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August 1, 2008 at 7:11 PM

Red Sox affiliates preparing for the stretch run


August in the minors = September in the Bigs. The goal of the farm system is to develop players for the Major League club, but most of the teams in the Red Sox organization are in great shape as the hunt for playoff spots hits the home stretch. Here's the rundown.

Pawtucket (69-44, 1st IL North)The Pawsox are currently a half game up on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (69-45) in the IL North with eight games left between the two clubs, including a six-game stretch (two in Pawtucket, four in SWB) beginning tomorrow. In the International League, the three division winners and one wild card team make the playoffs. The next-best second-place team, the Toledo Mud Hens (DET), are 62-51, meaning the Pawsox have a relatively comfy seven-game cushion for a playoff spot with 31 games to play. SS Jed Lowrie is likely in Boston for good and 1B/OF Brandon Moss is gone, so the lineup has taken some hits, but 1B/LF Jeff Bailey, 2B Joe Thurston, LF/DH Chris Carter, and CF Jon Van Every are all hitting well. The strength here is in the rotation though, as the Charlie Zink/David Pauley/Devern Hansack/Michael Bowden/Edgar Martinez combo should at least match any rotation in the league. The one question is how September call-ups will hurt the club. If a player isn't essential, the Sox typically leave him in Pawtucket for a playoff run, but the possible need for bullpen help could be too pressing.

Portland (59-49, 2nd EL Northern)The Sea Dogs are currently 6 games behind the Trenton Thunder (66-44, NYY) for first place in the division, and 2.5 games up on the Binghamton Mets (59-54) for second place and a playoff spot. The loss of Michael Bowden is huge as is the likely loss of Bubba Bell for the season. Not as obvious is the possible loss of Beau Vaughan, the team's closer, to promotion as well. Portland's success from here on out depends on how quickly recent call-ups 1B Lars Anderson, SS Argenis Diaz, 3B Jorge Jimenez, OF Josh Reddick, and RP Richie Lentz figure out Double-A. Kris Johnson will be counted on to be the team's ace, while someone from the bullpen, possibly Daniel Bard, may have to step up and close with Vaughan gone. Two of the team's games were canceled due to rain outs, as the teams involved were not going to play again this season, so the club's apparent 5-game lead in the loss column on Binghamton isn't as big as it seems.

Lancaster (21-18, 2nd Cal Lg South 2nd Half/36-34, 1st Cal Lg South 1st Half - CLINCHED)
For the second year in a row, the JetHawks will be in the playoffs, as they won the California League South's first-half title. As it is, the JetHawks are just 1/2 game behind the Inland Empire 66ers (LAD) for the South's second-half title as well, but at this point the team is playing for pride until the playoffs. Lancaster will play the winner of the top other two teams in the Division Playoffs. In addition to the aformentioned recent call-ups, SP Adam Mills is another player who was a large part of that first-half title but is now in Portland. CF Jason Place seems to be getting better each month. OF Daniel Nava is now playing every day and still hitting at his torrid pace, and mid-season promotees C Luis Exposito and SS Yamaico Navarro have hit from the moment they got to California. The imminent promotion of SP Felix Doubront could also be a boon, if the young lefty can adjust to pitching in The Hangar quickly.

Greenville (20-19, 4th SAL Southern 2nd Half/40-30, 4th SAL Southern 1st Half)The Drive have the most ground to make up to earn a playoff berth, despite having a roster described by some as being the most prospect-laden in the Red Sox system. In the SAL, the first- and second-half champions in each division make the playoffs, so the Drive will have to make up 4.5 games to catch the Augusta Greenjackets (SFG), who are 25-15. Losing Doubront will not help the team's chances any, but the recent promotion of SP Brock Huntzinger from Lowell could help make up for his loss. Still, with the team's youth and the recent losses of CF Che-Hsuan Lin (Olympics), Navarro, and 1B Mike Jones (promotion), it will certainly be an uphill climb.

Lowell (21-20, 1st NYPL Stedler)If the full-season leagues are marathons, then the short-season leagues are sprints. The Spinners lead the Oneonta Tigers and Vermont Lake Monsters (WAS) by 2 games for the Stedler Division lead. They will likely need to hold that lead to make the playoffs, as they are behind the current wild card leaders, the Batavia Muckdogs (STL), by 5 games, and are behind another team and tied with three more in that race. Great seasons from RF Mitch Dening and LF Luis Sumoza have somewhat offset disappointing campaigns from 3B Will Middlebrooks and SS Ryan Dent. Recently-signed C Ryan Lavarnway will hopefully team with Tim Federowicz to give the Spinners two catchers who can hit at a position that was a real weakness in the lineup early in the season. 1B Ricardo Burgos has also shown good power since taking over the starting job from Carlos Fernandez. On the mound, the loss of 5-0 Huntzinger will hurt, but the team is stocked with talented young arms like Bryan Price, Stolmy Pimental, Kyle Weiland, Drake Britton, Stephen Fife, and Seth Garrison, and should be able to cope.

GCL Red Sox (18-15, 3rd GCL South)The GCL Sox are in third place, but they're just 2.5 games behind the deadlocked Pirates and Twins. The Ft. Myers Sox's lineup is already stacked after recent signings, with more stud prospects possibly on the way. In the infield, Joantoni Garcia, Casey Kelly, and Derrik Gibson have been rotating time at 2B, SS, 3B, and DH, with Garcia and Gibson already putting forth great showings at the plate while Kelly is slowly getting on track. The outfield is quite crowded. Recently, speedster Wilfred Pichardo and Roberto Ramos have been platooning in CF, while the corners have been manned by Roberto Feliz, Bryan Peterson, Tyler Yockey, and Andrew Frezza. Wang-Yi Lin has been the top arm in the rotation, while Swen Huijer has been impressive in the bullpen.

DSL Red Sox (32-20, 3rd DSL Boca Chica South)
The DSL Sox lineup was simply bad early in the season, but excellent pitching made up for it. However, the bats have come around recently, as the Sox sit 4 games behind the first-place Giants and 1.5 games behind Rangers 1 for the wild card. All-Stars RF Juan Bonifacio and C Leonel Escobar have led the team at the plate, with the recently hot 2B Rafael Espinoza's stats slowly climbing as well. Manny Rivera and Roman Mendez have been lights out on the mound, leading a strong rotation that features no pitcher with an ERA over 3.80. In fact, 11 pitchers with at least 17 innings pitched have an ERA under 4 on the squad.