Monday, January 15, 2018

Culiacan sweeps Mexicali to reach MexPac title series

Culiacan DH Joey Meneses
Although it took the “lucky loser” rule for the Culiacan Tomateros to avert elimination from the Mexican Pacific League playoffs, luck had nothing to do with the Culichis’ sweep of defending champion Mexicali in the semifinals to punch their ticket to the LMP championship series.

The Tomateros began last week with a 7-4 Game Seven loss at home to Jalisco as Agustin Murillo had three hits (including a two-run homer) and three RBIs to give the Charros the deciding victory in their first round set.  However, Culiacan’s three wins in the series was enough to give them a berth in the second stage due to Mazatlan winning two games in their loss to Mexicali and Hermosillo earning just one triumph in their defeat to Navojoa.

Given that reprieve via LMP rules, the Tomateros then took on a Mexicali team that ran away with the second-half title and dismantled them easily, starting with a 6-2 win in the border city last Wednesday behind starter Edgar Gonzalez’ six innings of two-run pitching and Rico Noel’s single and double with two RBIs and one run scored.  Manager Benji Gil’s squad then took Thursday’s Game Two in Estadio B’Air, 5-4, with Joey Meneses’ ninth-inning single driving in LMP batting champ Sebastian Elizalde with what proved to be the game-winning run as Culiacan closer Chad Gaudin came turned in a 1-2-3 inning for the save.

After a travel day, the series shifted to Estadio Tomateros for Game Three on Saturday, with the hosts shutting out the Aguilas, 6-0, as Anthony Vazquez went all the way with a four-hitter for Culiacan, aided and abetted by Ali Solis’ three-run homer in the seventh.   The Tomateros put a wrap on the series and Mexicali’s season with a 6-4 win Sunday, with Issmael Salas’ sixth-inning bunt single driving in Ronnier Mustelier from third to break a 4-all tie.  The Tomateros picked up 38 hits over the four games while Mexicali’s defense broke down with ten errors, four of them coming in Sunday’s series-ending contest.

While the Aguilas will call it a winter, with players and manager Pedro Mere left to wonder how they so grandly missed a second trip to the Caribbean Series, the Tomateros will await the outcome of the Navojoa-Jalisco series to learn who they’ll face next in their attempt to bring an eleventh MexPac pennant to Culiacan.

Mayos one win away from LMP championship series berth

Navojoa (and Boston) RHP Hector Velazquez
The Navojoa Mayos are poised to move into the Mexican Pacific League championship series in their quest for the team’s first pennant since 2002-03 after taking a 3-games-to-1 lead over Jalisco in their LMP semifinal series.  Navojoa is not one of the LMP’s traditional powers, with just three titles in their 63-year franchise history, and the team is seeking its second trip to the finals since 1997-98.

The Mayos topped the Charros, 9-4, Sunday night in Guadalajara after jumping on Jalisco starter David Reyes for four runs on four hits, including a two-out single up the middle by Fernando Flores that scored Jesse Castillo and Jovan Rosa.  Willie Romero’s charges went on to take a 7-1 lead into the sixth inning and cruised to the win.  Designated hitter Max Ramirez had a big night for the visitors, belting two homers and driving in three runs while leadoff hitter Angel Gonzalez contributed three singles and a double, scoring once.  Eddie Gamboa earned the win after allowing two runs in five frames for his third postseason victory.  Reyes was tagged with the loss.

Navojoa opened the series at home last Wednesday and beat the Charros, 4-1, behind a decent five-inning outing from starting pitcher Hector Velazquez.  The Red Sox hurler allowed eight hits but only let in one run as Cardinals farmhand Randy Arozarena socked a solo homer in the bottom of the first to give Velazquez and the Mayos a lead they’d build on and hold the entire game.  Game Two on Thursday ended with Jalisco prevailing 4-3 in their lone win of the series thus far.  The Charros opened with two runs in the top of the first inning, including a game-opening homer from Yordanys Linares, and added two more in the second on a Linares triple.  Starter Tyler Alexander carried a shutout into the fifth and pitched through the sixth for the win, giving up five hits and two walks, striking out six Mayos batters as Jalisco erased Navojoa’s home-field advantage.

