Sacramento Notes: Pitching Leading The Way

Despite a constantly changing roster, the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats are in a familiar place atop the Pacific Coast League's Northern Division. For the River Cats, it has been the pitching that has led the way to the team's 32-20 record.

As the Oakland A's have discovered the past few seasons, it is tough to win baseball games if a team can't hit. The A's Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, are proving that while it is tough to win games when the offense is stone cold, it isn't impossible. Despite ranking fourth-to-last in the Pacific Coast League in team OPS and fifth-to-last in runs scored, the River Cats have a comfortable three game lead in their division and are 12 games over the .500 mark.

The River Cats are currently second in the PCL in team ERA with a 3.94 mark, and thanks to an unusual number of extra-inning games, the team leads the league in innings pitched by more than seven innings. The Sacramento bullpen has been especially impressive. The team is 22-1 when leading after eight innings and 10-3 in one-run games. In addition, Sacramento has gone 9-2 in extra-inning contests. The River Cats' staff had an outstanding month of May, helping to push the team to a 20-9 record for the month. In May, Sacramento had a 3.30 ERA and three shut-outs.

"Our pitching has been solid. I can't say enough about how our bullpen has pitched. We've had some timely hits here and there, but it has really been our pitching that has been keeping us close," Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco said on Sunday.

The offense has been a whole other story for Sacramento. Despite a roster that features a number of position players with major league service time, including Daric Barton, Chris Denorfia, Eric Patterson, Eric Munson, Cliff Pennington, Gregorio Petit, Danny Putnam, Jeff Baisley and Aaron Cunningham, the River Cats are batting only .251 with a 716 OPS as a team. DeFrancesco sees better days ahead for the offense, however. "Right now, the pitching is going to keep us there. Our defense is there, as well. I think we are going to get better offensively," DeFrancesco said.

"We are not a .250 ballclub and we are hitting .250 right now and are probably last in run scoring over the last 10 games. I'm starting to see a few guys come through. Denorfia is going to be a ballplayer and show what he is capable of doing and Pennington is going to have to drive some balls and Baisley at third is going to come around. It's going to be a group effort."

Arguably the player with the most notably poor offensive numbers this season is first-baseman Daric Barton. Barton struggled in the big leagues last season, his rookie year, but the 23-year-old is a career .292 hitter with an 850 OPS in 518 minor league games. Through Tuesday, Barton was batting only .223 with two homers and a 685 OPS. Those numbers are mostly reflective of a horrific month of April, during which Barton hit only .149 with no homers and a 483 OPS. He improved dramatically in May, batting .279 with 11 extra-base hits, a 19:11 BB:K ratio and an 837 OPS.

DeFrancesco, who managed Barton in 2006 and 2007 and coached him with Oakland in 2008, thinks that the former top A's prospect is starting to regain his natural stroke.

"He's starting to come back to being the Barton that we all know. Two months of being a slow start, we have to do a better job early in the season to prepare him a little better. Now this is the time where he can really show his stuff and hopefully get back to the big leagues," DeFrancesco said.

In each of the past two seasons, the River Cats have set team records for number of transactions, with injuries in Oakland having a dramatic affect on the Sacramento roster. This year is shaping up no differently, as the team has had roughly 80 transactions through the first two-months plus of the season.

DeFrancesco would like to see the River Cats be more of a one-way source of talent to the major leagues, however.

"One thing is that we like to send guys up and have them stay, but, unfortunately, they are coming back down. They have got to get over that element that you have to perform at that level and compete everyday. That's what is happening," DeFrancesco said.

"They are kind of going up there and whatever is happening, they are on their way back. That is not what this is about. We are about developing major league ballplayers."

Despite the constant roster shuffling and the high number of River Cats who have been sent to Sacramento from Oakland, DeFrancesco says that the morale of the team has been consistently strong.

"We just had a nice talk about what's going on this that room [the clubhouse], the chemistry and the guys pulling for each other. Nobody is selfish. They just go out there and play hard. Right now we have nine or 10 guys position-player wise and they just go out there and play hard each and every game," DeFrancesco said.

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