Is it too early to start printing Governors’ Cup tickets? Yes, it probably is, but winning sure does change a person’s outlook, doesn’t it?
Forget for a moment that it’s the second week of May and there’s 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. It’s also the same Scranton/WB outfit that Pawtucket won three of four games against over Mother’s Day weekend.
No, the 17-13 record Pawtucket bused out of Moosic, Pa. with on Sunday night is not a typo. It’s more of a cause for celebration, given the numerous injuries and callups that have confronted Arnie Beyeler’s 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 – something that’s definitely a refreshing change of pace around McCoy Stadium, whether your view is the front office or the clubhouse.
“We would love to have a winner every single year. That’s the goal,” stated team president Mike Tamburro while sitting in his office Monday afternoon. “So far it’s been a treat and we hope good things continue to happen. The fans deserve a winner.”
Added outfielder Daniel Nava, “There’s not a sense of anyone worried about what’s happening. We know we have a good squad and we’re trying to work as a team. That’s the important thing.”
As connoisseurs of minor league baseball know, winning takes a backseat to development, an aim described by Baseball Prospectus author Kevin Goldstein as “the game’s dirty little secret.” No matter what the intent, though, finishing well below .500 – which the PawSox have done in each of the past two seasons, compiling a weak 137-160 record over that span – should never be the goal.
“It doesn’t take away from the overall job of a minor league team,” said Tamburro, “but if you can win and develop at the same time, that’s the best of all worlds.”
“When we weren’t winning last year, it wasn’t like anyone was coming in and saying, ‘I don’t feel like being here.’ I would say it’s a little more challenging, but that’s the way things go,” described Nava when asked if it’s tough to report to the ballpark when the team is closer to the bottom of the standings than the top. “When you’re 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.”
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, Pawtucket’s 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. There’s 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 Sunday’s 5-4 win against Scranton, but it was Matt Sheely’s swipe of second base that put him in a position to deliver.
“You talk to any team and they’ll tell you that doing the little things is the key to winning,” Nava said. “There 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.”
Since Theo Epstein became Boston’s general manager in 2002, the PawSox have watched as the organization’s 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 Epstein’s player development factory. Yet despite all the talent that’s 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.
“We’ve had playoff teams,” said Tamburro, “but it would nice to go deep in the playoffs. That’s something I think the fans would like.”