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2014 International League championship preview

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Durham v. Pawtucket 2: Electric Boogaloo

Edwin Escobar made his big league debut, but he's back in the minors to start game one against Durham
Edwin Escobar made his big league debut, but he's back in the minors to start game one against Durham
Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

After beating Columbus in three straight games to win the best of five semifinal, the Durham Bulls move on to the International League championship.  For the second straight season, the Governors Cup will go to the winner of a best of five series between Durham and the Pawtucket Red Sox.

International League championship schedule (Durham lost season series 5-3)

Game one 9/9: Durham @ Pawtucket 7:05 PM (Alex Colome v. Edwin Escobar)
Game two 9/10: Durham @ Pawtucket 7:05 PM (Enny Romero v. Henry Owens)
Game three 9/11: Durham v. Pawtucket 7:05 PM (Matt Andriese v. Eduardo Rodriguez)
Game four (if necessary) 9/12: Durham v. Pawtucket 7:05 PM (Nate Karns v. Ryan Verdugo)
Game five (if necessary) 9/13: Durham v. Pawtucket 7:05 PM (Mike Montgomery v. Chris Hernandez)

Pawtucket pitching

Not long ago, suggesting Pawtucket's championship rotation would look like this would be unthinkable.  Two months ago, Escobar was pitching in the Giants organization. Rodriguez was pitching in the Orioles rotation. Verdugo was pitching in the Royals organization.  Owens was pitching for Double-A Portland, and Hernandez was the only Pawtucket mainstay.  In the regular season, these five combined for 30 Pawtucket starts, 16 of which belonged to Hernandez.

Escobar, their projected game one starter, came over from the Giants in the Jake Peavy trade.  After two successful years split between three levels, he struggled for both Triple-A Fresno before the trade and Pawtucket after with strikeout, walk and home run rates all going in the wrong direction.  The only Bull that's faced him is Nick Franklin, and he's gone 0/2.

Owens is Boston's top pitching prospect and maybe top overall if Mookie Betts graduates this September.  It doesn't appear he's faced any Durham batters in his career.  He's been good, not great, in his limited work with Pawtucket, and his fastball/changeup combo could cause some problems the first time through the lineup.  If he does indeed start game two, it'll be a matchup of two Futures Game pitchers.

When Portland's season ended, Rodriguez was promoted to Pawtucket to continue the success he's had since the Red Sox acquired him for Andrew Miller.  He's a top 100 prospect, and Durham's hitters have never faced him.  Even if he's making his Triple-A debut, his above average stuff could present problems.

Verdugo was picked up from Kansas City and has bounced between the rotation and bullpen.  If he's faced any current Bulls, it hasn't been for several years.  At one point, he was a prospect for the Giants, but he was traded to the Royals for Melky Cabrera.  He allowed six runs in his only career big league appearance to date.

Hernandez is Pawtucket's veteran, having spent parts of the last three seasons there.  He hasn't performed well at all, and I'd imagine the Red Sox would like to win the series in fewer than five games.  He has had a little success against Durham though, allowing four earned runs in 12.1 innings over a pair of starts.  Current Bulls own just a .447 OPS against him, but Justin Christian had a pair of doubles.

The Pawtucket bullpen has an interesting pair of arms, one being a prospect and one being a pitcher I enjoyed in college.  Heath Hembree is the prospect with power stuff, and he was the second pitcher acquired from San Francisco in the Peavy trade.  The other pitcher is righty Noe Ramirez who owns one of the better changeups in the minors.

Pawtucket offense

Pawtucket's lineup was middle of the pack in most categories, and with September call-ups, they have a different look than previous months.  Top 50 prospect Blake Swihart was added late, but his adjustment to the new level has been difficult.  He plays alongside the perennially productive minor leaguer Ryan Lavarnway.

One familiar face in Pawtucket's infield will be looking for his second straight IL championship: Ryan Roberts.  He's been a solid minor league bat this year, and he's joined in the middle infield by the slick fielding Deven Marrero at shortstop.  Marrero has struggled at the plate since his recent promotion though.  On the corners, they have third baseman Garin Cecchini, a struggling former top 100 prospect, and Travis Shaw, a decent minor league slugger.

Jackie Bradley is back in the majors, but Pawtucket gets a boost with Cuban import Rusney Castillo.  Castillo only has six professional games under his belt, but he's already come up with some big hits and big plays in the field.  Between Corey Brown and corner outfielder Bryce Brentz, the Red Sox got 29 home runs in about 150 games combined for two other outfielders.

Overall, both teams have their share of prospects.  Good performances from Enny Romero, and if they get there, Mike Montgomery, will be key because it looks like Pawtucket is better equipped to hit left-handed pitchers.  The other three guys should be fine as long as they keep the ball in the ballpark.  Offensively, the Bulls were in the lower half of the league, but against an inexperienced staff, they should have run scoring opportunities.