Sports, no one saw it coming.

Unless you were an Isotopes fan.

The writing was on the wall the whole time. A powerful bat that was outpacing the eventual PCL MVP Adam Eaton in doubles (31) and just one extra-base hit (42) shy of Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, matched with a slick glove at shortstop, Cruz was everything and more of a future Major League ballplayer.

And with over 1,200 games in the minors, Cruz had enough experience to make an easy transition to the big leagues. Even if getting there was the most difficult part.

“Sometimes when you’re in the minor leagues you get frustrated, but I never quit,” Cruz told the LA Times. “I always thought I could play here. My dad and my family supported me all the time and now I’m here and very happy.”

So are the Dodgers, who have seen Cruz post the second-highest batting average (behind Matt Kemp) on the team at .295. In a slumping Los Angeles lineup, the former Isotope is proving to be one of the biggest offensive sparks, especially in clutch situations, by hitting an incredible .356 (21-for-59) with runners in scoring position.

Not to mention his three-run homer on Friday that lifted the Dodgers to an 8-5 win over the Cardinals.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s like a dream for me,” Cruz told ESPN. “I’m just trying to go out there and give a hundred percent and play hard every time. I’m having the chance to come through in big situations. I’m not going to say I’m lucky, but I’ve been really concentrating and having good at-bats.”

Aside from his own preparations, Cruz largely credits his father for his continued success at the plate. A veteran of the Mexican League and current hitting instructor for Diablos Rojos, Cruz’s father watches his son’s every at-bat and provides insight on any necessary adjustments in the infielder’s swing.

The advice has often clashed with Cruz’s professional hitting coaches at various levels throughout his career, but after floundering between five different Triple-A teams for the last few years, Cruz decided to stick solely with his father’s instruction.

“He’ll call me and say, ‘You’re jumpy,’ or, ‘Your bat’s doing this,’ or, ‘You’re doing this,’ “Cruz said. “It’s good for me to understand what he’s trying to say. He’s been doing that forever.”

The results have spoken for themselves.

Before his call-up to Los Angeles on July 2, Cruz was hitting a remarkable .318 and ranked tied for second on the ‘Topes with eight homers. Along with Elian Herrera, the pair of hot-hitting Isotopes was called upon by the parent club for a temporary starting position. However, while Herrera had a successful brief stay and returned to Albuquerque, Cruz continues to both maintain and solidify his position on the Dodgers.

“Luis has been really good,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s had success and we’re not going to change it (his starting role) right now.”

Although this isn’t nearly Cruz’s first stint in the Majors, it’s by far his most impressive. He appeared with the Pirates in 2008 and 2009, hitting .224 and .214 respectively, before last reaching The Show with the Brewers in 2010. The difference this year, Cruz said, is he’s been able to play on a day-to-day basis and settle into a groove.

“I’m comfortable here. I’m getting at-bats and that’s why I’m doing this,” Cruz said. “In Pittsburgh I’d play one game and then sit for a week. I didn’t know when I’d ever play.”

As Cruz continues his essential role in the Dodgers’ postseason push, ‘Topes fans can have the luxury of saying we saw (or at least hoped we saw) this type of success coming. Sure, the hitter-friendly PCL helped while he played here, but then again, maybe Cruz was THIS good from the beginning.

And we all almost missed it.

Former Isotope Luis Cruz

Breaking Down PCL Playoffs Round 1: Albuquerque at Omaha

Forgetting the season’s cumulative stats and simply breaking down the team-vs-team matchup, there’s plenty to be optimistic about heading into tonight’s series against the Storm Chasers.

Both teams were on a relative downswing to finish the 2012 campaign, and while each club finished 6-9 over their last 15 games, three of the ‘Topes’ six wins came against Omaha, giving Albuquerque a respectable 4-1 advantage against the ‘Chasers over the clubs’ last five meetings (dating back to July 3).

Furthermore, of those four wins, two have been awarded to upcoming Isotopes starters who will be featured in the first-round series: Stephen Fife, who will start game two, and Derrick Loop, who will get the ball in game three. The pair of ‘Topes hurlers have posted impressive numbers on the season against Omaha, with Fife going 1-2 with a 3.29 ERA and Loop collecting a 1-0 record with a 5.40 ERA.

Game one starter Fernando Nieve has only seen the Storm Chasers twice this season. However, outside of his season debut in which he was shelled by Omaha, the right-hander has rebounded to clamp down on the ‘Chasers’ potent offense, allowing just three earned runs through 6.0 innings in his 7-4 win on April 13.

In the absence of Josh Wall, Albuquerque has been able to rely on consistent innings against Omaha from Scott Rice (3.38 ERA/8.0 IP), Erick Threets (0.00 ERA/3.2 IP) and Cole St. Clair (5.00 ERA/9.0 IP). If Isotopes starters can deliver deep enough outings, the bullpen looks poised to close out several games in the upcoming series.

At the dish, no ‘Tope has looked better than the now-everyday starting catcher Josh Bard. The veteran backstop has batted an unbelievable .500 (12×24) in six games against the ‘Chasers while smashing three doubles and two homers with seven RBI.

