Around the WBH – 7/11/2024

"Paulino's Pretties" Celebrate Another Paulino Garofab Victory (picture courtesy Suwon Baseball Photography Concern, Ltd.)

It’s the halfway mark in the 2024 WBH season, and all around the world, cheering, adoring fans are feeling the heat of what they believe to be Baseball Fever, but will turn out to be a midsummer’s bout of heat stroke brought on by scorching July temperatures coupled with an unwillingness to pay a ballpark vendor $8 for a bottle of Dasani. For those of us watching from our air-conditioned living rooms, we have enjoyed the unfolding of the following big stories:

  • The Black Bear mauling in the USA is starting to look fatal for Azua’s chances at a five-peat
  • Tocumen & Santiago are hitting the accelerator in Japan
  • The Stars are shrugging off the upstart Loros in the Cuba LOD
  • Tokorozawa making some thunder in the Dominican…Tokyo leapfrogging Mao; will Bani be next?
  • Quebec vs. Santiago de Cuba – a dogfight till the end?
  • Panama City fades to 3rd behind surging Monterrey and Valencia – Chihuahua still holding off Colon
  • Suwon and Wuhan hold unconvincing leads their Canada arch-rivals

All that and a thousand apologies for last week’s baseball playing hamster, after the jump.

This Week’s Trivia Question

Only two times in USA league history has a team’s pitching staff given up fewer than 400 runs in a single season. In both cases it was the same team, performing the feat in different seasons. Can you name the team, and the years in which they achieved it?

USA LEAGUE

Week 10 was supposed to be a good opportunity for Azua to get back in the saddle against Taegu in the LAD, facing a Nagasaki Blues team that they’ve trounced 5-1 so far this season, followed by a series against LOD bottom-dwelling Akashi. However, they lost both series, going 2-4 for the week and losing one game on the Black Bears. The divide now stands at six games. Even though Taegu is outperforming their own run differential by four games, they’re still performing convincingly better than Azua and hold a four-game lead on the Tortugas in PyW-L record comparisons.

Roque Aguilar, Taegu Black Bears

It’s fair to say Taegu is getting it done this year by fielding the only team in the LAD without glaring deficiencies. Their team .255 AVG isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, but it’s still the highest in the division, and though none of their regular position players is batting above .300, you’d have to look hard to find one batting below .270. Couple that with a studly rotation led by Roque Aguilar (6-1, 2.42 ERA in 12 starts) and you’ve got a convincingly good team. Azua meanwhile is inexplicably struggling in the starting pitching department, starting with ace Christian Lewis (3-6, 4.83 ERA, 12 starts) and radiating downward to the likes of Tavio Soravilla, Juan Bustamante, and Jorge Campus, all of whom are sporting ERAs north of 5.00. Meanwhile once-strong Oaxaca has blown a gasket in their offensive machine, trailing the division now with a .689 OPS and following a dismal 9-17 June with a 1-7 July. The Nueve Garras de Jaguar now share a 24-36 record in Relegationville along with Pacora, who have recovered a bit from getting dog-whipped in the 2nd half of June and are getting their talented pitching squad back on track.

In the LOD, San Lorenzo is still in the driver’s seat, despite the improving fortunes of the 31-29 Nagasaki Blues, who now sit just 5 games out of 1st place after sneaking series wins against Taegu and Azua. The Blues have been waiting for an offensive awakening for some time now and appear to be finally getting it; 3B Ollie Littleworth and 1B Johnny Danton are both batting over .340, while cleanup hitter Armando Gomez appears to be shaking off the .645 OPS he pulled in May – so far in July it’s a more typical .920. The pitching staff is still the league’s worst (team 4.92 ERA), but last week the Blues outscored opponents 40-24; a few more weeks of that may change the division’s dynamics considerably. Vancouver is treading water at 30-30…they have the odd distinction of having the lowest team batting average (.248)  but the highest number of runs scored (294). Most of that distinction is courtesy of 2B Manny Jurasin and C Brad Southorn, who between the two of them have accounted for 30% of the team’s RBIs. Having the opposite problem is Akashi, with a division-leading .269 average but only 270 runs scored, last in division. Despite the fact that this is 23 more runs than their pitching staff have allowed this season, the Fordians continue to slip toward the bottom, now underperforming their PyW-L by five games.

