MONTERREY, YUCATAN CONTINUE TO LEAD LMB DIVISIONS

by Bruce Baskin
May 31, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)

It's been a long time since BBM has done a team-by-team weekly wrap. Five interrupted hours and 1,600+ words after starting to write this, I remember why. It takes a pretty fair amount of time to write capsules for 16 baseball teams.

Even so, it was fun to take a closer look at who's been doing well (or not so well) in the Mexican League as it approaches the midpoint of the 2017 season, with the All-Star Game in Campeche just three weeks away. Monterrey and Yucatan continue to lead their respective divisions (with both teams opening their leads a bit), there are still 60 games to go in the regular season schedule and if there's anything to be learned about baseball in Mexico in general, it's to expect the unexpected...in other words, there's a lot of season left to play.

With that in mind, let's look at who's doing what at the 50-game mark of the LMB season:

LMB NORTH

MONTERREY (36-13) won 4 of 6 road games in Puebla and Leon to stretch their lead over second-place Tijuana to 4.5 games. CF Chris Roberson (.380/10HR/35RBI) continues to hit well, as does LF Zoilo Almonte (.361/10/38). 3B Agustin Murillo is batting .360 in 25 games after an injury delayed his season debut until April 28. Angel Castro beat Leon Saturday to run his LMB-best record to 8-0. He's won eight straight starts but allowed four earned runs in each of his last three outings.

TIJUANA (32-18) continues to hold second place after winning two of three against the Tigres in Cancun over the weekend. OF Cyle Hankerd (.339/10/42) is quietly putting together a very strong year in the shadows of Toros power hitters OF Corey Brown (.312/13/51) and 3B Alex Liddi (.269/12/44). Brown still leads the LMB in homers despite not hitting one out in two weeks. Pitching has been a concern in TJ, although closer Jason Urquidez (2-0/0.47) is 10-of-10 in save situations.

MONCLOVA (29-21) has won 7 of 8 games since manager Wally Backman was replaced by Jorge Loredo, including two of three in Puebla last weekend. SS Amadeo Zazueta leads Acereros batters with a .358 average. 2B Manny Rodriguez (.351) has 6 homers, 48 RBIs and 11 steals. Monclova has four pitchers with 4 wins each. Jose Oyervides (4-1/3.52) and Mauricio Lara (4-3/3.64) have looked good, but Josh Lowey (4-4/4.58) has won just 1 of his past 5 starts. Chad Gaudin has 15 saves and a 2.06 ERA.

LAGUNA (29-22) is on a five-game win streak after sweeping Campeche over the weekend. 1B Ricky Alvarez (.332/10/57) had a 4-hit night Friday and leads the LMB in RBIs, but 2B Anderson Hernandez (.344) is just 6-for-37 over his past 10 games. OF Ethan Chapman (.265/14 steals) is writing a season diary for Sports Spectrum, a Christian magazine. P Dustin Crenshaw (6-2/4.03) lost at Veracruz last Tuesday, but pitched well his last three start. Edgar Osuna is 0-3 this month after winning his first five starts in April.

AGUASCALIENTES (27-24) split their six-game homestand against Oaxaca and Veracruz last week, beating the Rojos Aguilas two of three in a weekend series. 1B Jesse Castillo (.373) has hit .335 or better the past three seasons with the Rieleros and is among the LMB leaders in homers (12) and RBIs (52). OF Dave Sappelt has hit .365 in 21 games after he was released by Tabasco in April. P Roy Merritt (4-1/3.10) has been solid and ex-MLB P Jose Valverde (2-2/2.70/8 saves) has shored up the Aguascalientes bullpen.

MEXICO CITY (27-24) has gone 3-6 over their last three series after threatening to move up in the standings earlier this month. Vet OF Ivan Terrazas (.343) is looking to top .320 for the eighth time in sine summers with the Diablos while SS Ramon Urias (.326/9/41) is in the midst of a career year. Ace P David Reyes (3-5/4.88) and former Rookie of the Year Juan Pablo Oramas (1-2/5.84) have both struggled but unsung Octavio Acosta (5-1/3.21) and vet Arturo Lopez (5-1/4,37) have picked up some of the slack.

SALTILLO (21-28) manager Orlando Sanchez was fired earlier this month. The Saraperos won four games at home against Veracruz and Oaxaca last week under new skipper Fernando Elizondo. 2B Luis Borges (.374) has cooled considerably after leading the Liga with a .417 average two weeks ago but 1B Max Ramirez (.397) is second in the LMB. OF Justin Greene (.343) leads the league with 25 steals. Ps Frankie de la Cruz (4.29) and Danny Rodriguez (4.63) each have 5 wins, Neither has set the world on fire.

