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Providence ready for postseason

The regular season has ended and the Providence Bruins are heading back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The P-Bruins finished with a record of 40-25-2-9 and 91 points, good for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The team clinched a playoff berth Friday night when they beat the Manchester Monarchs 2-1 in overtime on the strength of two Matt Fraser goals and good goaltending from Niklas Svedberg.

Providence will play the two seeded Springfield Falcons in their first round match-up, and although they are the lower seed they will start the series at home. Due to arena scheduling issues, home ice will be given to the Falcons in games two, three, and five of this five game series. The Falcons beat the Bruins 6-2-0-2 in the season series.

In order to beat this tough Falcon team, the P-Bruins are going to have to rely on their stars to step up. Top prospect Ryan Spooner and his line mates Fraser and team MVP Craig Cunningham will have to show why they are on the cusp of the NHL and be the team’s best line consistently. This line was able to create chances and goals late on Friday after a tough start to the game. Rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, the team’s leading scorer, and the second line will also have to play up to par and show the same type of firepower as the first line. An X factor could be Bobby Robins and the third line, a line that has played well and is the team’s most physical line. They could swing momentum in any given game with their play and against a tough Falcon team any edge the Bruins can get is a plus.

Defensively, Providence has plenty of depth led by David Warsofsky and Zach Trotman. Joe Morrow has returned from a knee injury and all but two of their defensemen have positive ratings. In net, the combination of Svedberg and Malcolm Subban has been very solid and whoever starts in net should continue to make it tough on opposing offenses.

Another potential advantage for the Bruins is the power play. With many good scorers and so much talent it’s no surprise the Bruins were sixth in the league on the power play. When they get chances on the man advantage, they can’t afford to miss them.

Game one of the series will take place Wednesday at 7:05 at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

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B-Mets Take Series from Fisher Cats

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The Fisher Cats put forth a solid defensive effort but they could not get their bats to spark up as they dropped the series finale to the Binghamton Mets by a  score of 6-0 on Sunday afternoon.

The matinee matchup started off shaky when Blue Jays top prospect Aaron Sanchez came out and struck out a batter before he found himself in a bases loaded jam that he was later able to escape. However, the nightmare returned for the Fisher Cats in the fourth inning, when the Mets walk in a run, score on a sacrifice fly, and plate a run after an RBI single.

Fisher Cats reliever Tony Davis replaced Sanchez in the fourth inning and held the B-Mets to their three runs. The Fisher Cats starter threw 3.2 innings, gave up four hits, three earned runs, walked four batters, and struck out four as well. Davis pitched for 2.1 hitless innings, walked two batters, and had one strikeout. Fisher Cats pitching gave up a total of ten walks on Sunday afternoon.

In the top of the seventh inning, Binghamton caught a lucky break when Darrell Ceciliani scored on a passed ball. The Mets collected two more runs in the 9th inning off an RBI double and a sacrifice fly. At the end of the day, the six runs scored were enough to capture the victory and win the series.

The homestand continues for the Fisher Cats as they play host to New Britain for the next three days before getting on the bus for a seven-game road-trip in Binghamton and New Britain. Tomorrow the Fisher Cats will turn to Deck McGuire (1-1, 3.60) to take on the Rock Cats. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

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Fisher Cats Feature: Kenny Wilson

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—Kenny Wilson is an outfielder in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, ranked the 22nd top prospect in the club’s farm system. Although he is just

(Toronto Blue Jays)

24 years old, Wilson is in his 7th year of professional baseball. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Blue Jays in the 2008 draft.

Wilson started his professional baseball career in 2008 with the GCL Blue Jays and has slowly made his way up through the organization ever since. Last year, Wilson spent the season in New Hampshire, but only played in 55 games due to a stress fracture in his shin. His hard work and dedication finally paid off when he was added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster this past offseason. Wilson leads the team with most RBIs (8), but also has more strikeouts than anyone else on the team (11).

During a press conference at Fisher Cats Media Day, Kenny Wilson told reporters he enters the ballpark with a mindset that all of his injuries are behind him. His major focus is to improve his results at the dish this season in New Hampshire. Baseball America’s analysis says that Wilson “has the glove to be a defense-first outfield reserve and could be an everyday center fielder if his bat continues to improve.”

Wilson is just one of two players to appear in all nine of the Fisher Cats games this season. If his impressive performance on the diamond continues, he could potentially see his names on the lineup card in Buffalo (Triple-A) or maybe even serve as a backup outfielder in Toronto.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

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Is The Win Still Relevant?