JAPAN LEAGUE

In the LAD, the 34-26 Santiago de los Caballeros continues to edge ahead of the Toronto Sting, leading them now by three games. The Sting’s bats have cooled off to a team .252 average, with their 259 run total being the division’s lowest. This was an offense that walloped Venezuelan pitching to the tune of 92 HRs, but this season they’re on pace to finish with 84 (and also with 40 points lower team OPS than last season). The Sting will require In Hwang to do better than .259 with 9 HRs if they wish to turn things around. Nearer the bottom of the LAD, the Obeliscos continue to sink along with Ricardo Visoso’s offensive numbers…his .234 AVG is the team’s worst, and he’s on pace to hit 14 HRs, which is less than half his previous season’s total of 31. Rounding out the bottom at 26-34, one game worse than Barquisimeto, is Erie, who has temporarily stopped reeling from an 8-17 month of June to pull up at an even 4-4 for the month of July, but who don’t have too many reasons to smile…they’re last in team average (.249) and team ERA (4.43), and with a team -14.3 ZR are also fielding the least effective defense in Japan.

Albert Reyna, Tocumen Pollo Diablo

In the LOD, the surging Toluca Toucans and Baracoa Bahia have both faded to an even more vigorously surging Tocumen Pollo Diablo team, who with a 37-23 record lead both Toluca and Baracoa by six games. It’s safe to say this team is for real; 3B Albert Reyna certainly is for real (.275 AVG, 17 HR, 45 RBI) as is starter Tino Pijuan (7-0, 1.63 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 11 starts).  The balance between their offense and pitching is in stark contrast to the competition in the LOD; Toluca has the division’s best pitching staff (3.31 team ERA) but an abyssmal .221 team AVG and .641 OPS.  The Bahia have put together the most effective offense (.261 AVG, .760 OPS) but the team’s 3.84 ERA and starter’s 4.19 ERA are both division worst. Rounding out the bottom is 23-37 Cancun, a shoe-in for relegation with eight games separating them and 3rd place. The Mojitos were once in Toluca’s boat, with excellent pitching and not-so-good offense, but their not-so-good offense proved to be hellishly not good (.639 team OPS) and the pitching slowly faded in comparison to their division rivals, and now they have key injuries in both categories (to RF Joe Bolam, the only player in double-digit HRs, and the aptly named Ramon Hurtado, the 25-year-old fireballer who burned out his labrum and should miss the rest of the season).

CUBA LEAGUE

Cirilo Guajardo, Toa Baja Coquis

Interesting times in the Cuba LAD. Three teams hold winning records: the Toa Baja Coquis, the Hukuoka Hawks, and the Xi’an Kylin. Three great teams playing great baseball, but some are playing greater than others. Specifically I speak of the Toa Baja Coquis, who ended June at 17-9 and are already off to a 6-2 start in July. The team offense is managing a .285 AVG with a staggering .809 OPS, and for a change, they aren’t managing to do that solely off the bat of super leadoff man SS Hua Hsia. The big offensive drivers so far this year have been the 3-4-5 lineup slots of 1B Cirilo Guajardo (.277, 16 HR, 48 RBI), C Damiao Courinho (.271, 12 HR, 39 RBI) and LF Hwui-ning “Winning” Huang (.289, 16 HR, 54 RBI). Not but three games behind are the Hawks, slowly gaining momentum as they try to solve the mystery of why their pitching sucks so badly. Their second-best team .780 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, but their team 4.31 ERA certainly is. The Hawks have cleaned house a bit, sending disappointing lefty Yukichi Shinada back to the minors for re-education to make way for Gan Wang, a free agent pickup just now coming off the DL (3-2, 2.51 ERA in 5 starts). Things are certainly looking up for the Hawks, but it may eventually require a Toa Baja cooldown to catch up. The Kylin are coming off a 12-13 month of June and is wondering what happened to the offense that hit a team .820 OPS for them last year. Moving up a tier has cut that number down to a .738 OPS, despite the fact their 70 team HRs are dead even with Toa Baja’s. As for 23-37 Maracaibo, relegation appears pretty certain now, but as for reasons to watch Maracaibo anyway, add the name Chi-eun Sin (.282, 17 HR, 49 RBI), the 31-year-old catcher who’s on pace to hit a career best 34 HRs, hitting behind Javier Chumil who’s starting to come back down from his .400+ average high (.388, 9 HR, 28 RBI).

