All Things Must Pass

After two full weeks that contained 11 straight wins and some of the most dominating baseball any minor league team has played this season, the PawSox finally lost a game on Sunday.  Scranton defeated Pawtucket 3-1 in a game that the PawSox could not muster any offense against Yankees prospect right-hander Bryan Mitchell.

The PawSox were shutout on only three hits for 8 2/3 innings Sunday before plating a run with two outs in the ninth when Ryan Lavarnway singled to center.  Carlos Rivero then lined out to right with the tying runners on base to end the game and the franchise-record winning streak.

Not to make excuses, but after an 8-5 win on Saturday night that lasted 3 hours and 51 minutes the Sunday matinee was played without several regulars in the lineup.  Alex Hassan (first in 17 games), Travis Shaw (only fifth since his promotion to Pawtucket), Dan Butler and Jonathan Herrera each had the day off as the team lost for the first time in 15 days.

Now that it is finished, lets take a look at the anatomy of the 11-game run that lasted from Sunday, July 13 through Saturday, July 26th.

-Pawtucket went 7-0 on the road and 4-0 at home during the 11-game stretch.
-The PawSox outscored their opponents by 39 runs in those 11 games (71-32).
-Pawtucket pitching allowed three runs or fewer in nine of those 11 contests. The team ERA was 2.88 during the streak.
-The PawSox offense batted .313 with 13 home runs during the 11 games.  The team averaged 6.5 runs per game.
-Pawtucket had not swept a single series all season before the streak. The squad swept three during the 11-game stretch (4 games vs. Buffalo, 2 games at Syracuse and Lehigh Valley).

Perhaps most impressively, the PawSox went from 8.5 games behind division-leading Syracuse when the streak began to only 0.5 games back after their 11th straight win on Saturday night.  It helped that the Chiefs dropped 8 of 10 games over the past two weeks before earning a victory on Sunday.

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Manager Kevin Boles has done a terrific job getting the PawSox back into contention for a Division crown

The four-week stretch during which the PawSox will have played 18 of 22 games away from McCoy Stadium will finally end on Monday night in Scranton.  Pawtucket is a remarkable 16-5 in the first 21 games of that rough portion of the schedule.

Following Monday night’s game the PawSox will play 19 of their final 33 games at home.  That stretch begins with a seven-game homestand that includes a huge three-game series with first-place Syracuse Wednesday through Friday.  Regardless of Monday’s outcome in Scranton, Pawtucket will have a chance to overtake the Chiefs for first place by Friday night.  That hardly seemed possible just two weeks ago.

As we get set for one final game away from home, here are some notes to get your Monday started:

-Guess who’s hot again?  Mookie Betts has hit in seven straight games since going hitless in his return to Triple-A on Sunday July 20th.  In the first three games of the series at Scranton, Betts is 7-for-14 with a home run including a four-hit game on Friday night.

Speaking of Mookie, check out MLB.com’s updated rankings for the Top 100 prospects in Minor League Baseball.  There are three Red Sox farmhands in the top 30 of this list.

-Lavarnway, Pawtucket’s primary first-baseman and cleanup hitter for the first two months of the season, rejoined the club this weekend as part of his MLB rehab assignment.  He is coming back from a broken bone in his left wrist suffered on May 29th while with Boston.

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Ryan Lavarnway is attempting to rejoin Boston following a two-month DL stint

Lavarnway has hit extremely well during his rehab stint, going 8-for-22 (.364) over his first seven games with a home run, two doubles and five RBI.  The first five of those games came in the GCL or Portland.

-The PawSox are undefeated in their last nine road series.  With a win on Monday they will be 4-0-5 in those nine, dating back to a four-game set at Durham in the beginning of June.

-Congrats to Allen Webster, who got the win for Boston Sunday at Tampa Bay despite walking five batters in 5 1/3 innings.  You have to wonder if Webster will stay in the big-league rotation to fill Jake Peavy’s vacated spot, or if the Red Sox would look back at Brandon Workman moving forward.

Workman has won his two starts since the All-Star break and allowed only one total run in 11 innings pitched.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out!

-More Mookie…I chatted with Betts for Saturday’s PawSox Insider show, a lot of which revolved around his four-week experience up in the Major Legaues.  He also provides some great insight into his position change and tells how long its been since he got to unpack his bags.  The full conversation is below:

Knuckleballer Steven Wright takes the ball for the PawSox Monday night as they look to finish the road trip with a 7-1 record and take three of four from the RailRiders.  Pregame radio coverage starts at 6:50pm, hope to talk to you through the airwaves.  Until then, have a great Monday!

