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Is it too early to start printing Governorsâ Cup tickets? Yes, it probably is, but winning sure does change a personâs outlook, doesnât it?
Forget for a moment that itâs the second week of May and thereâs plenty of baseball on the docket between now and Labor Day. Your PawSox kicked off an eight-game homestand Monday night sitting just one-half game behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the top team in the I.L. North. Itâs also the same Scranton/WB outfit that Pawtucket won three of four games against over Motherâs Day weekend.
No, the 17-13 record Pawtucket bused out of Moosic, Pa. with on Sunday night is not a typo. Itâs more of a cause for celebration, given the numerous injuries and callups that have confronted Arnie Beyelerâs tribe in recent weeks. Through the defections of Jose Iglesias, Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill, Alfredo Aceves and Scott Atchison to Boston and injuries to Ryan Kalish, J.C. Linares and Yamaico Navarro, the PawSox have more than managed to keep their heads above water.
They have been able to win â something thatâs definitely a refreshing change of pace around McCoy Stadium, whether your view is the front office or the clubhouse.
âWe would love to have a winner every single year. Thatâs the goal,â stated team president Mike Tamburro while sitting in his office Monday afternoon. âSo far itâs been a treat and we hope good things continue to happen. The fans deserve a winner.â
Added outfielder Daniel Nava, âThereâs not a sense of anyone worried about whatâs happening. We know we have a good squad and weâre trying to work as a team. Thatâs the important thing.â
As connoisseurs of minor league baseball know, winning takes a backseat to development, an aim described by Baseball Prospectus author Kevin Goldstein as âthe gameâs dirty little secret.â No matter what the intent, though, finishing well below .500 â which the PawSox have done in each of the past two seasons, compiling a weak 137-160 record over that span â should never be the goal.
âIt doesnât take away from the overall job of a minor league team,â said Tamburro, âbut if you can win and develop at the same time, thatâs the best of all worlds.â
âWhen we werenât winning last year, it wasnât like anyone was coming in and saying, âI donât feel like being here.â I would say itâs a little more challenging, but thatâs the way things go,â described Nava when asked if itâs tough to report to the ballpark when the team is closer to the bottom of the standings than the top. âWhen youâre winning, things are a little more happier. We also look at it as a challenge that we may have lost some guys, but lets pick it up.â
At the moment PawSox fans are seeing what happens when winning and development are fused together. Youngsters like Josh Reddick, currently tied for second in league with nine homers, are flourishing, but lets not discredit the merits of 35-year-old Brandon Duckworth, Pawtucketâs unofficial ace pitcher. All Duckworth has done is win four games and post a 3.67 ERA.
Hector Luna has been on an absolute tear since taking over for Kalish, hitting .353 with four homers and 12 RBI in 12 games. Thereâs also the relief work turned by Michael Bowden, the converted starting pitcher who is 4-for-4 in save chances.
There are other reasons why the PawSox are in the thick of things. As Nava noted, the team is playing good, solid, fundamental baseball. Nava may have recorded the eventual winning hit in the seventh inning of Sundayâs 5-4 win against Scranton, but it was Matt Sheelyâs swipe of second base that put him in a position to deliver.
âYou talk to any team and theyâll tell you that doing the little things is the key to winning,â Nava said. âThere will be some days where you hit three or four home runs, but (Sunday) was a day we produced runs and took advantage of opportunities.â
Since Theo Epstein became Bostonâs general manager in 2002, the PawSox have watched as the organizationâs best and brightest passed through on their way to Fenway Park. All you have to do is turn on NESN and see the success of Epsteinâs player development factory. Yet despite all the talent thatâs come down the pike, the PawSox have been to the playoffs just twice over the last 13 years.
Ultimately, the PawSox are judged on how many contributors they ship up to Boston. It may be early, but if Pawtucket can keep the train moving in the right direction, perhaps we can mix in some pennant race chatter with how Felix Doubront and Reddick are faring.
âWeâve had playoff teams,â said Tamburro, âbut it would nice to go deep in the playoffs. Thatâs something I think the fans would like.â