Fook Xie, Philadelphia Stars

Philadelphia appears to have found a way to shrug off Lagunillas and break out toward the finish line. At 36-24, they’re now five games ahead of the Loros. One familiar name is at the top of the list of reasons why Philadelphia has found its mojo: LF Fook Xie (.293 AVG, 24 HR, 59 RBI) who is once again challenging the single-season HR record of 48 held by Je-ju Yi of the 2011 Cancun Mojitos. At current pace Xie will tie Yi’s HR record. But not far behind are his teammates, catcher Alfonso Ruiz (.312, 20 HR, 54 RBI) and 1B Qi-chao Huang (.278, 15 HR, 47 RBI), who together make up a 3-4-5 lineup team that may go down in history as one of the most dangerous. The Loros, meanwhile, are off to a 1-7 start in July, with every starter not names Sancho Tevada failing to produce on the mound, thus contributing to a 4.10 team ERA, paired with a .240 team AVG. The race toward the bottom is still being won by Rizao (20-40), who have already started dumping this season and preparing for 2025 on the third tier with fresher prospects. Hanging out five games above Rizao are the Incheon Inchworms, still underperforming their PyW-L by four games, with a 2-6 start to July already. The offense’s .233 is still being dragged down by everyone who’s not Ken Walsh or Han-lee Sol, but with the rapid descent of Lagunillas and Rizao, they can at least feel somewhat confident in their chances for staying in Cuba.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC LEAGUE

On any other planet, the 39-21 Moca Machine could go ahead and start making playoff T-Shirts. But this is Planet Dominica, where anything can happen and usually does. And in the LAD, the “anything” has taken the form of a sudden surge in Tokorozawa, who at 34-26 now sit just 5 games out of 1st. The Arsenal finished June with a staggering 20-6 record, a stretch that included:

  • A 12-game winning streak
  • Six shutout ballgames pitched
  • 5 victories out of 6 matchups vs. Moca

Antonio Beneviedes, Tokorozawa Arsenal

We’ve seen this from Tokorozawa before – last year, in fact, in the 2nd half, where solely on the fact that they were much better than the riff-raff, they hovered within single digits of Toluca’s 1st place lead, despite having a team ERA close to 5.00. This is not that team. Their run differential is 292-275 (+17), and those 292 runs lead the league, as does the 75 HRs they’ve hit so far. Also helping is a mostly solid pitching core led by Antonia Beneviedes (7-0, 2.78 ERA in 12 starts) surrounded by a staff that have achieved a team 3.97 ERA – not impressive, but good enough for 2nd best.  All this to say the Arsenal is outclassed in almost every capacity by Moca, but with the Machine’s penchant for amassing DL rosters large enough to apply for U.S. statehood, the Arsenal is leaving very little room for slippage.

As for the Longitude, it looks appropriate to call time of death on the Dadaistas. At 28-32, they are now 9 games out of 1st and have given way to the emergence of the Tokyo Tanuki, who are six games ahead of them now at 34-26. Despite having the Dominican’s best defense and a division-best .281 team AVG and .790 OPS, the Dadaistas are five games under their PyW-L for no explainable reason other than the fact their rotation is a collective 5.43 ERA. So, about them Tanuki? Three games out of 1st, despite a third-best .254 AVG and a team ERA of 4.23. How do they do it? Well, for starters, they do it by whipping the teams that matter the most – Bani (7-5 record) and Mao (6-6). In fact, Bani only has a losing record against one team, and that’s Tokyo. Other than that, it’s hard to say. They don’t have a regular position player hitting above. 300, but the only player they have hitting below .250 is Osiris Baldor, and he’s .224, 9 HR, 25 RBI and .782 OPS, which is still good enough for a positive VORP. They also don’t have a single pitcher pitching below a 3.00 ERA,  but the current starting five is collectively 23-20. So who cares how the job’s getting done? Except Bani, of course, who are off to a 2-6 start in July and don’t have a lot of room for the likes of Luis Tameron (1-1, 13.50 last 3 games) and Jesus Cabrera (0-3, 8.04 ERA last 3 games) to melt down and smudge their division-high 3.70 team ERA. With Tauro “Deacon” Gutierrez on the DL again, the Banshees have scored two runs or less in 5 of their last 8 games (all losses).

