The Pawtucket Red Sox season did not go as well as the team had hoped. The team was picked apart by call ups and had to rely on players that weren’t up to the challenge. Brandon Magee has his first annual Pawtucket Red Sox recap.
Overall Record: 59-85
Home: 34-38 Away: 25-47
Placement: 6th (of 6) in the International League North
Post-Season All-Stars: None
Hopes were high for the Pawtucket Red Sox on April 9, the beginning of the minor league season. After all, the Pawsox had participated in the last four International League playoffs, the last three Governors’ Cups and had taken home their second Cup in three years in the 2014 season. With a rotation consisting of highly rated prospects Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson along with Keith Couch and Matt Barnes, the starting pitching was considered a strength of the team. The offense was going to be led by youngsters Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr., Garin Cecchini and Devin Marrero who were to be supplemented by some major league veterans in Quintin Berry, Luke Montz and Jemile Weeks. The season could not have started off better for the PawSox, shutting out the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on the road on opening day, 4-0. So, what happened? How did the PawSox season go so completely off the rails?
The Opening Stanza
Opening Day Lineup
Jackie Bradley (CF)
Rusney Castillo (RF)
Travis Shaw (1B)
Bryce Brentz (LF)
Garin Cecchini (3B)
Blake Swihart (C)
Deven Marrero (SS)
Sean Coyle (2B)
Jemile Weeks (DH)
Opening Week Starting Rotation
The opening day win was only the beginning of a great start for the PawSox. Pawtucket won four of their first five games – all on the road – with the only loss coming in a sixteen inning, multiple non-pitchers pitching affair. After losing both ends of a doubleheader to end their opening road trip at 4-3, the PawSox immediately won their first five at home. Twelve games in, the PawSox were riding high at 9-3. They would finish the opening month by going 5-5 and end the month at 14-8, a more than adequate start considering they played three doubleheaders due to weather and technical malfunctions.
What is most obvious when looking at April is that the offense did its job. In 14 of the 22 games played, the offense scored four or more runs, putting up double digits twice. There were glimpses of what would become a normal occurrence later in the season, with a pair of shutouts and three games with a single run scored. But the early offense helped the team win some shootouts, as the team won games by scores of 10-8, 9-6 and 8-7.
The pitching, despite some outliers highlighted above, was also quite good, allowing three or fewer runs in a game twelve times with two shutouts.
The Slow Descent
That’s when the PawSox season started to go downhill. In May, the team went 12-17, losing seven of eight games during the stretch between May 20 and May 27. In the first 28 days of June, the team went 12-14, leaving the team slightly under .500 for the season at 38-39.
The problem for the PawSox was largely related to a moribund offense. In the 55 games during this period, the Pawtucket offense scored three runs or less 30 times and were shutout five times. The pitching was generally decent, allowing three runs or fewer 24 times in those games, and allowing a fourth run an additional ten times. But, the lack of offense often overruled the good pitching performances, as the Pawsox went only 20-14 when the team allowed four or fewer runs to the opposition. When the pitching struggled even a little bit, the offense could not compensate, with only four wins (6-5 on May 7, 6-5 on May 22, 7-5 on June 13 and 7-5 on May 19) when the pitching allowed five or more runs. In the 55 game sample, the team never scored more than seven runs in a game, a mark they hit four times.
One aspect of AAA ball that showed up more prominently starting in May was the shuttle between Pawtucket and Boston. While the minor leagues are often thought of as purely for development, AAA is less about development and more about being an extended roster for the Boston Red Sox. The movement of relief pitchers to and from Boston started in April, but became a nearly daily occurrence in May – Robbie Ross Jr. was optioned from Boston three separate times. However, the movement of position players did not start until May, with Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo and Jeff Bianchi all being called up to Boston.
