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04/20/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 16"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International


MARLINS STILL HOLD TOP SPOT IN NL EAST
The surprising Florida Marlins are still the top team in the National League East standings with a 9-5 record following last Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves. In that game, Florida first baseman Mike Jacobs cracked his sixth homer of the year off Braves starter Tim Hudson in the bottom of the third inning, while pinch-hitter Luis Gonzalez knocked out his second roundtripper in the seventh. Hudson allowed four runs on six hits in just four innings for Atlanta, but more troubling was the fact his fastball was only topping out at 85 miles per hour. Mark Hendrickson won his third game of the season for the Marlins and Hudson fell to 2-1. Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar went 2-for-4 with a homer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur doubled twice, but it was not the Braves’ night as Atlanta fell to 5-9 on the season, four games behind the Marlins in fourth place. The New York Mets are second in the NL East with a 7-6 record.
Elsewhere in the National League standings, the St. Louis Cardinals lead the Central Division with an 11-4 record, including a 7-1 mark at home, and the Chicago Cubs are in second at 9-5 after winning eight of their last 10 games. In the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks are tied with St. Louis for the best record in the league at 11-4, and have opened up a three-game lead over second-place San Diego. The Padres are 8-7. The defending league champion Colorado Rockies are struggling along in fourth place at 6-8.

RAYS DROP TO LAST IN AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
After a fairly promising start to the season which including back-to-back wins over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Tampa Bay Rays have fallen on hard times and currently sit in last place in the American League’s East Division with a 6-9 record. The Rays have had one four-game losing streak already, and lost their third in a row last Wednesday with a 6-5 loss to the Twins in Minneapolis. Left fielder Carl Crawford whacked a first-pitch homer in the top of the third inning off Twins starter Livan Hernandez to open the game’s scoring, but it was an eighth-inning sacrifice fly by Minnesota third baseman Mike Lamb in the eighth that decided the contest. Joe Nathan came on in the ninth to nail down his fifth save for the Twins. Nathan has yet to allow an earned run in 2008.
Tampa Bay setup man Al Reyes hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire lately. After getting himself arrested after an early-morning bar fight, Reyes was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an impingement in his right shoulder. Reyes is the tenth Ray to go on the DL this year, and the fifth since Opening Day just three weeks ago. The Rays activated lefty Kurt Birkins off the DL to replace Reyes. All the injuries have led to Tampa Bay bringing top prospect Evan Longoria up from the minors earlier than they’d hoped. Longoria hit well in spring training, but was ticketed for a little more seasoning in AAA ball. The 22-year-old third baseman was hitting .300 after his first five games, and stroked his first big league homer against the Yankees last week.
In the American League standings, Boston and New York are tied for the East lead with 9-7 records, the 9-5 Chicago White Sox are a half-game up on Kansas City in the Central Division, and the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland lead the West at 9-7.

SANTIAGO, PINAR DEL RIO REACH CUBAN FINALS
Defending champion Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Rio have reached the Cuban National Series finals after winning their respective league championship series last week. Santiago was able to advance after beating Villa Calara in six games in the Eastern finals, but Pinar del Rio was stretched to extra innings in the seventh game before finally eliminating Sancti Spiritus for the Western title.
Santiago clobbered Villa Clara 16-6 last Sunday to clinch a berth in the finals for a second year in a row by winning their set, 4 games to 2. That series wasn’t as close as the results imply, however. Santiago outscored Villa Clara 36-14 over the first two games and (after the Naranjas surprised the Avispas with a pair of wins to tie the set at two games apiece) then outscored Villa Clara by a 28-12 margin over the final two games to cop the series. Needless to say, pitching was not a deciding factor.
In the Western final, Pinar del Rio had to outlast Sancti Spiritus 7-6 in ten innings to win the seventh and deciding game and a ticket to face Santiago. The winning run scored in the top of the tenth when a throwing error by Sancti Spiritus shortstop Yunieski Gourriel allowed a Pinar runner to score from third. Pinar del Rio reliever Armando Martinez finished the game for the save despite facing a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the tenth. The real story was the relief work of Pinar reliever Vladimir Banos, who allowed two runs in six innings out of the bullpen on three days’ rest.
The Cuban Finals opened Wednesday night with an 8-2 win for Santiago de Cuba. The game was scoreless before Santiago exploded for six runs with two out in the fifth as Rolando Merino homered off Pinar starter Yosvany Torres.

