Around the WBH – June 19, 2023

Toht-al Domination

Toht-al Domination by the Legends

The weeks are melting away like the burning flesh of every opponent San Lorenzo faces…and what a 42-game stretch it has been!

  • Azua with not one but TWO strong competitors for the Latitude crown
  • 30-12 Santiago building up a lead in Japan
  • Lagunillas surging back atop the Cuba Longitude
  • Toluca and Bani are top sluggers in the Homeruninican Republic
  • The Xi’an Kylin within striking distance of Quebec in Korea
  • The Ranas Rojas leapfrogging (hah!) back to the top in Venezuela
  • In the Canada LAD, can Brooklyn keep withstanding the fury of Blue Steel?

All this, plus chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven*, right after the jump!

First, a Short Distance Dedication

A word of thanks to everyone for this awesome picture of a woman far too flexible and attractive to ever return my calls, and the honor with which it was bestowed. Your gratitude is greatly appreciated, but your continued readership and participation is plenty enough an award for me. The thing that’s always attracted me to the sport of baseball has been statistics, coupled with stories. To know that Player X hit .289 last year and is expected to play the same way this year, only to beat expectations and break out a .350 season…what fun is that if it’s just a statistic in a report column? That’s the human element of baseball coming through – why is Player X over-performing? Luck? Changed his batting stance? Changed up his steroid provider? Such is the business of baseball *talk* which in my opinion is just as fun as watching a game.

In my opinion, those of us who dedicate our time and effort to this sport of false baseball deserve some sort of narrative and analysis. Some way of wrapping up what happens in a way that makes it feel real and gives it that human element. I’m more than happy to provide that so long as it’s being done. It’s what makes this league live and breathe for me, and I hope it does the same for you.

*snif* Now, on with the countdown.

USA League

One game now separates three teams for the top spot in the USA Latitude. The Azua Tortugas and the Taegu Black Bears, slugging it out for most of the season, both have been suffering losing seasons so far in the month of June, leaving the 21-21 Baracoa Bahia (a far more respectable 8-8 this June) just one game from the top spot. Azua sits tied with Taegu at 22-20 – while still leading all comers (for the most part) in hitting and pitching categories, they have still managed to lose every three-game series so far in June, and are heading right toward another series vs. the seemingly unstoppable San Lorenzo Legends (36-6) who have already swept them once this season. The question of “why” is not abundantly clear, but it bears noting that the Reptile, Takeji Mikami, is back from injury and making good on what scouts were saying this spring: he’s not the same player he was last year (.240 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI in 120 ABs). With him, so go the Tortugas?

RF Clodoveo Hernandez, Baracoa Bahia

RF Clodoveo Hernandez, Baracoa Bahia

The Bahia are fast becoming the more interesting story in the USA. While not as well-rounded and dominant as the Tortugas team, they have been excelling vs. Azua in one important category: homers. Led by what appears to be the breakout season of RF Clodoveo Hernandez (.313 AVG, 11 HR, 30 RBI), the 3-4-5-6 slots held by Ju-li Pak, Thaddeus Dunstan, Hernandez, and Spiro Deleon account for 33 of the team’s 47 HRs and 110 of the team’s 195 runs driven in. Doesn’t hurt that the free-agent acquisition of Dominique Belanger also turns out to not be so much of a mistake (2-3, 3.09 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) – a losing record, sure, and maybe not what one would consider $22 million worth of pitching so far, but a worthy anchor for this staff nonetheless.

In the Longitude Division, San Lorenzo is 36-6. I can sum up how things are going for the Legends with one piece of statistical information. The worst pitcher on-staff this season has been SP Shinkichi Kita who is 6.31 ERA, 1.51 WHIP in 8 starts. Kita’s record? 3-0. And now he’s been traded. Well, that must be a relief to worried San Lorenzo fans…

SP Nobuyori Matsumura, San Lorenzo Legends

SP Nobuyori Matsumura, San Lorenzo Legends

The best pitcher on staff is also the best pitcher so far in the WBH: Nobuyori Matsumura (7-0, 0.94 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). Going into June 11’s game vs. Toa Baja, Matsumura had allowed a grand total of one earned run in 6 starts.

