A lot has changed in the 19 years since Billy McMillon helped lead the Portland Sea Dogs to a franchise record 86 wins in the club’s second season in existence.
Back then the team was an affiliate of the Florida Marlins and McMillon was patrolling the outfield at Hadlock Field, where in their 20th season, the Sea Dogs now till the soil of the Red Sox farm, with McMillon playing the role of manager.
With this year’s Sea Dogs on the verge of breaking the 1995 record for wins in a season, McMillon reflected on the season at hand and all the changes that have come along the way.
“A lot has changed,” said McMillion. “There’s an increased focus on weight, nutrition, off-season programs…guys are exposed to the game, they’re exposed to things that make them better. You can talk about the computer programs that some organizations employ, whether it’s analysis of swings, or video reviews.
“All those things make today’s game more competitive, more challenging and I think in a lot of ways a better product because guys are better able to identify weaknesses and focus on them through those resources.”
Those resources, along with a rotating cast of players, many of whom were a part of McMillon’s run to a Carolina League title last season in Salem, have helped clinch Portland’s first postseason berth since 2008.
Even in the face of losing the likes of Mookie Betts, Deven Marrero, Henry Owens, Travis Shaw and Blake Swihart to promotions, the Sea Dogs have barely skipped a beat, recently running off a season best 10 game win streak.
“All told, it’s really nice that the guys have responded on the field with their play,” said McMillion. “It’s all about development, so the fact that guys have been able to do that, we’ve won some games, made the postseason, it makes it a fun summer.”
“For me, for Geddy [hitting coach Rich Gedman], for Kip [pitching coach Bob Kipper], it’s about execution and performing every day.”
With McMillion and his staff having a proven track record of developing their players, the primary goal for a coaching staff, the winning serves as an added bonus as well as a testament to the work the players have put in.
As for trying to make a little history in the final throes of the season, the Sea Dogs players are hoping to use it as a platform towards capturing the team’s first Eastern League title since 2006.
“It’s something that I think we’re aware of but we don’t really think about too much,” said second baseman Sean Coyle. “We’re just out here trying to play our game and take care of business.”
“It’s always cool when you have an opportunity to break records and do all that kind of fun stuff,” said pitcher Brian Johnson. “It should be one of our goals. The biggest thing now is to get hot and stay hot for what comes next.”
At 85-52, Portland needs to win two of its last five regular season games, all to be played at home, to set a new record.
Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, the Sea Dogs will face the Binghamton Mets in a best-of-five first round series, with dates to be announced.
Brian Johnson – Over his last seven starts the lefty is 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA, 0.66 WHIP and 43 strikeouts. Johnson, who makes his 20th start of the season for Portland on Thursday night, has a 1.83 ERA since joining the Sea Dogs. Jon Lester owns the Sea Dogs record for lowest ERA in a season with a 2.61 in 2005.
Squeezing the system
Pawtucket (AAA) – On top of riding the Pawtucket-to-Fenway shuttle of late, starter Anthony Ranaudo has been riding high with the PawSox, having recently been named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher after earning the same honor in the Eastern League a year ago. Ranaudo is 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA and 111 strikeouts in Triple-A this season.
Portland (AA) – Second baseman Coyle and pitchers Keith Couch and Aaron Kurcz will continue their seasons in the Arizona Fall League one the Sea Dogs year concludes. Couch is 8-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 17 games, Kurcz is 3-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 3 saves in 32 appearances out of the bullpen and Coyle has hit .296 with 15 home runs, 57 RBIs and 59 runs scored. All three players will be Rule 5 eligible if not added to the Sox 40-man roster, so this will be a crucial showcase for the trio.
Salem (A+) – Carlos Asuaje remains red hot for the Salem Sox. The 2013 11th rounder has hit safely in 27 of the 33 games played since his promotion, with 19 extra base hits, 23 RBIs and 24 runs. Asuaje’s .317 batting average on the year is second best in the Sox minor league system and his 12 triples are the most in the entire organization.
Greenville (A) – Since being promoted at the beginning of August, Sam Travis has collected hits in 16 of 22 games for the Drive. After starting his pro career in Lowell earlier in the summer, the Red Sox second round pick has hit a combined .317 with 7 home runs, 42 RBIs and 38 runs scored.
Lowell (Short Season A) – Over seven starts, right-hander Aaron Wilkerson has gone five-plus innings and allowed a run or less in all but one outing. Minus his four-inning, five run start against State College, Wilkerson, who was playing Independent baseball with Grand Prairie prior to joining the Spinners, is 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA.
Gulf Coast (Rookie) – Michael Chavis, the Red Sox first round selection this past June, connected for his first professional home run on Monday, a two-run, third inning shot. After hitting just .127 over his first 17 games, Chavis is has posted a .365 batting average over his last 21.
Dominican (Rookie) – Despite having its last two games of the regular season cancelled – one due to rain, the other fog – the club secured a playoff berth by clinching the Boca Chica South Division. A 50-19 record marked the second best win percentage (.725) in the league this season.