Ready For The Postseason!

After 144 games played, 141 unique starting lineups and 204 roster moves (and counting), the PawSox are in the IL playoffs and ready to take on Syracuse in the semifinal round.  Its a battle of the top two teams in the league this season and should be a terrific best-of-five series.

Pawtucket won 79 games this season (79-65), only one fewer than it did in 2013 (80-63).  The team won five of its final eight contests after Buffalo had pulled in to a tie in the wild card standings on August 24th.  The playoff-clinching game, game #143 on the season, came on Sunday night (and actually ended on Monday morning after a lengthy rain delay) against Rochester.

The PawSox had a record of 39-41 after a rough 10-inning home loss to Norfolk on June 24th.  They finished by going 40-24 over the final two-plus months including a franchise-record 11-game winning streak in July.  The squad earned a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season, extending its franchise-record streak in the process.

Kudos to all of the players and coaches for a great year!  As we get ready for game one of the postseason on Wednesday night, here are some news and notes for your reading pleasure:

-Congrats to Mookie Betts and Anthony Ranaudo, who were named as the PawSox’s Most Valuable Player/Pitcher for 2014.  Betts, who only played in 45 games, batted .335 with five homers, 31 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.  Most impressively, the team went 30-15 in games that Betts played while only 49-50 without Mookie in the lineup.

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Mookie Betts was named PawSox Team MVP despite playing in only 45/144 games

Ranaudo led the IL in wins (14), ERA (2.61) and opponent batting average (.223) while finishing third in WHIP (1.20).  His last loss came on June 1st.  The righty from New Jersey made only three starts with Pawtucket after July 25th because of three different promotions up to Boston.

-Garin Cecchini turned around a rough mid-season slump with a flourish at the finish.  In his final 21 regular-season games (beginning August 9th) Cecchini batted .382 (29-for-76) with two homers, ten doubles and 21 RBI.  He also returned to third base for the majority of the month, including playing at the hot corner in his final ten games played.

-Pawtucket had a winning record in four of the five months during the regular season including a 16-14 mark in August.  The PawSox struggled at home during the season’s final month, going only 6-10 at McCoy compared to 10-4 on the road.

-Beginning on July 7th, the squad won 21 of its final 29 road contests and finished 41-31 away from home, tied with Columbus for the best road mark in the IL.  Pawtucket dropped only three road series all year (all in May) and none of its last 13.

-I wrote at the midway point of the season that the PawSox (35-37 at the time) should make a run at the playoffs if the offense made some improvements.  Well, the improvements happened and the playoff run happened indeed.

In the first 72 games games of the season, Pawtucket’s offense batted .236 and averaged only 3.7 runs per game.  Over the final 72 contests the team batting average improved 39 points to .275 and the runs scored went up to 5.2 per night.  Not surprisingly, the record improved dramatically to 44-28.

-Justin Henry had a phenomenal finish to the season.  After returning from a lengthy DL stint on July 31st, Henry played in 22 games and batted .342 (27-for-79), the eighth-best average in the league during that time frame.  He started the final eight games of the season and batted third in the order the last two.

-Three PawSox were recalled to Boston after the Major League rosters expanded earlier this week: pitchers Steven Wright and Brandon Workman and catcher Dan Butler.  Butler, who went hitless in his first big-league stint in August, batted .385 (10-for-26) in his seven games after returning to Pawtucket.

-As mentioned earlier, PawSox skipper Kevin Boles repeated a starting lineup only THREE TIMES in 144 regular-season games.  After June 12th, Pawtucket used a different lineup for the final 75 games.  Here were the repeats:

May 2nd & May 13th (1-1 record):
1. Brock Holt
2. Ryan Roberts
3. Daniel Nava
4. Ryan Lavarnway
5. Bryce Brentz
6. Garin Cecchini
7. Christian Vazquez
8. Corey Brown
9. Alex Hassan

June 4th & June 5th (1-1 record):
1. Mookie Betts
2. Garin Cecchini
3. Ryan Roberts
4. Travis Shaw
5. Christian Vazquez
6. Corey Brown
7. Dan Butler
8. Mike McCoy
9. Shannon Wilkerson

June 10th & June 12th (2-0 record):
1. Mookie Betts
2. Mike McCoy
3. Travis Shaw
4. Carlos Rivero
5. Corey Brown
6. Garin Cecchini
7. Christian Vazquez
8. Alex Hassan
9. Dan Butler

Other than these three, every other lineup created by Boles this season was used just one time!

