The Lamigo Monkeys wrapped up the first half-season pennant in the CPBL on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the second-place Chinatrust Brothers. This puts the Monkeys at 37-16-1 and gives them a seven-game lead through 54 games, meaning they can’t be caught before the first half of the season ends (after 60 games played). For their efforts, Lamigo earns a trip to the Taiwan Series in the fall regardless of what happens in the second half-season.
Lamigo has been dominant in 2017. In fact, if the Monkeys win five of their last six games they’ll set a new record for best half-season since the CPBL switched to a 120-game schedule (currently held by the Uni Lions at 41-19). But what has made them so good in 2017? After all, this is a team that struggled to a 55-65 record last season. Well, it all starts with pitching.
The Monkeys have the best one-through-five rotation in the CPBL: Zeke Spruill, Darin Downs, Zack Segovia, Wang Yi-Cheng and Lin Hua-Ching. The five have combined to go 28-12 with an ERA of 3.26. And amazingly, the Monkeys have only had to use five starters all season. Comparing that with the rest of the league we see that the Brothers and Guardians have both used eight different starters, and the Lions have used nine. It’s also interesting to note that the 2016 Monkeys used 17 different starting pitchers throughout the season.
But let’s not forget about the bullpen. Unlike other teams in the league, when the Monkeys give their relievers a lead, they usually win. Bridging the gap between the starters and the closer are Wang Yueh-Lin and Lin Po-Yu and their 11 holds each. Then Chen Yu-Hsun gets the ball in the ninth. He has a stingy 1.93 ERA and his 18 saves are more than the Lions and Guardians have combined.
Overall, Lamigo has a sizable pitching advantage over the other three teams in the league and is dominating the other three teams in almost every statistical category.
The Monkeys can hit, too. While they’re not the offensive juggernaut that the Brothers are, Lamigo sits comfortably in second in almost every major hitting category.
The Monkeys offense is paced by outfielder and three-hitter Wang Po-Jung, who would surely be named league MVP for the second consecutive year if the season ended today. He leads the league in average at .396, is second in hits with 82, tied for third in home runs with 14, third in RBI with 42, third in total bases with 137, fourth in slugging at .662 and second in stolen bases with 12.
Other offensive standouts through 54 games have been second-year first baseman/left fielder Chu Yu-Hsien (12 home runs, 37 RBI, .564 slugging percentage), first baseman Chen Chun-Hsiu (.330 average, .396 on-base percentage and 35 RBI) and clean-up hitter Lin Hung-Yu (.316 average, 60 hits, 30 RBI).
Lamigo’s offense has remained solid all season despite a glaring hole at the top of the lineup. Manager Hung I-Chung continues to bat either center fielder Chan Chih-Yao or utility man Yu Te-Lung in the leadoff position, despite the fact that neither of them gets on base with any regularity. Chan is batting just .218 with a .319 OBP and Yu is hitting .268 with a .314 OBP. These numbers aren’t good enough in the offensively charged CPBL, and this is the one obvious area where the Monkeys could improve in the second half.
Great pitching and solid hitting are two factors that won the Monkeys the first half-season, but what really put Lamigo over the top was its dominance over the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. Take a look at the head-to-head records so far this season.
Both the Monkeys and Brothers beat up on the Guardians while playing basically .500 baseball against each other. But the Monkeys absolutely own the Lions, going 16-3 against them heading into Tuesday’s matchup. The Brothers, on the other hand, actually have a losing record against the Lions.
It will be interesting to see what the Monkeys do as we head into the second half of the season. Surely they’d like to keep rolling with the status quo but that’s rarely the case in professional baseball. Lamigo has three successful import pitchers, all of whom have likely caught the eyes of a few scouts from other leagues. It’s entirely possible that the organization sells an import starter sometime in the coming weeks.
There’s also Ken Ray. The Monkeys veteran was signed as the team’s fourth import starter to begin the year but simply hasn’t been needed yet. So far, he has pitched 10 games with the farm team, going 1-4 with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP. Those aren’t exactly numbers that are forcing the Monkeys to call him up, but the 42-year-old didn’t sign here to just pitch for the farm team all season. You have to assume he’s either in the team’s plans for the second half or will consider his options.
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, or in the second half of the season, one thing is for sure: The Lamigo Monkeys will be in the Taiwan Series come late October, where they’ll be looking for their fourth CPBL championship since the organization moved to Taoyuan in 2011.