By TJ Horgan

Win. This is the all-encompassing word describing the apex of competition. However, does it accurately depict the talent level of the athletic elite who performing America’s pastime, every day, for nine months every year?

The starting pitcher in baseball is someone who players follow, fans revere (or detest), photographers capture, and with whom owners anchor a team. One pitch could galvanize an audience of 50,000 boisterous fans. Yet there is one thing a pitcher is constantly subject to, and that is judgement.

Any person with the privilege of being financially rewarded for physical gifts is often scrutinized. However, the scrutiny often stems inauspicious “evidence,” such as the “wins” statistic.

A pitcher achieves a “win” if they last pitched prior to the half-inning when the winning team took the lead for the first time. The most common exception to this is when a starting pitcher does not complete 4 ½ innings, as that is the minimum innings requirement needed to achieve a win.

Despite a team’s ultimate goal being to win the game, the win is an antiquated and irrelevant way to judge the talent of a pitcher.

From quick stat lines on television broadcasts, to hyperlinks on web pages with the pitcher’s picture and statistics, the win statistic is everywhere, and often the first numeral evaluation of a pitcher. It is a staple in the juxtaposed world of baseball analytics, and a symbol of the “old school” and “new school” argument.

My reasoning for arguing that the win should be completely removed from mainstream pitcher evaluations begins with the fact that a win is contingent upon a plethora of other factors, many of which are not even remotely controlled by the pitcher himself.

For example, an outfielder’s range can impact a game in a way which will fluctuate from pitcher to pitcher, outfielder to outfielder, and game to game. Raul Ibanez played 824 and ? innings in left field for the Seattle Mariners in 2013, which led the Mariners for innings played at that position. Ibanez is 41 years of age, and had more time in the field than any player over the age of 40 by a substantial margin.

Obviously, a 41 year-old player is slightly slower, less limber, and less agile than, say, Boston’s Shane Victorino (32). The statistics corroborate this, as Ibanez scored a -17.1 in Ultimate Zone Primer (UZR). This statistic encompasses a fielder’s range, in respect to ability to fielding a ball in any specific location.

Shane Victorino scored a 24.0 with UZR. Ibanez tallied the worst UZR among all players in the MLB with at least 800 innings, while Victorino sat at fourth place. Fielding discrepancies such as this are not accounted for in wins.

There were 45 players with more wins in 2013 than Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s best pitcher. Had Raul Ibanez been moderately more agile, a fly ball to left-center field may have been caught for an out, instead of dropping, and scoring 3 runs.

Jon Lester, on the other hand, Boston’s “ace” tallied 15 wins on the 2013 season. According to fangraphs.com, Victorino saved 24 defensive runs last year. That equates to one run saved every 6.75 games. Defensive metrics are highly underrated and can often be used to justify a pitcher’s low (or high) win total.

Hernandez placed fifth in terms of FIP, Fielding Independent Pitching, which is calculated using home runs, strikeouts, walks, batters hit, and other “fielding-independent” statistics. Lester finished 41st in terms of FIP.

Is it fair to depreciate the value of Felix Hernandez because Raul Ibanez is an incompetent fielder? Of course it’s not. Is it fair to say Jon Lester is an “ace” or “shut down” pitcher because Shane Victorino can run, catch, and throw better than most players? Of course it’s not. That is why wins should never surface on a remedial stat-sheet or glance at a pitcher, and metrics such as FIP should.

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Fisher Cats Drop Home Opener to B-Mets

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats drew a nice crowd of 5,946 fans for Opening Night, but the team on the field fell short in Thursday night’s 9-1 loss to the Binghamton Mets at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The Mets struck first in the top of the second inning. Designated hitter Jayce Boyd led off the inning with a double after drove a pitch to deep centerfield. Dustin Lawley followed with a two-run homerun over the leftfield fence, and this gave Binghamton an early advantage.

Two innings later, the Fisher Cats answered with one run after Jon Berti stole third base and went on to score after Kevin Plawecki, Binghamton’s catcher, threw the ball away into left field. This would be the only run the Fisher Cats plated in the contest.

Binghamton was not done scoring, however.

The Mets picked up three more runs in the fifth inning, one in  the top of the seventh, and three more in the ninth. While the Fisher Cats defense made some spectacular plays, there were some costly errors committed.

