Providence overcoming injuries

The fifth weekend of the AHL season has already come and gone, but it wasn’t an easy one for the Providence Bruins. Entering Friday with five straight wins, the P-Bruins dropped a home game to Portland followed by a road loss to Worcester. They were able to salvage two points in their third game, playing well against a dismal IceCaps team and winning at home 4-1. The team sits at 7-4-1 after 12 games, and their 15 points is only two shy of first place.

It is no surprise that Providence is going through a little rough patch, as injuries to their team and Boston’s team have changed the look of their roster. Bobby Robins, Jordan Caron, and Ben Youds are just some of the P-Bruins out recently with injuries, and no timetable has been given for their return. Injuries to Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Kevan Miller have forced Boston to deplete Providence’s defense core. This leaves the P-Bruins without Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, and David Warsofsky for the foreseeable future.

It takes a team effort to overcome these kinds of losses, but if there has been an MVP so far it is rookie David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has been as advertised this season, leading the team in assists (10), points (13), and rating (+12). Last weekend in Providence’s two losses he was held scoreless, but in the team’s win he registered three assists. He has been playing with another talented young star in Alexander Khokhlachev, who is second on the team in scoring and also had a good day Sunday. However, the team could very well be without Pastrnak for three weeks next month. According to Mark Divver, he likely will participate in the World Juniors tournament, though no final decision has been made. Hopefully by then, some of the team’s injured or called up players will be back to fill the huge void he will leave.

Another huge reason for the P-Bruins’ success has been the play of their goaltenders. Much was made about Malcolm Subban going into 2014, and he has played very well early on. However, Jeremy Smith has been just as good, if not better, in the backup role. The two have split time in net, with Subban getting one more start than Smith in the early going. Having two goalies that can be relied upon is so important not only for the depth it provides, but also for the fact that both can remain fresh.

Providence will kick off their next stretch of games Friday when they take on the Springfield Falcons at home.

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Providence season underway

We are only a week into the AHL season, and the Providence Bruins have already had some roster shakeups. The team’s second line center Seth Griffith was recalled to Boston, and one could argue that through two games this was the team’s most productive line. Along with Matt Lindblad and David Pastrnak, the line has combined for three goals already with Griffith netting one of them. This line also has a +7 rating combined, though the loss of Griffith will likely break up this group.

Pastrnak, a highly touted rookie, has looked good in his first two games. He has plenty of skill and speed, showing his ability to be creative with the puck in a Brad Marchand type way. His one goal and two assists, including one early in overtime to Joe Morrow opening night, gave a glimpse at what he is capable of doing. However some of that might be due to his chemistry with Griffith, as the two worked well together in training camp. With Griffith out of the picture for now, the rookie will have to adjust to new line mates likely on the first line. This happens all the time in hockey, but since Pastrnak has so much to learn in the coming weeks this was one adjustment that the team would have liked to avoid for the time being.

With Griffith’s promotion, the signing of Simon Gagne, and the return of David Krejci, two players were sent to the P-Bruins from Boston. Jordan Caron and Bobby Robins will rejoin the team this weekend after both spent time on the Bruins roster to start the year. Robins wasn’t bad in his time with Boston, but with so much depth the team didn’t need him anymore. The team has stated they expect him back at some point, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets another call. Fans know of his fighting ability, but when on the ice he provides energy to his team while showing some skill as well. He is more than just a bruiser and the more time he has the showcase it the better he will be. This is someone capable of playing at the NHL level.

The team went 1-1 in their first weekend of the season, dropping a game in Portland 3-2 to the Pirates after taking their home opener 2-1 in OT against the IceCaps. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said he wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive effort on opening night, and despite the loss thought they did better in game two. Defense should be a strength of this club as they have several talented, experienced players with NHL potential at these spots.

While it is only two games, there is a lot to be excited about with this team, as several of their core players have bright NHL futures. The madness of promotions and demotions has already struck the team, but this will be a group that competes for a playoff spot in Calder Cup playoffs yet again.

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Red Sox Look to 2015

The Red Sox season is FINALLY over. As the they develop their shopping list I thought I would take a look at each position for 2015. The good news is that the July trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey helped solidify the outfield situation. The bad news is that the Red Sox are severely lacking a #1 and #2 starter (and maybe a #3 depending on Clay Buchholz).

