(Photo Credit: Jeremy Davis)
After sacrificing more than a handful of their most productive contributors to the big league squad when rosters expanded a few weeks ago, the Oklahoma City Dodgers have stayed focused and fought hard, and are now ready to embark upon their final crusade of the 2016 season — a meeting with El Paso in the Pacific Coast League Championship.
It took OKC all five games to defeat Nashville and advance to the championship round, as the fifth game of the series created a feeling of borderline insanity amongst the Dodgers’ dedicated fanbase.
Trailing 9-7 in what had been a seesaw contest all evening, the Dodgers took the lead for good in the eighth inning when O’Koyea Dickson homered to left-center to bring home Micah Johnson and Cody Bellinger. Righty reliever Jacob Rhame entered the game in the bottom of the frame and shut down the Sounds, but found himself in trouble in the ninth when Nashville loaded the bases with only one out. In the end, Rhame got first baseman Matt Olson and DH Renato Nunez to both pop out in foul territory to secure the two-inning save and seal the 10-9 victory.
OKC manager Bill Haselman is in his first year managing the squad after skippering High-A Rancho Cucamonga last season. Having won two championships over the past three seasons, his résumé continues to become more impressive with each passing year.
El Paso is managed by former big league journeyman catcher Rod Barajas, who, among several other teams, played with the Dodgers in 2010 and 2011. OKC swept the Chihuahuas in a four-game set earlier in the season at home, but the current rosters for both squads have changed a bit since the MLB roster expansions on September 1.
Chase De Jong, a top pitching prospect for the Dodgers, was a beneficiary of the expansion, having secured a spot in the OKC playoff rotation after earning a promotion to Triple-A just before the beginning of the postseason. After spending a few weeks with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, the 2016 Texas League Pitcher of the Year is very impressed with the fight and perseverance of his new squad.
“This is the most mentally tough team I’ve ever seen or had the privilege to be a part of,” De Jong said. “They’ve been a good team all season, but continuing to win games after losing guys [to big league promotions] all year long shows an immense amount of mental toughness. It’s a fun group to play with because we all want to win, and they’re just a bunch of solid ball players going out there and playing the game right.”
Despite having been swept by OKC earlier in the year, El Paso will not be a pushover by any means. They’re best known for their offensive weapons, spearheaded by PCL Player of the Year, Hunter Renfroe. The 24-year-old right fielder hit .306/.336/.537 for the Chihuahuas with 30 home runs, 105 RBI, 34 doubles and 95 runs scored over 133 games. Catcher Austin Hedges also dominated at the dish, having hit .326/.353/.597 with 21 home runs and 82 RBI in 82 games.
As far as pitching matchups go in the best-of-five series, Oklahoma City ace Logan Bawcom will face righty Walker Lockett in the opener on Tuesday, followed by De Jong against southpaw Frank Garces in Game 2. Veteran Alfredo Figaro will square off against Bryan Rodriguez in Game 3, while OKC plans on sending Lisalverto Bonilla to the bump in the fourth game, if necessary.
First pitch for the opener is slated for 7:35 p.m. Central time.