Monday, August 15, 2011

PawSox vie to send a tougher tempest to top-dog Clippers

If the notion of a series pitting the International League’s top two records―which this week’s PawSox home set with the Columbus Clippers shall be―isn’t enough, each participating club bears a newly-crowned I.L. honoree.

As might have been expected, PawSox pitcher Matt Fox is coming home from a southern road trip with the title of Pitcher of the Week. He figures to toe the rubber in Thursday’s bout with the Clippers at McCoy Stadium vying to build upon a complete game at Gwinnett on Sunday and a cumulative 2-0 record, 0.60 ERA, one earned-run on four hits and 15 strikeouts in as many innings-pitched last week.

Meanwhile, going into Monday’s action, Clippers’ DH/outfielder Chad Huffman was fostering a 12-game hitting streak between July 31 and August 13, going 22-for-40 in that span. He had reached base safely in 23 consecutive games, batting .333 over that time. And he is fresh on the heels of attaining the IL’s Batter of the Week laurel, having hit 13-for-22 for a .571 batting average in a span of six games.

There is a kicker in all this that ought to inject a little giddiness into the McCoy masses whilst bursting the bubble of hypists and two-way storyline suckers in the media. Huffman all but personifies a recent trend in his clubhouse that is characterized by bulking up on cupcakes.

Much of Huffman’s more recent success has been reaped at the expense of the I.L.’s sub-.500 bottom-feeders. But against the much-stingier pitching staffs of, say, Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre between July 18 and July 25, he batted 2-for-15 with a pair of walks.

In a similar vein, the Clippers entered their Monday doubleheader with Rochester bearing a runaway league-leading record of 77-45 and having won 11 of their last 14 games. But of those recent 11 wins, only one has come against a supra-.500 team, namely the Louisville Bats.

The Bats and the Indianapolis Indians, holding respective records of 62-61 and 65-58 entering Monday’s action, are liable for each of Columbus’ three most recent losses.

Before their nominal hot streak began over the final weekend of July, the Clippers went a wretched 10-16 for the first four weeks of the month.

And against fellow playoff contenders, they have had less-than-satisfactory results of late. Between July 18 and July 25, Columbus went a cumulative 3-5 against the IronPigs and Yankees.

Not even Sunday’s return of seasoned Major Leaguer Shelley Duncan from the parent Cleveland Indians will necessarily be of gale-forced help.

Duncan was on recall to The Show for all of 10 days. Over the course of his 10 Triple-A games before that, he batted a mere 4-for-33 for a .152 average, coupled with eight walks and nine strikeouts.

And this was mostly against the lowly pitching staffs of Norfolk and Syracuse. In his last seven outings with the Clippers before Monday’s doubleheader, all opposing the Tides and the Chiefs, Duncan was still beneath the Mendoza Line with a .190 batting average.

During the aforementioned swing with Pawtucket’s top dog divisional rivals, Duncan went 4-for-29 with two walks, including a lemon-based 0-for-16 doughnut against Lehigh Valley.

Odds are, unless the active roster collectively perks up, Columbus will start to feel the effects of losing the likes of Ezequiel Carrera and Jason Kipnis, who unlike Duncan have not been loaned back since their respective promotions on July 11 and July 22.

That is especially if their the direction of their barometer with fellow I.L. heavyweights is any indication. Against those still realistically in the playoff derby―the PawSox, Lehigh Valley, Scranton, Durham, Gwinnett and Indianapolis―the Clippers started on a 20-7 run. More recently, they are 11-14 within that group.

Against the same bunch, the PawSox started at 10-13, roughly in line with their 26-25 start overall. But since June, they have gone 18-12 versus fellow contenders and 43-27 overall entering their Monday night series finale at Gwinnett.

The Sox, on the strength of four two-out runs between the eighth and ninth inning, cultivated a 7-3 decision, all but stamping their status as the hottest team in the I.L. and a group that is peaking at the right time after a stumbling start to their spring.