The Portland Sea Dogs enter the final month-and-a-half of the 2009 season seeking their fifth consecutive playoff appearance (the top two teams in each division qualify for postseason play).
Through July 25, the Sea Dogs were 48-51 and in fourth place in the six-team Eastern League Northern Division. With 43 games remaining, they were 8.5 games behind division leading Connecticut, but just 2 games in back of the second place, two time defending league champion (and New York Yankees’ affiliate) Trenton Thunder.
Five current Sea Dogs were named to the Eastern League All-Star team earlier this month. Selected were first baseman Lars Anderson, third baseman Jorge Jimenez, relief pitchers Chris Province and Dustin Richardson and starting pitcher Junichi Tazawa. A sixth Portland All-Star, pitcher T.J. Large, was promoted to AAA Pawtucket just prior to the game.
Nineteen home contests remain. After the current seven-game road trip, the Sea Dogs return to Portland on Tuesday, August 4 to play the Altoona Curve, affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The season concludes with the final six games at home against Trenton and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays) beginning on Sept. 1. Those games may determine the team’s playoff fate.
The Sea Dogs’ quest for a playoff spot will be challenging, as four of the team’s key players (and Opening Day starters) have departed. Three were promoted to AAA Pawtucket. They are:
* C Mark Wagner, 24: Wagner played 42 games in Portland. He had a .301 average and threw out 18 of the 29 runners attempting to steal. Wagner was promoted to Pawtucket on June 28 and is hitting .186 in 12 games.
* RF Bubba Bell, 26: Bell played 53 games in Portland and had a .275 average. He was promoted to Pawtucket on June 15 and is hitting .177 after 30 games.
* LF Aaron Bates, 25: Bates played 52 games in Portland and had a .340 average. He was named the Eastern League’s Player of the Month for May. Bates was promoted to Pawtucket on June 8 and is hitting .202 after 31 games.
Bates was called up to Boston for five games in early July and went 4-for-11 in his first Major League stint. He was the first member of this year’s Sea Dogs opening day roster to reach the major leagues. He is the 163rd Portland player to appear in the bigs and joins former Sea Dogs Daniel Bard, Dusty Brown, and Hunter Jones, who all appeared for the first time in 2009.
The fourth departing player was traded.
* SS Argenis Diaz, 22: Diaz played 76 games in Portland and had a .253 average. He was the key player in the Adam LaRoche deal with Pittsburgh on July 22 and is now playing for the Pirates’ AAA affiliate in Indianapolis.
Six starters remain from the opening day lineup.
* CF Josh Reddick, 22. Reddick, who bats left and throws right, is hitting .263 and has 13 home runs (tied for the team lead) from his leadoff spot. All but three of the blasts have been solo home runs, seven while leading off an inning. Reddick is sixth in the league with a .517 slugging percentage. “Baseball America” ranks him as the organization’s No. 5 prospect, with the system’s best outfield arm.
* 3B Jorge Jimenez, 24. (All-Star) Jimenez has the team’s best batting average (.284) and is second on the Sea Dogs with 56 RBI.
* DH Jon Still, 24. In his first season in Double-A, Still leads all Red Sox minor leaguers with 64 RBI. He is tied for the team lead with 13 home runs and is third in league with 27 doubles. He has a league high 108 strikeouts and is batting .236.
* 1B Lars Anderson, 21. (All-Star) In his first full season at the AA level, the No. 1 Red Sox prospect (according to “Baseball America”) got off to a slow start. The 6-foot-5-inch lefty reached base 12 times in the four games before the recent All-Star break. His average is now up to .263 with 8 home runs and 47 RBIs.
* 2B Ryan Khoury, 25. Khoury is third in League with 56 walks and is batting .231.
* P Junichi Tazawa, 23 (All-Star) The Opening Day starting pitcher has had an impressive first professional season. The righthander, who signed as a free agent after a four-year amateur career in Japan, has lived up to high expectations. Tazawa ranks second in the Eastern League in wins (9), ERA (2.57) and is tied for third in strikeouts (88). He was the scheduled starter in the prestigious XM Satellite Radio All-Star MLB Futures game, but did not pitch due to a four-hour rain delay. Better see him soon as he is likely to be called up to Pawtucket.
The following players have been mainstays in the starting lineup since the departure of Wagner, Bell, Bates and Diaz.
* C Juan Apodaca, 23, .221. Apodaca was in Class A Greenville before joining Portland last August.
* C John Otness, 27, .220. Otness started the season with the Sea Dogs and was promoted to Pawtucket on May 14. He returned to Portland on June 28 when Wagner was sent to Pawtucket.
* OF Reid Engel, 22, .232. Engel spent 2008 at Class A Advanced Lancaster of the California League
* OF Ryan Kalish, 21, .250. Kalish was promoted on May 15 from Single A Salem in the Carolina League where he was hitting .304 after 32 games. He is third in Red Sox organization with 16 stolen bases
* OF Matt Sheely, 22, .267. Sheely was promoted on June 16 from Single A Salem where he was hitting .256 with 10 stolen bases after 35 games. He was on the Sea Dogs disabled list from July 10 until July 22.
* SS Yamaico Navarro, 21, .200. Navarro was promoted on July 22 from Single A Salem (where he was hitting .319 with 4 homers and 9 doubles in 94 at bats) to replace the traded Argenis Diaz. Went 1-for-3 in his first Sea Dogs game. Baseball America” ranks him as the organization’s No. 9 prospect.
The Sea Dogs are having another banner year at the turnstiles, with an average attendance of 5,693. They trail only the Reading Phillies, who are averaging 6,440 a game. (Hadlock Field’s capacity is 7,368 compared to 9,000 at the Phillies’ stadium). Portland had 10 sellouts in its first 46 home dates.
The fourth annual “Futures at Fenway” minor league doubleheader will be held on Saturday, Aug. 8 in Boston. The Sea Dogs will play in the opening game (12:05 p.m. start) against the Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles). This will be Portland’s second appearance at Fenway, having played there in 2007 in front of 34,746 fans. Game 2 will feature Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox, taking on the Norfolk Tides (Orioles). The New England Sports Network (NESN) will broadcast the game.
Left-handed pitcher Dustin Richardson was an Eastern League All-Star earlier this month.