Monday, July 25, 2016

Three LMB South teams clinch playoff berths

With three weeks remaining in the Mexican League's regular season schedule, three of the loop's 16 teams have clinched playoff berths.

Puebla (65-29), Yucatan (65-30) and defending champion Quintana Roo (59-37) all reside in the LMB South Division, where the three clubs each have winning percentages of better than .600.  Conversely, the South's bottom four teams (Tabasco, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Carmen) are all below .400 for the season, with Campeche holding fourth place at 47-46, well ahead of 37-59 Tabasco.  The Pericos and Leones are still just a half-game apart as their season-long duel for South supremacy enters the stretch drive of the campaign, but the Tigres and Piratas appear fairly locked in for third and fourth place, respectively.

Although nobody has clinched in the North, teams appear to be positioning themselves for the second season.  Monterrey (60-34) is 3.5 games up on Monclova (57-38) for the lead, but third-place Tijuana 55-40) has won eight of their last ten games under new manager Pedro Mere to close to within two games of Monclova.  Laguna (54-42) has lost their last four contests but still hold fourth place, five games ahead of Mexico City (48-46) and seven games in front of Aguascalientes (46-48).  The Vaqueros host the Diablos Rojos in a three-game series beginning Tuesday that will go a long way towards settling things while the Rieleros visit Monterrey in an attempt to remain in contention.

Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia has cooled at the plate somewhat (4-of-16 over his past four games), but his single in Sunday's 9-7 loss at Mexico City extended his hitting streak to eleven games and Tapia's .381 average still leads the Liga, ahead of Veracruz' Carlos Lopez at .363.  Monterrey third baseman Alex Valdez clubbed a pair of homers in Campeche over the weekend to extend his season total to 26, four more than Quintana Roo's Alex Liddi (pictured above).  The early Triple Crown talk regarding Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez died weeks ago, but the 32-year-old Dominican swatted a pair of three-run homers last week to push his LMB-leading RBI total to 87.  Liddi drove in four runs on a double and homer against Laguna in Cancun Sunday to close to within four ribbies of Hernandez.  A pair of Saltillo outfielders, Justin Greene and Christian Zazueta, are tied for the circuit lead in stolen bases with 30 swipes apiece, two more than Dustin Martin of Tijuana.

With former Monclova ace Josh Lowey now in South Korea (pitching five innings of one-run ball for the KT Wiz in their win over the Samsung Lions Sunday), former Cubs farmhand Yoanner Negrin has won his last five starts for Yucatan to go to 15-1 for the season, overtaking Lowey's 13 victories for the LMB lead.  Lowey's 131 strikeouts are still well ahead of his former Acereros moundmate Jose Oyervides' 103 and his 1.65 ERA continues to lead the Liga (Tijuana's Miguel Pena is second at 2.04).  Puebla closer Chad Gaudin has gone 7-for-7 in saves situations this month to bring his total to 30, slipping past Monclova's Arcenio Leon for tops in the Mexican League.


Mexican League considering contraction of teams

The 2016 season has been a tough one financially for a large number of Mexican League teams and one result may be the offseason contraction of some of the loop's 16 teams.

Although the Monterrey Sultanes continue to lead all of Minor League Baseball in average attendance with 12,659 fans clicking the turnstiles per opening while Tijuana (8,944), Yucatan (8,767) and Monclova (6,421) have been doing well at the gate, the overall picture for the LMB is a grim one.  Eight clubs are averaging fewer than 3,000 fanaticos per home game, with Oaxaca bringing up the rear at 1,739.  In all, 3,386,938 people attended 727 LMB contests through last weekend for an average of 4,659, a figure surpassed by 15 of 16 Pacific Coast League franchises and 12 of 14 International League teams among other AAA leagues.

Declining attendance south of the border might be partially explained by the rapidly-declining Mexican peso, which was trading at $18.76 per USA dollar as of July 25, but Mexican Pacific League teams dealing with similar peso exchange rates drew nearly 10,000 fans last winter, higher than any professional baseball league outside MLB on the continent.  Civil unrest in Oaxaca has certainly not helped the Guerreros, who lost their first eleven games to quickly fall out of contention, and the ongoing conflict among drug cartels and the government in the north has continued to affect things in places like Reynosa, but the overall picture is bleak.

Various baseball columnists in Mexico are starting to file pieces speculating that LMB president Plinio Escalante and team owners will be considering the contraction of four teams after the current season is over. A Saturday column by Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballasteros says the most likely candidates for contraction appear to be Aguascalientes and Reynosa in the North and Carmen and Tabasco in the South.  Ballasteros adds that while teams in Veracruz and Cancun have been struggling along with most LMB franchises, the Rojos Aguilas and Tigres likely have too much historic significance to be dropped from the rostrum.

According to Ballasteros, Mexico City Diablos Rojos team president Roberto Mansur floated the idea of contraction to 12 teams a number of years ago, a notion that is now apparently gaining traction (reportedly with support coming from franchises in Laguna, Puebla, Tijuana and Yucatan).  The LMB will likely visit the issue at their 2016 Convention at Oaxaca in late September, and any changes in the Liga lineup would probably be announced at December's Baseball Winter Meetings in Maryland.


2015 LMB Rookie of the Year signs with Cubs

Last season's Mexican League Rookie of the Year, Yucatan pitcher Manuel Rodriguez, has signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs.  The Cubs negotiated last October for negotiating rights to the six-foot right-hander, who turns 20 on August 6, but it wasn't until last Thursday that all parties agreed to a deal that will send Rodriguez north of the border for the next phase of his baseball career.

Rodriguez made his Leones debut as a 17-year-old on May 21, 2014 at Merida's Parque Kukulkan with two scoreless innings against Carmen.  He followed up with two rough outings that week before it was determined "not ready" for AAA ball.  Last year was another story, as Rodriguez turned in a 4-0 record with a 1.84 ERA in 50 appearances out of the bullpen as a middleman for Yucatan, good enough for selection to the All-Star Game plus ROY honors while gaining the attention of the Cubbies in the process, resulting in the rights deal swung between Yucatan and Chicago last fall.

