Monday, December 26, 2016

MexPac regular season enters final week

One week remains in the Mexican Pacific League regular season with all eight teams still in the hunt for six berths in the LMP's January playoffs.  The schedule will conclude with four three-game series played Wednesday through Friday before the postseason begins next week.

Defending Caribbean Series champion Mazatlan (with a second-half record of 18-11) holds a precarious half-game lead over Los Mochis and Navojoa after losing to Culiacan (12-17) by a 2-1 score Christmas Night with 16,912 in the stands at the Tomateros' Estadio BBVA Bancomer.  Culiacan scored twice in the bottom of the ninth, with Joey Meneses (pictured) punching a walkoff line-drive single to left and driving in Ramiro Peno with the winning run.  Oliver Perez earned the win in relief for the Tomateros, striking out three of the four Venados batsmen he faced in the top of the ninth after eight solid innings from starter Edgar Gonzalez.  After the two-game set ends Monday, the Venados will go home to take on Obregon while the Tomateros travel to Guadalajara to face the Jalisco Charros.

Los Mochis (17-11) will open a two-game set in Hermosillo (12-16) Monday night before wrapping up with three games at home against Navojoa (17-11).  The Mayos were crushed by Jalisco (11-17) at home Sunday, 10-1.  Navojoa starter Salvador Robles was chased with one out in the fifth inning after allowing five Charros runs on seven hits and two walks to fall to 1-4 on the season. Veteran second baseman Jose Rodriguez was Jalisco's biggest bopper, going 3-for-5 with a double, driving in two runs and scoring once.  Jalisco plays two more in Navojoa before welcoming Culiacan to Estadio Charros for their final three games.

In the other Christmas Night tilt, Obregon (11-18) held off a late Mexicali (16-13) rally to defeat the Aguilas, 6-4, before 10,037 onlookers at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis. Obregon starter Fabio Castro left the game in the sixth with a comfortable 6-1 advantage, bur Mexicali touched relievers Kenneth Sigman and Craig Stern for three runs on four hits in the top of the ninth, including a two-run single from pinch-hitter Adan Munoz, before Stern was able to record the final two outs of the game.  Outfielder Dustin Martin, playing his first game of the winter for Obregon, appeared playoff-ready in going 2-for-3 with two ribbies and plating a run himself.  After their short series ends Monday, the Yaquis travel to Mazatlan while the Aguilas head home to host Hermosillo in a three-game set.  The Naranjeros were inactive over the weekend.

Whew!  If that seemed convoluted with all the scheduling redundancies, imagine trying to write it.

Barring a batting meltdown of epic proportions, Mexicali catcher Luis Juarez should win the LMP hitting title.  It's been an unprecedented season for the 5'8" product from Culiacan, whose .368 average is 22 points ahead of second-place Leandro Castro of Los Mochis (.346).  The 26-year-old Juarez, better known for his glove than his bat, has never hit above .303 in either the LMP or the summer Mexican League since his Liga debut in 2009.  Hermosillo veteran flychaser Chris Roberson is third at .332.  Roberson's Naranjeros teammate, infielder Jose Amador, remains stuck at 14 homers after another week without a roundtripper, but that's still enough to lead the LMP in that category.  Second-place C.J. Retherford went deep for Mexicali last Wednesday to raise his total to 11 while Navojoa's Quincy Latimore still has 10.  Amador's 56 RBIs give him a comfortable league lead over Mazatlan's Brian Hernandez, who has 47.

Obregon outfielder Corey Wimberly remains the MexPac leader in stolen bases with 16, one more than Navojoa's Randy Arozarena in a race that may be determined as much by attrition as speed.  Wimberly has played only one game for the Yaquis since December 17 while the Cardinals organization has apparently shut down Arozarena for the winter.  Things don't get any better with another Obregon gardener, Justin Greene, who is tied for third with 12 swipes.  Greene was shelved October 29 after a bunt attempt tipped a pitched ball into his face, and his winterball season apparently ended for good after six comeback games in mid-November.  Former MLB outfielder Eric Young, Jr. of Hermosillo also had 12 steals before playing his last game on November 20, ironically the same date as Greene's final appearance.  Also tied for third is Mazatlan outfielder Jeremias Pineda, who DID play Sunday for the Venados but may want to look both ways before lighting out for second from now on.  Just in case.

Among LMP pitchers, it would be hard to find a hurler with more hard luck than Juan Pablo Oramas of Hermosillo.  The 2009 Mexican League Rookie of the Year, Oramas has led the MexPac in earned-run average most of the current season and still tops the list with a 2.31 mark after 12 starts, but only has a 4-3 record to show for it.  Oramas has not won since a November 29 triumph over Jalisco.  In an interesting side note, Oramas has only started one game on the road since November 5.  Obregon lefty Arturo Lopez is second at 2.36 to go with his 5-1 record while Navojoa's Hector Velazquez has moved up to third on the ERA table at 2.39.

Velazquez, who has the inside track for LMP Pitcher of the Year honors, beat Hermosillo last Thursday to take sole possession of the wins race in raising his record to 8-3 (one more than last winter's POY, Javier Solano, who is 7-4 for Mexicali) and his 81 strikeouts in 79 innings is best in the MexPac.  Jalisco's Tyler Alexander is second with 72 Ks.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez earned two more saves last week to bring his winter total to 18, six more than Mazatlan's Roberto Espinoza.  Sanchez has allowed just one earned run in 27 appearances for the Aguilas for an ERA of 0.31 (that is not a typo) and he has walked just five batters over 28.2 innings.  If Velazquez has a challenger for the LMP's best pitcher this season, Sanchez is the guy.