-Rusney Castillo, the much-heralded Red Sox international signee from Cuba, will play for Double-A Portland in their Eastern League playoff series against Binghamton beginning on Wednesday night.  There had been some speculation that Castillo might join Pawtucket for its postseason.

-Here are a couple of interesting interviews from the previous two weeks of PawSox Insider shows.  First, Bryce Brentz talked about his frustrating road back from a hamstring injury that cost him nearly half of the season:

-Next, here is a conversation with Dan Butler about his first taste of the Major Leagues and all the great pitchers he’s caught in Pawtucket this season:

Lefty Edwin Escobar gets the call for the PawSoxagainst Chiefs righty Taylor Hill in game one of the series on Wedneday night at 7:05 pm.  Hope to see you at McCoy – if not Jeff and I will talk to you on the radio!

Josh M

Thursday Notes – Big Games Looming

As of Thursday afternoon, the PawSox have 12 games remaining in the regular season.  Eight of those 12 will be against teams they are directly battling for one of two available playoff spots (North Division title, wild card winner).  Pawtucket plays four games at Buffalo beginning Saturday night, then hosts Syracuse and Rochester for a pair each over Labor Day weekend.

Syracuse, winners of 12 of 16 since August 4th, currently holds a 3.0 game advantage over the second-place PawSox for the division lead.  Rochester and Buffalo are each 3.0 games behind Pawtucket in the wild card race.  All four teams are very much alive in the postseason chase, which should make for an a fun finish to the campaign.

After being swept in a four-game series by Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the PawSox have bounced back and shut out Lehigh Valley in back-to-back games the last two nights by a combined 16-0.  Perhaps the RailRiders just had Pawtucket’s number – Scranton went 7-1 at McCoy Stadium this year and 11-5 overall against Kevin Boles’ squad.  Things have certainly turned around now that the IronPigs have come to town.

Here are some noteworthy items to check out before game seven of the current homestand on Thursday night:

-Chalk up another fantastic start for Matt Barnes on Wednesday against Lehigh Valley (6.1 IP, 2H, 0R, 3BB, 7K) .  Barnes retired 17 of the first 18 batters he faced and looked completely dominant against the helpless IronPigs.  In his last two starts at home, Barnes has tossed 13.1 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits!  He has now allowed only seven runs in six starts since the All-Star break (38.2 IP).

-The PawSox are using their 130th unique batting lineup Thursday (spots 1-9, regardless of defensive position) in the team’s 133 games played.  Kevin Boles has not repeated any lineup since June 12th, a span of 64 straight with a different order.  Pretty wild I think.

-Ryan Lavarnway left Wednesday night’s game with concussion-like symptoms.  It was especially a shame for Lavarnway, who has had a fantastic offensive homestand.  In five games played during the stand, he is 7-for-11 with seven walks, three runs scored and an RBI.  Lavarnway reached base in nine straight plate appearances three hits, six walks) from Monday night through the fourth inning of Wednesday’s contest.

Speaking of Lavarnway, below is an interview I did with the 27-year-old earlier this week in which he discussed the challenges of coming back from surgery to repair a broken hamate bone.

-Steven Wright, optioned back from Boson on Tuesday, is now slated to start for the PawSox in the homestand finale Friday night against Lehigh Valley.  Wright is 0-2 with a 4.18 ERA in his last four starts with Pawtucket (23.3 IP, 26H, 15R, 11ER).  It will be a big help to the rotation to have the knuckleballer return to his dominating form of earlier this season.

-Jackie Bradley Jr. is in the leadoff spot and playing centerfield for the fourth straight night Thursday since being optioned to Pawtucket on Monday afternoon.  Through his first three games with the PawSox Bradley Jr. is 2-for-15 with six punchouts.

-Anthony Ranaudo has to be the favorite to win the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher award.  The right-hander, who earned his league-best 14th win of the season on Tuesday by blanking Lehigh Valley for six innings, is second in the IL in ERA (2.46), third in WHIP (1.18) and first in opponent batting average (.218).  He has only made two starts with Pawtucket since July 26th because of his two Major League call-ups.

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Henry Owens is 1-1 over his first three starts with Pawtucket

Thursday night’s game begins at 7:05 with super-prospect Henry Owens making his fourth start at Triple-A.  After shutting out Columbus for 6 2/3 innings in his spectacular debut, Owens has allowed four runs in each of his last two outings.  The southpaw will look to regain his top form against a Lehigh Valley squad that hasn’t scored a run in 18 innings of the series.

