Sunday, August 28, 2011

PawSox should have a second wind after storm leaves region

Their active three-game winning streak is a sufficient redress on its own after the PawSox previously dropped four out of five bouts with the sinking Syracuse Chiefs. That recovery alone gave them the right to proclaim themselves a whole new team as they restored their regal position in the competitive International League North.

But there’s more to come in that department. In a disguised blessing, the threat of Hurricane Irene has granted the Sox two days off this weekend.

Naturally, one wishes the outside circumstances could have been less frightful. But for any Triple-A team, let alone one that is in the final phases of a playoff race, two straight off-days is akin to a hospital-ridden child actually seeing a wary promise fulfilled when his Major League idol belts two dingers in a single game.

When play resumes throughout the northeastern U.S. on Monday, the Sox will again be a new team for the better. They will utilize as many as four vital additions or returns to the team roster, two of whom had been out of service since before the team hit the road last Wednesday.

Before Friday’s twin killing of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Pawtucket reactivated key pitcher Matt Fox from the disabled list. In part due to his being shelved for the previous 12 days and in part due to the seven-inning length of Game 1, Fox lasted a mere 5.0 frames on Friday. But logic says he should enter his next start in that much better condition and raring to build upon a three-game winning streak and 15-inning shutout run.

As another added bonus, veteran outfielder J.D. Drew is primed to commence his rehab stint at the Triple-A level in the coming week.

On top of that, the parent Boston Red Sox exchanged Scott Atchison for Michael Bowden in a recall/reassignment and generously handed back catcher/DH Ryan Lavarnway on Saturday.

Despite starting the current month at an abysmal 5-for-44 with 13 strikeouts, Lavarnway moved up to The Show for a little more than a week and appeared in seven games. During that stint with the BoSox, the aggressive slugger whiffed another six times, but also batted a respectable 7-for-23 with three runs-scored, three batted in and four walks.

Paradoxically, the elevation might prove to be what the once-otherworldly breakthrough needs to pilot the PawSox through the final week of the regular season and beyond.

And at this hour, the “beyond” appendage has been painted thoroughly on the wall and merely needs a moment to dry. Only an unforeseen, thoroughly metaphorical type of wind-and-water storm can ruin the picture at this point.

With Friday’s doubleheader sweep, the first-place PawSox are 7.5 games ahead of the Yankees with eight games left on each team’s schedule. That final push for both teams begins on Monday with another doubleheader at PNC Field. And it will have the luxury of one more off-day Sept. 1 sandwiched by four games apiece.

One more win for Pawtucket means Scranton will no longer be a bother in the race for the Northern Division laurel. Another sweep on Monday would simultaneously rule the Junior Pinstripes out of the playoff derby altogether and bring the PawSox to within at least tasting distance of their own spot.

Entering their Sunday afternoon affair with Norfolk, the Gwinnett Braves were precisely three games behind Pawtucket on the I.L.’s entire 14-team leaderboard. So long as the Sox keep winning, they will enter next weekend’s season-ending four-game homestand with at least a 2.5-game edge over the G-Braves.

And only the Yankees and Braves need to be formally dumped out of the equation before the four presumptive candidates stamp their playoff passports. For Gwinnett, that could happen as early as Wednesday if they do not keep a sufficient pace behind Durham in their division and/or Lehigh Valley in the wild card.

Realistically speaking, if not yet technically or mathematically, the Yanks are already as good as done. But for the Sox faithful, taking responsibility for the knockout punch would bring about a free sample of satisfaction given that Scranton terminated Pawtucket’s previous playoff run in the first round of the 2008 I.L. tournament.

That sentimental aspect will not have much bearing on the men in uniform, seeing as the third base clubhouse McCoy Stadium does not have any holdover from so much as two, let alone three years ago.

But come what may, the perennially noncommittal first-year skipper Arnie Beyeler is running out of time to excuse himself from discussing the playoffs. The present 10-day forecast on the I.L.’s Diamond Doppler calls for a high-stakes date with the rival IronPigs after Labor Day.