Thursday, August 11, 2011

First-place PawSox hope to pilfer more from stingy G-Braves pitching

Shortly after this Friday’s national anthem at Coolray Field, Gwinnett’s Julio Teheran will all but pick up the PawSox-Braves season series from where it left off at McCoy Stadium. In the finale of a four-game set on May 12, the ace threw an impressive 120 pitches over 7.2 innings and allowed a mere two runs on three hits.

The long-since-promoted Josh Reddick accounted for Pawtucket’s only hit off Teheran after their two-run second inning that evening and the Sox ultimately fell from ahead en route to a 4-2, 15-inning loss.

Teheran presently leads the International League with 12 wins and a 2.16 ERA over 20 starts. In his most recent outing on Sunday, Teheran sustained only his second losing decision in a 7-4 setback versus Charlotte. He had won each of his previous eight decisions dating back to early June.

Gwinnett’s Saturday starter, Todd Redmond, also figures to exercise some durability. He is one of only five men in the league to have thrown multiple complete games in 2011. That’s two more complete games than anybody wearing Pawtucket attire has sealed this year.

If it’s any consolation to PawSox rooters, it should get technically and ostensibly easier from Friday onward as the I.L.’s two best overall pitching staffs engage in a four-game set bearing dense wild card and playoff implications.

As a staff, the G-Braves and PawSox pitchers are Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of ERA at 3.11 and 3.58, respectively. They are the only teams yet to crack four figures on their hits tab, with Pawtucket allowing a league-low 935.

Individually speaking, Teheran and Redmond are first and third under the league ERA heading with Redmond permitting a mere 2.91 runs per nine innings. In addition, Teheran and Redmond are two of only 11 International League hurlers to have tossed at least 100 strikeouts on the year. Redmond has benched 111 challengers, Teheran 104.

But the PawSox themselves have a pair of representatives in that group, both of whom will have a turn engaging the Braves batting brigade this weekend. Kyle Weiland (110 strikeouts) will counter Redmond on Saturday while Matt Fox (106) is slated to toe the rubber Sunday afternoon.

For Pawtucket pitchers, this series combines an opportunity to kick a little dirt in the face of a fellow postseason racehorse while also getting even on the pitching landscape. Weiland endured a tough 2-0 losing decision May 11 at home, wasting nine strikeouts over six innings that saw Gwinnett mooch only two hits off of him.

On May 10, Fox did not factor into the decision as he was lifted with two away in the fifth after confining the Braves to one run on five hits. Friday’s schedule starter, Tony Pena, Jr., filled in for Fox and ultimately took the albatross as his lone earned run in 2.1 innings-pitched spelled the difference in a 5-1 loss.

The rest of the slated starters in this series―Pawtucket’s Brandon Duckworth (Monday) and Gwinnett’s Yohan Flande (Sunday) and Erik Cordier (Monday)―will each have their first look at their opposition this season.

Perhaps more intriguingly, though, a multitude of leaned-on PawSox hitters will arguably face their ultimate Triple-A measuring pole this weekend, especially against Teheran and Redmond.

Che-Hsuan Lin and Ryan Lavarnway were both in Portland when the G-Braves visited McCoy. The newly acquired Brett Carroll was still in the Pacific Coast League. And the newly-activated Ryan Kalish was three weeks removed from sustaining a shoulder and neck ailment that sidelined him until this road trip.

But if the PawSox can get the better of the G-Braves on both sides of the ball―i.e. enough to claim at least three out of four and thus square the season series―they could send the playoff hopes of both teams in inverse directions.

Thursday night’s 3-2 win at Charlotte nudged Pawtucket to a one-game lead over Lehigh Valley for first in the Northern Division.

Overall, the Sox are 1.5 games ahead of Gwinnett entering Friday’s confrontation. That means a series victory at Coolray Field would augment the differential to 3.5.

In that event, whether the PawSox are still tops in their division when they head home or if they are tied with the IronPigs for tops in the divisional and wild card leaderboard would matter just a little less.