Thanks for checking in, I look forward to seeing you at McCoy or talking to you on the radio!

Josh M

The Final Countdown…Two Weeks To Go!

After a tough weekend against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in which the squad dropped three straight, the PawSox are down to their final 15 games of the regular season.  Two weeks from Monday will be game #144 against Rochester at McCoy!  Time sure does fly.

The PawSox have had an interesting month of August, going 7-1 on the road and 1-7 at home.  The RailRiders in particular have given Pawtucket fits this season, having won the last five meetings between the squads and gone 6-1 at McCoy.  Scranton will go for a four-game series sweep on Monday night.

It’s been a frustrating series for the PawSox, who blew a 5-1 lead in the ninth on Sunday to drop a third-straight contest.  Pawtucket is just 2-for-22 batting with runners in scoring position during the first three games of the series and has stranded a total of 28 men on base.

Here are some notes for your reading pleasure as the penultimate week of the season gets set to begin Monday night:

-Garin Cecchini is now on a season-high eight-game hitting streak. He is 13-for-33 (.394) during those eight contests with two homers, four doubles and 12 RBI.

Cecchini has also made a great transition to the outfield over the past month and a half. The converted third-baseman has started 24 of his last 38 games in left and at times has looked even more comfortable as a corner outfielder than as a corner infielder. This catch on Saturday night was one of the outfield highlights for the Lake Charles, LA native.

-Congrats to Steven Wright for making his first MLB appearance in 2014 on Sunday, pitching four strong innings at Fenway against Houston (4.0 IP, 4H, 1R, 4K).  Wright was recalled only hours before the contest as Corey Brown was designated for assignment.

-INF/OF Allen Craig is reportedly set to join the PawSox Monday to begin a rehab assignment from a left foot injury suffered right after Boston acquired him in the deadline deal with St. Louis.  That same ProJo article reports that C David Ross is set to be activated from the Boston DL early this week.  That could spell a return to Pawtucket for Dan Butler.

craig

Allen Craig came over from the Cardinals in the John Lackey deal on July 31st

-The Portland Sea Dogs swept Richmond in a weekend series at Hadlock Field to inch closer to clinching a playoff berth in the Eastern League (magic number is now 1).  The team’s 78 victories are the most for any Portland squad since the franchise became the Red Sox Double-A affiliate in 2003.  Many of the players who helped build that record are now up in Pawtucket (Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Derrik Gibson, etc).

-It’s been great to have Bryce Brentz back in the lineup.  Brentz has gone deep in back-to-back games (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon) and has now smashed four homers and driven in 13 runs in his 12 games since returning from the disabled list earlier this month.  Brentz has batted in the three-hole of the lineup in his last eight starts.

-Last week I sat down with Red Sox Executive Vice President and General Manager Ben Cherington while the PawSox were in Gwinnett for a lengthy conversation about some of the organization’s top prospects.  Here it is in full, as heard on this weekend’s PawSox Insider show.

Monday night is “Halloween Night” at McCoy, so if you come to the game bring a costume!  First pitch is at 7:05pm as the PawSox try and avoid being swept in the four-game series by the RailRiders.  Hope to see you at the park or speak to you on the radio!

Josh M

Monday Notes: Mookie Returns, PawSox Sweep

Well, the PawSox seem to have weathered the storm from all the roster turmoil at the beginning of the month.  After losing four of five to begin August amidst nearly 30 percent of the roster turning over, things calmed down this weekend and Pawtucket swept Charlotte in a four-game road series.

So what changed at the beginning of this road trip?  For starters, Mookie Betts was optioned back again from Boston.  And maybe it is that simple.  Here’s a remarkable stat – Pawtucket has won 17 of its last 19 games when Mookie is in the lineup (beginning 6/23 and carrying through his two MLB call-ups.)  The only two losses during that stretch came in back-to-back contests at Scranton on 7/27 and 7/28.

Overall the PawSox are 27-11 in games that Betts plays in while only 41-43 when he has not been on the field.  What a terrific epitomization of how special a player Mookie is – without him Pawtucket has been about a .500 team, but with him arguably the best club in the International League.  Amazing!

Betts went 6-for-17 (.353) with three walks, three doubles, three RBI and three runs scored in the four games at Charlotte.  He did have plenty of help in the PawSox series sweep, as a pair of relative newcomers delivered game-winning hits in the ninth inning on Saturday and again on Sunday.