Scott Van Slyke and Elian Herrera have also been nearly as dangerous, both hitting over the .400 mark against their upcoming opponent. Van Slyke has provided the power among the duo, ripping 11 extra-base hits, four of which were home runs, and 11 RBI, while Herrera has legged out five three-baggers, stole three bases and scored 10 runs.

On the other side of the field, we take a look at the upcoming starters for the Storm Chasers.

Game One: RHP Jake Odorizzi
The right-hander delivered a strong performance against the ‘Topes on July 2 in Omaha, limited Albuquerque’s bats to just one run on five hits through 5.0 frames of work. However, the bright spot here is Odorizzi’s numbers at home are actually worse than his road stats, with all three of his losses and 10 of his 12 homers allowed coming at Werner Park. Opposing batters have also hit a full .074 points higher when the righty is pitching on his home diamond.

Game Two: LHP Ryan Verdugo
The Storm Chaser’s ace has yet to figure out the Isotopes this year, going 0-0 with an 8.44 ERA through four games. The southpaw has surrendered at least one longball in each of his three starts against Albuquerque and yielded two homers in two of those outings. Though he typically worked six to seven innings in each start against other opponents this year, Verudgo has not lasted more than 4.0 innings against the ‘Topes in 2012.

Game Three: RHP Nate Adcock
The Isotopes got a taste of the righty in their regular-season finale, touching Adcock for two runs on four hits in just 2.0 innings. Though he owns a 1-0 record against Albuquerque, the Isotopes have knocked the hurler around in two of three of his starts, handing the right-hander a 7.84 ERA that included his season-high seven earned runs on June 30.

The team-vs-team matchup seems to favor the ‘Topes heading into the series opener tonight at Werner Park. Omaha captured the season’s series with a 9-7 mark, but as of tonight each team owns a clean slate of 0-0.

First pitch tonight is slated for 6:05 PM MT, and fans wishing to purchase tickets to games three through five (if necessary) at Isotopes Park can do so here: Tickets

The 2012 Season: Playoffs and Records

The Albuquerque Isotopes put an exclamation mark on the 2012 regular season with a 4-3 win over the Omaha Storm Chasers, tying the 2009 club for most wins in a season with 80. The previous night, the ‘Topes became the 2012 PCL American Southern Division champs to earn a berth in the PCL Playoffs.

With the regular-season campaign in the books, here’s a glance at the record-setting year of 2012:

(* denotes ties franchise record)

Team Miscellaneous
PCL American Southern Champs
*Most Wins in a Season: 80
Longest Nine-Inning Game: 4 hours, 2 minutes (8/20 vs. NO)
Top Attendance on a Sunday: 14,194 (9/2 vs. OMA)
Top Attendance Overall: 15,309 (4th Most – 7/4/12 vs. RR)

Team Batting
*Most Hits in a Game: 24 (5/3 vs. OKC)
Most Doubles in a Game: 9 (5/27 vs. OKC)
*Most Triples in a Game: 4 (4/16 vs. OMA)

Team Pitching
* Most Shutouts: 8

Individual Batting
*Most At-Bats in a Game: 8 (Bard, Van Slyke, 4/22 at OKC – 14 Inn.)
*Most Runs in a Game: 4, 4x (Last: Oeltjen, 7/21 vs. Iowa)
*Most Hits in a Game: 5 (Sands, 8/20 vs. NO)
*Most Doubles in a Game: 3, 2x (Last: Federowicz, 8/1 vs. LV)
*Most Triples in a Game: 2 (Herrera, 4/8 at OMA, 9/1 vs. OMA)
*Most RBI in a Game: 8 (Sands, 7/29 at NVL {Game 2})
Longest Hit Streak: 21 (Sands, 7/27-8/20)
Grand Slams in a Game: 2 (Sands, 7/29 at NVL {Game 2})

Individual Pitching
Complete-Game Shutout: John Ely (8/13 vs. TUC {Game 1}, 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO)
Pitching Triple Crown: John Ely (Wins: 14, ERA: 3.20, Strikeouts: 165)

PCL Pitcher of the Year: John Ely
PCL Manager of the Year: Lorenzo Bundy
All-PCL Team: Jerry Sands, John Ely, Josh Wall, Tim Federowicz
Mid-Season All-Star Team: John Ely, Josh Wall, Tim Federowicz
Player of the Week: Jerry Sands (July 23-29), Alex Castellanos (April 16-22)

MLB Debuts
Alex Castellanos
Scott Van Slyke
Stephen Fife
Shawn Tolleson
Elian Herrera
Josh Wall

Playoffs start Wednesday, September 5 with games one and two in Omaha. The Isotopes will return home Friday for game three with first pitch slated for 7:05 PM.

The pitching matchups for the first three games will be:

(G1) Wednesday:
RHP Fernando Nieve vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi

(G2) Thursday: RHP Stephen Fife vs. LHP Ryan Verdugo

(G3) Friday: RHP Nate Adcock vs. LHP Derrick Loop

Fans can purchase their playoff tickets here: