Rivalry of More than Minor Porportions
Let’s be honest.
There are only two chances that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will meet in the post-season: slim and none.
And “Slim” is well on his way to Texas.
So, the Pawtucket Red Sox and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons are poised to deliver the next best thing: a meeting of Boston and New York’s Triple-A affiliates in the first round of the Governors’ Cup playoffs.
Prior to Saturday’s action, Scranton/Wilkes Barre led Pawtucket by 1 ½ games in the race for the International League’s North Division title.
Pawtucket’s magic number to clinch its first playoff berth since 2003 is seven, over Toledo. And it’s also worth nothing that the PawSox will play one less game (I.L. teams are scheduled for a 144-game season) because a game at Richmond was rained out earlier this season and wasn’t scheduled to be made up.
PawSox manager Ron Johnson, pitching coach Rich Sauveur and hitting coach Russ Morman deserve much credit for guiding the team to what will be one of the best regular-season records in franchise history.
The reasons are numerous:
1. Johnson is a master at doling out playing time to everybody on his roster, and playing guys at multiple positions.
2. Sauveur’s work with Charlie Zink, David Pauley and Edgar Martinez has led to their enjoying career years. And, overall, Sauveur’s approach has led to Pawtucket either leading or being second in team ERA from virtually Opening Night.
3. Morman’s work with Jeff Bailey, Jonathan Van Every, Chris Carter and Joe Thurston has helped Pawtucket morph into a team with arguably the International League’s most potent offense.
4. Not to be overlooked, although it’s easy to do so, is Pawtucket’s defense. Over their last 52 games prior to Saturday’s contest at Syracuse, the PawSox had made just 27 errors in 52 games - which is a testament to the play of Thurston, Gil Velazquez and Keith Ginter.
Moreover, this is a Pawtucket team that, at the beginning of the season, had Jed Lowrie penciled in at shortstop and Brandon Moss at first base (after being converted from a corner outfield slot).
But Lowrie has spent much of the season with Boston and has done a superb job of plugging holes in the Red Sox’ infield defense.
Moss, too, spent a chunk of time in Boston before he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
Imagine where the PawSox would be if they had either Lowrie or Moss for the bulk of the season.
Pawtucket’s also had to make do at times without relievers Craig Hansen (who went to Pittsburgh along with Moss after an extended stay with Boston) and Chris Smith.
Either Pauley or Zink, meanwhile, could wind up leading I.L. pitchers in victories, while Martinez is proving to be - perhaps - the most interesting story of all.
A converted catcher, Martinez has flopped between the bullpen and the starting rotation this season. Over his last 13 starts, for example, he’s 6-1 with a 3.03 ERA (23 earned runs in 68 1/3 innings).
That’s a scenario which few pitchers could handle. But Martinez has thrived in the role and the PawSox are all the better for his versatility.
Oh, and don’t forget, that while Justin Masterson was supposed to spend, oh, a couple of months with Pawtucket, Boston was forced to call him up to help and converted him to relief - to help form a bridge to Jonathan Papelbon.
As a team, the PawSox face a major test heading into the last 2 ½ weeks of the season.
First, outfielders Van Every and Carter have been sidelined for over a week with strained oblique muscles. “All” they’ve done is hit 24 home runs apiece and combined for 141 RBI.
Bailey, meanwhile, was recalled by Boston on Wednesday night and took with him 25 homers and 74 RBI. While the promotion is well-earned, it deprives the PawSox of perhaps their most consistent hitter - from Opening Night to the present.
Under a predetermined format, the wild-card team will host Games 1 and 2 in the first round against the North Division champ (beginning on Sept. 3). Game 3, plus Game 4 and Game 5 if necessary will be played at the North champ’s home field.
This would be the first time the Triple-A affiliates of Boston and New York have met in the playoffs since 1991.
While it may not have the allure of New York and Boston, it could be the next best thing.
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