Matt Fox takes the hill for Pawtucket in Game One of the Governor's Cup Semi-Finals against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
The Pawtucket Red Sox, thanks to an 81-61 record, are in the International League semi-finals, vying for the Governor's Cup. They have made it to this point despite Boston pilfering players from their roster all season long (hey, it's Boston's right, and Pawtucket's job, so don't feel too bad): Josh Reddick has spent most of the year in Boston, Yamaico Navarro was traded to the Royals, Michael McKrenry to the Pirates, Kyle Weiland has spent time in the majors, Andrew Miller has been there even longer -- the list goes on.
The PawSox are here despite all that, though, as they finished with the second-best record in the International League, behind just the 88-56 Columbus Clippers. Prospects don't necessarily make a minor league team any better than if the roster were loaded with minor league lifers and former major leaguers. The PawSox have had a mix of the two during the season, but find themselves constructed much more like the latter at this late stage, especially after September call-ups took away Felix Doubront, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Lavarnway, three key (and younger) contributors.
Pawtucket's rotation for the playoffs looks like a list of who's-who in guys who couldn't quite cut it in the majors. Matt Fox, who was picked up off of waivers from the Twins in 2010 and then released by the Red Sox to get him off of the 40-man roster, will start game one against another former major leaguer, Dave Bush. Tony Pena Jr. gets the nod in game two -- you may remember him from when he played shortstop for the Royals, and yes, that's the son of the former Red Sox backstop. Alex Wilson in game three is the lone prospect in the group, as he pitched well in Portland, and then kept it up in Pawtucket following his promotion (21 innings, 24 strikeouts, seven walks, and a 3.43 ERA in four starts).
Game four gives us Charlie Haeger. Haeger was promoted from Portland specifically for the playoffs, after splitting the year between the Sox and Mariners. The 27-year-old knuckler struck out 8.8 unsuspecting batters per nine innings in Double-A, but also walked four per nine. Haeger hasn't mastered his knuckler enough to succeed in the majors, but he can be useful at times, as his time in Portland shows. Lastly, game five's starter, if necessary in this best-of-five, would be Greg Smith, who was released by the Yankees earlier this year. Smith has pitched in the majors in 2008 and in 2010, and he has a 5.03 career FIP there over 229-1/3 innings. He's been about what you would expect from Greg Smith in Triple-A this year, posting an ERA of 4.52 over 81-2/3 innings and 14 starts, and continuing to fail at recovering the strikeout potential he showed years ago as an early 20's pitching prospect.
The playoffs also give Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias a chance to secure some more at-bats, something Middlebrooks wouldn't be able to do were he still with Portland, and Iglesias couldn't do if the Sox had called him up with others on the 40-man roster. Junichi Tazawa will also get some more innings, and Boston can always call him up when the playoffs are over should they decide they may need him in the pen. Given Bobby Jenks is possibly out for the year and the bullpen is suddenly looking thin with the struggles of Matt Albers, an extended audition for Tazawa could turn out to be a very good thing in the long run.
Should the PawSox come away victorious in this series, they will face either the Durham Bulls or the Columbus Clippers in the Governor's Cup Finals. The Clippers defeated the PawSox in the finals in 1991, and Durham toppled them in 2003, so either way, Pawtucket can exact some long-awaited revenge by taking it all this year.