The race for 2nd best in the LOD continues to be between Akashi and Nagasaki, with Akashi holding the upper hand at 21-21. Their June record sits at 6-9, a major cool-off from their 15-12 start in May. Chalk it up to an offense that’s produced only 25 HRs at a .245 team average, a bullpen weighing in at a 5.01 collective ERA, and a rotation that will be reeling from the two-month loss of starter Xun She (5-1, 2.03 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). Nagasaki is slowly gaining, recovering from a disastrous May by putting up a 9-7 record this month, powered almost exclusively by the longball and the improbable seasons of two replacement outfielders: CF Ed Rex, a seatwarmer for the still-baking prospect Magglio Arita and RF Alex Robles, in for the oft-injured Jae-chun Yu. Both Yu and Rex have 7 HRs this season.

Also on the slow-upward climb is Toa Baja, at 8-8 this month – last year’s offensive champ and candidate for Hitter of the Year, SS Hua Hsia, has finally shaken off the blues and is hitting .464 in the last 7 games, pulling his average back up to .326 with 6 HRs, 15 RBI and 16 SB. Unfortunately, the Coquis still sit at 13-29, and have a hard road ahead of them pulling out of last place.

Hero of the Week: SP Nobuyori Matsumura (7-0, 0.94 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)

Goat of the Week: SP Ho-win Shi (1-4, 8.75 ERA, 8 starts)

Japan League

C Hyosuke Kogawa, Santiago de los Caballeros

C Hyosuke Kogawa, Santiago de los Caballeros

In response to last week’s report, Barquisimeto Obeliscos GM Gerry Geurts wrote into Around the WBH to point out that the Obeliscos’ time will be coming soon, with massive prospects like 2B Teodor Blandino tearing it up in AAA. Indeed. Meanwhile in the month that followed, the 2-game gap between 1st place Santiago de los Caballeros has widened to 8 games, with the Caballeros showing both strong pitching (led by starter Rigoberto Banda: 7-1, 2.54 ERA in 9 games) and offense led by catcher Hyosuke Kogawa (.340 AVG, 8 HR, 22 RBI). The Obeliscos meanwhile are suffering a 6-9 month of June, allowing away-game sweeps to Erie and Santiago and enduring frustrating slumps from starters Ming Ma (2-2, 5.48 ERA in 8 starts) and Bud Stead (0-5, 6.70 ERA in 8 starts). Could we be seeing a cavalry charge from AAA this season?

RF Henry Strong, Moca Machine

RF Henry Strong, Moca Machine

Meanwhile in the Longitude division, it appears Tocumen will not be repeating last year’s contention for the division title – the Pollo Diablo have managed only 4 wins and 11 losses this month and sit nine games behind first place Pacora. Closing in on Pacora is 2nd place Moca, only 3 games back – the Machine’s pitching machine is still vastly underperforming (team 4.94 ERA), but have more than made up for it with a surging offense, led by last year’s strong man LF Henry Strong, who is hitting a ridiculous .727 over his past seven games to pull his average up to .390 for the season. Cancun sits within striking distance at 4 games out of 1st, riding excellent pitching to a 10-5 month of June…however, the worst offense in Japan (.225 team average) just lost #3 hitter Leon Salazar for the season, a blow it will be hard to recover from.

Hero of the Week: C Hyosuke Kogawa, Santiago de los (.340 AVG, 8 HR, 22 RBI)

Goat of the Week: LF Tejano Jacome, Colon Cougars (.161 AVG, .420 OPS, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 124 ABs)

Cuba League

CF Javier Chumil, Maracaibo Jackals

CF Javier Chumil, Maracaibo Jackals

Motion in both divisions. In the Latitude Division, it’s been a bad month of June for everyone who’s not a Maracaibo Jackals fan. Vancouver, in 1st at the time of the last report, is slowly watching their 10-member pitching core grind itself into ineffectiveness (team 4.93 ERA; 5.65 bullpen ERA) while former-2nd place Santiago de Cuba has death-spiraled all the way to a 16-26 record on the wings of a team 5.31 ERA. The Hukuoka Hawks, who started out with a strong 14-12 month of May, has only managed a 6-10 record in June with star hitter Neron Denavideze still on the DL for one more week. And so Maracaibo, 22-20 and with the division’s only winning record is sitting on a 2-game lead. The Jackals have pitching problems of their own (team 4.42 ERA is good enough for 2nd best in division, but still not necessarily great)  but they also have the bat of CF Javier Chumil (.390 AVG, 14 HR, 37 RBI, 11 SB). As long as Chumil is swinging like he’s swinging, the Jackals have a chance at holding onto the top spot, but so far no one in the Latitude is running away with the pennant.

