|Jalisco Charros MVP candidate Elian Leyva|
The 29-year-old Cuban has been primarily a reliever in a career that dates back to 2007-08 when he was an 18-year-old with La Habana of the Cuban National Series, but Leyva's first regular work as a starter has turned into a breakout performance after he blanked the defending champion Tomateros over 6.1 innings, striking out ten Culiacan batsmen in a 2-0 Charros win. A Braves farmhand who split last summer between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, the 6'2" righty allowed just a Joey Terdoslavich double in the third and a walk to Jose Guadalupe Chavez in the bottom of the seventh before being taken out by manager Roberto Vizcarra after tossing 86 pitches. MLB free agent Sergio Romo contributed a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his fourth save as Stephen Cardullo's second-inning groundout scored Henry Urrutia with the only run the Horsemen would need.
Leyva's win gives him a 6-2 record for the season, giving him sole possession of the MexPac lead for victories with ten other pitchers tied at five wins apiece. By blanking Culiacan, he lowered his ERA to 2.05, well ahead of Culiacan's Manny Barreda (Saturday's losing pitcher) and his 2.63 mark as it'll take a miracle of Biblical proportions for Leyva to NOT win the ERA title. As well, those ten whiffs bring Leyva's winter total to 66, six ahead of second-place David Reyes of Mexicali. And, for good measure, Leyva's 1.07 WHIP figure is .08 up on Barreda's 2.15. He also leads LMP pitchers in starts (13) and is tied with Mexicali vet Javier Solano for tops in innings pitched at 74.2 frames each. That Leyva has toiled for one of the LMP's less-robust teams makes those numbers more impressive, although in fairness, the Charros are one of five teams three games apart on top the MexPac's second-half standings. Pitchers don't often enter into MVP talks but when you have someone who could lead his league in six categories, including the Triple Crown, Leyva HAS to be in the conversation.
As mentioned, Jalisco is fighting desperately for a playoff berth after only collecting 3.5 points in the first half. Hermosillo continues to top the second-half table at 15-8. The Charros are second at 13-9 while Obregon (12-9) and Los Mochis (13-10) sit two games behind the leaders, one game ahead of fifth-place Culiacan (12-11). Navojoa (9-14), Mazatlan (9-14) and Mexicali (7-15) round out the standings. Culiacan and Mazatlan virtually assured themselves of playoff berths by finishing 1-2 in the first half and both Hermosillo and Obregon appear to be on their way to more games in January, leaving the two remaining postseason slots up for grabs among four teams.
Hermosillo infielder Jasson Atondo leads the LMP with a .357 batting average and is a virtual lock for Rookie of the Year. Second at .351 is Atondo's teammate Francisco Peguero, the LMB's Fall MVP and bound for Japan after recently signing with the Chiba Lotte Marines for 2019. Navojoa's Jovan Rosa leads the loop with 14 homers, one more than Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez, after going deep in Los Mochis Sunday night. Rodriguez, another MVP candidate, is hitting .323 and has 50 RBIs, eight more than Rosa's 42. Navojoa second baseman Alonzo Harris stole three bases in four games last week to go to 25 swipes on the winter and now leads Culiacan's Rico Noel by ten steals.
There IS an LMB pitching leader not named Elian Leyva. Culiacan's Casey Coleman, grandson of Joe and son of Joe Junior (both former MLB All-Star pitchers), picked up just one save last week to bring his season total to 21, still good enough for a six-save bulge over his nearest competitor, Mexicali's Jake Sanchez. Navojoa hometown boy Jose Isidro Marquez, son of longtime reliever Isidro Marquez, leads in the oft-forgotten category of holds with 13 despite getting lit up for two runs in a third of an inning Saturday in Los Mochis. The younger Marquez' ERA is still a solid 2.08 because he'd only given up three earned runs over his previous 27 outings for the Mayos.
