The WBH bids a fond farewell to the month of May, which brought us many surprises and intense battles already, and still 14 more weeks to go. In this issue:
- USA: Azua falters again; San Lorenzo still legendary
- Japan: The Toucans remember they’re a baseball team, and start playing like one
- Cuba: New leaders in both divisions
- Dominican Republic: Bani takes a commanding lead over slumping Mao
- South Korea: Santiago and Quebec throw Thunder Bay back where they belong
- Venezuela: Chihuahuas take over; Alarcanes nipping at Panama City’s heels
- Canada: Suwon takes lead, Jin Long jumps into 1st place tie with Wuhan
All this, plus it’s Joe Schoonhoven Bobblehead Night for the first 20,000 readers (restrictions apply). Onward!
Through the end of the 2023 season, only two currently active teams have career winning percentages above .500 but have never won a league championship. Can you name them?
Last week’s report broke the news that rumors of Azua’s fall from their dynastic reign atop the USA LAD were greatly exaggerated. This week, Around the WBH breaks the news that rumors of Azua’s fall being greatly exaggerated were themselves greatly exaggerated. As predicted, inter-division competition was particularly fierce over the past three weeks of gameplay, with the clear victor being the Taegu Black Bears, who now sit alone atop the standings at 21-15. Taegu singlehandedly knocked both Oaxaca and Azua out of the top spots with a sweep of Azua and a 2-1 series vs. Oaxaca just last week. Azua, having just pulled up out of a nosedive to finish the month of May with a 15-12 record, then gave up back-to-back series sweeps vs. San Lorenzo and Taegu, and now share last place with Pacora at 17-19. Sandwiched in the middle, 2nd place with a 19-17 record, is Oaxaca, who actually has the best overall hitting and pitching stats in the division (.259 AVG, 3.55 ERA), the best pitcher in Jose Santibanez (4-1, 1.87 ERA in 6 starts) and the best 3-4 hitters in catcher Gerard Cargill (.333 AVG, 9 HR, 28 RBI) and tied-for-HR-leader Norberto Raspaledos (.269, 12 HR, 24 RBI). Though two games ahead, the Black Bears are grossly outperforming their run differential and are getting by through a good balance of offense and starting pitching, coupled with a fantastic bullpen that’s collectively 9-4, 3.14 ERA. The Bears are 9-2 in one-run games.
In the LOD, San Lorenzo is once again comfortably alone in the stratosphere. A nine-game winning streak began with two defeats of Nagasaki in May, then sweeps of Pacora and Azua before finally losing 2 of 3 to Vancouver in interdivision play. Nagasaki and Vancouver have both largely remained steady, with the Blues just a hair shy of .500 in 2nd place and the Ventures just a game behind in 3rd place. Akashi’s ship has righted itself somewhat – after a horrid 8-19 record in May, they’re pulling a 5-4 record thus far, although everyone in the division is meeting or exceeding that winning pace, which means their position at the bottom of the league (11 games out of 1st, three games behind 3rd place Vancouver) is still definitive. Although perhaps not for long: a quick analysis of the run differentials points to a grievous crime against nature being committed by the Nagasaki Blues – by Pythagorean W-L alone, the Blues belong at the bottom with a 14-22 record, and the Fordians belong three games ahead of them at 17-19. Though only real wins matter, the potential of there being a sizeable correction in both directions is pretty great, and at this point no team should become too comfortable with their prospects for staying in the USA.
Competition in the LAD of Japan remains intense. The two teams at the top during the last report – Toronto and Santaigo de los – are still on top. With Toronto narrowly edging Santiago 2 games to 1 in last May’s head-to-head series, and with both teams winning at relatively the same pace, Toronto now holds a game’s edge on Santiago at 21-15. It helps Toronto to have the In Hwang of old back – after a mundane month of May where the Machi hit only .264 with a .754 OPS, he’s on fire this month (.325 AVG, 1.113 OPS) and bringing the wins with him (7-3 month of June). On the Caballeros club, it’s looking like another .400 AVG year for Pablo de Aragon (.395 AVG to be exact). Erie and Barquisimeto have both fallen 4 games behind in a tie for last place at 17-19. The Sea Wolves can manage a breakout if they can find some way to get Dong-wan Yi out of his .196 funk and improve on their division-worst 4.43 team ERA. The Obeliscos fate is being dragged down by the slumping Ricardo Visoso (.215 AVG, 4 HR, 19 RBI) and their team .696 OPS isn’t going to cut it when paired with their team 4.05 ERA (3rd best in division). They also have a 5-13 road record, which may be an indicator that they need a better team bus.