MONCLOVA AND SALTILLO TIED FOR FIRST IN MEXICAN LEAGUE NORTH
The Monclova Acereros and Saltillo Saraperos are staging a dandy battle for first place in the Mexican League’s Northern Division, with both teams posting 17-8 records to pull three games ahead of third place Laguna. Monclova kept pace with Saltillo by pulling out a 6-5 thriller Wednesday night over Chihuahua. The Acereros were trailing the Dorados 5-3 in the bottom of the third until Noel Ahumada hit an RBI double, followed by Pedro Diaz’ go-ahead two-run single.
In the LMB South, the Yucatan Leones continue to hold the top slot with an 18-7 record. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos are in second place at 15-9, while the Quintana Roo Tigres’ 14-11 record puts them in third. A familiar name is now playing for the Tigres. Longtime major leaguer Julio Franco is back in Mexico, and he went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs to lead Quintana Roo to a 4-3 win over Oaxaca last Wednesday night in Cancun. With the game tied at 3-3, Franco stroked a single to right field that scored Octavio Sandoval with what turned out to be the game-winning run. Franco, who turns 50 in August, is batting .281 with a homer and 13 RBIs after 25 games with the Tigres. Perhaps more impressive is that he’s been successful on two of three stolen base attempts. You have to wonder what his manager was thinking, though.

ITALY TO BE PRIME HOST COUNTRY FOR 2009 WORLD CUP
Italy has been selected by the International Baseball Federation as the primary host country for next year’s 38th Baseball World Cup. After Group stage games involving 20 nations are held in Barcelona, Moscow, Regensburg, Stockholm and Prague, Italy and Holland will both host second round games, each involving eight teams. The third round and finals will then take place entirely in Italy. The World Cup will be played between September 9 and 27 in 2009.

HANSHIN, SEIBU LEAD JAPANESE LEAGUES
The Hanshin Tigers and Seibu Lions hold first place in Japan’s Central and Pacific League standings, respectively. The Tigers have a 13-3 record to lead the Central League, including a perfect 7-0 mark at home. Their road record of 6-3 is the best of both leagues. The Chunichi Dragons are second in the Central League at 10-5-1, while Yakult is in third place with an 8-7 record. Hiroshima, Yomiuri and Yokohama make up the league’s second division.
Seibu’s 13-9-1 record is good enough for first in the Pacific League, while Nippon Ham, Lotte and Softbank are all tied for second at 1.5 games behind the Lions (although the Fighters’ 11-10-1 record gives them a higher winning percentage than the Marines and Hawks). Rakuten still has a Japan-best 8-0 home record, but a 2-12 mark away from home puts them in fifth place. Orix brings up the rear in the PL at 9-14.
As an interesting sidebar, Softbank defeated Orix 7-3 last week at the Kyocera Dome in a game notable for the fact that Hawks starter Jeremy Powell was facing one of the teams he was embroiled in a contract dispute with during the offseason (Softbank being the other). Powell allowed solo homers by Alex Cabrera and Osamu Hamanaka, but limited the Buffaloes to those two runs over six innings, then knew enough to go to the Hawks locker room after being taken out of the game by manager Sadaharu Oh.

FORMER BIG LEAGUERS STRUGGLING IN KOREAN LEAGUE
The Korea Baseball Organization season is in full swing, and while things are going well for the Lotte Giants, they’re not so hot for a pair of ex-major league pitchers returning to their homeland. The Giants lead the KBO standings with a 10-3 record, one game better than the Samsung Lions and SK Wyverns and two games up on the fourth place Woori Heroes. However, 30-year-old right-handed hurlers Jae-weong Seo and Sun-woo Kim are both struggling.
Seo spent six years in the majors with the Mets, Dodgers and Rays before signing with the Kia Tigers in the offseason. Seo is 0-2 for the last-place Tigers, but his 2.70 ERA says he’s more a victim of non-support than his own pitching. Given that he had a hamstring injury in spring training, Seo is actually pitching beyond expectations.
Kim is another story. He pitched for the Red Sox, Expos, Rockies and Reds between 2001 and 2006, and signed with the Doosan Bears prior to this season. After losing last Sunday, Kim’s KBO record fell to 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA, and the Bears demoted him to the minors afterwards. Baseball analyst Sung-won Kim from the cable network Xports said, “Sun-woo is just a mess right now. He can’t get anything going.”

TAIWANESE SS SUSPENDED AFTER FOREARMING UMPIRE
Shortstop Lin Che-Shen of the La New Bears was suspended for 15 games by the Chinese Professional Baseball League after throwing a forearm at an umpire during a game earlier this month after a couple of close calls went against him and teammate Shih Chi-Wei at first base in the ninth inning of a tied game. A veteran of international baseball nicknamed “Big Brother,” Lin was batting .458 with two homers in 12 games for the Bears.
The President Lions lead the CPBL standings with an 11-5 record, just ahead of the 10-5-1 Bears. The Lions and Bears are the only Taiwanese teams above .500 at this early stage of the season.

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