Josh M

Middlebrooks/PawSox Take Hot Streak To Scranton

Wow!  What a week it was for the PawSox after the All-Star break. Did anybody really see THIS coming?

Pawtucket has gone 8-0 since returning from the break with a four-game sweep of Buffalo followed by two-game sweeps of Syracuse and Lehigh Valley.  Three sweeps in a row after the squad hadn’t swept a single series all season in its first 26 played!  And during the most recent stretch of his long and winding MLB rehab assignment, third-baseman Will Middlebrooks has been one of the biggest catalysts.

Middlebrooks

Will Middlebrooks is putting up big power numbers in his most recent rehab with the PawSox

Middlebrooks has played the ENTIRE GAME for seven straight contests (that’s right, no five-to-seven inning appearances in which he is removed after only 3-4 at-bats) and has re-discovered his power stroke.  Will homered in each game of the series in Allentown and is now 9-for-28 (.321) with three home runs in those seven games.

Don’t forget, Middlebrooks also had a would-be home run taken away from him last weekend when Buffalo’s Kevin Pillar leaped over the fence to bring one back.  Right now he looks every bit the power-hitting corner infielder the Red Sox had hoped to see from day one this season.  It will be very interesting to see when the Boston brass decide to bring Will back to the big league club.

The PawSox have now won nine straight to match their longest winning streak of the modern era, outscoring its opponents 53- 25 in those nine contests.  This is the first time since April 2012 the team has taken nine in a row and only the second since 2000.  They will look to reach double digits for the first time in modern franchise history on Friday night at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Scranton has played extremely well against Pawtucket thus far this season.  The RailRiders are 5-3 in head-to-head meetings including a four-game split at PNC Field just over one month ago. The PawSox’s trip to PA last month was highlighted by one of the games of the year, a come-from-behind 3-2 victory for Pawtucket on June 20th thanks to Mookie Betts’ game-winning hit against Heath Bell.

Dave Miley’s squad is still the only visiting team to win a four-game series at McCoy Stadium this season (took 3 of 4 from May 17-20).  The RailRiders just won the final five games of their southern road trip (one at Charlotte, then a four-game sweep at Gwinnett).  Scranton outscored its opponents 40-11 in those five affairs.  It will be a difficult series for sure between the two hottest teams in the IL.

A look at the standings shows the PawSox right back in the thick of the race for the Northern Division title.  Before the current winning streak Pawtucket was 8.5 games behind division-leading Syracuse.  After taking a pair of wins in Lehigh Valley on Thursday night the squad is only 2.5 out, having made up a remarkable six games of ground during a nine-game stretch.

It’s an exciting time to be following the PawSox.  Should be a fun stretch run over the final six weeks of the season.  Before we hit the weekend, I thought I would pass along a couple of links definitely worth checking out if you have some time.

-The story of Brock Holt’s rise to prominence this season has started to gain national attention.  Holt, who began the season in Pawtucket, leads all Major League batters in hits since May 20.  Check out this great two-part feature on Holt and his underdog story by MassLive’s Jason Mastrodonato.

brock holt majors

Brock Holt has been one of the great stories in baseball this season

-Roger Angell, one of the great baseball writers of all-time, will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in Cooperstown this weekend.  Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci honors Angell with an essay worthy of that award.  It’s a great read.

-Earlier this week I sat down with PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur for a “state of the pitching staff” conversation.  Rich adds some good insight into recent adjustments made by Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Alex Wilson and Drake Britton, among other topics.  The entire interview can be heard below:

Game one of the series in Scranton begins at 7:05pm on Friday night.  Anthony Ranaudo (11-4, 2.54) tries to become the IL’s first 12-game winner and tries to lead the PawSox to a tenth straight victory.  Tune in for the broadcast from PNC Field beginning at 6:50pm.  Should be a fun one.

Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo tries to pitch Pawtucket to its 10th straight win on Friday night

Have a great weekend, talk to you on the radio!

Josh M

PawSox Rollin’, Mookie Returns

When Mookie Betts was promoted to Boston on Saturday, June 28th, I figured we had probably seen the last of the young phenom in Pawtucket.  After all, his rise from A-ball to the Major Leagues in one calendar year was so impressive that Mookie seemed destined to remain a staple in the Sox lineup for the remainder of this season and many others to come.

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Mookie Betts appeared in ten games with Boston before being optioned back to the PawSox on Saturday

A slight problem derailed Betts’ momentum – a lack of available at-bats in John Farrell’s lineup.  In the four weeks Mookie spent up in the big leagues, more and more players joined the fight for playing time.  Outfielders Daniel Nava (.382 in July) and Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.375 in July) began to really hit.  Mike Carp returned from the DL and collected a few big hits.  Betts started only nine of the 16 games he was around for in Boston.

