Reno hits a bump, while Cambria and Merced have strong rounds to create a breakaway group of three teams at the top of the standings. Meanwhile, Sacramento appears to have won the race to the bottom, though woeful hitting in Fresno and Ventura could might yet offer the Solons hope.
|El Centro Imperials 3-1||Reno Silver Sox 1-3|
|Cambria Otters 3-1||Las Vegas Wranglers 1-3|
|Fresno Tigers 0-4||Mesa Moons 4-0|
|Sacramento Solons 1-3||Merced Bears 3-1|
|Ventura Gulls 1-3||Santa Cruz Crabs 3-1|
Reno Silver Sox vs. El Centro Imperials
Nice bullpen effort from Imperials cools off the streaking Sox. Late-inning solo blast from Romero Yadier makes it two straight. The El Centro bullpen keeps it rolling as the series shifts to Reno; bench player Cameron Seagren with a two-run blast in the 11th to win it for the Imperials! Silver Sox bounced back with a half dozen runs in the final, more than enough runs for Max Murphy to go the distance and avert the sweep, but the Imperials still came away from Reno on a high from their biggest result of the year.
Cambria Otters vs. Las Vegas Wranglers
Otters jump all over Christian Mercado when he was forced to take the mound after Chico Loya was a late scratch. Cambria swept the home series and came into Las Vegas riding momentum and maybe starting to believe in themselves. Only Ramon Vergara’s near-perfect game for the Wranglers averted an Otters sweep, as Cambria claimed a share of first place in the Lightning League.
Fresno Tigers vs. Mesa Moons
The Moons were out-of-synch, but the Tigers were absolutely woeful, with their bullpen blowing both games in Fresno’s home half of the set. Back in the City Suburban Sportsdome, Mesa went for the kill, with Wally Bellard hurling a shutout, and the Moons launching six homeruns in the final two games of the series to secure the sweep.
Sacramento Solons vs. Merced Bears
Sacramento pitchers scatter 11 hits to beat a visibly unhappy Fumi Suzuki, 2-1. Bears bounced back to earn the split, but they had to go nine innings to break a scoreless tie. Bears pitching remained sharp at home, with Jonathan Petrie going the distance and striking out 10 to win 1-0, and allowing only one run in the final game of the series to finish their homestand on a three-game winning streak. Only nine total runs scored in this series.
Ventura Gulls vs. Santa Cruz Crabs
Gulls collapse in every aspect of the game in an embarassing 14-4 loss at home. Luis Orosco seemed to take that insult personally, dominating with eight strikeouts and only one hit allowed to lead the Gulls to a 1-0 bounce-back win, but Santa Cruz returned to form and won both games at home against a listless Gulls squad in what felt like a crossroads series for both teams.
Lightning Strikes — Merced Bears
Two questions leap to mind when considering the Merced Bears. First, how can Fumi Suzuki have an ERA/9 of 0.72 after four starts? Second, how did he manage to lose a game? For the first, look no further than Suzuki’s season-opening perfect game. For the second, well, the Lightning League is nothing if not a pitcher’s league, and Suzuki came out second-best in a 2-1 loss to the lowly Sacramento Solons (with the Bears leaving eleven men on base!).
It is that razor-thin margin between first and worst that makes every game count in the 36-game Lightning League season, and as mid-season comes into view, the Bears appear to have positioned themselves among the league’s better teams. Merced pitching has been strong, with Jonathan Petrie and DeAngelo Ellis just a notch below the excellent Suzuki, and Wildredo Dzialo has top-of-the-rotation stuff, even if a bit of bad luck has him landed on a 1-2 start. Robert Morales has five saves in as many opportunities and has yet to allow a run (or even a hit)
On the offensive side, Jayson Mrockzka may be off to an even faster start than Suzuki, with 24 hits in his first 48 at-bats of the year. His OPS is likewise off-the-charts at 1.330. If the Bears have cause to worry, it’s that Jayson is clearly carrying this offense, and he can’t keep this up forever (can he?) — aside from Mitch Lavelle’s .308 average in the leadoff spot, the rest of the Merced lineup is batting in line with league averages (which is to say, poorly).
But for now, at least, the Bears are roaring, and hoping to avoid the “Lightning Strikes Jinx” that saw Reno hit the skids after they received their own spotlight time in this same column …
From The Commissioner: Real life stomped all over my optimistic plans to stick to a schedule for the Lightning League, but it was good to get back to the games, however “late” they may be. I was worried for a fatal loss of momentum (with interest wandering to other projects), but this round of games reinvigorated my interest in the league, and I remain optimistic I can finish the season this calendar year.
The season is a bit less than half-way done, with Merced putting on a welcome push to join Reno and Cambria at the top of the league, and Sacramento sinking to the bottom (with Fresno seemingly doomed to follow in due course). I’ve decided the league will deserve playoffs, and while I reserve the right to change my mind, I expect the top three teams will qualify, with team #4 hosting #5 for a play-in game. These “wild cards” will have to respect their current pitching order, while the top three teams will be able to re-set their rotations. After the play-in game, there will be a three-game opening round, followed by a five game series to determine the champion.