The series shifting to Guadalajara, however, has done the Charros no favors.  The Mayos won both weekend encounters, including a 6-3 Saturday tilt in which both Ramirez and Gonzalez lofted two-run homers in support of opener Barry Enright.  The former Diamondbacks starter went 7.1 strong innings for the win, scattering five hits and two runs while whiffing four.  Sunday’s win put the Charros in must-win mode for Monday’s Game Five at home.  Velazquez will seek his third playoff win for the Mayos while Jalisco skipper Roberto Vizcarra will send out Octavio Acosta, who’s followed up a standout summer with Mexico City (14-1, 2.99) with a solid winter for the Charros (7-3, 3.94).  Acosta has been rocked for an 8.59 ERA and a loss in two postseason starts, however.

Four LMB teams still without managers as training camps approach

Houston Jimenez with Tabasco in 2015
With training camp for the Mexican League’s two 2018 seasons about a month away, four LMB franchises are still shopping for a manager.  The Tabasco Olmecas are searching for a new leader to replace Vicente Palacios, the Saltillo Saraperos still have a vacancy after Marco Antonio Romero was not rehired and the Monterrey Sultanes have gone back to the drawing board after Miguel Ojeda spurned an offer to take a similar job in Durango (although the Generales’ unsettled ownership situation makes that a tentative commitment).

While the term “managerial job security” is an oxymoron in Mexican baseball, Tabasco may stand out even by the status quo south of the border.  The franchise as run by the Dagdug brothers is a perpetual also-ran on the field (one pennant in 53 years) and a fiasco off of it, with ongoing electrical problems at 53-year-old Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero serving as a symbol of sorts for the poorly-supported Olmecas, who averaged an LMB-worst 1,437 fans per game last summer.  While Villahermosa is not a preferred destination for men on the Mexican managerial merry-go-round, rumor has Alfonso “Houston” Jimenez returning for his second tour of duty with the Olmecas, including a 2015 season during which the ex-Twins shortstop marked his 800th career win as a Mexican League helmsman.  Jimenez was fired during the 2017 season as skipper from his tenth managerial job last summer in Oaxaca.  

Then you have the once-proud Saltillo Saraperos, who less than a decade ago won two consecutive Mexican League pennants and led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance under the ownership of deep-pocketed Juan Manuel Ley, whose family continues to own the Culiacan Tomateros in the wake of his death.  However, the Saraperos have fallen upon hard times since the Leys sold the franchise in 2013 after fourteen seasons in the Coahuila city, missing the playoffs in 2017 under managers Orlando Sanchez (fired after failing to recapture the glory days of 2008-10 under his watch) and Romero, once one of Mexico’s top sluggers.  With Romero gone, some observers expected Lino Rivera to be named Saltillo’s new skipper until the team board of directors publicly ruled that out, shifting attention to Panamanian Lenin Picota as a potential dugout boss.

Next we come to the Monterrey Sultanes, who’ve had an interesting year after owner Jose “Pepe” Maiz sold half the team to Grupo Multimedios last February.  While the Sultanes, under new general manager Guillermo “Willie” Gonzalez (who replaced fixture Roberto Magdaleno in the front office after the sale) were able to induce enough people out to Estadio Monterrey to lead MiLB with an average attendance of 11,575 per game, the team fell to Tijuana in the LMB North championship series for the second year in a row, leading to the decision to not bring back Felix Fermin as skipper (although Fermin remains on the roster as a third-base coach).  A deal between the Sultanes and Ojeda, who led Mexico City to the Liga pennant in 2014, was believed to have been worked out until the former big league catcher backed out to manage in Durango instead.  Since then, nobody’s name has surfaced as front-runner in Monterrey.

Finally, let’s talk about Durango.  The Generales’ difficulties in their first year have been exhausted here (you can check the archives in BBM’s right-hand column to review the carnage), but the underfinanced team drew well in the state capital even after their season went south following a surprisingly respectable showing during a month-long road trip to open 2017 as renovations to Estadio Francisco Villa were hurriedly being done.  Cuban skipper Joe Alvarez went from too-early “Manager of the Year” talk to unemployed after embattled owner Virgilio Ruiz fired Alvarez after the season.  While Ojeda has been named as the new skipper in Durango, Ruiz is said to be trying to sell his virtually-insolvent franchise that the league had to take over down the stretch and any new owners would not necessarily be obliged to honor a deal that Ruiz made with Ojeda.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mayos first to reach LMP semis; Hermosillo, Mazatlan out

Navojoa Mayos knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa
The Navojoa Mayos were the first team to qualify for the Mexican Pacific League playoff semifinals after bouncing first-half champion Hermosillo in five games, capping the set with a Friday win.  The Mayos pitching staff was the story of this series, holding the Naranjeros to a miniscule .153 batting average.  Outfielder Cedric Hunter contributed a .313 mark, including the lone homer for the Orangemen, but Hermosillo hitters were putty in the hands of Navojoa hurlers Hector Velazquez, Jaime Lugo and especially veteran knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who won both his starts and limited the Naranjeros to two unearned runs on five hits in 12.1 innings.  Hermosillo was shut out twice and held to one run once before being eliminated, 4-3, on Friday night to send home 13,195 disappointed fans at Estadio Sonora.  Mexican League MVP Jesse Castillo topped the Mayos offense by going 7-of-18 (.389) with five RBIs, including two ribbies in a three-hit Game Five.  Randy Arozarena had four hits and scored twice in Friday's clincher.

