The Pawtucket Red Sox have been ravaged by call ups to the big league club and underperformance by prospects and veterans alike. The team will be on NESN at 7PM tonight to start off it’s second half against the Durham Bulls. Brandon Magee looks at what the team has done and where it is headed in his PawSox second half preview.
In recent years, the Pawtucket Red Sox have been a perennial playoff presence in the International League. The PawSox have participated in the last four International League playoffs, the last three seeing the team in the Finals, with the team winning the Governor’s Cup in 2012 and 2014. While expectations were high for the PawSox coming into the 2015 season, the team currently sits at 39-52, losing 13 of 14 heading into the All-Star break. As the PawSox begin the second half of the season tonight against their opposition in the last two Governor’s Cup finals, the Durham Bulls, can the PawSox turn their season around and garner a fifth consecutive playoff appearance?
If there is one primary cause for the PawSox struggles, it is the offense. With a mix of prospects (Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, Travis Shaw, Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo) and former major league veterans (Quintin Berry, Luke Montz, Humberto Quintero and Jemile Weeks), the offense was not considered a question mark as the season started. However, at the break, the team ranks last in the International League in batting (.236), hits (719) and triples (8); while ranking second to last in doubles (122) and OBP (.311). Only their home run power (4th in the league with 64) and walks (312 – 7th in the league) have kept the offense from being completely moribund.
The problematic offense did not show itself right away. In April, The PawSox scored three or fewer runs in eight games, with the team going 2-6. The numbers have increased as the months have gone along, going 4-13 in May, 4-12 in June and 0-6 so far in July. While the trend of scoring 3 or less runs is troubling, it is even worse when looking at scoring only one run or being shutout. The PawSox have been shut out twelve times this season. They have also scored a single run thirteen times, with the team winning two of those games. Four runs scored was a sweet spot for the team in April, going 5-1 when plating four. In the ensuing three months, the team has finished the game with four runs scored only five more times, going 1-4.
|Runs Scored||April Record||May Record||June Record||July Record|
What is interesting about the chart of runs scored is that their high end run scoring ability has been fairly steady, scoring 5 or more runs an average of ten times in each of the first three months. It is the increase in the number of games where there is a complete lack of runs being scored that has stymied the offense.
Is it possible for one part to be changed that is so integral to the offense, that it breaks it? Blake Swihart batted .338/.392/.382 for the PawSox in April, but then was called up to Boston when Ryan Hanigan was placed on the DL. Certainly, the lack of offense from the catching position has been an issue in the ensuing months, with Humberto Quintero batting .240/.284/.280, Matt Spring hitting .154/.239/.240 and Luis Martinez going .130/.310/.130 during the months of May, June and July.
However, placing the blame on the catchers is short-sighted. Only outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Carlos Peguero have been able to put up an OPS above .800 for the PawSox, with only Jeff Bianchi, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig being able to help out with an OPS above .700 in a significant amount of play. Veteran Luke Montz, who put up an OPS of .893 and .804 in his prior two AAA seasons, batted just .167/.270/.333 for the PawSox before his release at the end of June. Quintin Berry has been disruptive on the bases with his 28 steals, but is batting only .236/.328/.275 out of the lead off spot. Jemile Weeks, who has been a steady AAA performer with Oakland and Baltimore, has plummeted this season with the PawSox, batting only .196/.297/.301.
With the veterans of the team failing to perform as advertised, it has been up to the younger prospects to step up. To the chagrin of both the PawSox and the Red Sox organization, they have not. After a pair of spectacular offensive seasons in Salem and Portland, infielder Sean Coyle has hit a brick wall in AAA, batting only .159/.274/.302. Garin Cecchini batted .263/.341/.371 last season for the PawSox, earning a promotion to Boston. This season, his numbers are down across the board,hitting .213/.282/.310. Travis Shaw has put up a very similar batting average and OBP from his 2014 season for the PawSox, but his power numbers are down significantly. Only Deven Marrero has shown offensive progress, moving from a .260 OBP last season for Pawtucket to a .302 OBP this season.
The offense will need to fix itself as help will not come from below, with only infielder Marco Hernandez fighting for a call-up from Portland. Cecchini has had a turnaround in July, batting .325/.357/.400 for the month – hopefully a sign of things to come. If the veteran pieces can start to normalize to their previous career averages, the team could see a return to their offensive ways of April.
