The El Paso Chihuahuas took a bite out of the Salt Lake Bees’ lead in the Pacific Southern Division, sweeping a three-game series to tighten the race for the top spot at the Triple-A All-Star break.
Salt Lake (49-41) leads Albuquerque by 4 1/2 games for the division lead, with El Paso another half-game back. As only the division champion advances to the Pacific Coast League playoffs, El Paso’s three-game sweep over the weekend was crucial to the Chihuahuas’ postseason hopes.
The Bees came into the El Paso series on the heels of taking two of three from Fresno, including a 10-5 triumph over the Grizzlies in the series finale Thursday night,. Kaleb Cowart hit a second-inning grand slam and Carlos Perez added a solo home run in the ninth inning, while Dustin Ackley was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs.
But Salt Lake’s defense committed four errors the next night in El Paso, leading to seven unearned runs as the Chihuahuas beat the Bees 9-5. Cowart gave the Bees a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the top of the first inning, but back-to-back errors by Rey Navarro and Luis Diaz sparked a six-run inning for El Paso in the bottom of the frame. The Chihuahuas led 8-1 after six innings, and the Bees’ late rally fell well short despite Jefry Marte’s two-run home run in the eighth inning.
The Bees played a much cleaner game Saturday night, committing just one error, but Jabari Blash’s two-run double off Salt Lake All-Star pitcher Troy Scribner in the bottom of the sixth inning proved to be the difference in El Paso’s 5-4 win. The Bees’ Ramon Flores hit a three-run home run in the top of the fifth to erase Salt Lake’s early 3-0 deficit, but Blash drove in Christian Villanueva and Ryan Schimpf with his line drive to center field to put the Chihuahuas back in front. Navarro scored on an RBI groundout by Cowart in the top of the ninth to cut the lead to one run, but the Bees couldn’t come up with the tying run.
El Paso won the third game of the series 5-2 on Sunday, bouncing back after Marte gave the Bees the lead with his second-inning solo home run. Blash tied the game with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the second, and Franchy Cordero hit a two-run homer in the third to put El Paso in front.
Navarro hit an RBI double in the ninth inning for the Bees.
The Triple-A All-Star Game, pitting the top players in the Pacific Coast League against their counterparts from the International League, is Wednesday in Tacoma, Washington. Scribner is the Bees’ lone representative in the game.
Following the All-Star break, the Bees will return home to host the Sacramento River Cats in a four-game series beginning Thursday. Salt Lake will then hit the road for four games against the Reno Aces before another four-game home series against the Albuquerque Isotopes from July 21-24.