While the Mayos move on in the hope of securing Navojoa's first LMP pennant since 1999-2000, ironically under current Hermosillo manager Lorenzo Bundy, the Naranjeros were the first team to exit the MexPac playoffs and face a long offseason with plenty of questions about what went wrong.  Bundy's job status after several winters with the team is in more doubt than ever.

A Philadelphia native who lives in Tucson between seasons, Bundy won't have long to lick his wounds.  He was hired last week to replace former MLB infielder Tim Johnson as manager of the Mexican League's Puebla Pericos for the 2018 season.  Johnson took over the defending champion Pericos from Von Hayes in early June and led the team to an unexpected return to the LMB championship series after owner Gerardo Benavides transferred most of the Parrots' roster to his other Liga team in Monclova.  Bundy coached under Don Mattingly in Miami last summer.

Navojoa defeated Hermosillo, 4 games to 1
Jan. 1  NAVOJOA 5-9-0, Hermosillo 0-1-1 (Eddie Gamboa tosses 7 innings of 1-hit shutout ball)
Jan. 2  NAVOJOA 3-5-1, Hermosillo 0-5-2 (Hector Velazquez blanks Naranjeros over 5.1 innings)
Jan. 4  HERMOSILLO 4-6-0, Navojoa 3-10-1 (Cedric Hunter homer in 7th breaks 3-3 tie)
Jan. 5  Navojoa 5-7-1, HERMOSILLO 1-3-2 (Jovan Rosa hits 2-run HR, Jesse Castillo has 2 RBIs)
Jan. 6  Navojoa 4-10-2, Hermosillo 3-8-1 (Jesse Castillo 3 RBIs on 3 hits, Randy Arozarena 4 hits)

Aguilas crush Mazatlan, 10-1, Sunday to qualify for second round
C.J. Retherford had 3 game-winning hits for Mexicali
Defending champion Mexicali was stretched a little farther in their opening round series, requiring six games to eliminate Mazatlan.  The Aguilas punched their way to a resounding 10-1 win Sunday at home, banging out 20 hits to the delight of the Estadio Gasmart crowd.  The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Eagles plated three runs on four hits, including an RBI double by C.J. Retherford, and never looked back.  Chris Roberson, Walter Ibara and Luis Juarez had three hits apiece while Xorge Carrillo belted a two-run homer in a four-run Mexicali sixth.  Aguilas starter Sergio Mitre was the beneficiary of his mates' hitting outburst and earned the win after tossing six frames of one-hit shutout ball.

Up until Sunday's win, C.J. Retherford had a week he'll tell his grandsons about by personally delivering the game-winning hit in Mexicali's first three victories.  The former White Sox minor league infielder was irate about being left off the Aguilas roster for the Caribbean Series last winter under then-manager Roberto Vizcarra and has returned to the postseason with a vengeance.  Retherford's RBI double in the bottom of the ninth ended the Aguilas' 2-1 win in Game One last Monday, followed by a walkoff solo homer in the eleventh one night later as the borderites triumphed, 3-2.  After one day off and a Mazatlan win Thursday behind Brian Hernandez' 3-run blast, Retherford was at it again Friday, when his solo homer in the top of the ninth accounted for the game's lone run in the Aguilas' 1-0 win at Mazatlan as Mexicali starter Justin De Fratus and Venados' Dustin Crenshaw swapped zeros until reliever Nick Stuck gave up Retherford's dinger.

 After a sketchy first half under Vizcarra, who was fired less than a year after leading the Aguilas to last winter's pennant, Mexicali has responded under Mere (who piloted Tijuana to the LMB title this summer) by running away with the second-half title.  The Eagles are hoping for a second straight trip to the Serie del Caribe and Retherford wants to make sure he's not forgotten if they make it to Guadalajara.  Mazatlan is done for the season after manager Daniel Fernandez' squad won just two first-round games.  Jalisco's win at Culiacan Sunday night ensured both those teams will advance no matter who wins Game Seven of that series Monday.

