by Bruce Baskin
May 23, 2016 - Mexican League (ML)
The Monterrey Sultanes have won ten of their last eleven games to pull even with Monclova atop the Mexican League Northern Division standings. Both have 30-15 records and a five-game lead over third-place Aguascalientes and Tijuana, who are 25-20.
The Sultanes completed a three-game weekend home sweep over Reynosa Sunday with an 11-3 win over the Broncos. Starting pitcher Edgar Gonzalez gave up two earned runs to raise his season record to 5-1 for the Sultanes, who got four-hit nights from leadoff hitter Chris Roberson and former Yankees farmhand Zoilo Almonte to lead a 17-hit attack. A throng of 22,349 turned out Sunday to bring the Sultanes' season average at the turnstiles to 14,118, easily tops in all of minor league baseball. No other MiLB team is drawing double-figure crowds this season as the two-decade minor league boom appears to be edging into recession, meaning fans face less competition in the stands for t-shirts fired from a cannon. Hey, you need a positive spin when most of your teams are dealing with declining attendance.
Being swept at Estadio Monterrey extended Reynosa's current losing streak to twelve games while dropping the Broncos' season mark to 12-32, worst in the Liga. The team canned Rafael Castaneda as manager last week, replacing him at the helm with Hector Hurtado in time for Friday's series opener with the Sultanes. Hurtado is somewhat of an anomaly among the four men brought in to manage LMB teams in May in that he's never run a Liga team. Having spent 22 seasons as a catcher in Mexico followed by several more campaigns as a coach, however, Hurtado is no stranger to the game south of the border and losing his first three games indicates a seamless change with the Broncos. Ex-MLB pitcher Kyle Farnsworth may be putting the football pads back on before long after turning in an 0-1 record with an 8.31 ERA in 13 relief appearances for Reynosa.
In the LMB South, Puebla continues to dominate with a Liga-best 32-12 record (winning an incredible 18 of 22 road games in the process) while pulling to a five-and-a-half-game lead over 27-18 Quintana Roo in the standings. The Pericos did have a nine-game win streak snapped in Tabasco Sunday, losing 5-1 as Olmecas starter Logan Duran let in one run over eight innings in front of 978 souls in the stands at Villahermosa's Parque Centenario del 27 de Febrero. It was the Parrots' second defeat in 22 games since April 27. It's hard to put a finger on the source of Puebla's dominance thus far. Their team batting average of .304 is tied with Monterrey for second in the circuit behind Mexico City's .319 mark, which certainly is a good place to start, but the pitching staff's collective ERA of 4.91 is eleventh in the 16-team loop. Whatever the cause, the Pericos have found a way to win under skipper Matias Carrillo in 2016. It's a long season, but if it ended today, Puebla would be prohibitive playoff favorites. Things may be different by August.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Veracruz Rojo Aguilas lost a tough 3-1 contest to Oaxaca at home Sunday for their tenth straight defeat and 15th loss in 16 games. There were 2,056 spectators in the stands at Parque Beto Avila as Red Eagles starter Jose Pina turned in a great performance on the mound over eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits, but reliever Jesus Parela allowed two Guerreros runs in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie. It's almost as hard to put a finger on the lack of success for manager Lino Connell's team, but you can start with the offense (or lack thereof). Outside outfielder Enrique Osorio's .344 batting average, no Veracruz regular is batting above .290 and the club just isn't scoring enough runs to help the pitchers, whose team ERA of 4.93 is just behind Puebla on the Liga tables. With his team now at 13-32, Connell's seat may be getting unbearably hot, as we've already seen five LMB managers canned this year.
Catchers Cesar Tapia of Puebla and Eliezer Alfonzo of Mexico are 1-2 in the Mexican League batting race at .404 and .400, respectively, with Monterrey shortstop Walter Ibarra third with a .395 average. Another shortstop, Aguascalientes' Diory Hernandez, still leads the circuit with 12 homers despite not hitting any longballs last week, but Quinata Roo's Alex Liddi is now just one behind at 11 while Liddi's Tigres teammate, Esteban Quiroz, and Monclova's Jose Amador are tied for third with 10 apiece. Hernandez' 54 RBI's give him a comfortable lead in that statistical race over Quiroz' 42. Justin Greene of Saltillo is tops in stolen bases with 17, four more than Puebla's Nyjer Morgan and five up on Monterrey's Roberson.
Among pitchers, Tijuana's Hector Ambriz has been in lockdown mode thus far with a 1.23 ERA after nine starts, but his 3-2 record implies a lack of support among Toros batsmen. Monclova's Jose Oyervides (7-1, 1.72) and Josh Lowey (7-2, 1.84) are tied for the lead in wins along with Mexico City's David Reyes, while Lowey's 68 strikeouts over 58.2 innings tops the LMB in that category. Lowey (pictured above) was the Mexican League's Pitcher of the Year in 2015, his third such award after winning POY honors for the Frontier League in 2011 and one year later in the American Association, both independent circuits. Not bad for a guy who didn't focus on pitching until his Junior year at Mercer University. Now 31, Lowey won't likely find his way to the Majors, but hopes Japan or Korea may be in his future. Acereros teammate Arcenio Leon has 20 saves and a pair of wins in 26 relief appearances.
LMB STANDINGS (as of May 23, 2016)
North Division: Monclova 30-15, Monterrey 30-15, Aguascalientes 25-20, Tijuana 25-20, Laguna 23-22, Mexico City 23-22, Saltillo 20-25, Reynosa 12-32
South Division: Puebla 32-12, Quintana Roo 27-18, Yucatan 26-19, Campeche 23-21, Tabasco 19-26, Oaxaca 15-29, Carmen 15-30, Veracruz 13-32