2016 has not gone nearly so well for the youngster nicknamed "Bolon."  Although he still hasn't lost a game since 2014, Rodriguez only won one game with no saves and had an ERA of 5.06 in 19 outings before being placed on the Reserve List for the second time this year on June 27.  Even so, the Cubs were willing to go ahead and sign the Yucatan-born hurler last week.

At a press conference in Merida, Chicago scout Sergio Hernandez said Rodriguez will start out with the Cubs' Arizona Rookie League team in Mesa before their Class A Carolina League affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC or even their AA Southern League team in Knoxville, TN.  Hernandez added that "Hopefully, he'll become the first Yucatecan to reach the majors and be an inspiration for many young people."  For his part, Rodriguez told the assembled officials and reporters, "I feel very happy...it all started as a dream and now God has blessed me by giving me this opportunity."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cesar Tapia's amazing year continues in Puebla

If you'd never heard of Cesar Tapia prior to the current Mexican League season, you'd hardly be in exclusive company.  In fact, despite career statistics that would usually bring the kind of acclaim that lesser players have received, the Puebla Pericos' 12-year veteran catcher is still a relative unknown even inside Mexico, although that perception may be finally starting to change.

The 33-year-old Tapia (pictured), who has spent all but one of the past twelve summers in Puebla, went 11-for-19 (.579) with seven RBI's and six runs scored in five games last week to raise his season batting average to .387, good for a 21-point lead over Veracruz outfielder Carlos Lopez' .366 mark in the Liga batting race.  Barring a meltdown over the final four weeks of the regular season, Tapia is the odds-on favorite to win his first batting crown for the career .330 batsman.  "Wait a minute," you may be wondering, "he's a catcher with a .330 average after twelve seasons?  Why haven't I heard of this guy before?"  Tapia has good reason to ask that question himself.

Born November 10, 1982 in Empalme, Sonora, Cesar Tapia Figueroa grew up around the game, as so many youngsters in that baseball-crazy part of Mexico do, when he attended a Pericos tryout in 2000 to which one of his friends had been invited.  Former Detroit shortstop Cesar Gutierrez, who was overseeing the tryouts for Puebla, asked Tapia if he'd like to join in and ended up signing the 17-year-old to a contract.  Tapia then had to spend most of four seasons playing A and AA ball in the Mexican minors, often having to share houses with all his teammates while searching for a permanent defensive position.  He finally reached Puebla in 2004 and, except for spending the 2006 campaign with the Angelopolis Tigres, has been in the Pericos' green-and-gold togs ever since.

Not that many outside Puebla have noticed.  After batting .229 as a Pericos part-timer in 2005, he hit .301 in his lone Tigres season and has fallen below .300 only once since returning to Puebla in 2007.  Despite consistently batting in the .330-.350 range with moderate extra-base power (Tapia had 227 career doubles and 87 homers through last weekend), he has only been picked for three All-Star Games, including last month in Monterrey.  Tapia has also been obscured by the Pericos' relative lack of success, as Puebla has reached the championship Serie del Rey twice, losing to Saltillo in five games in 2010 and getting swept by Mexico City in 2014.

The relative obscurity Tapia has toiled in for over a dozen years is finally giving way to some attention outside Puebla, where he is the franchise's all-time leader with 214 doubles and ranks among the leaders in several other categories.  Aside from his .387 average, the 5'11" 200-pounder nicknamed "El Natural" has already set career highs with 16 homers and 11 stolen bases (the first time he's ever swiped more than five sacks in a season) with a month to go.  As well, with Puebla holding the Liga's best record at 62-26 and a 2.5-game lead in the LMB South Division, Tapia and the Pericos are a valid pick to bring home the team's first pennant since 1986, which would undoubtedly bring him more attention.

But even if his amazing 2016 campaign didn't result in a noticeable uptick in the amount of attention he's deserved, you get the sense that little would change with Cesar Tapia's approach to the game.  "You just come every day with the mentality of being well-prepared and giving 100 percent all game, not just a few innings...we owe it to the public, the people who come to the game and buy tickets."


Culiacan Academy opens with MLB VP in attendance

Anybody familiar with baseball in Latin American countries are probably well aware that academies for young prospects are almost ubiquitous.  Major League Baseball teams commonly operate academies in nations like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic (the independent movie "Sugar" is a terrific primer in how Latino teens work their way through the system), but no MLB-owned facility has existed in Mexico even though academies have been popping up here and there south of the border.  However, a step in that direction may have been taken with the recent opening of an academy in the Sinaloa city of Culiacan.

Although MLB is not involved with the Sinaloa Baseball Academy & Interactive Museum in a proprietary role, they will serve in a direct advisory capacity, marking the first time the big leagues have had an active hand in developing teen talent in Mexico.  MLB's Vice President for International Operations, Kim Ng, was on hand for inaugural ceremonies on July 8.  Speaking to those gathered, Ng said, "I'm very happy to be with you on behalf of Major League Baseball.  For my part, I'm very happy to be part of something that will be good for Mexico and MLB.  This program is the first of its kind."

Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales remarked, "We're all present here because we love baseball, and this unites us because it'll lead us to make baseball bigger."  Canizales also addressed his Mexican League counterpart, outgoing president Pinio Escalante, saying "We need to work hand in hand.  The governor (Mario Lopez Valdez) has united us around this table and this great project.  I think we have a huge responsibility to find points of agreement to grow Mexican baseball."

That latter goal may be difficult to achieve.  The Mexican League has operated its own academy near Monterrey for two decades as part of the control it has exercised over player rights in the country.  Historically, young prospects have signed contracts with Mexican League teams who routinely ship them to the LMB Academy for seasoning before moving them up to Class A or AA teams within the LMB system to determine whether they're ready to play in the Liga.  The LMB has had a virtual monopoly over rights to Mexican players (that last that player's entire career within Mexico), and fees are routinely charged to Major League organizations for the right to negotiate contracts with those players.  Sometimes those fees are too high for MLB teams, who will instead spend a similar amount to sign multiple prospects in other countries.  The result is that several Mexican youngsters with some MLB potential have never been able to head north to further their careers.

The entry of MLB, even peripherally, could alter that dynamic.  There have been attempts at rival academies challenging the Mexican League's hegemony over domestic talent in the past, most notably one east of San Diego owned and operated by Dodgers All-Star first baseman Adrian "El Titan" Gonzalez, his brother Edgar (now Mexico's National Team manager) and their father David, a longtime Mexican baseball figure, but that did not last.  However, direct involvement by MLB in player development south of the border could be a game-changer regarding contractual rights to prospects.  We shall see.


