|Veracruz Rojos del Aguila pitcher Nestor Molina|
Mexico City's Octavio Acosta, who won only a combined three of eight decisions over the previous two campaigns for Oaxaca in 2015 and the Diablos Rojos, turned in a career year this summer. The onetime Mets minor leaguer led the league in wins while posting a superb 14-1 record for a team that missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, finished tenth with a 2.99 ERA and registered 102 strikeouts to come in sixth in that category. The Guasave native's lone loss in 2017 came back on May 21, when defending champion Puebla topped Acosta and the Red Devils, 7-4, at Estadio Fray Nano in the capital city. It was a career year for the 27-year-old righty, but not quite enough to edge out an even more spectacular season-long performance by Veracruz ace Nestor Molina.
Like Acosta, not much was expected from Molina when the 2017 campaign dawned. The Valencia, Venezuela product had turned in a combined 7-4 record for Oaxaca and Tabasco with a 4.94 ERA last year before going 2-0 and 2.95 in a late-season, four-game stint with the Braves' AA Eastern League affiliate Richmond under manager Miguel Ojeda, who ironically served as Acosta's skipper this year in Mexico City. Although he had his moments in 2016 (winning seven games for either the Guerreros or Olmecas in one season is no mean feat), nothing prepared the Mexican League for what was to come this season.
Pitching for one of the Liga's most underpowered lineups, Molina had to bring his "A" game every five nights and while he faded a bit in the late going, he was otherwise up to the task. After showing an 0-1 record following his second start on April 8, Molina would not lose a second game until dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Tabasco on July 27 in Villahermosa. Over the 15 weeks between defeats, the 6'1" right-hander won eleven straight decisions and lowered his ERA to a microscopic 1.41 after tossing six scoreless innings in Tabasco during a 3-2 win.
Although only two of his final five starts in the regular season could be considered "quality," Molina finished with a league-leading 1.89 ERA and was tied for second in wins with Aguascalientes starter Yohan Flande with a 12-3 record. Molina also led the LMB with a 1.08 WHIP, his 124 strikeouts were second to Monclova's Josh Lowey's 148 while his three complete games topped the loop.
One cursory glance at Veracruz' everyday lineup might bring a sense of wonder that they were able to qualify for the postseason, even if it was a single play-in game home loss on August 11 to Walter Silva and fifth-place Leon in the weaker LMB South. Molina was not one of the seven Rojos del Aguila pitchers sent to the mound in that contest by manager Eddy Castro, who surprised some by surviving the entire season at the helm in Veracruz (where in-season firings had become as common as shrimpboats in the port city's harbor). The Eagle Reds finished fourth in the LMB South with a 48-57 record. While that may be the definition of backing into the playoffs, they wouldn't have had a sniff of playing beyond the regular season without Molina.
With all due respect to Octavio Acosta, whose great year while backed by one of the the Liga's top offenses (the Diablos posted a team .301 batting average), Molina was performing miracles with a lineup that came in 15th with a .271 average and finished near the bottom in nearly all offensive categories. Whether the Rojos del Aguila remain in Veracruz for 2018 or move to the Texas border, Nestor Molina should give his team a chance to win no matter where they're playing or who's in the field behind him.
BBM PITCHER OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNERS
Summer 2010 Bobby Cramer, Quintana Roo
Winter 2010-11 Jose Silva, Culiacan
Summer 2011 Francisco Campos, Campeche
Winter 2015-16 Javier Solano, Mexicali
Summer 2016 Yoanner Negrin, Yucatan
Winter 2016-17 Jake Sanchez, Mexicali
Summer 2017 Nestor Molina, Veracruz