When we last left the LOD, the Baracoa Bahia and the Tocumen Pollo Diablo were slugging it out for 1st place. Not only has a front runner not yet emerged, but this week a third contender has jumped into the fray: the Toluca Toucans, who are now even with both the Bahia and the Pollo Diablo at 19-17. How did Toluca do it? In last week’s report, it was mentioned that their team .215 batting average would have to get better. It did, slightly (up 4 notches to .219) but their pitching got a LOT better – the bullpen lowered their collective ERA from 6.18 to 3.52, and the Toucans now hold the distinction of having the best team ERA at 3.34. Meanwhile, both the Pollo Diablo and the Bahia are off to a 3-7 start for the month of June, both of whom suffering series losses vs. Toluca last week. Not changing since last report is the Cancun Mojitos, still struggling mightily with a .614 team OPS.
The red-hot Xi’an Kylin have cooled off since last report, when they were 1 game ahead of Toa Baja in 1st place in the LAD. Since then Toa Baja has schooled them in head-to-head play, winning 5 of 6 vs. Xi’an and going 7-3 in the month of June. As a result, Toa Baja has switched places with Xi’an and are atop the LAD. But they have company in form of the Hukuoka Hawks, who have experienced a serious Hukuowakening(TM). Week 6 ended with the Hawks riding a 7-game winning streaks, sweeping both Xi’an and Maracaibo. Though Hukuoka appears to have come out of nowhere, their ascension is justified by their +22 run differential; they’re not a power-hitting team (25 HRs, 4th in division) but as a whole they’re hitting .285 and slugging a second-best .774 OPS, and getting slightly better pitching out of their rotation which started the season quite dicey. Maracaibo is still struggling mightily as a team, although Javier Chumil is still tearing it up behind the plate – he ended a 20-game hitting streak on the 30th of May, and is currently batting .418 with a 1.069 OPS.
The LOD belonged evenly to the Philadelphia Stars and the Lagunillas Loros at the end of week 3, but since then the Stars have faded back to a 20-16 record, three games behind the 23-13 Loros. Is Philly playing worse, or Lagunillas playing better? Both at the same time. The Loros have won 5 games out of 6 versus the Stars. But even with removing the three games they played together last week, the Loros have a 10-5 record in the last three weeks of play vs. Philadelphia’s 8-7 record. The MVP of the Loros team, collectively, has to go to the bullpen, which so far is 2.84 ERA in relief with a 14-2 W-L record. The Stars offense meanwhile has cooled off to a .242 (from .250 last report) and the bullpen is an atrocious 5.34 ERA, with a 4-9 record and a 1-6 record in extra inning games. Incheon, whose offensive woes were reported at length in the last report, has begun a steady climb out of the hole they were in, thanks to awakenings of the bats of Ken Walsh and Han-Lee Sol. Home run power alone is pulling their OPS out of the doldrums (team OPS is now up to .672 – 46 HRs is 2nd in division) but the .216 AVG, .283 OBP and 299 team strikeouts is still of great cause for concern. Rizao now sits alone on the bottom in the Cuba LOD – their offense has fallen behind Incheons due to an extreme lack of power hitting. This is a team that needed Francisco Basano to step up and do something about his lousy .223 AVG; instead, he strained a hammy and will be laid up for two weeks.
Dominican Republic League
Nothing much has changed in the Dominican LAD – the Moca Machine can hit the cruise control button, now that they’ve achieved a 27-9 record and sit twelve games above 2nd place Puerto Plata. Of the non-Moca teams attempting to endure the rest of the season, only Puerto Plata appears to be approaching what would be considered an “average” baseball club – the 15-21 Pumas are actually three games below their PyW-L and managing a not-too-shabby .771 OPS, led by free agent 3B Jose Santos (.303 AVG, 12 HR, 30 RBI). Remove the games vs. Moca where they’ve been beaten by the machine 8 times out of 9 games, they’re an above .500 ballclub. Of course, that and three bucks will get you a latte…
Startling developments in the LOD – the expected season-long dogfight between Bani and Mao for the LOD title may have been a false projection, as the Banshees have jumped to a 7-game lead, courtesy of not one but two sweeps of Bonao in the past three weeks, plus a sweep of Sapporo and winning 2 of 3 versus Mao. The Bani offense has exploded – in addition to the continued good play of “Deacon” Gutierrez (.290, 11 HR, 32 RBI) they now have catcher Jose Amaya and RF Munenori Ishihara hitting .333 and .336 respectively. At the same time Bani is surging, Mao has been slumping, particularly in the starting pitcher category – their collective 5.07 starter ERA is now the worst in the division, with the only pitcher even coming close to a good year being Miguel “Show Me Where It” Hurtes (2-0, 3.87 ERA in 7 starts). Every other starter has an ERA over 5. Tokyo has continued their surge and are now even with Mao at 19-17 -Â it helps their standing in the division that they’ve won the last series vs. Bani and Mao and are 13-11 in division play. Bonao meanwhile continues to struggle mightily, with only 11 wins so far and not much reason to believe they’ll exceed 50 wins this season.
