Boston Red Sox: Assessing the State of Their Triple-A Team in Pawtucket
The Pawtucket Red Sox have not made repeat appearances in the Governor’s Cup playoffs since 1997.
Should they stay on pace through the final eight weeks of the International League’s regular season, they will buck that trend under second-year manager Arnie Beyeler.
The PawSox entered the All-Star break at 51-41 and 2.5 games ahead of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees for the lead in the wild card standings. They are merely 1.5 games behind the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the same team that swept them out of the 2011 Triple-A tournament, for tops in the I.L. North.
With a slight mathematical improvement, this is virtually the exact same state the team was in at this point in 2011, when they trailed the Pigs by 3.5 games at the break. For what it’s worth, those PawSox eventually pole-vaulted into first place for the divisional crown.
With plentiful holdovers, the current Pawtucket offense holds a sole or shared league lead in seven categories. The Sox boast a collective batting average of .270, a league-leading 445 runs, 837 hits (tied with the Durham Bulls), 176 doubles (tied with the Columbus Clippers), 96 home runs, a .775 OPS and a .344 on-base percentage.
The pitching staff is among the I.L.’s top three in the way of most saves (30), fewest opposing runs (359) and most strikeouts (679).
All of this comes in spite of a relatively inconsistent roster owed to a few key injuries in the McCoy Stadium clubhouse as well as ailing health and ailing performances on the parent club.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias had a two-day promotion in May and missed substantial time in June with a lower back injury.
Boston has variously summoned such key position players as Lars Anderson, Mauro Gomez, Che-Hsuan Lin and Nate Spears for at least a full week at a time. Pedro Ciriaco was recalled last Friday to spell Dustin Pedroia against the New York Yankees.
Among the pitchers, late-inning reliever Junichi Tazawa was promoted from April 18 through May 2 and Clayton Mortensen from May 2 through 11.
Infielder Will Middlebrooks went up with Mortenson on May 2, and could be in Boston to stay now that Kevin Youkilis has been traded.
Outfielders Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were recalled on May 10 and June 17, respectively, and have not returned to Rhode Island since. That could change with the eventual return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, or if Boston springs for another established Major Leaguer before the July 31 trading deadline.
If that arrangement is in store for Beyeler’s squad, it would be a most welcome addition. Iglesias’ injury and Kalish and Nava’s ongoing promotions all coincided with the PawSox’ nine-game losing streak June 18-26, beginning literally the day after Kalish was called up.
Since stopping the bleeding there, Pawtucket has gone 6-7 and subsisted on the collateral from its 45-25 start to stay in the playoff picture, even after losing the divisional lead it held for seven straight weeks.
Trickle-down reinforcements, especially in the outfield, ought to signal a U-turn back in the right direction, one that might be even more impactful than the reinsertion of Ellsbury and Crawford in Boston.
Ciriaco should likewise be returned when a little more normalcy is restored to the Boston infield. Once he is back, he can continue with his big fish role and build upon his .301 batting average through 69 Triple-A outings on the year.
In Ciriaco’s company among active or prospective PawSox batters above the .300 mark are Kalish, Middlebrooks, Jason Repko, Nava, Gomez and catcher Ryan Lavarnway.
Lavarnway is not belting the ball quite as mercilessly as he was in his breakout campaign last season. He has but seven home runs through 69 Pawtucket games this season as opposed to 18 over 61 outings in 2011.
Nonetheless, he is still drawing walks, getting on base and completing the trip home at roughly the same rate as usual. And he joined Ciriaco, Gomez and pitcher Justin Germano among those PawSox named to the I.L. All-Star roster for Wednesday night’s exhibition.
Lavarnway’s permanent elevation to Boston cannot be substantially far into the horizon.
Depending on how Bobby Valentine and his staff move forward with their 43-43 transcript, perhaps similar promotional consideration should be given to Beyeler, who is seeking his third minor-league playoff run in five years.
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