Bryce Brentz, just back last week from a 72-game absence on the DL, clubbed a tiebreaking two-run homer in the ninth on Saturday night.  In six games since returning to Pawtucket, Brentz is 8-for-27 (.296) with two home runs, two doubles and five RBI.

Blake Swihart brought the PawSox from 4-3 behind into a 5-4 lead with a two-run triple off the right field fence on Sunday.  Swihart, who has started five of six games since being promoted from Portland last Monday, was serving as the designated hitter for the first time with Pawtucket.  The fact that Ryan Lavarnway is on MLB rehab and Matt Spring is still active as another backstop allows manager Kevin Boles to use Swihart as a DH on days he doesn’t catch.

The weekend sweep was the second in a four-game series this season for Pawtuckdet, which has swept four of its seven series played since the All-Star break (after not sweeping any of its 26 series beforehand.)  The PawSox (68-54) are now a season-high 14 games above .500 and 2.5 games ahead of Rochester in the IL wildcard race heading into a four-game set at Gwinnett.

Monday night’s originally scheduled starter Edwin Escobar was recalled to Boston on Sunday, so Pawtucket will throw Chris Hernandez in a spot start for the third time in the last two weeks.  He pitched a gem against the G-Braves back in late-May and will try and beat them for the second time this season.

Here are a few other noteworthy items to get you started on a Monday morning:

-Matt Barnes has looked like a different pitcher since the All-Star break.  Barnes outing on Saturday in Charlotte began with a gift inside-the-park home run to the first batter he faced (when Mookie Betts slipped on a line drive to center.)  He then settled down and held the Knights to only two runs in six sharp innings.

Since the break, Barnes has made four starts and gone 1-1 with a 2.21 ERA (24.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R).  That includes his epic seven-inning no-hit performance on August 2nd against Columbus.  In 15 outings before the mid-summer break, the 24-year-old UConn product went 4-7 with a 5.06 ERA.

-Alex Hassan has found a new home in the batting order, having hit second for the last ten consecutive games.  Prior to this stretch he hadn’t batted second in the lineup since May 22nd.

Hassan’s bat has responded to moving up in the order; in his last six games he is batting .375 (9-for-24) with two doubles, four runs scored and three RBI.   Since being optioned back from Boston on June 10th, Hassan has hit .335 (62-for-185) in 51 games played.  That is the 6th-best average in the IL during that time period.  He leads the team in RBI and runs scored this season.

-Utilityman Justin Henry returned to the lineup during the last homestand from a nearly month-long DL stint and has provided a huge offensive boost to the club.  In his eight games since coming back, Henry has batted .321 (9-for-28) with five walks, five runs scored and three RBI.  He drove home a pair of runs from the nine-hole in the order during the comeback win in Charlotte on Sunday.

-Maybe the PawSox have found a new closer with Tommy Layne now in the big leagues.  Lefty reliever Ryan Verdugo, acquired in a trade from Kansas City last month, picked up two saves in the Charlotte series by closing out victories on Thursday and Saturday night.  For a man who had been a starter all season in the Royals organziation, those were his first two saves since 2010 and just the fourth and fifth of his MiLB career.

Verdugo has not allowed a run in 10.0 relief innings pitched over five outings with the PawSox.  He did permit three runs in 3.2 innings during a spot start last week against Columbus to take his only loss since being acquired by the Red Sox.

-Quietly, 2B/CF Derrik Gibson has hit for some serious pop at the bottom of the PawSox order after he was promoted from Portland at the beginning of the month.  Gibson is 5-for-22 (.227) in his six games played this month but four of his five hits have gone for extra-bases (two homers, one double, one triple.)  He has driven in five runs out of the nine-hole in those six games.

Gibson’s slugging percentage for the Sea Dogs was .395 in 85 games this season, but in eight contests with Pawtucket it is a robust .586.  Maybe he just needed to face some Triple-A pitching to find his power stroke!

-I sat down for an interview with Blake Swihart in Charlotte to talk about his season and recent promotion to Triple-A.  Below you can hear the entire conversation from the weekend’s PawSox Insider show:

As of Monday there are only three weeks left in the regular season.  We’ve really hit the homestretch!  Looking forward to some more fun games as the PawSox playoff push continues.  Talk to you on the radio from Gwinnett.

Josh M

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