South Korea League
Things were looking semi-competitive in the South Korea LAD, with Santurce de Cangrejeros and the Jeonju Jays neck-and-neck at the end of week three. Then all of a sudden Santurce jumped seven games ahead of Jeonju and now sit alone at the top with a 27-9 record. What happened to Jeonju? Well, nothing, really. They did suffer four straight series losses through the end of May on into June, but still ended May with a respectable 15-11 record and are 5-5 in the month of June. Santurce, however, flipped into overdrive – they’ve been on an incredible 16-2 tear since the start of week 4, and once again appear to be the team of destiny in the Latitude Division. Roswell and Busan are still 3rd and 4th in the division, and if they could sink any lower, they would. The Invasion are a study in how matching an unproductive offense with bad starting pitching gets you nowhere, and the Burning Dragons are a study in how not to assemble a pitching staff (team 5.80 ERA; starter ERA is 6.26).
Last week Around the WBH reported with a great deal of surprise that Thunder Bay was off to a roaring start in the Korean LOD. You can stop worrying. In the past three weeks, the Avengers went on a five-game losing streak in the month of May, took a breather to win two of three from Roswell, then gave up a six-game losing streak to Quebec and Cheju, which is how week 6 ended. Where Thunder Bay was consistently 3rd or 4th in all stat categories at last report, they’re now consistently 4th in almost every one, notably their .690 team OPS and 5.03 team ERA. All this and they’re still performing 2 games better than their run differential suggests. The Santiago de Cuba Rough Riders remain atop the standings, and boast the WBH home runs leader in CF Cris Toras (.354 AVG, 15 HR, 34 RBI) and quite possibly the best two pitchers, Jorge Gallegos (4-2, 1.47 ERA in 7 starts) and Dae-jin Kim (5-1, 1.63 ERA in 7 starts). Threatening their hold on 1st, however, is a suddenly resurgent Quebec Dragons squad, who took 2 of 3 from Santiago de Cuba in week 4, then proceed to beat around on weaker competition and go 6-3 for the month of June. The Dragons, at 22-14, are just a game behind the Rough Riders. As good as Santiago’s pitching is, the Dragons have a deep and thoroughly talented squad. What might possibly bridge the gap is the correction of a couple of their under-.200 hitting lineup guys, either through replacement or by sending them back to hitting class. At the bottom of the division, the Cheju Volcano are looking completely weaponless – only one starter managing a below-5.00 ERA, and the team offense has two less homeruns (13) than Rough Riders’ Cris Toras has all by himself.
The Panama City Bull Moose remain atop the Venezuelan LAD with a 23-13 record. The Bull Moose are going strong despite not leading the division in any statistical category except number of runs scored (188, only 6 more than Bocas del Toro). However, their run differential still puts them with the best PyW-L in the division, so it’s not luck that’s causing them to be successful; it’s a good balance of above-average hitting and above-average pitching, with no critical weakness except their division-worst 4.59 bullpen ERA. But the Bull Moose have some close company. The Monterrey Alarcanes, only 2 games behind the Bull Moose at the end of week 3, are now only one game away from the top spot. They have managed a 9-1 record for the month of June, and are still on an eight-game winning streak that includes a sweep of the Bull Moose. Now that people are paying attention, WBH fans are asking the tough questions about Monterrey:
- Are they for real? Well, if you believe Panama City is for real, you pretty much have to. Their team batting averages and ERAs are almost identical, and run differential only favors Panama City by two games. They’re good teams are almost exactly the same reasons, with Panama holding only a slight edge.
