The following information is provided to us by the staff for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The I-70 rivalry meets at the Double-A level this week and the teams will host any current and former military members for free.
Series Preview: Naturals hope to stay dry against Cards
Through the first two weeks of divisional play, weather has played as big of a role as either the Naturals or their various opponents. Since the first 12 games of the season – all against South Division foes – the Naturals have endured six rainouts, only two of which have been made up to this point.
Such weather interruptions have resulted in a fragmented schedule, as rain forced the Naturals to miss three straight days of games between Apr. 23 through 25 and go another two days without playing entering this homestand, due to rain in North Little Rock. Such gaps are extremely rare in the regular schedule, as teams get one travel day between certain series and only during the All-Star break are there two scheduled days off in a row.
For their part, the Naturals battled through this inconsistent schedule to finish the road trip at 3-3, with two games left to be made up in June when the team next heads to North Little Rock. Each of the Naturals’ wins came courtesy of strong starting pitching, highlighted by Will Smith’s outing on Apr. 28 in which he allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings – the longest appearance for any Naturals hurler this season. Mario Santiagofollowed with an impressive performance in a spot start, working six shutout innings in a win over the Travelers two days later. The Naturals’ offense played its part as well, as both Mario Lisson and Jamie Romak homered on back-to-back days during the trip.
While the Naturals’ week kept them near the .500 mark, Tulsa took the opportunity to move ahead in the standings at 13-9, one game ahead of Northwest Arkansas – though the Naturals have two games in hand thanks to the weather. The Travelers sit 2 1/2 games back at 9-0, with these visiting Cardinals a little off the pace at 9-14.
In terms of highly-rated talent, the Cardinals lag behind the rest of the teams in the Texas League’s North Division. Part of that is the result of St. Louis’ place at No. 24 in Baseball America’s organization rankings, but even within the system, most of the Cardinals’ talent is elsewhere in the minor leagues. In particular, the team’s top two prospects, right-hander Shelby Miller and third baseman Zack Cox, both currently play for Advanced-A Palm Beach and could reach Springfield before the end of the season. But for now, Springfield’s roster contains just two players among the organization’s top 30 prospects – catcher Steven Hill (No. 29, currently on the disabled list) and shortstop Ryan Jackson (No. 30).
Despite the team’s slow start, the Cardinals feature a pair of potent forces in the middle of their order. Outfielder Alex Castellanos leads his team with six home runs this season, while first baseman Matthew Adams sits just behind with five. Each player victimized Naturals pitching during the team’s recent series in Springfield.
The series opens up on Tuesday night as Chris Dwyer (1-2, 4.19) takes the mound for the first time since suffering a tough-luck loss against the Cardinals on Apr. 26, when two of the three runs he allowed were unearned. He’ll face Springfield’s Nick Additon (1-0, 2.60), who pitched eight innings of two-run ball against the Naturals on Apr. 27 and has recorded 25 strikeouts against only one walk this season.
After a quick turnaround, the teams will play the second game of the series at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Tasked with the early wake-up call will be John Lamb (0-1, 3.86) and Deryk Hooker (0-3, 9.16). Lamb turned in his best start of the year his last time out, allowing two runs (both unearned) over five innings against Springfield on Apr. 27. Hooker allowed four runs over six innings against the Naturals on Apr. 28 and has now lost each of his last three starts.
Thursday marks a return to the typical evening start time, as Smith (1-2, 6.48) pitches for the first time since that impressive outing on Apr. 28. Scheduled to start for Springfield is Michael Blazek (1-1, 5.55), who has given up at least three runs in each of his starts but struck out a season-high eight last time out.
The series wraps up on Friday night, when Heath Rollins (0-2, 6.35) looks to regain the form he showed in his first start of the season, when he allowed just one run on three hits in six solid innings. He matches up against Scott Schneider (1-2, 2.83), who has three quality starts this season but has gotten only enough run support to win one, when he beat Midland on Apr. 18. Schneider has racked up 23 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings this season.
Naturals offer Military free tickets
SPRINGDALE, AR – Inspired by the bravery of the Navy Seals in Sunday night’s mission in Pakistan, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals would like to recognize and thank all military members – active and retired – with free tickets to any of the next four home games at Arvest Ballpark, starting Tuesday evening.
Two free tickets in the best available seating will be offered with presentation of a military ID at the ticket window. This offer is valid for games through Friday evening only and is not valid with any other offer.
“The amazing work of our military is appreciated every day,” Naturals’ General Manager Eric Edelstein said. “In light of our military’s recent accomplishments abroad, we want to extend a special thank you to those who serve so we may enjoy our freedom.”
In addition, since Arvest Ballpark opened, the Naturals have offered a standing $1 ticket discount to active and retired Military at every home game. Like this special offer, that discount is accessible by presenting a military ID at the ticket office window.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. The Naturals have a toll-free ticket hotline (1-877-444-2637) for fans to purchase Naturals tickets. Our website, nwanaturals.com offers fans the opportunity to purchase tickets online and avoid lines at the ticket windows by printing their tickets at home or at the office.