Mullen's Minor League Notes: PawSox on brink of Governor's Cup title

499881.jpg

Mullen's Minor League Notes: PawSox on brink of Governor's Cup title

Triple-a Pawtucket is one win away from its first Governors Cup championship in almost 30 years, after beating Charlotte, 2-0, Wednesday night at McCoy Stadium to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

Catcher Dan Butler scored both runs for the PawSox. He hit a solo home run in the second inning, and scored on Che-Hsuan Lins double in the fifth.

Right-hander Zach Stewart earned the win, improving to 2-0 in the playoffs. He went six innings, giving up four hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Stewart was acquired in June in the trade for Kevin Youkilis with the White Sox, Charlottes parent team.

Pedro Beato, Alex Wilson, and Jose De la Torre combined to hold Charlotte scoreless and hitless over the final three innings.

This is Pawtuckets first appearance in the Governors Cup finals since 2003. The win in Game 1 was its first in the finals since the decisive Game 5 in 1984. The PawSox were swept in their other appearances since then, in 1991 by Columbus and in 2003 by Durham. They had not won a Governors Cup final game at home since Sept. 10, 1978, when they beat Richmond in Game 5, but lost the championship in what was then a best-of-seven series.

That the PawSox have made it this far is somewhat surprising, given the turnover their roster has had. Only seven members of their Opening Day roster are still on the team: pitchers Will Inman, Tony Pena, Jr., Alex Wilson, infielder Nate Spears, and outfielders Che-Hsuan Lin, Jason Repko, and Alex Hassan , who is on the disabled list. Infielder Tony Thomas, who is currently on the PawSox playoff roster, was on Pawtuckets DL to begin the year. Only five players who were on Pawtuckets 2011 playoff roster are on its 2012 playoff roster Pena, Wilson, Butler, Lin, and Thomas. The PawSox had a six-man rotation to open the season. Just one of those pitchers Wilson is still with the team, but he has been working out of the bullpen since early in the season.

Pawtucket used 69 players during the regular season (35 pitchers, 34 position players), one short of its team-record of 70 players in 1995 and 2006 and two more than in 2011. The PawSox promoted 23 players to Boston during the season, while the major league team sent 17 different players to rehab with the PawSox.

While every minor league team is likely to go through a good amount of turnover, it is a testament to the jobs manager Arnie Beyeler, pitching coach Rich Sauveur, and hitting coach Gerald Perry have done to put the PawSox in the position they currently are. Consider:

Pawtuckets team ERA was fourth-best in the league at 3.43. It was a season-high 3.68 on June 26, and a season-low 2.79 on April 23.

Pawtuckets .982 fielding percentage was second-best in the league. The PawSox committed 96 errors in 5,324 chances.

Pawtucket was third the league in team batting, at .266, second in home runs (133) and slugging percentage (.412), third in hits (1,290) and on-base percentage (.336), and fourth in runs scored (654).

In their six play-off games so far, the PawSox have outscored their opponents, 29-13, while their pitchers have posted a combined 2.18 ERA, holding opponents to a .173 average.

All-Stars Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias, and Mauro Gomez, the International League MVP, are among those who are no longer with the PawSox, earning call-ups to the big league team.

The PawSox are 5-1 overall in the postseason, after winning their first-round series 3-1, and 4-0 at home. Going back to the regular season, winning eight of their final 10 games, the PawSox have won 13 of the last 16 games. They have won seven of their last eight home games.

Pawtucket, the only team in the Red Sox organization to reach the postseason this year, can clinch its first league championship since 1984 as early as Thursday when the series moves to Charlotte (for the final three games, if necessary). A win on Thursday would give the PawSox their first-ever sweep in a playoff series in their 40-year franchise history.

If the PawSox win the IL championship, they will face the Pacific Coast League champion in a one-game, winner-take-all Triple-A National Championship game on Sept. 18 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park at 7 p.m. The PCL series stands at 1-1 between Reno (Diamondbacks) and Omaha (Royals).

A few other notes:

Nelson Figueroa will start Thursday in the potential clincher. Figueroa started the game in which the PawSox clinched a post-season berth, and the clinching game against the Yankees in the first round.

Pitching in Games 1 and 2, Alex Wilson appeared on consecutive days for the first time in his career. He has retired all 14 batters he has faced in the postseason.

Earning the save on Wednesday, Jose De la Torre has three saves in the postseason.

Dan Butlers solo home run on Wednesday was his 10th of the season, fourth since joining Pawtucket on Aug. 3.

If necessary, left-hander Chris Hernandez will start Game 4 Friday in Charlotte opposed by right-hander Matt Zaleski, and right-hander Billy Buckner will start Saturday. Charlotte has not yet named its Game 5 starter.

If the PawSox play the PCL champions for the Triple-A title, that will mark the latest into a season they have ever played. Their previous late date is Sept. 15, 1977, when Pawtucket lost Game 4 of the finals at Charleston, getting swept in the best-of-seven series. If their current series goes to all five games, the PawSox will match that late date.

Since 1973, the PawSox are 36-51 overall, making 15 post-season appearances. They have won just two playoff series since their last Cup championship in 1984, beating the Ottawa Lynx in the 2003 semifinals, and this year when they beat the ScrantonWilkes-Barre Yankees in the first round. They are 1-10 in their last 11 elimination games since their last championship.

From Chris Sprague of the IL office: Only nine of the 25 players on the current PawSox playoff roster were born when the PawSox last won the Governors Cup in 1984. They are Billy Buckner, Nelson Figueroa (the elder statesman who was 10 at the time), Tony Pena, Jr., Steven Wright (who was 15 days young at the time), Mike Rivera, Jon Hee, Andy LaRoche, J.C. Linares (who probably didnt get Governors Cup results in Cuba those days), and Jason Repko. PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler was a 20 year-old star infielder for Wichita State University back in 1984.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.