SOUTH KOREA LEAGUE

Miguel "Little Bull" Ramirez, Santurce de Cangrejeros

The division race in the LAD is about as done as a division race can be. The brief period of time in which the Jeonju Jays looked like a viable contender are long gone. The Jays are 29-31, 12 games out of 1st, and appear to have nothing left to play for except for a .500 record. Santurce de Cangrejeros (41-19) have the distinction of having the most wins so far in the WBH, and they’re looking pretty deserving of them. The rotation sports three pitchers with 7 or more wins. Their team batting average is .283. When 1B Mao Huang sneezes, rainbows shoot out of his nostrils and elves dance around them. As if that weren’t enough, even their bullpen is full of studs, like Miguel “Little Bull” Ramirez (4-0, 0.82 ERA, 1 SV, 38 appearances, 44.o IP).

In the LOD, the Quebec Dragons have gained even more momentum since the previous report and are now tied with Santiago de Cuba at 37-23. Starter Jeff Mallandain is now an 8-game winner (8-3, 2.78 ERA in 14 starts) and the team ERA is a division-best 3.67.  But offense continues to be an obstacle; Quebec has lost an important power presence in 1B Ramon Aristizabal for the rest of the season and 3B Tsing Louis took a brief stint on the DL which will end next week. The Dragons lack of offensive depth in response to these injuries emphasizes the need for a difference-making bat or two on this squad. Especially since the Rough Riders are showing no signs of slowing down; CF Cris Toras (.293, 20 HR, 45 RBI) and C Shiro Kito (.333, 11 HR, 57 RBI) are still powering the division’s best offense, and the RRs have not one but TWO eight-game winners of their own: Guoncale Balsa (8-2, 3.28 ERA, 12 starts) and Dae-jin Kim (9-2, 2.07 ERA, 12 starts). Thunder Bay is treading water with a 27-33 record, no longer in contention but poised to come in 3rd for the first time since 2017’s 2nd place finish in Canada. Cheju is still playing a singles game, with a .270 team batting average but a division-worst 163 XBH and 26 HRs.

VENEZUELA LEAGUE

Godofredo "Dinky" Rodarte, Monterrey Alacranes

The mercurial rise of the Monterrey Alacranes continues. The Alacranes finished June with an 18-8 record- which, when compared to ex-leader Panama City’s 11-15 June record, tells you all that needs knowing about why the Alarcanes are 35-25 and four games up on the Bull Moose. The Monterrey key to success appears to be pitching; that is to say, with a division-worst .710 team OPS, they’re certainly not winning off their bats. Starters like Godofredo Rodarte (4-3, 2.50 ERA) and Juan Medina (7-2, 2.66 ERA) are standouts in a rotation that has only managed a 4.22 starter’s ERA, but the shining star has to be the bullpen and their 3.20 ERA. Starting with closer Victoriano Rivera (2-1, 1.62 ERA, 30 app, 17 SV) their setup crew is probably the best in the league. Also with a recent surge is Valencia – the Cerveceros are off to a 6-2 start in July to make up for their 11-14 June. Despite losing star SP Salvador Mata until sometime next July, the Cerveceros 4-man rotation is a cool 3.07 ERA with a collective 19-16 record. At 24-36 is the already much-mourned Bocas Del Toro Ranas Rojas, who still aren’t seeing any improvement in their pitching enough to pull them out of the cellar that is now 11 games deep.