Fisher Cats starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx threw six innings, gave up four hits and five earned runs, but did not walk a batter. The veteran righty struck out five batters in his second start of the year.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats play three more games against the Binghamton Mets before the New Britain Rock Cats come to town for a three-game series to cap off the homestand.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

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Fisher Cats Open Gates for 10th Season

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—For the tenth time in franchise history, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats open up the gates for Opening Night. From championship titles to rebuilding seasons, the organization has definitely seen it all. With ten seasons comes more than a handful of memories and the stories of joy and heartbreak. In honor of the Fisher Cats celebrating their decade of operate, let’s reminisce the most memorable winning moments in Fisher Cats history.

2004: The Fisher Cats finished their inaugural season with a record of 84-57 and the Eastern League championship title. Tyrell Godwin, Aaron Hill, and Justin Singleton were some of the top performers for the organization in their first season. The championship team was unstoppable under the leadership of Mike Basso.

2011: The only other time the Fisher Cats have raised the Eastern League championship trophy was in 2011 under the management of former Major Leaguer Sal Fasano. Key players on the roster included Anthony Gose, Eastern League MVP Travis d’Arnaud, and Mike McDade. The Fisher Cats wrapped up the season with a record of 77-65.

The Fisher Cats have played six games so far this season and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a record of 2-4. Brad Glenn, Kenny Wilson, and Kevin Nolan have all contributed offensively for the Fisher Cats. On the mound, Deck McGuire and Blue Jays Top Prospect Aaron Sanchez have both showcased their talents.

The Fisher Cats open up their season at home on Thursday night and go on to play three more games with the Binghamton Mets. The homestand will continue with three games against New Britain before the team heads on a seven-game roadtrip that starts in Binghamton, New York.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSporsU18. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com.

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PawSox loaded for Opener

The final days of Spring Training are here at last and baseball at McCoy is right around the corner. The PawSox begin their 2014 season Thursday and will be loaded with talent yet again. Almost every position on the diamond will be filled by someone with a legitimate chance of being in the Majors and this is one of the deepest Opening Day rosters I can remember for Pawtucket.

The greatest amount of depth lies in the PawSox rotation, a group that has been talked about greatly this spring. They are filled with young talent that the organization is high on and are ready to make an impact. Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton all have a chance to compete in this rotation, though De La Rosa and Britton could be used out of the bullpen.

Webster split time between Boston and Pawtucket last year, and like most of his pitching teammates his time to shine is now. Webster’s biggest improvement a season ago was likely the increase in velocity as not many predicted that he would hit 98 M.P.H. on the radar gun. However his MLB numbers weren’t there, as anytime he was called up he was unimpressive. Command was a big issue for him and keeping his sinker down will be important in 2014. At age 24, he has the promise to be a big league pitcher but must show he is ready before his chance passes by.

Ranaudo and Barnes fall into the same boat as Webster. Even though they haven’t made their MLB debut, they are at the age where they need to take the next step in their careers. Both pitchers have the stuff to be successful, but they will have to work on secondary pitches and consistency to make this leap. As highly regarded prospects with little Triple-A experience, I look for them to have big years and force their way into the big leagues at some point. With so much depth for Boston, it can be tough to crack THEIR roster as anything other than a late season call up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Sox pull off a trade using some of these pitchers as chips. If they perform well early on it bodes well for them playing in the Majors at some point this year, whether in Boston or somewhere else.

De La Rosa is coming off a disappointing season in 2013, but there is reason to believe that the former highly touted prospect can bounce back. For starters, he came off Tommy John surgery last year and was never really comfortable all year. Now fully healthy, he can be a very effective pitcher in whatever role the team wants him in. The organization put him in the bullpen at the end of last year, and whether he starts or relieves for the PawSox he is someone who can help the Boston bullpen in 2014. While he is lower on the totem pole for a spot starter call up, his ability to throw in the high 90s and strike out hitters makes him a likely call up at some point.

Workman and Britton were fighting for the final spot on Boston’s roster, and Workman won the battle. However had Craig Breslow not been placed on the disabled list, both likely would have been ticketed for McCoy Stadium. That’s not to say that Boston doesn’t like them. It’s just the opposite. The team is very high on Workman and thinks he can be a starting pitcher in the future. Once Breslow comes back, expect Workman to be sent to Pawtucket and work on starting. He was a starter most of last year, and once he gets stretched out would likely be the first pitcher the Sox call upon in a pinch. Britton can still start, but for the Sox would likely be a power lefty out of the bullpen. Pawtucket may use him in the rotation to start the year, but his Boston future lies in the bullpen in all likelihood.

