With more than ten weeks and 60-plus games per team remaining in the regular season, it's a little early to be pinning the "contender" label on any Mexican Pacific League team after five games. On the other hand, the Hermosillo Naranjeros haven't done anything to dispel that notion, either.
Manager Lorenzo Bundy's Orangemen reeled off four wins out the gate, winning both ends of a home-and-away series with ravals Obregon and beating Navojoa two straight before losing their first game, a 3-2 heartbreaker in 12 innings decision at the hands of the Mayos Sunday as 15,615 watched at Estadio Sonora. Humberto Sosa's single to left scored speedy rookie Randy Arozarena from second in the top of the 12th to give the Mayos the final margin of victory.
The Naranjeros have three hitters topping the .300 mark in the young season: Outfielder Efren Navarro is third in the LMP batting race with a .450 mark, third baseman Jose Amador is fifth at .438 and outfielder Eric Young, Jr. checks in at .381. Amador is tied for third with Mazatlan's Cyle Hankerd at 2 homers each after a strange summer in which Amador walked out on the Monclova Acereros a day after winning the All-Star Game MVP trophy and eventually forced a trade to Campeche, where he hit .326 for the Piratas en route to an even .300 average with 16 homers for the summer.
Still, it's been pitching that's put Hermosillo on top, with the Naranjeros' 2.25 team ERA standing second in the loop to Obregon's microscopic 1.84 mark. Starters Juan Pablo Oramos and Casey Coleman are both 1-0 with 1.80 ERAs after each tossing five-inning starts last week. Closer Paul Sewald has three saves in four relief appearances; the Mets farmhand has yet to give up a run.
Obviously it remains to be seen whether the Naranjeros (who have eleven MLB minor leaguers on their roster) can remain in the front of the MexPac standings. So far in the early going, however, they've been up to the task.
And, no, she's not on Hermosillo's roster, but she IS wearing a Naranjeros jersey. Good enough.
MEXICALI'S RIOS GOES 10-FOR-21, LEADS LMP BAT TITLE CHASE
Ramon Rios is following up a standout Mexican League season for Monterrey by starting the Mexican Pacific League campaign en fuego at the plate for the Mexicali Aguilas. Rios batted .344 for the Sultanes last summer to post his third straight .339+ Liga season. A hitter with more place than power despite tipping the scales at 200 pounds, Rios has just just 14 homers in that timespan. He then opened the winterball season by going 10-for-21 in his first five games for the Aguilas for a .476 average to top the early MexPac batting leaderboard. True to form, Rios has nine singles and one double while scoring five runs. He has yet to strike out at the plate.
Mexicali teammate Luis Juarez is second to Rios in the batting race at .471. Juarez, who hit a disappointing .258 with six homers for Monterrey over the summer, has a homer and seven RBIs in five contests for the Eagles. Hermosillo's Efren Navarro is third with a .450 average while Mexicali's veteran outfielder Chris Roberson is fourth at .444. Jose Amador of Hermosillo is fifth with a .438 mark.
A pair of Cuban outfielders in Los Mochis have taken the lead among home run hitters. Yadir Drake and J.C. Linares each have four longballs. Drake poked a pair of homers against Navojoa in the Caneros' October 13 home opener while Linares socked two bombs one night later against Culiacan in the midst of a three-game, four-homer stretch. Hermosillo's Amador and Mazaltan first sacker Cyle Hankerd are tied for third with two dingers apiece.
Culiacan outfielders Sebastian Elizalde and Joey Meneses are running 1-2 in the RBI derby. Elizalde, a Reds minor league, has 10 ribbies and Meneses (a five-year player in the Braves system) has driven in 8 runners. Elizalde, Hermosillo's Eric Young, Jr. and Ronnie Mustelier, Culiacan's third Cuban outfielder are all tied for first with 7 runs scored. Mustelier defected from Cuba in 2011 on a boat with 20 people, leaving behind a son. He later signed with the Yankees for $50,000 and spent four years in their organization. The 32-year-old Mustelier hit .292 and was an International League mid-season All-Star with the Braves' Gwinnett affiliate this summer.
SIX STARTERS TOSS 5+ SHUTOUT FRAMES FOR OPENING WINS
Unlike the summer Mexican League, which has had a "hitter's league" reputation for decades, winter's Mexican Pacific League has long been known as a place where pitcher excel. While Mexican baseball legend Hector Espino had his way with LMP hurlers for more than two decades, most MexPac hitters have to scrape for everything they get. Last week served as one more example as six LMP pitchers tossed five or more shutout innings in scoring wins in their first starts of the 2016-17 season. No pitcher had two wins heading into Monday's travel day.
Julian Arballo (Los Mochis), Blake Beavan (Obregon), Onelki Garcia (Mexicali), Arturo Lopez (Obregon), Hector Daniel Rodriguez (Culiacan) and Hector Velazquez (Navojoa) all went unscathed and took wins in their initial starts of the winter season. Arballo, a Cal Baptist product who saved 11 games for the Yankees' Gulf Coast League rookie team in 2009, allowed just one hit in five entradas against Culiacan for an October 14 win while one night later, former Mariners starter Beavan carried a shutout into the sixth to take the win over Jalisco. Another starter, Obregon's Marco Carrillo tossed six innings and gave up one unearned run in a no-decision while Jalisco's Marco Tovar pitched in even tougher luck by going five frames against Beavan on the 15th, giving up one unearned run in five innings but being tagged with the loss.
Velazquez struck out eight Los Mochis batsmen in winning his October 12 start for the Mayos to grab the early league lead in that category, one more than Mochis' Manny Barreda, Mexicali's Efren Delgado and Velazquez' Mayos teammate Jose Oyervides. Hermosillo's Paul Sewald has three saves to top the circuit, one more than Navojoa's Kyle Grana.