Friday, August 11, 2017

LMB regular season ends, Bravos at Veracruz for qualifier

2017 LMB batting champion Yadir "El Comandante" Drake
The Mexican League's 2017 regular season came to a close Wednesday and when the dust settled on the schedule, the bedraggled Leon Bravos were three games behind the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who finished fourth in the LMB's South Division, triggering a wild card qualifying game for the playoffs.  Leon came in at 45-60 while Veracruz was 48-57.  Liga rules state that whenever a fifth-place team finishes within three games or less behind the fourth-place team, a single game will be played to determine which team advances to the division semifinals.  Thus, the Red Eagles will host the Bravos Friday night at Estadio Universitario Beto Avila for the right to play LMB South-leading Yucatan in the first round, which starts Sunday.

The other three series are set in stone.  In the LMB North, the Aguascalientes Rieleros were able to hold off Union Laguna for fourth place by three-and-a-half games, meaning the Railroaders will travel to Tijuana for Sunday's opener against division kingpin Toros.  Monterrey came in second by a half-game over Monclova during the regular season, meaning the Sultanes will host the Acereros in Sunday's Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening round series.  Meanwhile, in the South, defending champion Puebla finished second and will welcome Quintana Roo to Estadio Hermanos Serdan Sunday for the inaugural game of their series.

After some initial confusion, former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake was awarded the batting title after batting .385 for the Generales prior to leaving for Japan in late June to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.  The Cuban exile is finding the going tougher in the Pacific League, hitting just .185 with no homers and 2 RBIs after 18 games.  The LMB office initially gave the batting crown to Drake's former Durango teammate, Daniel Mayora, who hit .375 for both the Generales and Monterrey through his last game on July 20 (subsequent absence still unexplained), including a 35-game hit streak which fell one shy of the regular season record.  Once someone at the Liga determined that Drake's 300 plate appearances barely met the requirement of 299.7 plate appearances for the batting title, a correction was made and Drake's name was re-entered at the top of the list and Mayora's bumped to second.

No controversy arose in any other statistical category.  Saltillo's Rainel Rosario's breakthrough season, similar to fellow Dominican Diory Hernandez' year in 2016, concluded with a Liga-high 26 homers, two more than Corey Brown's 24 dingers for Tijuana.  Rosario, who hit .331, finished with 104 RBIs to come in second to Ricky Alvarez of Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez' 105.  Alvarez drove in two runs in the Leones' season finale against Quintana Roo to slip past Rosario and claim leadership of a category he'd led most of the season.  Mexico City infielder Ramon Urias led the circuit with 91 runs scored, two more than Justin Greene of Monclova (by way of Saltillo).  Greene, by the way, easily won the stolen bases title with a combined 51 swipes for the Saraperos and Acereros.  Monterrey's Chris Roberson was tops in doubles with 35 while Yosmany Guerra of Campeche led with 12 triples.

Nestor Molina, who finished 12-3 for Veracruz, had the lowest ERA among LMB starting pitchers with a 1.89 mark.  Molina allowed 13 earned runs in 31 innings over his last five starts after his ERA had been just 1.41 heading into a July 13 start against Monterrey.  Mexico City's Octavio Acosta, who began the year with a 3-5 record and 6.84 ERA in two previous Liga campaigns, ended up with a 14-1 record for the Diablos Rojos to lead the loop in wins, two more than Molina and Yohan Flande of Aguascalientes.  Acosta and Molina are the two top candidates for Pitcher of the Year.  While 2015 POY Josh Lowey of Monclova wasn't as dominant as he was in 2016 before heading off to South Korea in midseason, he did win his second consecutive strikeout title with 146 ponches in 127 innings.  Lowey finished 8-5 while his ERA was 2.69 (it was 1.65 last year), but the Floridian put together a string of eight strong starts to bring his ERA down from 4.14 in mid-June.  He'll likely be a factor in the postseason for the Steelers.

Among relievers, Monclova closer Chad Gaudin recorded seven saves in his last ten outings to finish with 29, one more than Tijuana's Jason Urquidez and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey.  Gaudin let in seven earned runs over 9.1 innings for an ERA of 6.75 in that timespan, however, and will need to pick things up in the postseason, starting with the Acereros-Sultanes series.  In other pitching categories, Molina's 152.2 innings, 1.08 WHIP, 3 complete games and 23 starts (tied with Flande) were all most in the LMB, 2016 Pitcher of the Year Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan led with two shutouts, Tijuana middleman Juan Sandoval easily had the most holds with 29.  After putting that last sentence together, it'll be tough to not choose Molina as POY for this summer's BBM Awards even though Acosta lost only one of 15 decisions for a Mexico City team that failed to qualify for the playoffs a second consecutive season after 33 straight postseason appearances.

Note: Leon second baseman Carlos Valencia, a 17-year veteran who has played in several All-Star Games (winning the All-Star MVP trophy in 2009), was suspended for 100 games by the Liga after testing positive for amphetamines a second time in the past year.  The 37-year-old Valencia was suspended the first 50 games of the 2017 season and went on to hit .255 with 5 homers over the 45 games he did play.  For his Mexican League career, he has 237 homers and 951 RBIs in 1,510 games.  North American outfielder Jason Pridie of Puebla was suspended 50 games after testing positive for oxycodone.  Pridie, an All-Star in three leagues before moving south of the border, went 1-for-6 in two May games for the Pericos before being released one week after the team signed him as a free agent.