Monday, July 31, 2017

Rieleros halt TJ win streak at 16; Vargas, Soto split 4 HRs

Aguascalientes DH/1B Saul Soto
Jose Vargas and Saul Soto each swatted a pair of homers Friday night to power the Aguascalientes Rieleros to a 10-3 victory over Tijuana, stopping the Toros' Mexican League season-best winning streak at 16 games.  The borderites had swept five consecutive series (four against LMB South foes plus a huge midweek set against Monterrey) before the Railroaders ended the skein in front of 5,127 fans at Estadio Alberto Romo Chavez in Aguascalientes.

The Rieleros were trailing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.  Soto and Vargas led off the bottom of the second with back-to-back homers off Tijuana's Manny Barreda, making his first start since a July 16 no-hitter against Tabasco. The Toros got one run back in the third when Chris Valencia singled Roberto Lopez in from third, then took the lead in the top of the fourth on RBI singles by Alex Liddi and Gabriel Gutierrez.  Aguascalientes then regained the advantage for good with four runs in the bottom of the frame as Vargas passed TJ's Corey Brown for the LMB lead with his 23rd homer on another solo blast and the hosts got consecutive run-scoring safeties from Gennaro Andrade, Dave Sappelt and Richy Pedroza to go up 6-3 and the rout was on.

Ironically, Soto (who'd go on to belt his second homer of the night in the sixth, a two-run shot) led off the fourth by grounding out and closed it by popping out to Jorge Cantu at first.  By swatting his 10th and 11th homers, the nine-time All-Star reached double figures in roundtrippers for the seventh consecutive season and the 14th time in 16 seasons.  Soto hit the 250th homer of his 20-year Liga career July 15 in Leon and surpassed 1,000 RBIs earlier this season.  A career .304 batsman, the Los Mochis native (who turns 39 on August 11) is hitting .330 this year.

Vargas and longtime veteran outfielder Cristhian Presichi, who was celebrating his 37th birthday, each had four hits for Aguascalientes while Sappelt contributed three.  A career .313 hitter, Presichi is in his 18th LMB season.  Barreda absorbed his seventh loss in eleven decisions after giving up six runs on nine hits in 3.2 innings.  Roy Merritt gave the Rieleros a decent start in allowing two earned runs in 4.1 entradas, but it was Roby Romero (5-2) who got the win after going 1.1 frames in relief.

The Toros rebounded from Friday's loss with a 6-3 win Saturday behind Horacio Ramirez' seven innings of two-run pitching before the Rieleros closed the series Sunday by holding off Tijuana 6-5 (although Brown tied Vargas by whacking HIS 23rd homer) to win two of three against manager Pedro Mere's 71-30 team.  Mere has been mentioned as a potential candidate to become the Jalisco Charros' helmsman during the upcoming Mexican Pacific League winterball season, set to start in October.  Edgar Gonzalez has stepped down as skipper in Guadalajara to take a front office position with the team.

LMB hitters are still playing catchup to former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake's set-in-stone .385 batting average but the clock is ticking with nine games left in the regular season.  Monterrey's Daniel Mayora remains closest at .375 but the Durango exile hasn't played since going 1-for-6 against Veracruz on July 20. Mayora isn't on the Sultanes' reserve list and no cause for his absence has been discovered online. Aguascalientes' Vargas tops the home run list with 23 over 73 games, one ahead of Tijuana's Corey Brown's 22 longballs.  Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez reached the century mark in RBIs with an eighth-inning single in Leon last Thursday. He now has 102.  Rainel Rosario of Saltillo drove in runs in seven consecutive games (including a four-ribbie night Saturday in Monclova) to move into second behind Alvarez with 90 RBIs. Monclova centerfielder Justin Greene stole a base in Mexico City last Tuesday to bring his season total to 46 thefts, well in front of the 27 each of the Diablos' Carlos Figueroa and Christian Zazueta of Saltillo.  He also leads the loop with 21 times caught stealing.  Greene was given permission to go home to South Carolina to attend to family issues, but is expected back in time for the playoffs.

Octavio Acosta won his LMB-leading 13th game in 14 decisions for Mexico City in Durango Friday despite letting in five runs in 6.2 innings.  The Guasave righty has allowed eight runs over 12 innings in his last two starts, putting his ERA at 3.01 for the season.  Conversely, Veracruz' Nestor Molina allowed no earned runs in seven innings against Tabasco last Thursday, yet lost the 1-0 contest on an unearned first-inning run. Despite seeing his record drop to 11-2, Molina's ERA also fell to 1.54 for the year.  Molina recorded nine strikeouts to make it 113 whiffs in 140.2 innings for 2017, trailing only the 128 of Monclova's Josh Lowey.  Last season's strikeout king punched out nine Saltillo batters in seven innings of shutout pitching Saturday.  Monclova closer Chad Gaudin leads with 27 saves.  Gaudin had a rare bad outing Saturday trying to preserve the win for Lowey, instead giving up three ninth-inning runs to blow the save AND absorb the loss in a 6-5 defeat after the Acereros led 5-0 heading into the eighth inning.

Even after losing two of three in Aguascalientes, Tijuana still has a comfortable six-and-a-half-game lead over Monterrey in the LMB North standings and sit eight games ahead of Monclova while the Rieleros are solidly in fourth place, eleven games out of first.  Yucatan won two of three in Puebla over the weekend to open their LMB South lead over the defending champion Pericos to nine-and-a-half games.  Well behind the two leaders are the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who sit a half-game ahead of Quintana Roo in third place while Leon is two games back of the Tigres in fifth.

The LMB's most important upcoming midweek series takes place when Monterrey hosts Aguascalientes for three games.  The Rieleros will move on to Monclova Friday for a set with the Steelers, but the bigger trio of games may be in Mexico City when the Diablos Rojos welcome Union Laguna to Estadio Fray Nano. The Diablos and Vaqueros are in a down-to-the-wire battle for fifth place in the North, earning a one-game playoff at the division's fourth-place finisher (currently the Rieleros) for an LMB semifinal berth.  Tijuana and Yucatan clinched postseason slots over the weekend.

MEXICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS as of July 31, 2017
LMB North: Tijuana 71-30, Monterrey 64-36, Monclova 62-37, Aguascalientes 60-41, Union Laguna 53-47, Mexico City 52-48, Durango 41-59, Saltillo 40-59.
LMB South: Yucatan 60-36, Puebla 53-48, Veracruz 43-54, Quintana Roo 42-54, Leon 40-56, Campeche 38-59, Oaxaca 36-63, Tabasco 35-63.