- What is an “alacrane?” No idea. Babelfish translates the Spanish word “alacrane” as “alacrane.” Best definition that can be applied is “A baseball player that plays for Monterrey.”
What player name is the most fun to say in all the WBH? That would have to be IF Joe Schoonhoven. It’s a name so awesome it should have its own religion dedicated to it. As in, “Cross your legs, close your eyes, clear your mind, and let the Schoonhoven flow through you.”
Valencia, once in striking distance of Panama, appears to have gone a different direction than Monterrey. Despite hitting a division-best 29 HRs, offensive woes (.244 team average) have led to a 2-7 month of June which now has Valencia in below-.500 territory at 17-19. Also with a 2-7 June are the Bocas del Toro Ranas Rojas, who remain trapped at the bottom of the league at 13-23, thanks in no small part to bad luck and Aimon Garcia (1-6, 6.59 ERA in 8 starts).
The Colon Cougars, who surprised in the month of May with an early lead in the LOD, have cooled their jets somewhat and allowed the Chihuahua Chihuahuas to slip past them into the 1st place slot. Perhaps “slipped” is too mild a word – the Chihuahuas are on a 9-1 tear in the month of June, and are hitting just a tick under .300 as a team. Seriously, check out the batting averages in the 1-6 lineup slots: .354, .373, .343, .380, .321., .485…geez. As if that weren’t enough, their starters are pitching at a 3.07 ERA. They are outclassing Colon now in almost every category, and the Cougars will not likely catch up until they do something about their starting pitching, which is allowing more than two runs per game than Chihuahua’s (5.86 ERA). All the way down the list, nine games out of 1st, sits third-place Mexico City, who appear to be no closer to solving their atrocious pitching situation than they were in May. Team ERA is still 5.08, and they’re off to a 3-7 start in June. Tijuana, in 4th place at 12-24, is off to an even worse June start (1-8) and hitting only .239 as a team.
Turns out Hamilton may not be the team of destiny in the Canada LAD after all. Purely on the merits of having the best pitching staff in Canada, the Suwon Samsung Lions have taken a 3-game lead on Hamilton with a 23-13 record. All this despite having only a .237 team batting average, just slightly above Seoul’s .232 to avoid being the division’s worst. The Samsung Lions team ERA is 3.10, and their starting rotation has been especially dominant, led by both Paulino Garofab (4-2, 1.26 ERA) and Bo-young Pak (3-0, 1.27 ERA). Hamilton, meanwhile, has shown a decisive skid in the pitching category – their team ERA has dropped by half a run to 3.47, a phenomenon that has been recently puncutated by the torn labrum of star pitcher Fabio Rivera (5-0, 1.91 ERA in 8 starts) which is only going to make matters worse. In other sub-2.00-ERA injury news, Seoul was riding a pretty decent pitching core to a 17-19 record but will now have to keep up that pace without Hyuk Kim (2-4, 1.85 ERA in 7 starts). Last is Brooklyn, still in last place at 15-21 – they still lead the division in offense with their .270 team AVG, but are still suffering from the league’s worst bullpen. Only recently have they made a deal to remove the disastrous Eddie Abiles with professional relief expert Nemesio Gomez from Nagasaki…perhaps this will be the catalyst they need to begin making up the 8-game deficit between them and 1st place.
In the LOD, Wuhan still has some unwelcome company at 1st place – the Hong Kong Golden Dragons. The Dragons have been getting outstanding pitching out of their starter core, led by Xiang-ling “Kangaroo” Chiu, who’s putting together a career year at age 32 (4-2, 1.36 ERA in 6 starts). Wuhan has an equally impressive pitching star with their own impressive ace in Huo-to Ban (5-1, 1.86 ERA). Both teams as they stand right now are fairly evenly matched in terms of statistics, but Hong Kong definitely has some momentum, having just swept Wuhan this week and playing a part in Wuhan’s dismal 3-6 month of June. At the bottom of the LOD division, you will find what is best described as “wreckage.” The once-mighty La Habana franchise now has a $93m payroll propping up a 12-24 team batting .220 with seven people on the DL. Even lower is Changsha Dragon Riders, victims of a 4.77 team ERA and a .226 team average.
Answer to Trivia Question
The two teams with career winning records through 2023 who have never won league championships are the La Habana Los Leones (1120-1040, .519 win pct) and the Bani Banshees (969-951, .505 win pct).