BBM to produce book on Mexican baseball legends

Okay, rather than put together a story where I talk about myself in the third-person (included quoting myself), let's break down the fourth wall for a few lines.  The book that I recently finished about the history of the Seattle Rainiers team that spent five seasons in the Class A Northwest League during the Seventies is done after starting it as a one-page master roster sheet four decades ago.  The finished product is 108 pages long (covers included), I'm reasonably happy with it and am now in the process of figuring out how to sell enough copies at $12 apiece to cover the cost of printing.  It's titled "Anonymous Heroes: Seattle Rainiers baseball in the 1970's" and if you're interested, email me at SeattleRainiers@outlook.com for details.

Although I'm currently focused on selling the Rainiers book, I'm starting to put together another book with two-page profiles, pictures and stats (where applicable) commemorating 50 of the most important players, owners and writers in modern Mexican baseball history.  The working title is "The Golden Greats of Mexican Baseball" and will be very loosely based on the "Maestros of Mexico" profiles on prominent Mexican baseball figures that I used to write for the old Viva Beisbol site and column.  I expect this book will be in the neighborhood of 120 pages and be published as a digest-sized 5.5" x 8.5" paperback.

Actually, there will be 51 people profiled in "Golden Greats."  I want to give Hector Espino a separate section of his own apart from the 50 others because, well, he's Hector Espino, who I consider a combination of power and pride who really has no counterpart in Mexican baseball history.  Imagine a hybrid between Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente or Jackie Robinson and you start to get the picture.  I've got the 37 profiles I wrote for VB back in the day with wildly-varying degrees of length and focus that'll need to be revamped into uniform word count (400-500?) and purpose with another 14 people added.  I'd love to have this ready in time for Christmas, but I don't want to rush it into production if it means lesser quality.  I may not take myself too seriously, but I take what I do here VERY seriously and I want to get this right.

More in the months ahead as things develop.  If you're curious about THIS book, email me at BaseballMexico@live.com.  It's a big project in some ways, but long overdue.

Monday, July 11, 2016

LMB "canning season" continues: Three more skippers pink-slipped

Looks like they're getting serious.

In a 2016 season that has already witnessed a number of managerial firings, three more Mexican League skippers have axed days after Noe Munoz was canned in Saltillo on July 1.

Former big league infielder Luis Sojo (pictured during happier times) was fired July 4 as manager of the Tijuana Toros with the team holding fourth place in the LMB North Division at 40-37.  However, the Toros were coming off a three-game sweep in Yucatan and had dropped six of their last seven.  Sojo spent 13 seasons in MLB (11 with the Yankees) as a utility man, batting .261 in 848 games before retiring in 2003.  The Venezuelan later spent seven years between 2006 and 2013 managing the Yankees' Class A farm team in Tampa.  He was hired in Tijuana seven months ago.

Sojo, who was in his first season managing in Tijuana, was replaced by longtime Mexican baseball figure Pedro Mere.  The Veracruz-born Mere was a Mexican League infielder for 22 seasons between 1988 and 2009, batting .261 with 179 homers. He managed Veracruz to a 56-57 record in 2013 but has done far better in winterball, managing the Los Tuxtlas Brujos to six Veracruz Winter League championships in the past eight seasons.  So far, the move is panning out as Mere led the Toros to a three-game sweep of Reynosa and two wins in a set against Monterrey, all at home.  Joining the Tijuana coaching staff was Matias Carrillo, who had recently signed on as coach in Yucatan a month after his surprise firing in Puebla during the All-Star Break after leading the Pericos to the best record in the Liga at that time.

About the same time, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos were replacing a lamb with a flamingo when manager Jose Luis "El Borrego" Sandoval was cut loose in favor of Victor "El Flamingo" Bojorquez.  Ironically, both Sandoval and Bojorquez are natives of Los Mochis and were teammates for years with the Red Devils during their playing careers.  Sandoval was hired last November to replace former LMB catcher Miguel Olivo, who left to manage the Giant's AA Richmond affiliate this year.  Sandoval led the Diablos Rojos' farm team to a Mexican Winter League pennant earlier this year, but was struggling with the big team with a 39-40 record and a tie for fifth with Aguascalientes in the North when he was handed his walking papers July 7 after being swept by Monterrey in a three-game home series. Sandoval spent 23 years at shortstop for the Diablos between 1990 and 2012, batting .295 on 2,186 hits, 244 of them homers.

Bojorquez was brought in from the Diablos' Northern Mexico League affiliate in Ensenada, where the Marineros are currently tied for third in the second-half standings at 18-15 after winning the first-half crown with a 24-14 record.  A former outfielder, Bojorquez led Mexico City to a three-game weekend home sweep of Reynosa at Estadio Fray Nano.  The 41-year-old made his playing debut in 1996 with the Diablos and spent 16 of his 17-year playing career in Mexico City, winning four pennants and batting .310 with 112 homers.  After coaching in Mexico City for three seasons under Olivo, he actually began last winter managing the Red Devils' LIM affiliate before being assigned to the Ensenada job.

Finally, Aguascalientes severed ties with manager Marco Antonio Romero (along with the prerequsite "thanks for your services" line in the press release) last Friday and replaced him with Saul Soto, a 19-year LMB veteran catcher/first baseman still playing for the Rieleros.  Soto was batting .311 with 88 hits for the Railroaders over 79 games when he was elevated to player-manager, the first in the Liga since Willie Romero performed double-duty for Yucatan in 2012.  Yet another Los Mochis product, the 6'4" 245-pound Soto was a 19-year-old rookie for Reynosa in 1998 and (minus two years in the Dodgers system) has played in the Liga ever since.  He's a career .305 batsman south of the border with 222 homers.

Marco Antonio Romero (no relation) had Aguascalientes at 39-41 when he was let go from his first managerial post in the LMB, where he spent 20 years as a first baseman for several teams and hit .292 with 235 homers (leading the Liga with 30 longballs for Dos Laredos in 1994).  Romero's ouster in Aguascalientes is the ninth managerial firing (that we know of) in the Liga this season.  And just in case you were wondering, he's NOT from Los Mochis...he's from Culiacan.


