Governors’ Cup Final Preview
So by now you know the Bulls have advanced to the 2014 Governors’ Cup Final (for the sixth time in eight years, no less), and they’ll be taking on the Wild Card winner Pawtucket Red Sox, who swept the Syracuse Chiefs in the first round. This year’s best-of-Five Final is a rematch of last season’s championship round, which Durham won 3-1 over the PawSox. To get you ready for this year’s showdown, we’ll break down the teams to tell you all you need to know about this year’s Governors’ Cup Final.
Durham’s starting pitching has all the talent in the world. On any given night, any pitcher can shut down the opposing team and nobody would be surprised. That being said, the starters have been inconsistent this season, posting stretches where they’re nearly unhittable, and stretches where the whole rotation has struggled. However, the rotation was strong in the First Round against Columbus, allowing just six earned runs over the final three games.
Pawtucket’s rotation is in flux, as the team has had a handful of starters plucked by the Red Sox over the past few weeks (IL Most Valuable Pitcher RHP Anthony Ranaudo, RHP Steven Wright). The PawSox will be relying on newcomer LHP Edwin Escobar and recent call-up and top prospect LHP Henry Owens to lead the charge against Durham’s offense.
Durham’s bullpen has been lights out all season, and recently has been superb. Led by a pair of southpaws in LHP Adam Liberatore and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, and aided by 2014 IL All-Star Merrill Kelly, the unit struck out 16 and walked just three in the First Round against Columbus.
Similar to their rotation, Pawtucket’s bullpen has also been dealt setbacks as LHP Drake Britton and LHP Tommy Layne have been called up to Boston. The unit allowed just three earned runs against Syracuse in the first round, and will rely on 2014 PCL All-Star Heath Hembree, who was traded by the San Francisco Giants to the Red Sox in the Jake Peavy deal in July.
Behind the dish the Bulls feature Ali Solis and Luke Maile. Solis spent the season with the Bulls, save for a two-week period in early June that saw him get called up while Ryan Hanigan was on the DL. Maile on the other hand, just 23 years old, spent the whole season with Double-A Montgomery where he was a Midseason All-Star. He caught two games for Durham against Columbus, his first two appearances at the Triple-A level.
Pawtucket’s Blake Swihart (.262-1-9 in 18 G) and Ryan Lavarnway (.283-3-20 in 62 G) each had solid seasons for the PawSox. That carried into the First Round of the playoffs, as Swihart went 4-for-7 and drove in a run.
All season long Durham’s offense has held the team back, finishing last in the IL with a .248 team average in the regular season. The Durham infield has struggled at the dish this season, as the eight infielders on the roster for the postseason combined to hit just .239 in the regular season. However, Vince Belnome (.358), Mike Fontenot (.350) and Cole Figueroa (.371) all posted OBPs of .350 or higher, while All-Star Wilson Betemit led the team with 18 home runs.
Pawtucket’s infield, similarly to Durham, did not produce much over the course of the regular season. Against Syracuse though they produced at the dish, led by Travis Shaw (5-for-10, HR, 3 RBI) and former Bull Ryan Roberts (3-for-9, 3 RBI).
The combination of Mikie Mahtook, Jeremy Moore and Justin Christian has been strong for Durham, especially with the addition of Moore from Double-A Montgomery in late June. Mahtook, the Bulls’ 2014 MVP, was among lead leaders in doubles and extra-base hits while cracking a career-best 12 homers. Christian hit a solid .271 with 10 dingers, while Moore hit 12 homers in just 55 games since his promotion.
The PawSox lost top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Red Sox just a few days ago, but have replaced him with Rusney Castillo, a 27-year-old Cuban defector who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with Boston a month ago. He went 5-for-15 for Double-A Portland in the playoffs, and will join an outfield corps that combined to hit 45 homers in the regular season.
Durham’s Charlie Montoyo is the man. Simple as that. Eight seasons in Durham, seven division titles, sixth Governors’ Cup Final berth, two Governors’ Cup titles and a Triple-A National Championship.
Pawtucket’s Kevin Boles is in his first season as a Triple-A manager. To get your team this far in a rookie campaign is pretty good. But…
Wool E. Bull is the best mascot in Minor League Baseball, and probably all of sports. To read more about why Wool E. rules, click here. And honestly, we love Paws, we really do. But it’s sort of like the manager debate: no matter how good you are, you just simply won’t have the advantage.