Express hope to only move up from league’s second-best record

Christian Corona

As the Round Rock Express approach the regular season’s home stretch, they find themselves in an extremely desirable position. Barring a colossal collapse, the Express will play in the PCL playoffs. All that’s left for Round Rock to do before the postseason rolls around is make sure it builds some momentum.

The Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate boasts the league’s second-best record, a PCL American South-best 68-49, just two games behind the PCL Pacific South leader, the 70-47 Sacramento River Cats. Round Rock holds a nine-game lead over the Albuquerque Isotopes, who are just one game above .500, making it that much harder to believe that they once held the division lead. In fact, the Isotopes held that lead as late as June 23, but it took less than two weeks for the Express to erase it and build a seven-game gap of their own.

One of the driving forces behind the Express’ season-altering surge was first baseman Chris Davis, who hit .368, notched a mind-boggling .824 slugging percentage and hit 24 homeruns in only 48 games. Round Rock’s single-season home run record was set in 2005 by Luke Scott, who hit 31 long balls that year but did so in more than twice as many at-bats than it took Davis to hit two dozen.

Davis was busy last month. On July 23, he was called up to the big leagues when Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Eleven days later, Davis and starting pitcher Tommy Hunter were traded to the Baltimore Orioles for right-handed reliever Koji Uehara. Texas acquired both Uehara and former San Diego Padres set-up man Mike Adams to bolster their bullpen and strengthen the bridge between its starting pitchers and flamethrowing closer Neftali Feliz.

Uehara and Adams weren’t the only ones moving around in the Rangers organization. Former Longhorns shortstop Omar Quintanilla and catcher Taylor Teagarden were called up this month: Quintanilla on July 8 after backup middle infielder Andres Blanco went on the disabled list and Teagarden July 29 when Texas put outfielder Craig Gentry on the seven-day concussion disabled list. Since being called up, they’re a combined 2-for-15 (.133) and are still on the big league roster.

It doesn’t stop there, though. The Rangers made two deals with Baltimore within 12 days, the first one coming on July 19 when they dealt southpaw Zach Phillips for minor league utility man Nick Green, who seems to be adjusting to his new surroundings well. In his first 70 at-bats with the Express, Green is hitting .329 and has driven in eight runs.

Round Rock will need Green to stay hot as they prepare for their final contests, nine of which will come against Albuquerque, who should have a heightened sense of urgency considering the sizable amount of ground they need to make up. Then again, the Express could use a few victories to maintain their winning ways and ensure they save their best baseball for last.