PAWTUCKET – The PawSox offense is abysmal this season, ranking as one of the most futile in the International League.
That is not exactly “stop the presses material” to anyone who has watched this team up close. They’ve seen plenty of 3-2 victories and 4-1 defeats. The PawSox bused back to Rhode Island in the wee hours Monday morning possessors of a seven-game losing streak, a dubious mark that has seen them bat .212 over that span. The weekend in Syracuse saw the locals go 23 innings without scoring a single run.
What does Pawtucket’s weak offense mean in the bigger, more important picture: Do the Boston Red Sox, a team also buoyed by hitting doldrums at the moment, have the kind of Triple-A depth to keep the ship afloat if injuries keep striking the position players? Or would general manager Ben Cherington feel compelled to go outside the organization for replacements?
Every farm system’s dual purposes are to develop and cultivate young, promising talent, and provide quality depth for the big-league club. The Boston system is rich in developing prospects, and at Triple-A, the pitching is the strong suit. But the Pawtucket hitting has been virtually nonexistent this year.
It speaks volumes that the lineup manager Kevin Boles wrote out for Monday’s game against Gwinnett featured no regulars hitting above .300 on the season. The closest is third base prospect Garin Cecchini at .290, though 10 days ago, his average stood at .305.
Going into Monday, Pawtucket’s team batting average stood at a cover-your-eyes .237. The only team that beats is Charlotte (.223). In the opposite dugout at McCoy Stadium, Gwinnett sets the pace with a league-best .278.
To further expand, Pawtucket is third from the bottom in on-base percentage (.316) and last in slugging percentage, the .358 mark seven points behind second-to-last Charlotte. The PawSox have struck out 404 games, third most in the I.L.
Granted you expect a step backwards when three regulars get promoted to the majors and another lands on the disabled list in a week-and-a-half span. Of the list of recent PawSox-turned-Red Sox, only Brock Holt was swinging a productive bat (.315 in 27 Triple-A contests) at the time of his summons. Daniel Nava (.253 average) and Ryan Lavarnway (.265) were call-ups mainly out of necessity after Shan Victorino and Mike Napoli landed on Boston’s disabled list.
These are not bad players, at least if you take into account their track records. Of the nine batters in the starting lineup Monday night, three have major-league experience (Ryan Roberts, Brandon Snyder and Mike McCoy) and another three (Cecchini, Alex Hassan and Christian Vazquez) are on Boston’s 40-man roster. The remaining third of the lineup featured recent additions from Double-A Portland.
Boles looks at those solid track records, not this year’s weak showing, when he thinks about the hand his charges can potentially lend to the big-league club.
“There is some pressure on the guys who have performed in the past. I think they’ve hit some balls hard at people and we’ve seen some signs of a good approach, but they’re not getting the results they want and with that comes frustration,” said the first-year PawSox skipper. “I think frustration starts to settle in a little bit, but you’ve got to take a step back and understand what kind of players we have and show the trust in them. We have to keep a positive atmosphere because the guys are working.”
That same holds true for the coaching staff. Pawtucket hitting coach Dave Joppie made it a point to walk around the home clubhouse Monday to remind the hitters that Braves starting pitcher Daniel Rodriguez featured a three-quarter delivery. Joppie is a notorious hard worker and if often seen taking groups of players into the hitting tunnel before and after on-field batting practice.
There comes a point, however, when tangible results must be shown. Otherwise, the Red Sox could be on the lookout for reinforcements that could come from the pool of Triple-A players who have June opt-out dates written in their contract, or additional help from Portland (hello, Mookie Betts). In turn, that could result in players who had their sights on staying with one organization throughout the season looking for employment elsewhere.
If the Red Sox need corner outfield help, the first option figures to be Hassan since Bryce Brentz is on the disabled list with hamstring tightness. Hassan’s average dipped to .217 after striking out in his first at-bat Monday night. Another PawSox outfielder, Corey Brown, is second on the club with seven home runs, though is hitting .208.
The return of Stephen Drew probably means that Cecchini isn’t leaving the PawSox anytime soon while the options to replace Dustin Pedroia should the second baseman go down are not exactly rosy.
Roberts is likely the top candidate and is hitting .283, though he would have to be added back to the 40-man roster. He also didn’t distinguish himself after going 2-for-19 in eight games with the Red Sox earlier this season. McCoy is a shortstop who has 170 big-league games under his belt. The 33-year-old is also batting .167 in 33 games.
If a need at catching would arise, who would the Red Sox select? Dan Butler is batting .214 while Vazquez has been slightly better at .248. Neither one has major-league experience, so it seems premature to label one as a surefire bet to get the call while the other is viewed in an emergency capacity.
Bottom line: the parent club could be in a quandary if the PawSox hitters don’t warm up as the season’s third month looms.
“We’re going to concentrate on the here and now and make the adjustments that are needed,” said Boles. “We’re going stay upbeat and positive. We’re not hanging our heads. We’re going to keep pushing through.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03