MexPac to hold first All-Star Game since 1997

For the first time in 19 seasons, the Mexican Pacific League will host an All-Star Game.  The contest will be played at Obregon's new ballpark on Sunday, November 27.  The last MexPac Juego de Estrellas was held at Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echevarria in Navojoa on November 24, 1997.

According to ESPN Deportes, LMP president Omar Canizales said, "There was an opportunity to wait until next season for an All-Star Game, but we believe there's already a demand and desire among fans and we want to meet them."  Details beyond date and place have not been announced.

Obregon's new 16,500-seater is expected to be completed by September, with a pricetag of approximately US$27 million.  The unnamed facility will replace Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan, which seats 13,000 fans and has hosted home games for the LMP Yaquis since 1971.


Puebla creates a little breathing room in LMB South race

The Puebla Pericos won four of five games last week to extend their season record to 57-25 and firming their tenuous hold on first place in the Mexican League's South Division.  Puebla swept a three-game home series over the Carmen Delfines to open the week's schedule and endured two rainouts bracketing a Saturday doubleheader in Campeche to split two contests there.  Chad Gaudin picked up saves in three of the four Pericos triumphs.  Second-place Yucatan had a tougher go of it last week, losing two of three tilts in Tabasco before coming home to Merida and dropping the last two games of three against Veracruz in a pair of series the Leones had high hopes for going in.  Instead, their 55-28 record drops them two-and-a-half games behind Puebla heading into the final weeks of the regular season.  Quintana Roo is third in the LMB South at 50-34 while Campeche has a firm grip on the fourth and final playoff berth at 41-40.

In the North, Monterrey swept Mexico City in three straight games and took one of three games against Tijuana to go 4-2 on the road swing in lifting their season mark to 54-29, five games up on 49-34 Monclova, who broke even by winning once in Saltillo and twice in Aguascalientes between Tuesday and Sunday.Laguna is hot on Monclova's heels at 49-25 while Tijuana is firmly ensconced in fourth with a 45-38 ledger.

Monclova suffered a severe blow to their chances of returning to the Serie del Rey in September when ace pitcher Josh Lowey left the team after receiving an offer to pitch for the KT Wiz in the Korea Baseball Organization.  The Floridian's contract with the Acereros allowed him to accept the offer, rumored to be worth US$220,000 (including a US$50,000 signing bonus), to pitch the rest of the KBO season.  The 5'11" righty was leading the Liga in all three pitching Triple Crown categories with 13 wins, a 1.65 ERA and 131 strikeouts and although Jose Oyervides appears healthy after missing a month to injury, Lowey is not someone easily replaced.  Acereros closer Arcenio Leon leads the circuit with 27 saves, one up on Puebla's Gaudin.

Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia raised his LMB-leading batting average to .373 after going 5-for-12 over the week, but Veracruz outfielder Carlos Lopez has been hitting .419 in July to bring his season average up to .371 after missing most of April before joining the Rojos Aguilas lineup.  Monterrey third baseman Alex Valdez socked two homers in the Sultanes series with Mexico City to take the LMB lead in roundtrippers with 22, two more than Qunitana Roo's Alex Liddi.  Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes drove in two runs last week to bring his season RBI total to 77, six more than Liddi's 71.  Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene stole a pair of bases, giving him 28 swipes on the campaign while twelve-year veteran outfielder Christian Zazueta has 25, seven more than last year's career high of 18.

Two important series over the coming week will be held in Monterrey, when the Sultanes host Quintana Roo starting Tuesday before Yucatan visits Estadio Monterrey Friday through Sunday.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Paquin Estrada hired as new Saltillo skipper

After finding themselves in the unusual position of seventh place in the Mexican League's North Division with a 32-40 record, the Saltillo Saraperos fired manager Noe Munoz last Friday and brought in the venerable Francisco "Paquin" Estrada to take over the foundering club.  Estrada began the season as manager in Tabasco before getting canned one month into the campaign.

Estrada (pictured), who is mostly known to North Americans as a catcher sent by the Mets along with Nolan Ryan and two other players to the California Angels in exchange for shortstop Jim Fregosi after the 1971 season, during which he played in the only game of his Major League Baseball career.  South of the border, however, Paquin is regarded as far more than the answer to a trivia question.

The Navojoa native made his Mexican League debut in 1966 as an 18-year-old with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and went on to play until 1994, spending 26 of his 29 playing seasons in the Liga.  Although he topped .300 seven times, he was widely hailed for his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff.  Estrada caught a minor league record 2,847 games with 2,415 of them in the LMB, where he hit .275 with 2,706 hits, 84 homers and 923 RBI's.  He also spent 30 winters in the Mexican Pacific League, including two championship seasons to go with the two LMB pennant-winners he played for during the summer.

He began managing in 1983 when he was playing for Campeche and ended up winning a pennant.  Estrada's 1,567 career wins (including two of his first three games with Saltillo at Carmen over the weekend) places him second in Liga annals to only Jose "Zacatillo" Guerrero.  Estrada has led three teams to Mexican League pennants (Campeche in 1983 and 2004, Leon in 1990) and seven more flags in the Mexican Pacific League plus two Caribbean Series crowns.  He was inducted into Mexican baseball's Salon de la Fama in 2000 and the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame in 2013.

Munoz spent 25 seasons in pro ball as a catcher himself.  He was 32 when he came to Saltillo as a player in 1999 and went on to become one of the squad's most popular in 16 seasons in a Saraperos jersey, many as the team captain, before retiring at 46 in 2014.  Munoz played 2,060 games in his LMB career, collecting 2,059 hits (including 127 homers) for a .301 average.  He played for pennant winners in 2010 and 2011 and his number 28 was retired in Saltillo last year.


Matias Carrillo now coaching in Yucatan after surprise Puebla firing

While Noe Munoz begins his job search after getting sacked in Saltillo, another longtime Mexican Leaguer ended his after a surprise firing last month.  Matias Carrillo, a former Marlins outfielder and one of the top sluggers in Liga history, was hired last Friday by Yucatan as a coach under manager Willie Romero, who has the Merida club tied with Puebla for first in the LMB South with identical 53-24 records after the Leones won 17 of 21 games in June to eliminate what had been a solid Pericos lead.

