So far, this Portland Sea Dogs team is among the worst in the franchise’s 25-year history.

The wins and losses speak for themselves – 34-51 through Friday night – and first-year manager Darren Fenster knows that.

“Obviously you look at the record,” Fenster said. “It’s nowhere near where we would all want it to be.”

The record is the worst in the Eastern League and tied for second-worst among all Double-A teams. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimps, the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League, are 31-52.

How did it get this way in Portland?

And can these Sea Dogs get better?


To the first question, the answers aren’t complicated but varied. This is a thinned-out Red Sox farm system and the talent doesn’t stand out. So-so results are predictable but when that talent underperforms, the losses really pile up.

To the second question, the answer is already yes.

“We haven’t gone on any long winning streaks,” Fenster said, “but we’re played some pretty good ball the last month and a half.”

The Sea Dogs’ manager isn’t going all Pollyanna.

Fenster and Portland fans had reason to be dour May 30 when the Sea Dogs were 17-34 – on track for a 47-93 season, which would easily eclipse the 2015 team (53-89) as the worst for the franchise.

Since then these Sea Dogs are playing .500 ball, at 17-17 after Friday night’s victory at Hartford.


A championship team? Not this year. But no one boasted such expectations. This is not a team loaded with prospects, nor are there many minor league free agents – veterans to steady the club.

The pitching ranks next-to-last (4.76 ERA) in the 12-team Eastern League. Three pitchers have been demoted.

The offense ranks fifth in average (.253) and seventh in runs per game (3.81). Not overwhelming numbers but not unexpected.

“Our lineup has been relatively consistent in regard to doing what we’re asking of them – having a good approach and competing in the box,” Fenster said. “At the end of the day that’s all we can ask.”

Before we look at how the stage was set for this losing team, consider two factors:

One, the purpose of a minor league team is to develop major league players (and yes, you can argue that winning is part of that development). In the past seven years, Sea Dogs teams have had six losing records, including three last-place finishes. Out of those years have emerged Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez – two-thirds of the Red Sox lineup on most days.


Two, trades happen. For a team like the Red Sox and its president, “Trader Dave” Dombrowski, there are two types of deals – the blockbusters (re: the trade of valued prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox for Chris Sale) and the ones that sacrifice minor league depth for a needed piece in the majors (like the recent trade, sending unknown Class A shortstop Santiago Espinol to Toronto for veteran right-hander hitter Steve Pearce).

The blockbusters make the headlines but it’s the other deals that weaken minor league teams. Espinol, 23, a 10th-round draft pick in 2016, was having a career season in Salem (.313 average). While hardly a can’t-miss prospect, he eventually would have been promoted to Double-A and possibly helped the Sea Dogs.

But if Pearce can help Boston, who cares if a minor league shortstop could have meant a couple more wins in Portland?

How did we get here?

No doubt, Dombrowski’s deals have affected Portland.

Shaun Anderson and Logan Allen are Double-A All-Star pitchers this year, with Anderson also selected to the Futures Game. Both were Red Sox prospects, but Anderson is now with the Giants (traded in the Eduardo Nunez deal) and Allen is with the Padres (Craig Kimbrel trade).


There are Gerson Bautista (recently promoted to Triple-A) and Stephen Nogosek (3.06 ERA in advanced Class A). Both pitch for the Mets, traded last year in the deal for reliever Addison Reed.

Brothers Luis Alexander Basabe and Luis Alexandro Basabe are playing well. Alexander, an outfielder, was just promoted to Double-A. Alexandro, a second baseman, is batting .313 in advanced Class A. Alexander was also part of the Sale trade, and Alexandro is with the Diamondbacks (traded in the Brad Ziegler deal). Those twins would have been a delight to watch if they could have played together at Hadlock.

Besides the trades, other factors weakened the Sea Dogs.

The suspension of Michael Chavis didn’t help. He missed the first 80 games after testing positive for steroids. Chavis, one of the Red Sox top prospects after hitting 31 home runs this year, returned Saturday to the Sea Dogs.

It must be pointed out that if Chavis was healthy (he suffered an oblique strain in spring training) and not suspended, he might have begun the year in Triple-A.

Minor league teams like to have veterans around, and Portland began the year with former big leaguer Mike Olt. He played three games for the Sea Dogs before being summoned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he has hit 10 home runs.


Portland had Mexican League veteran infielder Esteban Quiroz, who was batting .302 in 15 games before being shelved with injuries.

The Red Sox signed former big league infielder Tony Renda and sent him to Portland. He got hot before breaking his hand. Renda returned this past week and is batting .376 in 25 games.

There also have been underperformances and slow starts.

Reliever Jake Cosart was one of the league’s best at the end of last season with a 1.17 ERA in July and August. He returned this year and his ERA ballooned to 8.41 before being sent down to Salem. He joined reliever Yankory Pimentel, who was demoted after seven games with Portland (10.22 ERA).

Kevin McAvoy, a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, began his third season as a starter for Portland. He struggled (7.67 ERA) and was sent to the bullpen, where he was still ineffective. McAvoy joined Salem two weeks ago.

The bullpen also was affected by the difficult transition of Trey Ball, a first-round draft pick who struggled as a starter (5.27 ERA last year). On June 20, Ball’s ERA as a reliever was 7.07.


Starter Dedgar Jimenez showed promise last year (2.91 in eight starts) but has a 5.81 ERA this season, a result of giving up big innings.

At the plate, there was hope with returning outfielder Danny Mars (.304 average in 2017) and first baseman Josh Ockimey, the top hitting prospect on the roster.

But Mars was batting .175 on May 1. Ockimey, slowed with a hamstring strain, was hitting .196 with one home run on May 4.

The impact of poor performances devastated a team already thinned by suspension, injury and prior trades.

A team progressing

With so much going against them, how have the Sea Dogs improved, ever slightly?


The bullpen was reinforced with promotions for Matthew Gorst and Jordan Weems, a trade for Josh Taylor (in the Deven Marrero deal to Arizona) and the transition of Travis Lakins from the rotation. Since May, their combined ERA is 1.62. Also, Ball has allowed only one run in his last four games (eight innings).

The rotation, even with Jimenez scuffling, has been a strength. Kyle Hart (3.68) and Matt Kent (3.72) are All-Stars, but Mike Shawaryn (3.56, 1.09 WHIP) has been the most consistent performer for the Sea Dogs.

Offensively, not only is Renda back but Ockimey and Mars have turned it around. Since May 4, Ockimey is hitting .279 with 10 home runs. His .857 OPS leads the team. Mars is batting .292 since May 1. Jantzen Witte (.811 OPS, 39 RBI in 52 games) has been productive since he was sent down from Pawtucket on May 13.

These Sea Dogs won’t be making the postseason but are a losing team that seems intent on getting better.

“There’s not a single day where I can say these guys mailed it in and didn’t compete,” Fenster said.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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