Let’s start by looking at the pitching staff…

Starter #1: TBD. Many fans are expecting the return of Jon Lester but I am not sure that the Red Sox will go beyond 5 years and $125 million dollars so Lester will need to take the “hometown discount” he has mentioned in the past if he is coming back to the Sox. A fallback to Lester could be Cole Hamels who is on a more “reasonable” contract but Hamels will cost the Red Sox 3-4 top prospects.

Starter #2: TBD. James Shields seems like a good fit here. He is battle tested in the AL East and his age would seem to limit the years/total dollars that the Red Sox want to avoid.

Starter #3: Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been incredibly inconsistent since he started off last year as one of the best pitchers in the AL. He could be a #1 or be out of the rotation by May 1 next year. 2015 is a make or break year for Buchholz.

Starter #4: Joe Kelly. Kelly came over to Boston in the Lackey deal and has been decent. If he is your #4 starter then you are in pretty good shape.

Starter #5: One of the “kids”. This should be a great battle in spring training. Rubby De la Rosa would seem to have the inside track based on his performance this year but Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens could also been in the mix.

Bullpen: Koji Uehara’s struggles have put his return in question. He is a free agent and it is hard to tell if he is tired from the workload of the past two seasons or if he is becoming less effective because of his age. Other relievers should include Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop (has been effective this year), Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman (long man). Expect some veteran pitchers to be added in the off season, especially a potential closer as insurance.

Catcher: Christian Vazquez would seem to be the starter in 2015. He has handled the pitching staff fairly well and his defense is excellent. Blake Swihart is close but may be a September 2015 call up. I would expect the return of David Ross on a one year deal to help mentor the younger catchers.

First Base: Mike Napoli. He is in the last year of his contract and needs to provide more power than he did this year but he should be a solid part of the lineup in 2015.

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia. There is also an outside shot that the Sox could move Pedroia and his long contract and put Mookie Betts at second. I would be surprised if the PR conscious Red Sox traded one of the most popular players on the team.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts. Hopefully the Sox have stopped moving around Bogaerts and will give him a complete season at shortstop.

Third Base: Big ?. I don’t see Will Middlebrooks bouncing back although his right handed power ability will make the Sox give him one more shot in the spring. Brock Holt is an option here as well but a solid Free Agent may be the most likely scenario.

DH: David Ortiz. Not much to say here. He continues to rake. His career will end soon but he should have an above average season in 2015.

Outfield: There are a lot of candidates. Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig seem like the outfield as of today. Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will also fight for playing time. The most likely scenario would have the Sox packaging at least one of these players in exchange for a #2 pitcher or a Third baseman.

Overall, the outlook is good for the Sox. The July trades and the signing of Castillo gave the Sox some much needed depth and they have the money to go after top free agent pitchers. General Manager Ben Cherington will have a lot of options and the Red Sox could go from worst to first again if he makes the right decisions.

By Ryan Winn

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BC off to 3-1 start thanks to excellent running game

by TOM JOYCE

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After losing Andre Williams to the NFL Draft, the Boston College Eagles took a huge hit in their run game. Last year Williams rushed for 2177 yards on 355 attempts in a true breakout senior year. He was even a runner up in the Heisman trophy voting.

Despite losing one of the most prolific running backs in the team’s history, the Eagles have found a new way to generate yards on the ground — and lots of them for that matter.

Florida transfer and Eagles starting quarterback Tyler Murphy has done his best to fill the void losing Andre Williams left in the offense. In four games, he has already rushed for 500 yards on 55 carries while leading the Eagles’ option-based offense.

In total, the Eagles have six players who have rushed for at least 100 yards meaning that they share the ball well and use the correct personnel for each situation.

Saturday marked the first time all year that Murphy did not rush for 100 yards in a game. He was one shy rushing for 99 yards on 13 carries. The reason why he did not reach the 100-yard mark is because he was taken out late in the game in favor of backup quarterback Darius Wade as the Eagles led 33-10. They ended up winning 40-10.

As usual, Jon Hilliman played effectively against Maine. Second in rushing on the team with 241 rushing yards, he was able to take the rock 21 times totaling 98 yards. Two of his carries resulted in touchdowns.

For backup running back Marcus Outlow, the blowout against Maine very well may have been his breakout game this year. Working in primarily with the second offense, the freshman rushed for 107 yards on 14 carries, with a long run of 27 yards. Before breaking out against Maine, Outlow had only played against UMass, a game in which he carried the ball twice for three yards. After his performance against Maine, expect Outlow to get some carries while the games still matter.

With this in mind, the Eagles rank fifth in the nation in rushing yards averaging with 336.3 a game. As one could imagine, the passing game lags behind. The team ranks just 122nd with 124.3 yards a game.

