THE UBER-TALENTED 2013 Salem Red Sox rattled off 11 consecutive wins en route to hoisting the Carolina League’s championship trophy and and the 2014 edition won the first five games of this season.
The latter feat is of note, because where last season’s Red Sox were boosted by slugger Garin Cecchini and staff ace Henry Owens during the first half and speedster Mookie Betts in the second half, this year’s squad boasts just one prospect considered to be among the organization’s top 20 in left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson.
Perhaps just as impressive: Until visiting Winston-Salem pushed across the first run in the third inning of Wednesday’s game at LewisGale Field, the Red Sox had yet to even trail in a 2014 game.
That first run was eventually followed by three more and the Dash would go on to hand Salem its first loss in 224 days, a 4-2 verdict. The winning pitcher for the Dash also happened to have Red Sox ties. J.B. Wendelken – who retired the first 12 batters he faced – was a prospect dealt to the Chicago White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade.
Salem’s overall win streak totaled 16 games, including the end of the 2013 regular season and the team’s unbeaten playoff run. As such, it was not an official winning streak, but it was the first time a Carolina League team won 16 consecutive games since the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals did it.
At 5-1, Salem is still out to its best-ever start. Other observations from Wednesday’s game:
— While Wendelken was the night’s pitching star, No. 9 hitter Adam Heisler was responsible for three of the Dash’s four runs. He belted triples in his first two at bats, scoring the game’s first run in the third inning, then driving in two more on his second triple in the fourth inning. He added a single in the seventh.
— While Heisler is batting at the bottom of the Dash’s order, do not mistake that for weakness – he’s only there because three of the White Sox’s elite prospects man the top of the order (Jacob May, Tim Anderson, Courtney Hawkins). Heisler was consistent in 2013 while splitting the season between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem in posting a .273 batting average. That number is goosed by a .316 performance in a six-game call-up to Triple-A Charlotte. So far this season, he’s batting .429. At 26, he’s old for High-A, meaning he could be one of the first called to Double-A.
— Red Sox cleanup hitter David Chester broke up Wendelken’s no-hit bid by leading off the fifth inning with a no-doubt home run to left, a moonshot that landed in the treetops beyond LewisGale Field’s tall wall. Dash left fielder Courtney Hawkins – who delivered a similar blast the night before – never moved.
— Chester flashed good power a year ago with 19 total home runs between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem. Though he is batting just .167 in five games, he appears to be showing improved discipline at the plate. After striking out 111 times in 2013, Chester has more walks (5) than strikeouts (3) in 2014.
— A few notable numbers from Salem’s winning streak: The Red Sox outscored their opponents 82-33. While the team batted just .267, it pitched to a 1.53 earned run average. A full one-third of those runs allowed came during the final victory in the string, a 12-11 win against the Dash on Tuesday. Lastly, not only had the Red Sox not trailed this season until falling behind in the third inning Wednesday – it had failed to score the first run only once during the winning streak.
— Pitching appears as if it will be the hallmark of this season’s Red Sox. Through six games, the pitching staff has fanned 70 batters, 13 more than any other Carolina League team. The staff also has issued just nine walks, half as many as the next-best team. Salem’s bullpen has accounted for just one of those walks in 23.2 innings thus far. Of the three shutouts in the Carolina League this season, two belong to Salem.