ACAYUCAN WINS LIV REGULAR SEASON CROWN, PLAYOFFS BEGIN
|Past LIV bat champ Rigoberto Armenta|
The Tobis were champions last winter of the Veracruz State Baseball League and represented Mexico at the Latin American Series in Managua, Nicaragua, falling to the host Chinandega Tigres in the title game. After the original LIV suspended operations following the 2015-16 season, ex-Brewers pitcher Narciso Elvira formed the LBEV to fill the void by stocking its teams with young prospects from within Veracruz playing weekends (10 games the first season, 12 games last season). The LBEV struggled through two winters before giving way to the newly-reconstituted LIV this season. Many Mexican League veterans (including ex-Pirates prospect Rogelio Noris, Yancarlo Angulo and Marco Quevedo) are presently wintering in Veracruz, where the weekend-only schedule was carried over, but youngsters still dominate the rosters.
Cordoba's Jose Luis Felix had a standout year at the plate, batting .478 over 19 games to easily win the batting title while Acayucan's Rigoberto Armenta was tops with eight homers and 21 RBIs. The Obregon-born Armenta was the LIV's 2014-15 batting champion with the Santa Rosa Gallos. Angel Araiza of Acayucan led all pitchers with six wins and Tobis moundmate Ivan Zavala was given the LIV's ERA title with a flawless 0.00 ERA despite starting once and pitching 17 innings over Acayucan's 21 games. Xalapa hurler Eduard Reyes' 32 strikeouts in 29.2 innings led the circuit. One interesting player is outfielder Yusuke Inoguchi, who hit .333 over eight games for luckless Ursula Galvan before being traded to Veracruz (.417 in six contests for the Rojos) and finally landing in Acayucan (.333 in six games) for a season average of .365 to finish fourth in the LIV. The 33-year-old Inoguchi, who's played ten years of independent ball in Japan and two more the USA with the American Association's Sioux Falls Canaries in 2012 and 2013 (batting .287 and .281), has said he'd consider playing next year in the Mexican League if offered a contract.
Acayucan team president Regina Vazquez Saut began the current season as league president before stepping down and being replaced at the helm by older sister Fabiola Vazquez Saut. Both are prominent politicians with the Industrial Revolution Party (or PRI) who have represented Veracruz in the Mexican Congress. The best-of-three LIV semifinals were slated to open last weekend as Acayucan was matched up against Jaltex and Cordoba took on Xalapa. The winners will meet January 5 for the first game of a best-of-five championship series. The Latin American Series is set for Parque "Beto" Avila in Veracruz, beginning January 26. Champions from the four traditional LAS winterball pennant-winners from Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama are being joined by Curacao Winter League champions Santa Maria Piratas and Argentine Baseball League title-winners Cordoba Condores.
MONTERREY COPS ACADEMY ROOKIE LEAGUE PENNANT
|Monterrey's Academy Rookie League champs|
According to the LMB Academy's website, Monterrey clinched the title on December 3 after topping Yucatan-Laguna, 3-1, as Alejandro Delgado tripled and later scored on a Jimmy Chavez sacrifice fly to break a 1-all tie in the sixth inning. Delgado stroked another triple and went on to score the game's final run on a Kevin Herrera single late in the match. After an on-field celebration, Sultanes manager Ruben Estrada credited his first-year players with turning their season around after losing the first five games of the season.
The Sultanes rookies had marked another landmark event the previous week when starting pitcher Luis Martinez and four relievers combined on a 1-0 no-hit win over Mexico City-Oaxaca on November 28 in a contest during which Hector Delgado's fourth-inning solo homer provided the only score all afternoon.
The academy was the brainchild of the late former Mexico City Tigres owner and Salon de la Fama member Alejo Peralta and was officially opened March 25, 1996. Since then, the facility has served as both home and training ground for thousands of young Mexican ballplayers seeking to play Major League Baseball or in the LMB. Among the future big leaguers to cut their teeth at the Academia are Houston closer Roberto Osuna, Oakland reliever Joakim Soria, former Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena. Longtime Sultanes shortstop Heber Gomez (retired from the LMB but sixth in the Veracruz Winter League this winter with a .338 batting average for Acayucan) was a member of the first group of players gathered in El Carmen while star slugger Japhet Amador started his pro career as a teen at the Academia.