In the bullpen, the PawSox have big league tested arms that could help Boston in 2014. Francisco Cordero had the chance to pitch for Pawtucket in 2014, however the former closer asked for his release instead of going through minor league lifestyle at his age. Returning to the bullpen will be Alex Wilson and Bryan Villarreal who both were up and down from Boston last year. Rich Hill and Tommy Layne were added as lefty specialists, and both could see some action at Fenway after each had great springs. Dalier Hinojosa and Shunsuke Watanabe signed from Cuba and Japan respectively. With no pro experience, these are the two question marks early on for the bullpen.

Moving to the offense, two names stand out above the rest to start 2014. Jackie Bradley Jr. was optioned to Pawtucket early on Friday after Grady Sizemore won the CF job from him. This move was inevitable as spring moved forward, as Bradley was the only outfielder with minor league options remaining. An elite defensive outfielder, he will have to work on reducing his strikeouts, specifically on high and in fastballs. This pitch gave him trouble in 2013, though in spring he has been able to get around on it a little better. Bradley also tended to be streaky in 2013, having stretches of brilliance followed by a prolonged slump. From what I’ve seen, the fact that he was sent down and has things to work on won’t be a mental problem for him. He is calm and collected on and off the field, one of his biggest strengths. He will see MLB time in 2014, but with an injury prone Sizemore plus Shane Victorino being nicked up, the only question is how much.

The other big prospect that will play everyday for the PawSox is 3B Garin Cecchini. The third overall prospect in the Boston system, Cecchini will make his Triple-A debut after a great season with Portland. He has the tools to be a good hitter with developing power and great discipline. It’s doubtful that he’ll see time with Boston this year, but he is one of the better prospects in baseball and should be fun to watch him develop this year.

Pawtucket’s other hitters aren’t too shabby either. Ryan Lavarnway will split time between DH, catcher, and first base for the team, providing a power bat in the middle of the order for however long he is with the team. He is the third catcher in the organization heading into the year. The starting catcher will be Christian Vazquez, a player the team likes defensively. He spent the end of the year with Pawtucket after a good year in Portland and is a strong candidate to be Boston’s 2015 starting catcher if his offense continues to progress. Lost in the catching mix is 2013 PawSox MVP Dan Butler. Butler’s big league future is that of a backup, and as such his at bats in Triple-A will suffer. He figures to be the primary back up to Vazquez, with Lavarnway getting mostly DH at bats.

Aside from Bradley in CF, Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, and Corey Brown will have to fight for playing time. All three are good players, but I think Brentz would get the most time out of those three because of his power potential and how well he’s played for Pawtucket over the past few seasons. Outfield is the deepest offensive position on the team by far. The infield returns Brandon Snyder, another veteran hitter with pop, Brock Holt, who had a chance to make Boston’s roster, and Heiker Meneses from last year. Justin Henry and Mike McCoy will be on the bench as super utility players, as each can play all over the infield and outfield.

For the second year in a row, the PawSox will open up with a new manager. After a successful season last year from Gary DiSarcina, who left to join the Angels as their third base coach, Kevin Boles was promoted from Portland to manage Pawtucket. This was the perfect man for the job. As I touched on earlier, this is such a big year for many top Sox prospects. Boles has had experience managing many players on this roster and his presence could help their development move quicker.

He also has managed some of the other prospects that could play in Pawtucket this year. Top pitching prospect Henry Owens will start with the Sea Dogs, but once he shows he can handle Double-A hitters he will be promoted. Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, and Deven Marrero are other highly regarded prospects that will have a chance to be promoted at some point this season.

This roster will be much different and see many changes as the season goes on. But as it stands right now this team has one of the deepest lineups and deepest rotations in all of minor league baseball. With many budding stars on their way up, it promises to be another exciting year in Pawtucket.

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UMass Lowell Comes Out On Top in Nailbiter

by Patrick Cavanaugh

(WORCESTER)–The Boston College Eagles may have comfortably found their way into the NCAA New England Regional Championship after a 6-2 victory, but the UMass Lowell Riverhawks had to fight tooth and nail to get the 2-1 victory over the Minnesota State Mavericks on Saturday night at the DCU Center.

Joe Pendenza was first to score for UML. The senior forward scored what turned out to be the lone goal for most of the game when he took advantage of a turnover at the blue line when his team was short-handed. All alone, Pendenza skated in and poked the puck between the pads of Minnesota State  goaltender Cole Huggins (33 saves).

The score gives a clear image of who won the game, but does not give the story of how hard both teams fought to skate with each other or describe the clinic that both goaltenders put on during the contest. The Riverhawks capitalized on an opportunity early on and after that, all credit goes to Connor Hellebuyck (35 saves) and the incredible luck that UMass Lowell had.

