Monday, May 15, 2017

Sultanes win eighth straight as Castro goes to 6-0

The Monterrey Sultanes bashed Durango pitchers for 24 hits and put together a seven-run fourth inning en route to a 15-9 win over the Generales Sunday afternoon at Estadio Francisco Villa in Durango.  The win was the eighth in a row for the Sultanes, who swept the series to take sole possession of first place in the Mexican League North Division with a 28-9 record, including a current win streak of eight games in a row.  Durango fell further into last place in the LMB North at 12-27.

Monterrey starter Angel Castro (pictured), who briefly pitched for Oakland in 2015, picked up the win to go to 6-0 on the season, becoming the first LMB pitcher to cross the six-win threshold.  Castro fairly sailed through the first five innings, tossing shutout ball over the first four frames before giving up a single run in the fifth.  At that point, however, the Sultanes had scored 11 runs so there was little to worry about.  Monterrey had sent twelve batters to the plate in that big fourth inning, scoring seven runs on six singles, two errors and a walk in a baseball version of death by a thousand cuts.  However, Castro ran into his own troubles in the bottom of the sixth, an inning in which eleven Generales hitters came up to bat and plated eight runs to close Durango's deficit to two.

Daniel Mayora opened the sixth by homering off Castro to straightaway center field.  After Jairo Perez reached base on a fielding error by Monterrey third baseman Moises Gutierrez, Yadir Drake singled Perez to second and Jesus Loya's safety up the middle brought Perez home to make it an 11-2 game.  Castro struck out Humberto Castro (no relation) swinging for the first out, then was replaced by Edgar Torres with two runners on after tossing 104 pitches in Castro's first start after a 135-pitch complete game against Laguna on May 9.  Torres continued the struggle, giving up two run-scoring singles, hitting a batter, tossing a wild pitch and serving a three-run homer to Henry A. Rodriguez without recording an out before Monterrey skipper Felix Fermin had seen enough and waved in Marco Carrillo, who got the final two outs after the Sultanes' lead had been cut to 11-9.  A four-run ninth inning keyed by Said Gutierrez' two-run double brought Monterrey's advantage to 15-9 and it was left to closer Wirfin Obispo to retire the Generales without a run in the bottom of the ninth for his sixth save in seven opportunities.

Castro's stat line was anything but pretty (5.1 innings, 8 hits, 2 walks, 4 earned runs), but he got the one stat that trumps anything a sabermetrician can come up with: The W, his sixth of the campaign.  Five other LMB pitchers have five wins.  Yucatan ace Yoanner Negrin, Laguna teammates Dustin Crenshaw and Edgar Osuna were unable to pick up a win last week with a similar fate befalling Saltillo's Frankie de la Cruz (who has lost his last two decisions after starting out 5-0).  Negrin's Leones moundmate, Juan Delgadillo, earned his fifth win last Tuesday by hurling five shutout entradas at Campeche to go to 5-1.

Among other LMB pitchers, Leon teammates Walter Silva and Mitch Lively have pitched better than their seventh-place team's record (15-24) indicates and hold the top two berths on the ERA table, Silva at 1.62 and Lively at 1.98 as the only two starters in the Liga with a sub-2.00 ERA.  They've combined for a 7-3 record, which at least implies where the Bravos would be without them.  Oaxaca lefty Irwin Delgado struck out seven Puebla batters over six innings in a loss to the Pericos last Thursday to maintain the lead in strikeouts with 50 in as many innings.  Monclova's Josh Lowey turned in a standout start against a powerful Laguna lineup Saturday night in Torreon, whiffing six Vaqueros over seven shutout innings of three-hit ball to bring his K total to 47 in 44 frames.  Yucatan closer Jairo Asencio has caught up to tie Durango's Tiago da Silva for the saves lead with 12 apiece.  Asencio made 43 appearances out of the bullpen for four MLB teams between 2009 and 2013, but was 0-for-1 in saves opportunities.

One has to feel for da Silva, who's saved every win Durango has picked up this season but hasn't had much opportunity for that with the cellar dwellers.  One bright spot for the Generales is that despite the myriad of problems the franchise faced after moving to Durango from Ciudad Carmen in the offseason (many of them self-inflicted), the team has drawn better than expected crowds since finally playing their first home game two weeks ago after playing their first 27 games on the road.  The Generales drew 11,327 fans for their three-game home set with Monterrey over the weekend to bring their season total to 32,547 over nine games, an average of 3,616 that ranks eighth in the 16-ream circuit.  Conversely, the LMB's other newcomers in Leon rank next-to-last on the attendance table with an average of 2,300 per opening.

Luis Borges of Saltillo has overtaken Monterrey's Chris Roberson for the top slot in the LMB batting race.  The veteran second baseman went 2-for-4 against Tijuana Sunday to raise his average to .417 for the season, two points ahead of Roberson's .415.  Union Laguna second sacker Anderson Hernandez is third at .387.  Tijuana's Corey Brown hit his first homer in ten days Sunday at Saltillo to bring his Liga-leading total to 13, two more than teammate Alex Liddi and three up on both Roberson and Jesus Castillo of Aguascalientes.  Brown has also been duelling with Laguna's Ricky Alvarez for the RBI lead, with the latter holding a 46-45 advantage after the weekend.  Castillo is just behind in third with 44 ribbies.  Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene had a great week on the basepaths, stealing six bases over his last six games to bring his season swipes total to 17, well ahead of the 10 apiece by Laguna's Ethan Chapman, Quintana Roo's Freddy Guzman, Dustin Martin of Tijuana and Saltillo shortstop Christian Zazueta.

While Monterrey holds first place in the LMB North with a 28-9 record, Tijuana is only a game-and-a-half behind at 27-11.  The two combatants have created a bit of breathing room between themselves and the rest of the pack, with Monclova and Union Laguna seven games out of the lead at 22-17.  Five of the LMB North's eight teams have winning records while Aguascalientes is a game below .500 at 19-20.  In the LMB South, on the other hand, Yucatan is the only team with more wins than losses.  The Leones have won seven of their last ten games to bring their season mark to 25-13, good enough for a seven-game bulge over 18-20 Oaxaca and 17-19 Quintana Roo.  Defending champion Puebla and Campeche are tied for fourth with identical 18-21 records.

In upcoming games, the biggest midweek series will feature a battle of divisional leaders when Yucatan visits Estadio Monterrey for three games against the Sultanes.  The Leones will move to Monclova Friday to open a series against the Acereros in what looks to be the most intriguing set next weekend.

MEXICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS (as of May 15, 2017)
LMB NORTH: Monterrey 28-9, Tijuana 27-11, Monclova 22-17, Union Laguna 22-17, Mexico City 21-18, Aguascalientes 19-20, Saltillo 15-22, Durango 12-27
LMB SOUTH: Yucatan 25-13, Oaxaca 18-20, Quintana Roo 17-19, Campeche 18-21, Puebla 18-21, Veracruz 17-21, Leon 15-24, Tabasco 12-26