While the offense has struggled, the pitching has been largely average, ranking in the middle of the International League in most of the major pitching statistics (ERA, WHIP, walks, strikeouts, hits, etc.). Unlike team offensive stats, team pitching staffs are not particular useful in determining whether a team is good,bad or simply mediocre. The adage that a team is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher certainly rings true for the PawSox.
The PawSox rotation has been led by a trio of young southpaws. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched in only eight games before his call to the majors, going 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.097 WHIP. Brian Johnson started 16 games before his recent call-up, going 8-6 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.097 WHIP. Henry Owens has led the team with 18 starts, 104 ⅓ innings pitched and 85 strikeouts, putting up an ERA of 3.36 and a WHIP of 1.150. Owens has struggled in his first extended run in AAA, walking a league high 52. However, his improvement has been quite obvious. In his first six games of the season, Owens pitched to an ERA of 4.06, walking 25 and striking out 25 while lasting more than five innings twice. In the next six game chunk, Owens had a 3.24 ERA with 17 walks and 26 strikeouts, going between five and six innings in every game. In his last six games, he has continued to improve with an ERA of 2.93, only ten walks and striking out 34, pitching at least six innings in every outing. Unfortunately, his improvement has not improved his won-loss record, going 0-5 in his last twelve games after going 2-2 in his first six.
On the other hand, the right-handers have disappointed. Keith Couch, after putting up an ERA of 2.97 ERA for Portland last season and pitching 6 ⅔ innings in Game 5 of last years Governor’s Cup final in his AAA debut, has been hit around to the tune of a 5.49 ERA in his first season in AAA. While Couch has been able to eat some innings for the PawSox, pitching at least five innings in 13 of his 18 appearances and has gone six-plus innings eight times, he has also allowed five or more runs in six games. Jess Todd, who started nine games in May and June as he took the rotation spot of Eduardo Rodriguez, put up an ERA of 5.25 with 16 walks during those appearances. Like Couch, he was able to compile some innings, pitching into the sixth in all but three appearances, but not always quality innings. With Joe Kelly’s demotion, Todd has been placed back in the bullpen. Steven Wright, who has bounced up and down I-95, has been either brilliant or awful for the PawSox. In his eight starts, all going at least five innings, he has allowed one or no runs three times. He has allowed four runs one and six or more runs four times. Unsurprisingly, Wright has gone 2-5 for the PawSox.
The bullpen, until recently, has been stellar and has also provided for most of the travel on the PawSox shuttle. Heath Hembree allowed only three runs in 18 relief appearances. Noe Ramirez has put up an ERA of 2.15 in his 18 appearances. Jonathan Aro has helped with a 2.67 ERA in 13 relief stints. All have made appearances for Boston. Dayan Diaz has also impressed, by recording an ERA of 2.25 in 15 relief appearances. Dana Eveland made 16 relief appearances before leaving the Red Sox organization, allowing only four runs.
Recent additions to the bullpen have not been as successful. Pat Light has allowed eleven runs in eleven appearances since his promotion from Portland, walking an unsatisfactory 12 and striking out ten. Edwin Escobar, returning from his rehab assignments, has been even worse. In eight appearances out of the bullpen, Escobar has allowed 13 runs.
With Johnson’s recent promotion and the role of Joe Kelly in the second half of the season yet to be determined, it is likely that Jess Todd will move back into a starting role for the PawSox, further weakening what was a strength. William Cuevas, the All-Star starter for Portland, is the only real option for promotion to help the starting staff. The bullpen, which has certainly been hindered by the constant shuffling with the major league roster, could be helped by a trio of bullpen candidates from Portland. Robby Scott and Madison Younginer both earned All-Star appearances for Portland, but it is Jorge Marban who is likely to be the next promotion out of Portland. Marban has allowed a single earned run in 22 ⅓ innings for the Sea Dogs, while striking out 19.
Much like the Boston Red Sox, the PawSox have put themselves in a poor playoff position entering the second half. Ten games behind Rochester in the International League North and twelve behind in the Wild Card race, the PawSox will need to start the second half quickly if they are to have any hope of garnering their fifth straight playoff appearance. But with their two best starters in Boston, it will be the offense that will need to lead the way. The team certainly has players who have excelled in the past… can they turn their seasons around in the second half? Or will they continue their recent swan dive? With eight games on the road to start the second half, these questions will likely be answered quickly.