Carrillo should be more than able to give Romero good advice in how to fight off Puebla over the final month of the regular season, since he was the Pericos manager up to the All-Star Break.  All the Los Mochis product did was lead the Parrots to a Liga-best 38-15 record at that point, leaving his dismissal perhaps the least-explainable during a season that has seen even more firings than usual in a league not known for managerial stability in even the best of times.

As a player, Carrillo debuted in the LMB in 1982 as a 19-year-old with Poza Rica, hitting .309 in 99 games.  After two years with the Petroleros, he was dealt to the Mexico City Tigres in 1984 and spent three years with them before his contract was sold during the 1986 season to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  He ended up spending eight years in the USA (with a two-year return to the Tigres in the middle), hitting .251 in 104 games with the Florida Marlins in 1993 and 1994 before returning to Mexico for good in 1995.

El Coyote spent the last 14 years of his career with the Tigres in Mexico City, Puebla and Cancun before officially retiring in 2008 at 46 (he did play one game in 2009).  In 22 Mexican League seasons, he played 2,113 games and collected 2,484 hits for an average of .335 along with 325 homers and 1,526 RBI's.  He is not a member of the Salon de la Fama, which has not inducted a new member since 201, closed its doors in Monterrey at about the same time and now resides in storage while a permanent site is discussed and discussed and discussed.

Although he's been replaced as Puebla manager by former MLBer Cory Snyder, Carrillo will manage Los Mochis in the Mexican Pacific League's upcoming winter season, replacing Enrique "Che" Reyes, who was replaced as manager in Oaxaca one month into the current LMB schedule before finding work shortly thereafter in Tabasco to replace Paquin Estrada, who was just hired to replace Noe Munoz in Saltillo.


Sultanes maintain lead over LMB North field

The Monterrey Sultanes have won five of their last ten games to bring their Liga record to 50-27, good enough to hold a four-game lead over 46-31 Monclova in the LMB North standings.  The Acereros have closed what had been a seven-game gap in part by winning seven of their last ten contests.  Laguna (43-34) has heated up with six straight wins to pull past Tijuana into third place, knocking the 40-37 Toros into fourth.

Yucatan and Puebla continue to duke it out in the LMB South, both teams showing 53-24 records. The Leones have only lost once in their last ten games while the Pericos have won eight of ten.  Defending champ Quintana Roo is alone in third at 46-32, six games up on 40-38 Campeche.  Oaxaca has played better after an awful start, but the 30-46 Guerreros are nine games out of the fourth and final playoff berth.

Puebla's Cesar Tapia continues to lead the batting race with a .370 average as former Cal State-Fullerton outfielder Carlos Lopez' first year in Mexico has seen him turn in a .366 mark for Veracruz to pull into second while Oaxaca infielder Irving Falu, who joined the Guerreros early in the season from Omaha of the PCL, is third at .359.  Quntana Roo's Alex Liddi and Alex Valdez of Monterrey are tied for first in homers with 20 apiece, Aguascalientes' Diory Hernandez continues to lead the loop with 75 RBI's, eight ahead of Mario Lisson of Saltillo, but Hernandez has not driven in a run since June 23.  Former White Sox farmhand Justin Greene has six stolen bases in his last seven games to push his season swipes total to 27, five up on Tijuana's Dustin Martin at 22.

Monclova pitcher Josh Lowey pitched five innings of one-run ball Friday at home against Veracruz to pick up his 13th win of 2016 to maintain his lead in that department over Yucatan's Yoanner Negrin, a 31-year-old Havana native pitching in Merida via the Chisox system, who is 12-1.  Lowey also leads the Liga in ERA (1.65), WHIP (0.93) and strikeouts (131).  Given the LMB's 109-game regular season schedule, yesterday's 20-game winner is today's 15-game winner and Lowey is a good bet to reach that total by mid-July.  Former Astros minor leaguer Arcenio Leon earned two saves last weekend to raise his total to 27 for the season, four more than the 23 of Puebla's former big leaguer Chad Gaudin.  Prior to this season, Gaudin had saved a total of 28 games in 12 seasons of major and minor league ball combined.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monterrey opens LMB North lead; Puebla-Yucatan duel continues in South

Although they've dropped their last two games while rival Monclova has won three straight, the Monterrey Sultanes ended the weekend with a five-game lead over the Acereros in the Mexican League's North Division standings.

The Sultanes had won 13 of their first 15 games in June heading into a weekend series at Veracruz, where the home Rojos Aguilas have strugged all year and had just hired their third manager of 2016 last week.  Monterrey won the opener, 6-5, to raise their season record to 47-22 after opening June with a 33-20 mark, but then dropped the final two games of the set to fall to 47-24 and a five-game bulge over the second-place Acereros, who had held a comfortable lead in the LMB North before leveling off at the same time the Sultanes caught fire.

For their part, Monclova had mixed results on their six-game road trip last week, losing all three games at Puebla to the LMB South-leading Pericos before going into struggling Oaxaca and winning all three contests over the host Guerreros to bring their season ledger up to 42-29.  While Monterrey has gone 14-4 thus far this month, the Acereros have struggled to an 8-10 record, including a five-game losing skid.

The LMB South has been a two-team dogfight for weeks, and last week's results only underscored that fact.  Puebla has been strong all season, leading the South since the first few games of the season, and they've built a six-game winning skein by sweeping home series with both Monclova and Laguna between the 21st and 26th.  Travis Blackley won games on both those dates, including a 5-2 win over the Vaqueros and venerable 39-year-old righty Walter Silva, who was making the 2001st appearance of his 11-year Liga career.  Blackley's two wins brought his season record to 6-4 while Silva fell to 1-3 as the Pericos maintained their division lead with a 49-22 mark, best in the league.

So how did Yucatan do while Puebla was reeling off six straight victories?  The Leones swept a pair of three-game series to extend their own unbeaten string to seven games in a row.  Yucatan first traveled to Aguascalientes and scored 37 runs en route to three straight wins over the Rieleros and then spent three nights in Saltillo, where they put another 23 runs on the board during their sweep over the Saraperos as Yucatan's record rose to 48-23, one game behind the Pericos.

