The Boston Red Sox farm system is filled with talent, but that does not guarantee success for the minor league affiliates. In Brandon Magee‘s Portland Sea Dogs recap, he details the ups and downs of the AA team’s 2015 season.
[box] Overall Record: 53-89
Placement: 6th (of 6) in the Eastern League Eastern Division
Post-Season All-Stars: None[/box]
Last season, the Portland Sea Dogs won their first division title since 2005 and made their first playoff appearance since 2008, the last time the team had been over .500. The 20-game improvement from the 2013 season led the team to the best record in franchise history. However, minor league teams are not static from year to year, prospects move up to the next level and a new crop of players take their place. While the 2015 edition of the Sea Dogs had some intriguing prospects, the expectations for the playoffs were not high. But, a 35-game downturn and a franchise worst record wasn’t on the agenda either.
A False Start
Opening Day Lineup
Mike Miller (3B)
Carlos Asuaje (2B)
Henry Ramos (RF)
Keury De La Cruz (LF)
David Chester (DH)
Blake Tekotte (CF)
Luis Martinez (C)
Marco Hernandez (SS)
Jantzen Witte (1B)
Opening Week Rotation
Starting the season in Maine in April is fraught with peril. As the northernmost team in the Eastern League, the chance of inclement winter weather playing havoc on Opening Day is constantly in play. The original Opening Day of April 9 was postponed due to snow. April 10 was postponed due to the snow melting which provided an unplayable diamond. Finally, April 11 saw Opening Day in the form of a doubleheader, and provided a glimpse of the season in miniature.
The Sea Dogs opened their season by defeating the Reading Fightin Phils 4-2 in game one and followed the win with a 9-0 loss in game two. Game one featured enough offense to support the excellent bullpen work of Jonathan Aro. Game two featured no offense and a bad start by Justin Haley. It would be an ongoing theme for the season, Poor starting pitching, inconsistent offense and a good bullpen.
The team meandered through the month with no real definition, never winning more than two in a row but never going on a deep losing streak either, waiting until the end of the month to have a four game skid. The team finished the month 7-13 and with hope that consistency would come. The boom or bust offense was shut out four times but put up seven or more seven times. The pitching staff allowed two runs or fewer four times, but allowed seven or more a ghastly 13 times.
May continued the inconsistent pattern for Portland, going 15-16 for the month. Much like April, the team never got on a sustained run positively (picking up a four-game winning streak on May 15-19) or negatively (another four-game losing streak from May 7-10). The offense was shut out three more times but hit double digits in another three games. The pitching staff was at the mercy of the offense, losing three games where they allowed two runs but winning all three games where they allowed double digits.
In a season of inconsistency, moments of brilliance shined bright. Such was the case of Tim Roberson on May 15, who put the Sea Dogs on his back in a 13-11, 10-inning victory. Roberson, who had played in only seven games during the first month and a half, picked up his first double of the year in the third. With Portland down 10-5 in the 7th, Roberson came up with the bases-loaded and put the Sea Dogs within a run with one swing of the bat. In the ninth, Roberson singled and scored the tying run and followed that up in the 10th, knocking in the winning two runs of the game with a triple. Roberson would follow his game winning performance with another four-hit effort the next day… but was on the disabled list a week later.
Waiting for Margot
The consistency the team had been waiting for finally arrived in June. Unfortunately, the consistency came in consistent losing with an occasional win interspersed. The Sea Dogs picked up only six wins during the month without having a winning streak over one. Meanwhile, 21 losses quickly piled up, a six-game losing streak here, a four-game losing streak there. It wasn’t that the team played poorly, they just could not get over the hump. The team played twelve games decided by a single run, going 4-8. They lost an additional three games by two runs. Surprisingly, given the trends during the first two months, it was a failure of the offense to provide in June, scoring three runs or less on 17 occasions during the month. The team was shut out three times and scored a single run in six other games.
With the team in free fall, the Red Sox provided some excitement in the form of a 20-year-old prospect, promoting Manuel Margot to the Sea Dogs after the first half of the Carolina League season concluded. Margot, who batted .282/.321/.420 for Salem, singled in his first AA at bat against Zach Eflin and would continue to provide memorable moments throughout the season for Portland.