LF Hector Barrial, Lagunillas Loros

LF Hector Barrial, Lagunillas Loros

In the Longitude Division, just as the Lagunillas Loros’ division title in 2022 was appearing to be a fluke, the Loros put together a 12-4 month of June to leapfrog all comers and take a 2-game lead. Just as they were last year, the Loros are getting top-drawer performances from starters Raul Verala (4-3, 2.96 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) and Abraham Sanchez (5-2, 2.07 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), but uncharacteristically they’re also getting good offense – a team .763 OPS led by CF Hector Barrial (.339 AVG, 11 HR, 30 RBI). Two games behind is 2nd place Incheon, who despite having the WBH’s top power hitter in Han-lee Sol (.321 AVG, 17 HR, 31 RBI) are suffering from severe lack of offense – team .237 AVG and .298 OBP. Rounding out the bottom two slots are 22-2o Philadelphia, for whom CF Fook Xie may be the only thing keeping the team above .500 (.278 AVG, 16 HR, 31 RBI); and 20-22 Wuhan, who are waiting impatiently for the Er Gai curse to break – their #1 starter is 1-8, 4.76 ERA in 9 games.

Hero of the Week: CF Javier Chumil, Maracaibo (.390 AVG, 14 HR, 37 RBI, 11 SB, 45.0 VORP)

Goat of the Week: SP Wu-shen Ling, Philadelphia (1-4, 8.23 ERA in 7 starts)

Dominican Republic League

Tiog Molina, Toluca Toucans

"Tiog" Molina, Toluca Toucans

In the Latitude Division the 28-14 Toluca Toucans have hit the cruise control button and are casually ripping through June with an 8-8 record and a comfortable 10-game lead over 2nd place Tokorozawa. The Toucans are ripping a .788 OPS with 50 team HRs, alongside continuously strong pitching from the league’s leading pitcher, starter Roldan “Tiog” Molina (6-3, 1.83 ERA in 10 starts). Nothing short of a complete Toluca collapse looks likely to unseat them in the playoff race this year.

C Jose Amaya, Bani Banshees

C Jose Amaya, Bani Banshees

In the Longitude division, the Mao Dadaistas are maintaining their winning ways, with a 25-17 record – however, they have lost ground to the surging Bani Banshees, who are stomping June opponents (13-3 record) and now sit five games ahead of Mao at 30-12. As much as Mao is doing correctly (team .264 average; team 3.48 ERA) Bani is doing MORE correctly (.284 average; 3.38 ERA). Bani’s C Jose Amaya has been the backbone of an offense that has collectively hit 58 HRs and scored a league-high 243 runs, all the while putting top-drawer pitchers on the mound like Muneyaki Ando (6-2, 3.33 ERA in 8 starts).

Hero of the Week: C Jose Amaya (.343 AVG, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 1.243 OPS, 25.9 VORP)

Goat of the Week: SP Jin-woo Kim, Puerto Plata (1-6, 7.71 ERA, 8 starts)

South Korea League

Still atop the Korean Latitude division is the Santurce de Cangrejeros, with a comfortable 9-game lead, a .292 AVG and a 2.84 team ERA. Roswell, Jeonju, and Busan all sit within one game of each other, none showing true signs of life. When we last looked at the Korean LAD, Roswell was in contention but required Jerome “Fiasco” Maginn, among others, to turn their pitching staff around and right the Invasion ship. Didn’t happen. Maginn is 2-6, 4.71 ERA in 10 starts and the Invasion team ERA sits at 4.42.

Quebec is also still atop the Longitude Division, same as last month, except with a far less secure lead of just 1 game. The Dragons are getting it done this year with offense, which is a bit of a departure from last year’s staff who was largely known for its stellar pitching. The heart of the Quebec order – Tsing Louis, Sung-joon Sin, Dong-chan Cho and Osiris Baldor are all in double-digit HRs already, and the team as a whole have 60 HRs with a .813 OPS. However the pitching staff has a rather pedestrian 4.38 team ERA, good enough for 2nd in the division, but not up to last year’s 3.23 team ERA.