The two division leaders will start this week facing each other in a three-game series as Monterrey hosts Puebla in a vital matchup for both sides.  Monclova will be at home Tuesday to open a set with Tabasco while Yucatan welcomes Mexico City to Merida's Parque Kukulcan for a trio of games.


Lowey beats Oaxaca for 12th win, chasing pitching Triple Crown

Entering the Mexican League's 2016 season, Monclova pitcher Josh Lowey had one tough act to follow: His own 2015 campaign.  Even with that burden, the 31-year-old Floridian has been outdoing himself this year.

Let's hit the rewind button and go back in time.  Lowey was coming off a fair 2014 debut south of the border when he went 7-5 with a 4.11 ERA for the Acereros after kicking around for all or part of seven seasons pitching for independent teams (going 40-12 in three different leagues between 2011 and 2013).  The 5'11" righty really came into his own in 2015, earning Pitcher of the Year honors after a 13-6 season
in which he tied Mexico City's Marco Duarte for the Liga high with 13 wins, finished second with 145 strikeouts and was fourth in ERA at 3.03 as Monclova went on in the postseason to advance to the Serie del Rey finals against eventual LMB champion Quintana Roo.  How do you improve on a year like that?

If you're Josh Lowey, you start out your next season by winning 12 of your first 15 starts out the gate (including an 8-0 shared shutout at Monclova last Saturday) to lead the league in victories, topping the circuit with 123 strikeouts in 97.2 innings, registering an 0.92 WHIP that tops the charts and turning in an ERA of 1.66 that would lead the LMB under the age-old standard qualifier of innings pitched equaling the number of games played by a team.  The Liga still lists Tijuana's Hector Ambriz as the current ERA leader at 1.23 in 9 starts even though Ambriz hasn't pitched an inning in over five weeks and his 58.2 innings fall short of the 71 games the Toros have played.

It wouldn't be the first time a league has played fast and loose with tradition and/or its own rules to achieve a desired result, but Lowey is on his way to pitching's Triple Crown in the Mexican League and a second straight POY award.  Somehow, with a severe pitching shortage north of the border that has led to mound performances that would be shamed by a batting tee, not one MLB organization has ever signed Josh Lowey to even a minor league contract.  Maybe it really IS who you know...

Among batters, Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia still leads the LMB with a .374 average, Quintana Roo third baseman Alex Liddi has taken the lead in homers with 18, Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez continues to head the RBI list with 75 and Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene's 22 stolen bases is best in the loop.  Monclova closer Arcenio Leon is best among all closers with 25 saves.


Edgar Gonzalez resigns as Mexicali skipper, focusing on Mexico WBC team

After receiving Manager of the Year accolades for leading the Mexicali Aguilas to a 38-29 record, the top playoff seed and a finals berth in the Mexican Pacific League last winter, Edgar Gonzalez is stepping down as skipper of the border team to concentrate on managing Mexico's national team in next year's World Baseball Classic.

Gonzalez was named the Aguilas' manager September 15, 2015.  He'd retired as a player one year earlier after spending 15 seasons as a pro playing mostly second base and third base in the minors for five MLB organizations, two years with the San Diego Padres and two years in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants.  He also played winterball for five years with the Mazatlan Venados, often alongside younger brother Adrian on the right side of the infield.  His career minor league batting average was .298 and he hit .255 in 193 games for the Padres in 2008 and 2009.

Following the Aguilas season, after which he was named Manager of the Year by both the MexPac and BBM, Gonzalez remained in Mexicali as interim manager for the Mexican Nationals, who posted a 3-0 record in the WBC qualifiers in March, outscoring the Czech Republic, Nicaragua and Germany by an aggregate score of 25-2 to reach the WBC for a fourth straight time.  

Gil Velazquez, a 36-year-old former infielder, has been tabbed to replace Gonzalez at the helm in Mexicali. Velazquez is currently in Midland, Michigan managing the Great Lakes Loons, the Dodgers' Class A Midwest League affiliate.  The Loons finished the first half of the MWL schedule at 29-41 under Velazquez, who is in his first year managing a team after spending 17 seasons as a shortstop before retiring after spending the 2014 season with Yucatan, the only year he played in Mexico.  Velazquez had five short stints in MLB between 2009 and 2013 with Boston, Miami and the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .233 in 33 games. Overall, he batted .249 with 47 homers over his minor league career.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jose Amador "loaned" to Campeche; Aldazaba to Monclova

The newly-minted Mexican League All-Star Game MVP, designated hitter Jose Amador, has been loaned by Monclova to the Campeche Piratas for the rest of the current season.  According to Puro Beisbol, Campeche shipped outfielder Eliseo Aldazaba (pictured) to the Acereros in return after rumors of the deal had been floating for days.

On the surface, this would not appear to be an even trade.  Amador's batting average sits at a barely adequate .281, but he has swatted 12 homers for the Acereros (tied for seventh in the Liga) after turning in a top-notch winterball season in the Mexican Pacific League in which he was picked as Baseball Mexico's MVP.  The 36-year-old Amador, who plays first or third base when he's in the field, has a career .311 average over all or part of 12 LMB seasons, topping the .300 mark 8 times.  His career 159 homers in that span don't particularly stand out, but he socked 97 roundtrippers between 2011 and 2015, an average of 19.7 per year.  And there's that All-Star Game MVP award.

In Aldazaba, the Steelers get a 25-year-old with a useful if not extraordinary bat.  Aldazaba hit .264 with 4 homers for the Piratas, underperforming numbers for a guy who'd hit 65 longballs over the previous four campaigns with both Carmen and Campeche, including 25 homers last summer.  He's usually in the .250-.265 batting range, although he did hit .290 for the Piratas in 2014.  Even so, in a league where a .300 average can be as common as the cold, Aldazaba stands out for one reason:  He's still in uniform, unlike Amador (who walked out on his Monclova teammates after the All-Star Break, telling the front office he no longer felt "comfortable" with the team), and something almost always trumps nothing.

There was another deal consummated in the Mexican League last weekend, as the Quintana Roo Tigres loaned former big league infielder Jorge Cantu to Tijuana Saturday.  Cantu is in his third Liga season, including a 2015 campaign for the defending champs during which he hit .351 with 25 homers and 100 RBI's.  He was batting .237 with 7 homers in Cancun this season.