Throughout the entire game, both teams had their fair share of scoring opportunities and rebound shots in front of the net. The only other goals in the contest both came with less than a minute to play in the game. Zack Kamrass scored an empty-net goal for Lowell with forty seconds left on the clock, but Zack Stepan answers with a power-play goal for the Mavericks. In the end, its the Mavericks who come up short and UMass Lowell is going to the New England Regional Championship.

With the victory, the Riverhawks will take on state-rival Boston College at 5PM tomorrow night at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Be sure to follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter (@pcava12) for updates from the 2014 NCAA Northeast Mens Ice Hockey Regional.

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BC Starters Shine in 6-2 Victory Over Denver

by Patrick Cavanaugh

(WORCESTER)–The line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes was unstoppable on Saturday evening as they went on to defeat the Denver Pioneers by a score of 6-2 at the DCU Center in Worcester.

It all started just 35 seconds into the game when defensemen Scott Savage and forward Kevin Hayes set up Johnny Gaudreau out in front and got the Eagles an early 1-0 lead.

It did not take long for BC to strike again as just minutes later, Hayes lit the lamp himself after being fed a pass from Bill Arnold. The Eagles were dominating the Pioneers early on and kept the scoring streak going.

Gaudreau found the back of the net again late in the opening period on the rebound after an initial shot by Michael Matheson. This goal gave BC a two goal lead over Denver, but that was not big enough.

Five minutes into the second period, Hayes picked up another point after he fired a shot past Sam Brittain. The crowd went crazy after BC’s next goal which gave Gaudreau his first career hat trick, and it was televised nationally on ESPNU.

Denver countered with a goal at the conclusion of the second period. Ty Loney centered Trevor Moore who fired the only shot that got past Eagles’ goaltender Thatcher Demko (18 saves).

With the exception of a Denver goaltender change and a handful of penalties, the third period cruised along. With just thirteen seconds left on the clock, Evan Janssen scored for Denver.

At the final horn, the Boston College bench cleared to celebrate the 6-2 victory with their goaltender. The Eagles will play tomorrow night against the winner of the UMASS Lowell/Minnesota State game.

The DCU Center is still rocking as there is one more game to be played in Worcester tonight. UMASS Lowell will take on Minnesota State
at approximately 7:35 PM. The game will be televised on ESPN3.

Follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter (@pcava12) for updates from the NCAA New England Mens Ice Hockey Regional.

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Providence remains in playoff position

With just 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Providence Bruins are in strong position to make the postseason for a second year in a row. The team sits in sixth place entering the 24th weekend of the season with 72 pts. They are five points ahead of the ninth place team in the conference (as in the NHL the top eight make playoffs) and are also just four points behind the St. John’s IceCaps for fourth place. With nine more games at home and eight more total against non-playoff contenders, the P-Bruins just need to play solid the rest of the way to secure a playoff berth.

Providence got off to a slow start this weekend, losing in a shootout to the Sharks 5-4 and then in regulation to the first place Monarchs 4-2. However, they laid a beat down on the Phantoms Sunday 9-3. Four of the nine goals came on the power play and overall the team went 6-11 with the man advantage. This is an area Providence has excelled in throughout the year, as their 21.5% on the power play is fifth in the AHL.

While Providence only earned three of a possible six points, two of their young stars had excellent weekends. Alexander Khokhlachev posted nine points (3g, 6a) in the three games, including notching a goal and four assists Sunday. Despite being out earlier in the season with injury, the rookie leads the team in scoring with 46 points (18g, 28a) and is fourth amongst AHL rookies in the same category. Khokhlachev is also tied for third on the team with a rating of plus 13. Fellow rookie Seth Griffith had himself quite the Sunday, netting four goals and adding on an assist for good measure. He too had nine points (6g, 3a) on the weekend and is second on the team with 39 points.

Two players also had long goal scoring droughts snapped over the weekend. Top prospect Ryan Spooner snapped a 33 game streak without finding the back of the net and Jared Knight stopped a 35 game streak. Depth has been such a key for this team, and it is one of the reasons they are able to compete without their top player Spooner scoring more goals. The scoring has been balanced, the defense has been superb, and the combination of Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban has been great in goal. This team has so much talent that has been up and down or hurt. Currently, Nick Johnson, Matt Fraser, Joe Morrow, Alex Fallstrom and Andrew Cherniwchan are all out, but this team has survived. If everyone can get back healthy for playoffs, this team can make some noise.

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