Tony DeFrancesco has had something of a revolving door with his Triple-A Fresno squad all season long. But the Grizzlies have kept on winning.
On Tuesday, the Houston affiliate sealed its first division title win since 1998 with a 7-3 win over the Iowa Cubs in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Principal Park. Fresno became the first Minor League team to clinch in the second half of the season.
"What a great feeling, we have a great group of guys," the skipper said. "I knew we had a big lead going into this final stretch, but it was nice to get it done. Tony Kemp led the game off with a home run, Mark Appel on the mound, just a great feeling for the organization, the city of Fresno and the Astros."
The Grizzlies began August with a 19-1 record -- a stretch DeFrancesco said was one of the best he's ever seen in his 20 seasons of managing -- to garner a big lead in the Pacific Northern Division. Fresno lost three straight, including Monday's day opener to Iowa, but the manager said they kept battling to get that all-important win.
On the second pitch of their second game of the day, Astros' No. 12 prospect Kemp ripped his third PCL homer to right off Felipe Paulino (3-2). Houston's second-ranked prospect Appel (3-2) then kept the I-Cubs at bay, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out five in six innings.
"That's the way baseball is, it ain't going to let you win every game. We had a great game the first game and we knew we had Mark coming in the second game," he said. "[Mark] battled through a couple rough innings, a few walks but his fastball was good, breaking ball was good. He's a guy we're counting on in the future for the Astros."
The Grizzlies lead the circuit with 751 runs, 547 walks and a .360 on-base percentage while ranking second with 146 stolen bases -- marks that DeFrancesco attributes to hitting coach Leon Roberts.
"Guys are willing to bunt, sacrifice, move runners over. We hit and run, we play aggressive baseball. I think we're second in the league in stolen bases also so as a group, it's a very powerful offense. Guys can do a lot of different things and it's a good group of guys, mix of veterans," the manager said. "Matt Duffy, we're trying to get him to be the league MVP, he has 99 RBIs right now. Just the consistency of the whole group."
At the beginning of the season, Fresno had Carlos Correa, then Houston's top prospect. The shortstop quickly made a name for himself after being called up to the big leagues. First baseman Jon Singleton and outfielder Domingo Santana have also spent some time in "The Show," and the Grizzlies shored up the lineup when they weren't around.
"With the Astros winning, these guys know that in September, they have a chance to get to the playoffs, whether it's as a pinch-runner or a guy coming out of the bullpen," DeFrancesco said. "Everybody's excited about where the Astros are and we just want to keep everyone in line, in case they do have a callup, and make sure they're ready."
Until then, DeFrancesco will give all the Grizzlies some rest and set the postseason rotation to prepare for an icy shower similar to the one they had Tuesday night.
"They came after me with the bucket of ice and then we got inside, we had a nice toast to celebrate inside. The guys were into it -- champagne," he said. "Just a fun time for everybody here. A lot of hard work and dedication by the coaching staff, the players and the organization."