Cantu was born in McAllen, Texas but attended high school across the border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  He signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Devils Rays as a 17-year-old free agent in 1999 and reached the majors in 2004.  Cantu spent eight MLB seasons with the Rays, Reds, Marlins, Rangers and Padres through 2011, with career totals of 104 homers and 476 RBI's to augment a .271 average splitting time between first, second and third bases.


VERACRUZ REELS OFF EIGHT WINS IN A ROW

Just when it looked like a lost season for the Veracruz Rojos Aguilas, the Eagles embarked on an eight-game winning streak that included one home sweep of Monclova, another sweep on the road in Reynosa and a win at LMB North leaders Monterrey.

The skein began June 9, a day after Eddy Castro took the managerial reins on an interim basis from Lino Connell, who had the club mired in last place in the South at 21-34.  Diaz led the Aguilas to a 5-2 win over Laguna at Parque Deportivo Universitario Beto Avila in the port city to begin the streak.  Veracruz had won just 3 of their last 22 games under Connell.

Castro spent four seasons as a pitcher in the Toronto system, beginning as a 19-year-old in 1982 with the Jays' Gulf Coast League squad and eventually spending time in Florence and Kinston before being released in 1985.  Three years later, the Puerto Rican popped up in the Mexican League as an outfielder-first baseman with Leon, batting .321 with 33 homers and 108 RBI's for the Bravos.

Although he never had another year like that one, Castro went on to a decent ten-year playing career in Mexico, hitting .302 and averaging 16 homers and 71 ribbies for eight teams, spending five of his last six six years mainly in Minatitlan before retiring after the 1997 campaign.  Castro was the Petroleros' player-manager his last two years and has also managed in Tabasco, Puebla and, yes, Veracruz (in 2014).  He was 240-328 over five seasons with one winning record, going 63-57 in 1999 with Tabasco, before returning to Veracruz.

Connell spent 16 years playing every position but pitcher or catcher and bouncing between the Mexican League and independent circuits north of the border as well as another four years in Italy before retiring in 2010.  He spent six years in the Mexican League between 2000 and 2005, his best coming in 2002 with Oaxaca, where he hit .356 with 8 homers, 31 steals and 102 runs scored in 108 games.  His term as skipper in Veracruz this year lasted 30 days after he was brought in by Rojos Aguilas owner Jose Antonio Mansur on May 9 to replace former Nationals coach Mark Weidemeier, who lasted six months after being hired last December 9 (what is it with Mansur and the 9th, anyway?) to replace, well, whoever had been managing the team before then.

Castro was given a "vote of confidence" after the win streak by Mansur, who said the new helmsman would remain for the rest of the current season.  Veracruz then promptly lost two in a row to Monterrey to fall to 23-48 for the season, 20-and-a-half games behind division-leading Puebla in seventh place.  Better rent that apartment by the week, Eddy.


MEXICAN LEAGUE FRANCHISE IN MAZATLAN STALLS, DEAD IN WATER?

A Mexican League foray into the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan no longer appears imminent.  The Mazatlan Marineros were the brainchild of brothers Erick and Juan Arellano, who already own the Merida-based Yucatan Leones.  ESPN first reported in March of last year that the Arellanos had been awarded a conditional Mazatlan franchise by the LMB, with a planned launch for this season.

The idea was to share Estadio Teodoro Mariscal with the Mexican Pacific League Mazatlan Venados for this year before moving into the city's new ballpark, which is being built near the Zona Dorado tourist enclave in Mazatlan's north end.  The Marineros even named Juan Jose Pacho their manager for 2016, which would've be convenient for Pacho, who led the Venados to the Caribbean Series title in February.  Mazatlan mayor Carlos Felton Gonzalez and Sonora governor Mario Lopez Valdez both supported the new Liga franchise, which would've marked the first time a Mexican city has hosted LMB and LMP teams simultaneously.  It was not announced whether the Marineros would be an expansion team or an existing club, although the latter seems more likely.

Fifteen months after the initial announcement, however, there is no Mazatlan team in the Mexican League with no visible activity that one is on the way.  A November story on the Al Bat website says negotiations for renting Teodoro Mariscal hit a snag and that the starting date for the upstart franchise had been moved to the 2017 season.  Ballparks would not be the only issue facing the Mexican League in Mazatlan.  The LMB season runs from April into September (playoffs included), which would mean scheduling home games during the city's rainiest and hottest months after the tourist season has ended and while Mazatlan is not as dependent on tourism as most Mexican resort cities because of its strong fishing and shrimp businesses, those visitors (and the dollars they bring) are significant.  Mazatlan is also a long distance from any other LMB franchise, which would mean a large travel budget for the Marineros themselves plus added expenses for incoming teams.

In short, Mazatlan may not be the best fit for the Mexican League right now.

MEXICAN LEAGUE Standings
Northern Division:  Monterrey 43-22, Monclova 39-26, Tijuana 36-29, Laguna 35-30, Mexico City 34-30, Aguascalientes 33-31, Saltillo 30-33, Reynosa 19-46
Southern Division: Puebla 43-22, Yucatan 42-23, Quintana Roo 39-27, Campeche 31-33, Oaxaca 26-38, Tabasco 24-42, Veracruz 23-43, Carmen 21-43

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monterrey takes LMB North lead, Yucatan chasing Puebla in South

The Monterrey Sultanes overtook fading Monclova as the Mexican League's North Division leaders while Yucatan closed the gap on South leaders Puebla during the first week following the LMB All-Star Break.

Monterrey won two of three games in Puebla and copped two wins at Oaxaca before Sunday's contest with the Guerreros was suspended by rain with the score at 6-6 after five innings.  In the meantime, Monclova won two games at Tabasco before dropping the third game in that set and moving on to Veracruz, where they were swept by the last-place Rojos Aguilas.  The Sultanes ended the weekend with a 38-21 record, two games up on the 36-23 Acereros.  Aguascalientes is third in the LMB North at 36-26 while Laguna holds fourth with a 32-27 mark, a half-game ahead of 32-28 Tijuana.

