For the first time since their first round lost to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees in 2008, the PawSox clinched a spot in the coveted Governor’s Cup Playoffs after wild Saturday night game.
The only question remaining from that night was who will the opponent. That question was answered yesterday as the LeHigh Valley IronPigs claimed the International League Wild Card, the last spot clinched in the league, in a 4-1 (six innings) victory over the Syracuse Chiefs. This year marks the first time the IronPigs have extended their season, continuing their best season in franchise history.
It seemed ages ago when the PawSox were 8 1/2 games back of their division foes on June 14, but with an amazing turn around of their own, the PawSox finished the season 2 games above the team approximately 274 miles away on I-95 South; with an overall record of 10-6 (6-2 home, 4-4 away) against the IronPigs. The PawSox commence their 2011 playoff run, which could very well end with another cup back in New England, at Coco-Cola Park, the place where they spot said mediocre 4-4 record; in those eight games, the PawSox were outscored 34-37 by the IronPigs.
Statistically, the PawSox convey their struggles at LeHigh Valley. The pitching combined for a high 4.63 ERA and the offense combined for a .254 (71-280) average. Ironically, the PawSox retain a higher mark on the road (42-29, .690) compared to a home record of 39-32 (.549); 42 road wins are the most in club history. Pennsylvania has not seen the persistent team from Pawtucket, RI (guaranteed the fans think it’s Massachusetts) since their home team dropped the final two games of a four game series in late July by a combine score of 6-4.
It was a different story at home. In those eight games at McCoy, the PawSox outscored the IronPigs by 19 runs (39-20); pitching combined for a low 2.50 ERA and the offense had an average of .306 (83-271).
Thinking strategically, the PawSox would love to blow out the IronPigs, regardless of who has the edge in home-field advantage. In games decided by two runs, one run, or resulting in a shutout, the PawSox ended the season with a record of 42-40 (.512); in games decided by three runs or higher, the final record stands at 38-21 (.644). It will be tough to have a blow-out in a playoff game, due to the high stacks, competitiveness and the atmosphere, it will be even tougher without some key offensive players, along with a pitchers that had an immense impact on the season.
Who is that last statement hinted at? Let’s name ’em: Nate Spears, Ryan Lavarnway and Kyle Weiland, who were all called up on Monday to commit their services to Boston, and Brandon Duckworth, who is currently on the disabled list with an elbow strain, but may pitch in the series.
Weiland and Duckworth may have dodged a bullet by not playing LeHigh Valley. In four starts (2-1) against the IronPigs, Duckworth pitched 17 1/3 innings, allowed 12 runs, on 19 hits, walked 11 and struck out 13; his ERA was 6.23. Weiland shared the same faith against one of the most consistent teams in the IL. In two starts (0-2) against the IronPigs, he pitched 9 innings, yielded five runs, on five hit, walked six and struck out 10.
Nate Spears and Ryan Lavarnway differed in terms of their success against the IronPigs. Lavarnway batted .383 (18-47) with five homeruns, 17 RBI, five walks and 15 strikeouts, while Spears batted .242 (8-33) with one homerun, four RBI, nine walks and nine strikeouts.
The IronPigs-PawSox match-up appears, on paper, to be the perfect match-up for a playoff series. Both teams rank at the bottom in “Team Offense” for the International League. The PawSox ended the season ranked 13th (.253) and the IronPigs were ranked at 12th (.255); totals are out of 14 teams. In regards to pitching, the PawSox and IronPigs rank among the highest in the IL; PawSox ranked 2nd with a 3.57 ERA and IronPigs ranked 3rd in with a 3.68.
Momentum is always needed when coming into a playoff season, and the PawSox have some. Since the start of July, the PawSox are 37-24 (3-0 in September). Both teams have won their last four games, even though the PawSox have a better record over their last 10 (7-3, compared to LeHigh Valley’s record of 5-5).
This series will be a battle all the way from the top of the first inning during game one (tomorrow, 7:05 EDT) to the end of the series ending out. Matt Fox takes the mound against Dave Bush, each start with a clean slate for the playoffs; Fox was 10-4 with a 3.96 ERA during the regular series, Bush was 1-2 with a 3.91 ERA in four starts with LeHigh.