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Chihuahuas return home for early division test

Gaby Velasquez
The Chihuahuas return home on Tuesday night to begin a 9-game homestand.

The reigning three-time Pacific Coast League (PCL) Pacific Southern division champion El Paso Chihuahuas are in a familiar spot in the early part of the 2018 season; the Chihuahuas are leading their division at 14-5 and are riding a 7-game winning streak.

El Paso catcher Brett Nicolas was also named the PCL player of the week on Monday for recording a Minor League leading 14 RBI to go along with four homeruns and 24 total bases.

After a long but successful 7-game road trip starting at Reno and ending in Las Vegas, the Chihuahuas are back at Southwest University Park for a 9-game home stand in which El Paso is set to face a Salt Lake team on Wednesday that is only two games behind the Chihuahuas in the standings.

Before the Chihuahuas and Bees begin their 5-game series in El Paso, both teams have been the two hottest teams in all of Triple-A baseball. In each team’s last 10 games, El Paso is 9-1 and have swept Reno and Las Vegas during that time, while Salt Lake (12-7) has excelled at 8-2.

Earlier this season in Salt Lake, the Bees overcame the Chihuahuas 2-1 in their first series of the season. In those three games, the Bees outscored the Chihuahuas 26-10, behind an opening series win over El Paso, 14-1. The 13-run loss is the only double-digit defeat the Chihuahuas have suffered this year.

Coming into the season, the Chihuahuas were said to have one of the best pitching rotations in all of minor league baseball. And they have lived up to it so far. Early on, the El Paso pitchers are only allowing 4.36 ERA as a team, have struck out the third most batters (165) and have a top-4 pitching staff in walks plus hits per inning (WHIP) at 1.34.

Three pitchers that have stood out for El Paso have been Brett Kennedy, Kyle Lloyd and Chris Huffman.

Kennedy, the 23-year-old prospect, has yet to lose this far at 3-0, and although he is the only Chihuahuas pitcher that has pitched over 22 innings, Kennedy has a team-best 1.21 ERA. Lloyd is also unbeaten at 2-0, and he has the second most strikeouts with 19. Huffman, at 1-1, has an impressive 1.13 WHIP.

On the other hand, the Bees’ pitching staff has allowed 181 hits, nearly 30 more hits than El Paso has allowed. And while El Paso has only given up 14 home runs, Salt Lake has given up 25 home runs so far. Also, the Bees are one of the five teams in the PCL to have already allowed 100 or more runs total.

However, while the Chihuahuas lean on their pitching to win games more than the Bees, Salt Lake is the PCL’s best hitting team so far, this season.

As a team, Salt Lake is leading the PCL in a number of hitting categories. The Bees hold the league’s best batting average at .308, they have the highest slugging percentage by a mile at .571; the Bees have hit the most home runs (36) and they have the most base hits (194).

In the Bees and Chihuahuas’ first series, Salt Lake’s third baseman Zach Houchins recorded five hits. Also, both José Fernández and Chris Carter added in four hits apiece.

The Bees have four players who have totaled at least 20 or more hits in their first 19 games—David Fletcher (28 hits), Fernandez (24), ex-Chihuahuas players Jabari Blash (21) and Eric Young, Jr. (20).

Needless to say, the Bees offense is the main thing the Chihuahuas will need to contain if they hope to stay atop the division.

After the Chihuahuas take on the Bees, El Paso will welcome in the Aces. Reno will be seeking revenge as the Chihuahuas swept the Aces last week, 4-0. In those consecutive four wins, El Paso outscored Reno 25-13.

The first pitch between the Chihuahuas and Bees is set for 6:35 p.m. tomorrow. On Monday, April 30, the first pitch between El Paso and Reno will be at 6:35 p.m.

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Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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Chihuahuas return home for early division test