Yucatan is still in second place in the LMB South, but the Leones helped themselves with a 4-2 week capped by a three-game sweep of a road series in Tijuana.  Starter Jonathan Castellanos went six innings in a 5-0 one-hitter over the Toros Friday as Yucatan touched up 45-year-old Tijuana starter Rafael Diaz (pictured) for four runs in 4.1 frames.  Earlier this season, Diaz became the only pitcher in Mexican League history to record 100 wins, 100 saves and 1,000 strikeouts for his career.

While Yucatan was doing well away from home, Puebla was struggling at home, losing four of six games at Estadio Hermandos Serdan to Monterrey and Reynosa.  Losing two of three to the Broncos while allowing 18 runs was an especially hard pill for the Pericos to swallow.  Ex-MLB hurler Kyle Farnsworth got the win in Reynosa's 8-3 win on Friday.  Heading into Monday's travel day, Puebla was still atop the LMB South at 40-19 (best in the league), but Yucatan is now two-and-a-half games behind at 38-22.  Defending champion Quintana Roo is third at 36-34 while Campeche is in fourth at 30-29, ten games behind the leaders.

Puebla will be in Monclova for an important series beginning Tuesday, while Yucatan hosts Aguascalientes and Monterrey is at home for three against 23-37 Tabasco.


HERNANDEZ SOCKS 3 HOMERS IN GAME AGAINST CAMPECHE

Just when it looked like Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez' unexpected power output in the first half of the season was an illusion after all, the 32-year-old Dominican cranked three homers and drove in seven runs during the Rieleros' 10-2 win over the Campeche Piratas Friday at Estadio Alberto Romo Chavez.  Hernandez hadn't gone deep since May 14 against Saltillo and had lost his league leadership in homers until he sent deliveries from three different Campeche pitchers over the wall, including homers in both the seventh and eighth innings. He sliced an RBI double as well en route to a 4-for-4 night.

The explosion put the former Braves infielder back atop the LMB tables with 15 roundtrippers for the season, one ahead of Quintana Roo's Alex Liddi, Monclova's Jose Ruiz and Alex Valez of Monterrey.  Hernandez continues to lead the Liga with 69 RBI's (Felix Perez of Monterrey is second at 51) while batting .339.  Prior to 2016, Hernandez had hit 49 homers over 13 pro seasons and never more than seven in one campaign.  Now he's a legitimate MVP candidate.  Maybe it's the water...he DOES play in Aguascalientes.

Other Mexican League offensive leaders include Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia with a .379 batting average and Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene with 20 stolen bases.  Among pitchers, Tijuana's Hector Ambriz still leads the LMB with a 1.23 ERA, but the ex-MLBer hasn't appeared in a game for three weeks and is no longer on the Toros' active roster.  Don't ask me why...I've spent 15 minutes trying to find out and came up empty.  Among pitchers who are still pitching, Monclova's Josh Lowey leads all three Triple Crown categories with 10 wins, 99 strikeouts and a 1.51 ERA.  Acereros teammate Arcenio Leon tops the loop with 22 saves.  Another Monclova hurler, Jose Oyervides (7-1, 1.72), had formed a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Lowey before breaking his hand during a losing confrontation with a locker room door on May 18.


AMADOR WALKS OUT ON ACEREROS; MADERA CUT BY DIABLOS

It's a good thing for Monclova that their pitching has been near the top of the Mexican League because their All-Star Game MVP jumped ship shortly after the event was held last weekend in Monterrey.  According to La Aficion, infielder Jose Amador, who hit a key three-run homer in the North's 8-4 win over the South, failed to join teammates last Monday to travel to Tabasco for a road series and then turned in his "resignation" from the Acereros one day later, stating that he didn't "feel comfortable" with the club and wanted to be traded.  Instead, the team placed him on the reserve list.

Amador, who was chosen as BBM's Mexican Pacific League MVP last winter, had been playing with a broken middle finger which prevented him from taking the field defensively but allowed him to serve as designated hitter.  It was a strange move for the 16-year veteran, who was not having one of his best seasons despite his All-Star selection (.281/12/29 numbers over 53 games), but the 36-year-old was still a key member of a team battling for first place.  Rumors are that someone from another LMB team talked to Amador last weekend in Monterrey and offered a better deal, but that has yet to be proven.

Then there's the case of Sandy Madera.

Longtime readers of Baseball Mexico will recognize Madera as one of the better hitters in the LMB for the past several seasons after bouncing around the minors for a decade.  Madera led the league in batting with a .403 average for Puebla in 2014, finished second in 2010 and 2013 and has never hit below .320 over seven summers in Mexico.  While the 35-year-old Dominican was not picked for the All-Star Game last weekend, he was hitting .362 with 10 homers and 31 RBI's over 46 games for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos until he was released last Monday.

Unlike the Amador situation in Monclova, there was no explanation given when the Diablos cut Madera loose, but an independent source says the 6'2" designated hitter has been difficult to deal with during his time in Mexico and a look at his travel itinerary may bear that out:

During his first year in the LMB, Madera was traded by Saltillo to Yucatan with a month left in the 2010 season despite a .391 average for the Saraperos.  In 2011, Madera was realeased by the Leones in midseason after going .320/9/42 over 67 games in Merida.  He finished that year in Monterrey.  Then came three years in Puebla, with two very productive seasons and a so-so 2015 that ended with Pericos manager Matias Carillo so enamored of Madera that the latter was dealt to Reynosa last December for Paul Oseguera, a decent pitcher who'd gone 8-4 for the Broncos last year but yet to pitch an inning in 2016.  The Broncos only needed until February 22 to send Madera packing to Mexico City with no players moved to Reynosa in return.

This time, it took half a season for Diablos skipper Jose Luis Sandoval to get his fill of Madera, who was signed by Tabasco two days after his release from Mexico City.  Perhaps veteran Olmecas skipper Enrique "Che" Reyes (who was let go in May as manager in Oaxaca) will find a way to keep the talented Madera on the straight and narrow. History indicates otherwise.


Mexican League standings
North Division: Monterrey 38-21, Monclova 36-23, Aguascalientes 32-26, Laguna 32-27, Tijuana 32-38, Mexico City 30-29, Saltillo 27-31, Reynosa 17-42.
South Division: Puebla 40-19, Yucatan 38-22, Quintana Roo 36-24, Campeche 30-29, Oaxaca 23-35, Tabasco 23-37, Carmen 20-39, Veracruz 19-41.