But the first position player to move to Boston never returned to Pawtucket, catcher Blake Swihart. Swihart was called up on May 2 after Ryan Hanigan was placed on the disabled list. The move certainly did not help the PawSox offense as Swihart had batted .311/.363/.351 in April. On May 28, Eduardo Rodriguez was called up to Boston for a one-off appearance in Texas. A 7 2/3 inning, no-run start changed the plans for the team, and Rodriguez settled into the Red Sox rotation for the rest of the year. These were only the first of many moves which changed the composition of the PawSox roster radically.
On June 29, Pawtucket started a four-game series against the Rochester Red Wings in New York. With two weeks before the All-Star Break and a two-game winning streak, the PawSox were looking to go on a long streak to solidify their playoff position. The first game of the series was the resumption of a suspended game from early June, starting back up in the third inning with the PawSox down 1-0. Alas, the PawSox could not score in the final seven innings, and lost 6-0. They lost the seven-inning regularly scheduled game 3-0. The next day, they fell again in shutout fashion, 1-0. Things got no better in July, as the PawSox fell in each of the first nine games they played in the month. While the PawSox finally stemmed the losing with a 7-2 victory on July 11, they would lose their final game of the first half the next day, 4-0, the fifth shutout loss in 14 games… and their 13th loss. From one game below .500, the team was now 39-52 and licking their wounds.
After three days off, Pawtucket started the second half of the season with another loss on July 16 before winning the next two games, including a 13 run explosion on the 17th, the first double digit scoring by the team since April 18 and only the third of the season. The offense was short-lived however, as the team was shutout again on the 19th and proceeded to lose eight games in a row. After a rare shutout win on July 28, the Pawsox finished off July with three more losses, scoring a total of two runs.
The Pawsox started August with two wins, and then continued into the doldrums of defeat. Pawtucket would not taste victory again until August 14, a string of eleven consecutive failures. In the eleven losses, the offense scored as many as four runs once.
In a 42-game stretch, the Pawtucket Red Sox went an unimaginable 6-36, going from 1 game under .500 and theoretically in the playoff race to 44-75 and fighting to avoid 90 losses. And while there were certainly some bad days for the pitching, the offense was disastrous. In those 42 games, the offense scored three runs or fewer in 29 and was shutout an absurd ten times.
By the end of this losing streak, the PawSox were a nearly completely different team. Brian Johnson, who picked up a major league start in July, was placed on the disabled list in early August. Joe Kelly, who had been optioned down to Pawtucket in late June, was back with Boston by the end of July. Henry Owens was called up to Boston in early August. Steven Wright was brought back to Boston for the final time in late July. The rotation wasn’t the only place where Boston was scooping up players. Both Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. were activated by Boston in late July with Travis Shaw following at the beginning of August.
Playing out the String
With the lack of any starting pitchers, the Red Sox acquired Shawn Haviland from the Colorado Rockies for cash and picked up Rich Hill from the Atlantic League Long Island Ducks to round out the rotation. The Red Sox also acquired Carlos Rivero from the Seattle Mariners and Chris Marrero off the free agent pile to boost a depleted offense. And, the team started to do something it hadn’t been doing… winning.
Starting on August 14, the PawSox would win four of five games with the offense scoring at least five runs in each game. After losing four of their next five, Pawtucket ran off five consecutive wins and matched their longest winning streak of the season (April 16-21). Although they would finish up with three losses to end the month of August, the Pawsox would win five of their seven September games, ending the year with a record of 59-85.
In the final 25-game stanza, the team went 15-10. The offense, in contrast to the majority of the summer, scored three runs or less in only eleven of these games and scored six or more runs nine times, one more time than the PawSox had done during the previous 42-game stretch.
Final Day Lineup
Mike Miller (2B)
Marco Hernandez (SS)
Carlos Rivero (3B)
Chris Marrero (LF)
Garin Cecchini (1B)
Matt Spring (DH)
Jonathan Roof (CF)
Aneury Tavarez (RF)
Luis Martinez (C)
Final Week Rotation
We will continue our recap of the PawSox 2015 season with a further look at the offense and some of the prominent players on the team as well as an in-depth look at the PawSox pitching staff.