Still though, the ground game works for the Eagles who are 3-1 on the year including a 37-31 win over a USC team which was ranked the ninth-best team in the nation.

In the running department, Tyler Murphy is a huge upgrade over former Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig who gained -225 yards rushing in his BC Eagles career. Passing is a whole different ballgame, but yards are yards and Murphy has done a good job helping his team gain yards as have the running backs.

Despite a lack of a good throwing arm on Murphy’s part, the team is 3-1 and destined for some sort of a bowl game. He might not be the prolific pocket threat that Tom Brady is, but Murphy does what he does and does it well which leads the team to victory more often than not.

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PawSox season another success

It doesn’t matter how you slice it, 2014 was a tremendously successful year for the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team made it to their third straight Governors’ Cup Final, and for the second time in those three years they came away with the Cup. It was an epic series filled with excitement, big moments, and players with little Triple-A experience stepping up with big performances.

But even before the team clinched the Cup, the season was still a big time success.

While winning at any level is good to see, minor league wins and losses don’t define the success of a season. It is all about player development and any organization will admit as much. Winning the Governors’ Cup, along with getting players some postseason experience, is icing one cake so long as the goal of player development is accomplished.

Going into the season, the biggest thing I wanted to see was how the team’s young pitchers grew and adjusted. I needed to see that Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, and Rubby De La Rosa were ready to contribute at the big league level. Each in their own way showed that they were ready to be Major League arms.

Ranaudo made the biggest impression by far, winning the I.L. Pitcher of the Year. Ranaudo’s numbers were dominant with Pawtucket, producing several brilliant stretches that Ranaudo himself described as “the best run of his career.” He was able to make adjustments early in the season to his delivery, something he attributes his success to. In limited MLB action he’s had his ups and downs, but has ultimately shown he can be successful.

De La Rosa bounced back from a rough 2013 season, showing why he was a highly regarded prospect. He made an impact with Pawtucket early and spent most of the year in Boston’s rotation. Barnes started off the year injured, but after a rocky start dominated in the finals months of the season. Webster was promoted in July, and though again his MLB numbers aren’t impressive he showed he has graduated from Triple-A.

The bottom line for all four of these young arms is they reestablished their value at a critical point in their careers. Will they all make Boston’s rotation, or roster, next year? That is highly unlikely, as there won’t be enough room for all of them. One would assume the organization goes out and acquires at least one established free agent arm to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, leaving two openings in the rotation. With many the many needs the organization wants to address in the offseason, the value of these young arms with MLB experience becomes huge for trade purposes. The possibilities are endless for how they manage these prospects, but they have certainly lived up to their end in 2014.

The offensive player I was looking forward to seeing coming into this year was Garin Cecchini, and I was happy with the season he put up. The numbers don’t jump out, especially after a hot start with Pawtucket. He struggled in the middle of the season, specifically in June and July where he hit under .200 in each month. However, he was able to fight through it, make adjustments in his swing, and deliver strong numbers the rest of the way. Factor in the fact that he learned the outfield in addition to his normal third base position, and one has to be happy with how he progressed this year. Will Middlebrooks has done nothing to show he deserves the third base job in 2015, so the idea the Cecchini could start there is very possible.

As the season moved forward, more and more of the Sox future passed through McCoy. Henry Owens dazzled in his Triple-A debut, giving the organization a glimpse of what he can do on the mound. He also had some struggles at this level, but that is to be expected. At just 22 years old, he is the number one pitching prospect in the Boston system and will almost certainly start 2015 with the PawSox. As he gets more innings under his belt, expect the dominance to continue and a big league call up to be not far away.

2014 also saw “Mookie Madness” hit Pawtucket, as Mookie Betts tore up the minor leagues on his way to Boston. Betts showed that he can do a little bit of everything on the baseball field, impressing me more than I though he would. Learning the outfield was very easy for him as he transitioned out of second base plus he didn’t let the move impact his offense. A ceiling of dynamic leadoff hitter for Boston in 2015 is not out of reach based on what he has shown.

Three players that will likely start 2015 with Pawtucket after coming up in the final months of the season are Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, and Edwin Escobar. Each of these players made huge contributions to the team’s championship run and will look to continue their growth after promising years.

As we look back on 2014, the PawSox have a lot to be proud of. They were able to develop the organization’s young pitchers and hitters, promote some of their brightest Double-A talent to McCoy, send major league ready players to Boston, and return the Governors’ Cup to its rightful home.

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