When Shane Victorino was activated from the DL on Saturday, it became apparent that Betts could not be anything more than a spare part for a team hoping to make a mid-season rally.  Playing only once or twice a week is unacceptable for a young player of Mookie’s caliber, so the Red Sox did exactly what they needed to.  They sent the 21-year-old back to the PawSox to be in the lineup every night.

Betts went 0-for-4 in his return to Pawtucket on Sunday, snapping his on-base streak at 23 consecutive games at the beginning of his Triple-A career.  Considering Mookie’s lack of at-bats in the past few weeks, it would be understandable if he struggles for a few days at the outset of his return to the minors.  But I would expect him to return to his early-season form in short order.

Meanwhile, a PawSox lineup that has recently gotten stronger and stronger just received another huge boost with Mookie rejoining the team.  Travis Shaw’s three-run home run gave the squad a 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Sunday and a four-game sweep of the Bisons following the All-Star break. The win moved Pawtucket a season-high-matching seven games above .500 (55-48) for the second time this season (23-16 on May 12th).

Anthony Ranaudo, pitching on nine-days rest, won his league-high-matching 11th game of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.54 with 6 2/3 strong innings of work.

Pawtucket’s second-half offensive surge continues.  In the first half of the season, the PawSox batted .236 while averaging 3.7 runs per game.  With the pitching staff rarely receiving a lot of support, the club struggled to a 35-37 first-half record.

Thus far through 31 games of the second half the team is hitting .288 (315-1094) and scoring 5.5 runs/game.  Not coincidentally more wins have followed suit – Pawtucket is 20-11 this half and has moved right into the thick of the IL playoff picture.  The PawSox are only 1/2 game behind Rochester for the wild card spot and 5.5 games behind Syracuse for the division lead.

Now the squad continues a stretch of playing 18 of 22 games away from McCoy Stadium (July 4-July 28) with an eight-game trip beginning Monday night in Syracuse.  Starting with two meetings at NBT Bank Stadium this week, the PawSox still have seven games remaining against the North Division leaders.  It is becoming more and more conceivable that Pawtucket could give the Chiefs a run for the division crown.

Syracuse Stadium

NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse

Allen Webster (4-4, 3.05), who had his turn in the rotation skipped prior to the All-Star break, gets the ball against Aaron Laffey (11-3, 3.15) in what should be a great pitching match-up to open the two-game set.  Before Monday night’s affair, here are a few noteworthy items for your reading pleasure:

-The PawSox have lost only one of their last 12 series played (beginning June 3-6 at Durham, 5-1-6 in those 12).  The lone series loss came in a two-gamer against Rochester from July 2-3.  Pawtucket is 5-0-5 in its last ten four-game series.  The team has not lost any of its last six road series played (1-0-5).

-Over the weekend, Will Middlebrooks had his best three-game stretch while rehabbing with the PawSox this season.  Beginning a third injury rehab assignment since fracturing his right index finger in mid-May, Middlebrooks played the entire game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and showed no ill-affects from his various ailments.  He went 4-for-10 with a sacrifice fly and a home run in those three contests.

-Pawtucket has collected three separate four-game winning streaks in the last four weeks.  The squad had only one four-game winning streak in the nearly three months of action prior to the past four weeks.

-Kudos to Tommy Layne, the PawSox closer by default for the past two months.  After picking up a save Sunday while protecting a one-run lead, Layne is a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities this season.  He also tossed a scoreless inning in the Triple-A All-Star game last week.  Layne could be an option for the Boston bullpen as a mid-to-late inning lefty in the not-too-distant future.

-Pawtucket has won 10 of its last 13 home games dating back to a 16-5 win over Norfolk on June 25th.  Heading into that game the PawSox were 20-20 at McCoy on the season.  They are now 30-23, the third-best home record in the IL.

-Buffalo centerfielder Kevin Pillar had a super-impressive weekend despite his team getting swept at McCoy.  Pillar, who collected four extra-base hits in the series including a homer against Ranaudo on Sunday, made several highlight-reel catches.  None was better than this one, a grab that robbed a home run from Middlebrooks and is one of the best catches I have ever seen in person.

-On Saturday’s PawSox Insider show I sat down with Andres Torres to chat about his signing with the Red Sox in an attempt to make it back to the big leagues after a serious injury.  Torres, a 36-year-old native of Puerto Rico, is one of the more likeable guys in the game.  Below is a link to the interview:

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Andres Torres has been a great addition to the PawSox lineup

Hope you had a terrific weekend.  Should be a fun week on the road for the PawSox, be sure to tune in to the broadcasts with me and Jeff.  Talk to you on the radio!

