GAME DATE: May 27, 2019
It’s been a busy 2019 season that began with some strong performances out of the gate for some surprising teams, including the Toronto Nomads, Milwaukee Hops, and Norfolk Sharks.
By the beginning of May, all three of those teams led their divisions. Toronto was especially surprising, as they have been last in the Lake League in nearly every offensive category, but have dominated in 1-run games. They strung together a 6 game winning streak from April 20-26, and were 10-1 from April 20 to May 2.
But as May wore on, all three teams fell back to their more natural state, and each is now in 2nd place in their divisions. New York overtook Toronto, while 2016 Bull Cup champs, Ohio, supplanted Milwaukee. St. Pete’s are now 3.5 games ahead of Norfolk.
The fourth division leader through April, the Seattle Salts, are the only ones to remain on top of their division by this point nearly at the end of May, having cemented their dominance with a 12-game win streak from April 30 to May 12.
The Salts have turned in stellar performances from veteran starter Yardbrook Rooks, who is now 6-0 and sporting a 2.63 ERA, good enough for 3rd in the Metro League. With Rooks and Cuban righty Franklin Virrueta, the Salts have propelled their pitching to hold the best team ERA in that league, and look to be a solid playoff contender this year.
The Metro League West is looking strong overall this year, with the Nevada Speeders nipping at the Salts heels, and the Arizona Cowboys and California Tidals both above .500. Both Arizona and California hired new GMs this season, and have reaped the benefits.
Injuries Derailing Ohio, Montreal
The Ohio Oxen suffered the loss of 2B Section Attack during spring training, a blow that they have managed to overcome with some difficulty. Rod Cubit is an inadequate replacement, but Tyrone O’Saurus, Corny Maise, and sophomore Dave Bird have carried the club offensively.
Right after opening day, Craig Gnarly hit the DL with shoulder tendinitis. Bird has been stellar in his place, but Gnarly had been over .400 when he was injured, and is a central casting leadoff hitter that complements the lineup well. He will return in early June, and Ohio will kick their offense into high gear.
On the mound, the Oxen lost veteran arm Skeeter Heater, who had been off to a slow start but is a dominant power arm when healthy and suits the #3 or #4 rotation slot well. The addition of Jose Castaneda in the offseason have helped lessen the loss of Heater. But Ohio had huge pitching struggles last year and are anxious to avoid a repeat.
Montreal lost outfielder Robert Araica at the end of spring training. It was not seen as a huge loss at the time for the 2018 Bull Cup champions, as the Metros had offensive depth in 2017 MVP Jose Ramirez, along with veteran free agent catcher Gula Kareem, who had a career season with New York last year.
But they were also out injury-prone $21 million slugger David Chinchilla, who was already day-to-day in spring training with a knee sprain before he suffered a concussion that would put him on the DL before opening day. Chinchilla was back for his first game on April 29 against Ohio when he strained a hamstring, putting him out of commission and on the DL once again.
The Metros as a result had to rely on Ramirez and Kareem, along with their big-name pitching staff. But Judson Martel had a terrible start in April, going 0-3 with a 5.53 ERA, and has only recently found his groove, winning the next four straight starts.
The rest of the rotation hasn’t been as lucky to recover from their dodgy April beginnings. Ron Alder was 1-4 after April, while #3 Alex Martinez flipped between the big league and AAA, starting May with a 1-1 record. Rule 5 pick Bill Pelton has been a disappointment, with 2 no-decisions to open the year and 3 straight losses after his April 23rd win against Detroit.
Former Toronto Nomads bullpen arm Jamie Jones, who Montreal has as their 5th starter, has been the only other bright spot, crafting a respectable 2.87 ERA, but falling even at 4-4 on the back of inconsistent run support.
Expect Montreal to continue to struggle this season, though they should eventually rise out of the LL East basement. Ohio will stay strong if their bats stay productive and their pitchers can forget how bad they were last season.