A few days later, Sam Travis would join Margot from Salem. Travis, who was the sole Salem participant in the Carolina/California League All-Star game, batted .313/.378/.467 in the first half for Salem. Like Margot, Sam Travis would pick up a hit in his first AA game, picking up a double in his second at bat against John Anderson. Sam would become the one consistent piece of the Sea Dogs line up the rest of the season, failing to reach base in only six of his 65 games for Portland.
The struggles continued as July began with the team going 4-9 leading into the All-Star Break. However, another moment of brilliance was had on July 2 as outfielder Cole Sturgeon came in from right field to pitch the 14th, 15th and 16th innings and picking up the win after singling and scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 16th inning.
The All-Star Game
In a year of moments, Portland hosted the 2015 Eastern League All-Star Game, a game which ended after nine innings in a 4-4 tie. Instead of heading into extra innings, the two sides engaged in a 3 on 3 home run shootout. The Eastern Division won the shootout in the 11th round as Reading’s Brian Pointer finally knocked a ball out of Hadlock Field.
Despite a 32-59 record at the break, the Sea Dogs were represented in the All-Star game by six players, with William Cuevas getting the starting nod on the mound, while Jantzen Witte and Marco Hernandez each getting the start in the field. Carlos Asuaje, Madison Younginer and Robby Scott also participated in the game.
After the excitement of the game, the Sea Dogs resumed their season with three more losses, extending the losing streak to seven. And then, the team decided to stop losing for a week. Starting with a 2-0 victory on July 19, Portland won seven of eight games including four one-run victories. Alas, one-run games giveth and they taketh away and the Sea Dogs finished the month of July as losers of four out of five, two by a one-run score.
August started little better for Portland, losing another one run game on the 1st and eight of nine games to start the month. After a 4-3 loss in the first game of a doubleheader on August 12, the Sea Dogs record stood at 41-75, 15 losses from the dreaded 90 loss mark.
The Final 25
Portland proceeded to win four of the next six games with a trio of one-run victories. But fortunes changed quickly as the team lost eight of their next eleven games, culminating in a 7-5 loss on the 29th as the Rock Cats’ Jordan Patterson hit a walk-off home run against infielder Oscar Tejeda in the 15th inning as baseball ended its run in New Britain. Heading into the final eight games, Portland stood within five losses of an incredible 90-loss season.
While Portland won the final game of August, September proved to be a difficult nut to crack as well. With the Sea Dogs losing four of the first five games in the month, they stood on the precipice of 90. It was time for another moment in a season of moments.
After leading off the first inning with a fly out, Manuel Margot had the game of his young career. In the second inning, Margot hit his third AA home run, knocking in Danny Bethea and giving Portland a brief four-run lead. After the Rock Cats tied the game in the fourth, Margot doubled in Forrestt Allday, returning the lead briefly to Portland. In the sixth, Margot would triple home Allday, giving the Sea Dogs a two-run advantage. Margot would come up in the eighth and he would get a fourth hit, a single to complete the cycle and knocking in Allday for the third consecutive at bat and putting the final score on the board for the Sea Dogs, who won 10-5. The Sea Dogs would come back out on Labor Day and put up another ten spot and avoiding the dubious loss mark, winning 10-4.
While everyone wants to win, the reality of baseball is that for every team that wins, there has to be a team that loses. But struggles are often followed by lessons learned and better days in the future. With the prospect of prospects on the horizon, the future in Portland will be much brighter.
Final Day Lineup
Manuel Margot (CF)
Tzu-Wei Lin (SS)
Oscar Tejeda (3B)
David Chester (1B)
Carlos Asuaje (2B)
Jordan Weems (DH)
Danny Bethea (C)
Cole Sturgeon (RF)
Forrestt Allday (LF)
In the upcoming days, we will continue our look at the 2015 Portland Sea Dogs season with an in depth look at the offense and a larger look at the pitching staff.