DURANGO (21-30) has won 9 of their last 12 games, winning all four series in the process. The Generales blew out Tabasco, 23-5, Friday night at home as DH Jairo Perez (.352) went 5-for-6 with two homers and nine RBIs. OF Yadir Drake (.401/11/45) leads the Liga in hitting as the Cuban refugee is becoming the LMB's feel-good story of the year. Closer Tiago da Silva (2.28/18 saves) has been the only consistent Durango pitcher as fans across Mexico have apparently embraced the hard-luck team.

LMB SOUTH

YUCATAN (31-18) took 2 of 3 against both Tijuana and Mexico City last week in Merida to strengthen their grip on the Southern Division, drawing nearly 34,000 for the Diablos series. LF Jesus "Cacao" Valdez (.356) and 2B Jordany Valdespin (.349) top the team's batting table, but this is a typical Leones club with more pitching and defense than offense. P Yoanner Negrin (6-2/3.79) hasn't dominated as he did in 2016, but Jose Samayoa (6-0/2.25) has been a revelation, winning four straight starts since joining the rotation.

PUEBLA (25-26) dropped a pair of important home series to Monterrey and Monclova to go 2-4 last week. Former A's 1B Dan Johnson (.375) has hit 5 homers in 12 games while ex-MLB OF Endy Chavez (.355) and last year's bat champ C Cesar Tapia (.349) are hitting well but pitching has been problematic, Josh Roenicke (5-3/3.20) notwithstanding. Former Monclova manager Wally Backman is now Von Hayes' bench coach. The Pericos would be seventh in the LMB North, which says it all about the LMB South.

QUINTANA ROO (23-25) is hard to figure out. In the past two weeks, the Tigres have swept a series in Monclova, dropped three in Monterrey, won two at home against rivals Mexico City and lost two to Tijuana in Cancun. Q-Roo's offense is anemic: Last in the LMB with 22 homers, last at 3.94 runs per game and 15th with a .262 average. 3B Brian Hernandez (.339/4/35) and 2B Carlos Gastelum (.333) need help. The pitching's fine, though, fourth in the Liga with a 4.07 ERA. Ageless Pablo Ortega (5-2/2.89) continues to amaze.

VERACRUZ (23-27) lost 4 of 6 games in Saltillo and Aguascalientes last week, but the Rojos Aguilas have won 12 of their last 19 games to climb to fourth. One reason is newcomer 1B Balbino Fuenmayor (.335/9/32 in 32 games), who's injected power into a lineup of slap-hitters. Another is RF Luis Suarez (.310), a 20-year vet and lifetime .321 hitter coming off a pair of .242 seasons. 3B Juan Martinez (.324/5/26) has helped, too. P Nestor Molina (5-1/2.33) leads the Liga in ERA to lead an overmatched mound staff.

OAXACA (22-28), owner Alfredo Harp Helu's "other" team (and, like their counterparts in Mexico City, fielding an all-Mexican roster), hit a rough patch earlier this month by losing 8 of 10 contests between the 11th and 21st before splitting six games last week. CF Alan Sanchez (.330/4/23), C Erick Rodriguez (.326) and vet DH Mario Valenzuela (.274/6/22) head the offense. Irwin Delgado (7-2/2.39/69K) has been the top pitcher, with 6'6" Ruddy Acosta (2-3/2.23) throwing well this month after coming off the disabled list.

CAMPECHE (21-30) has lost five in a row (all on the road, including a sweep in Laguna) after starting last week with a win in Durango. SS Paul Leon (.353/4/24) and 2B Yosmany Guerra (.306) give the Piratas a good keystone duo while 1B Frank Diaz (.302/9/38) and 3B C.J. Retherford (.282/6/26R) provide power from the infield corners. The pitching no better than so-so. Rolando Valdez (4-3/3.97) has been the best starter with Francisco Campos (0-2/3.55) hurt most of the year and Oscar Rivera (0-6/6.17) ineffective.

TABASCO (17-33) hasn't done any better under manager Marco Antonio Guzman than they did under Che Reyes. Waiving OF Dave Sappelt while adding ex-MLB IFs Ronny Cedeno and Carlos Triunfel didn't work out. Signing free agent 2B Jordany Valedspin (.372/32R in 33 games) HAS worked, while OF Alex Romero (.368) and DH Sandy Madera (.340/5/29) are having good years. None of the 24 pitchers who've thrown for the Olmecas have won more than twice. In short, another long year in Villahermosa.

LEON (17-34) lost six in a row before surprising LMB-best Monterrey, 6-4, Sunday at home as 2B Carlos Valencia homered after coming off a 50-game drug suspension. Vet 3B Miguel Torrero (.293) and ex-Phils OF prospect Leandro Castro (.279/10/33) are hitting well and SS Niko Vazquez (.297) has been solid after missing three weeks to injury. P Mitch Lively (4-1/1.88) was inexplicably moved to the bullpen by manager Luis Rivera after one bad start. Walter Silva (3-4/2.83) has pitched better than his record shows.

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