Josh M

Who Are These Guys?

The PawSox scored 11 runs and pounded out 16 more hits Thursday night to win their fourth straight game, a dominating victory in the series opener at Toledo.  It is only the third time this season the team has won at least four games in a row.

Last night’s win was highlighted by a seven-run top of the seventh inning that lasted 42 minutes!  In all, 12 batters came to the plate, six of them recorded hits and three walked against three different Mud Hens pitchers.  Corey Brown drew two free passes in the inning while Mike McCoy had two hits including a two-run double that capped the rally.

The PawSox lineup looks as prolific as it has all season, and a big reason for it has been the production from two veterans at the top of the order.  Jonathan Herrera has collected three straight multi-hit games since being optioned from Boston.  He is now 7-for-15 with a double in three games played.

After starting just 1-for-8 in his first three games with Pawtucket, Andres Torres is 13-for-33 (.393) with three homers and seven RBIs in his last seven contests.  Torres hit a game-winning two-run blast in the tenth inning earlier this week in Columbus.

Right now with those two setting the table the folks in the middle of the order are having an RBI feast.  Travis Shaw (15 RBIs in his last 16 games played), Alex Hassan (13 RBI in his last 16 games played) and Brown (8 RBI in his last 7 games played) have been on run-producing tears.

In the last 24 games played Pawtucket has raised its team batting average 14 points, from .236 to .250!  That is hard to do nearly 100 games deep into the season.  During that time the PawSox have hit .286 (243-for-849) and averaged 5.6 runs/game (134 total).

This is really looking like a different PawSox team than the one I wrote about at the midway point of the season last month – the version that won games with pitching and defense and hoped to scratch out enough runs.  I said then that if the squad could get some consistent offense this could be a playoff contender.  Don’t look now, but the team is now just 3.0 games out of the wildcard spot (Pawtucket is 50-46, Rochester 53-43.)

Here are a few more notes to get you ready for the final three games before the All-Star break:

-Hassan has been on a doubles binge that past few weeks.  He has collected 12 two-baggers in his last 15 games played including one in each of his last six games contests!  The Quincy native now leads the IL with 25 doubles this season.

Alex Hassan

Alex Hassan has been a different looking hitter since returning from the Major Leagues one month ago

When he was called up to Boston on May 30th, Hassan was hitting .217 with Pawtucket for the season.  Since returning on June 9th, the outfielder has batted .347 (33-for-95) in 26 games and raised his season average to .267.  Not a bad month!

-Welcome to backup catcher Matt Spring, a very popular figure in the clubhouse wherever he is.  Spring was promoted to the PawSox Thursday to take the spot of Christian Vazquez following Vazquez’s promotion to the big leagues.  Here is a sample of Twitter reaction to the Spring roster move yesterday:

Looking forward to having Matt around the Pawtucket clubhouse for the first time since 2012.  He came in in the eighth inning Thursday night at Toledo and flew out in his first at-bat.

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Matt Spring brings a great attitude and a great haircut to the PawSox

-It will be interesting to see how Manager Kevin Boles gets playing time for Ryan Roberts now that Deven Marrero and Herrera have arrived and will play the infield most nights.  Roberts is batting .358 (19-for-53) over his last 14 games played with eight RBIs and has been a cleanup hitter three times during that stretch.  His bat is so hot right now that he’s a tough guy to leave out of the lineup.

-Garin Cecchini missed Thursday’s game after suffering a scary-looking shoulder injury in a home plate collision Wednesday in Columbus.  The good news is the injury is not believed to be serious and Garin hopes to play again before the All-Star break.

-With Brandon Workman back from the Major Leagues for at least one turn in the rotation, we have not yet heard if or when he will pitch with the PawSox.  He is currently on the same schedule as Allen Webster, who is tentatively slated to start Sunday night in Toledo.  Stay tuned.

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Brandon Workman is back with the PawSox…at least for now

-Below is a conversation I had with PawSox closer Tommy Layne earlier this week.  He talked about making his Boston Red Sox debut last weekend and about the mentality of finishing ballgames for the first time in his career:

Game two of the series in Toledo Friday night begins at 7:00pm.  The PawSox will look for their fifth straight win, something they have only accomplished one other time this season (during the team’ six-game winning streak at the end of June.)  Chris Hernandez gets the ball on the mound looking to bounce back from a loss in Columbus on Sunday.

Hope you enjoyed, wishing you a great weekend.  Talk to you on the radio from Ohio tonight at 6:45!

Josh M

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