There’s still plenty of fight left in the Venezuelan LOD. Chihuahua continues to hang on, and is now believing the dream enough to start early trading for the playoffs. The Chihuahuas have scored  “Copper” Rodriguez in Rizao’s Going Out Of Cuba fire sale, while saying goodbye to Quique Luevand, who was always good for a .350 average and maybe one homer, and welcoming some potential power upgrades. Copper alone should be worth the price tag – if his 1.95 ERA in last year’s Canadian season is an indicator of what he can do to any 3rd tier league, Chihuahua’s got themselves a lights-out playoff starter. Colon now sits 3 games behind Chihuahua at 32-28, but the wheels are falling off the starting pitching machine (4.67 starters ERA) and at a mere +10 run differential, Colon is best characterized as an average team whose record is slowly starting to reflect it. At 3rd place, and by no means out of it yet, is Mexico City. The Gila Monsters have officially hacked their way out of the 11-15 hole they put themselves in the month of May and are now 5 games out of 1st. The Gila offense is just a few ticks below Chihuahua’s in effectiveness (.754 team OPS vs. 767), but it’s pitching where Mexico City has struggled most. Specifically, Jose Matos (0-8, 5.57 ERA, 12 starts). Removing this guy from existence makes the Gilas a .566% ballclub. With a couple key improvements to the rotation, this is a team that’s capable of making a run for the top. At 14 games out of 1st, the 21-39 Tijuana Grasshoppers are trailing in every conceivable stat category.

CANADA LEAGUE

Paulino Garofab, Suwon Samsung Lions

Suwon’s Samsung Lions enjoyed a three-game lead on Hamilton in last week’s report, but this week Hamilton has shaved that lead down to just one game. A 6-2 month of July has allowed the Steelers to pad their record a bit with winning series against a few of the more hapless teams such as Brooklyn, Changsha and La Habana, while Suwon had to spar with Hong Kong and Wuhan. The Samsung Lions are still looking good for the same reasons as before; the MVP seasons of pitchers Paulino Garofab (7-2, 1.25 ERA, 9 starts) and Bo-young Pak (5-0, 1.65 ERA, 12 starts). This staff, collectively pitching a 3.30 ERA, is holding the league to just a .230 batting average, allowing only 218 runs. In the negative column for Suwon, however, is their lack of offensive support; their team .225 AVG and .677 OPS makes you wonder how incredible this team would be with a decent hitter somewhere in the lineup. Speaking of hitting, Hamilton won’t be setting any batting records as a team this year, but their .730 OPS and team 62 HRs put them way ahead of Suwon behind the plate. But apart from #1 starter Dave Keown (3-1, 2.39 ERA, 12 starts) and #2 Sean Reusch (8-0, 3.56 ERA, 12 starts) the list of people you can feel confident in giving the ball to drops off quite suddenly. Nevertheless, expect a continued slugfest between these two clubs. Should be interesting.

The Brooklyn Wieners appear to have righted the ship – after a much-needed 14-12 June, they’re holding even with a 4-4 July so far. The bullpen repair project has been successful – acquisition Nemesio Gomez has given 17 straight scoreless innings since coming over from Nagasaki in a trade last month, and their team ERA now is just a touch above 4.00 (4.03 to be exact). Six games out of first is not a terribly large defecit – and this is a team with a lot going for it. A team .278 AVG/.771 OPS offense, a starter core with a 3.65 ERA. A rally to at least a 2nd place finish seems not only possible, but likely. Then there’s Seoul, 7 games out at 27-33, but probably without the potential for moving ahead, if their 232-276 (-44) run differential has anything to say about it.

The Canadian LOD is looking pretty entertaining. Wuhan (40-20) and Hong Kong (39-21) are within a game of each other, both with records that would pass as clear 1st place winners in virtually any other league division in the WBH. With a division-best .773 team OPS and a 2nd-best 3.10 team ERA, Wuhan has been looking pretty solid, save a rather embarrassing sweep by Seoul this week. Hong Kong, on the other side of the coin, has a 2nd-best .728 team OPS, but a staggering 2.85 team ERA, having only allowed 200 runs so far this season. Hard to believe a pitching staff could be better than Suwon’s, but Canada is hitting 10 points lower vs. Hong Kong than Suwon (.220). Adding to the drama is the fact that in 12 matchups, Wuhan and Hong Kong have battled to a 6-6 tie.

Defying the notion it can’t get any worse, La Habana Los Leones and Changsha Dragon Riders are 20 and 21 games out of 1st respectively, with very little to look forward to than to be spoiler to someone’s playoff hopes.

Answer to This Week’s Trivia Question

The only team to hold the USA league to less than 400 runs in a single season is the now-defunct Mariel Sharks, who held the USA to only 399 runs in 2011, and then improved on that feat in 2014 by allowing a paltry 378 runs. In both seasons, Mariel went on to score the league championship.

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