IF Francois Jacques, Xian Kylin

IF Francois Jacques, Xi'an Kylin

With Quebec hitting an .813 and Xi’an nipping at their heels, you’d suspect Xi’an’s excellence is based in pitching. Not so. The Kylin are unbelievably hitting an .846 OPS, led by strong seasons from 2B Francois Jacques (.396 AVG, 10 HR, 28 RBI, and a .402 AVG, 1.306 OPS vs righties) and RF Tom Carty (.333, 11 HR, 30 RBI). The upper hand in the Xi’an/Quebec contest is definitely going to the team that can straighten out their pitching situations. It ought to be close…

Hero of the Week: SP Seung-mun Yang, Jeonju (6-2, 1.65 ERA in 10 starts)

Goat of the Week: MR Jim Crosby (21 appearances, 0-0, 17.36 ERA, 3.07 WHIP, 14.0 IP)

Venezuela League

When we last left the Latitude Division, there was no clear favorite, with last year’s champion Bocas del Toro mired in a slow start on the mound. What a difference a month makes. The starting pitching core has bucked up and pulled their collective ERA down to 2.87, and this has made all the difference in rocketing the Ranas Rojas up three games over 2nd place Panama City. When I say “pitching has made all the difference,” I am not exaggerating. The Venezuelan Latitude is such an offensively anemic division, the Ranas Rojas’ team .241 avg and .684 OPS is good enough for best in the division. The team as a whole has only scored 60 runs in the month of June in 16 games, but allowed only 43. The Panama City Bull Moose are running a close second to Bocas del Toro, with a very similar team profile thus far to BdT (strong pitching, weak offense) but who have the misfortune of having a 2-7 record against their rival.

Stone Tevada, Toronto Sting

"Stone" Tevada, Toronto Sting

The Toronto Sting have officially shaken the sting off of relegation from Japan last year and are sitting atop the Venezeula Longitude division with a healthy 26-16 record. Crack starter Sancho “Stone” Tevada is finally having his breakout year at age 25 (2-1, 2.25 ERA in an injury-shortened 5-start season) and is leading the rotation with a division-best 3.44 starter ERA. On the Toronto offense, In “Machi” Hwang has shaken off a lat injury that laid him up for most of the season thus far and is back in the lineup, already hitting .345 with 5 HRs in the middle of a 1-5 on the lineup card all of whom are hitting above .300.

Just 2 games behind, the Mexico City Gila Monsters are fighting to not be left behind. The Gilas started strong and continued in June with a 9-7 record, but haven’t quite matched Toronto’s pace. Both teams have tight pitching staffs that have allowed only 164 runs this season, but the bats haven’t been quite as monstrous – their team .730 OPS is only 3rd best in the division.

Hero of the Week: 3B Jeff Umlah, Toronto Sting (.362 AVG, 1.012 OPS, 4 HRs, 18 2Bs, 31 RBIs)

Goat of the Week: SP Jago Marrero, Tijuana (1-5, 7.50 ERA in 8 starts)

Canada League

1B Pedro Muela, Brooklyn Hot Dogs

1B Pedro Muela, Brooklyn Hot Dogs

The battle in the Canada LAD between Brooklyn and Hamilton continues, with the upper hand currently belonging to Brooklyn, who are 2 games ahead of Hamilton with a 29-13 record. Couple big developments that have Brooklyn thinking of victory: 1B Pedro Muela, who last year looked like an $11m a year albatross around Brooklyn’s neck, remembered how to hit HRs (.253 AVG, 8 HR, 34 RBI), and the Brooklyn starting rotation is outclassing the division with a 3.05 collective ERA. However, the loss of #2 starter Yoni Albanez (3-3, 2.14 ERA in 9 starts) is a bit of a blow.

Hamilton, at 27-15, have their own reason to be excited about their prospects. How about an 11-4 month of June? And a team 2.98 ERA. And another 3 game series vs. Brooklyn coming up, against whom they already have a 5-4 record. Get ready for some close combat.

In the Longitude division, it’s still Rally Cats all the way. They’re following their 17-10 month of May up with a 10-5 June. When we last analyzed Rizao, they were sitting on a 2.24 team ERA with a 0.49 bullpen ERA. Well, the bad news is, they’ve slipped quite a bit since then – their team 3.66 ERA is offset by a bullpen that’s slipped down to a 4.00 ERA. But the Rally Cats have made up for it in upping their offensive game – their team .257 average and .732 OPS is best in a division full of offensive lightweights.

Hero of the Week: 1B Kevin Booth, La Habana (.315 AVG, 1.049 OPS, 14 HR, 37 RBI)

Goat of the Week: 3B En-guo Loong, Changsha (.152 AVG, .536 OPS, -10.6 VORP)

Stat Line of the Week

SP Seong-chae Pak, Incheon Inchworms

SP Seong-chae Pak, Incheon Inchworms

SP Seong-chae Pak, Incheon Inchworms, 6/16/2023 vs. Maracaibo Jackals:

8.2 IP, W, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K

Practically the entire 2023 season has been a highlight reel for Pak – his record stands at 7-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in 9 starts. But this little nearly-complete-game shutout tops the list for the month of June.

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