Mexicali defeated Mazatlan, 4 games to 2
Jan. 1  MEXICALI 2-4-0, Mazatlan 1-7-0 (C.J. Retherford hits walkoff RBI double in 9th for win)
Jan. 2  MEXICALI 3-10-0, Mazatlan 2-6-0 <11> (C.J. Retherford belts walkoff solo HR in 11th)
Jan. 4  MAZATLAN 3-8-0, Mexicali 0-2-1 (Alejandro Soto, two relievers combine on 2-hitter)
Jan. 5  Mexicali 1-6-0, MAZATLAN 0-3-0 (C.J. Retherford's 1B in 9th drives in game's lone run)
Jan. 6  MAZATLAN 5-10-1, Mexicali 3-9-2 (Brian Hernandez 3-run HR in 7th keys comeback win)
Jan. 7  MEXICALI 10-20-1, Mazatlan 1-4-0 (Xorge Carrillo had 3-run HR as Aguilas had 20 hits)

Charros blank Culiacan, 2-0, to force Game Seven on Monday
Jalisco slugger Japhet Amador has 4 homers in 6 games
In what has turned out to be the best of the MexPac's three opening-round playoff series, the Culiacan Tomateros have traded victories with the Jalisco Charros throughout the first six games of their set, including a Jalisco win Sunday night in Culiacan to tie things up at three games apiece and force a Game Seven on Monday at Estadio Tomateros.  Regardless of who cops the series, both teams will advance to the LMP semifinals because the club that comes up short will have won three games in a losing effort.  That'll be enough to punch a ticket to the semis as the first round's "lucky loser" by nudging out Mazatlan (two wins) and Hermosillo (one win) for most wins in a series loss.

David Reyes was joined by four Jalisco relievers, including MLB free agent Sergio Romo, in tossing a combined three-hit 2-0 shutout Sunday as 15,148 onlookers watched in Culiacan.  Reyes tossed five innings of hitless ball with four strikeouts before being replaced after 78 pitches with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Japhet Amador's leadoff homer in the fourth (the Mulege Giant's fourth roundtripper of the series after failing to go deep in his final nine games of the regular season). Manuel Flores, who replaced Reyes, lost the no-hit bid by allowing singles to Rico Noel and Joey Meneses in the sixth but those were the only safeties the Tomateros would pick up all night.  Jabari Blash, who was dealt from San Diego to the Yankees in last month's trade that sent Chase Headley back to the Padres, hit a solo insurance homer for the Charros in the ninth as Romo worked the last two frames for his second save.

Culiacan opened the series last Monday with a 2-1 win in Guadalajara and the two combatants have gone back and forth since.  If Game Seven holds to form, the Tomateros would win the series but Mazatlan's loss in Mexicali Sunday takes the pressure off both squads.  While there've been some strong performances in this matchup of two longtime rivals (and hosts of the 2017 and 2018 Caribbean Series), Amador has stood out by socking homers in each of the past three contests.  Three of his dingers in the series have been solo shots as the Rakuten Golden Eagles DH has a .333 average over six playoff contests.  The massive slugger will spend his third summer in Japan later this year.

Starters have been announced for Monday night's deciding game.  Former Yankees prospect Will Oliver (who's spent the past four years pitching independent ball) will be on the hill for Jalisco after a no-decision last Thursday, when he allowed two runs on seven hits in 5.1 innings in a 3-2 loss.  He went 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in the regular season.  Salvador Valdez will be handed the ball by Tomateros helmsman Benji Gil.  Valdez gave up two runs on four hits over six innings in last Tuesday's 4-2 home loss to Jalisco.  The Culiacan-born righty was 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts for the Tomateros.
Culiacan and Jalisco are tied, 3 games to 3
Jan. 1  CULIACAN 2-1-2, Jalisco 1-6-1 (Two runs score on Ronnier Mustelier ground-out in 4th)
Jan. 2  Jalisco 4-8-1, CULIACAN 2-8-0 (Gabriel Gutierrez singles and homers with 2 RBIs)
Jan. 4  Culiacan 3-8-0, JALISCO 2-7-0 (D'Arby Myers singles twice, walks, scores, drives in run)
Jan. 5  JALISCO 7-17-1, Culiacan 6-10-0 <12> (Agustin Murillo doubles, scores winner in 12th)
Jan. 6  Culiacan 5-7-0, JALISCO 4-8-0 (Ali Solis 3-run HR in 4th for Tomateros holds up)
Jan. 7  Jalisco 2-5-2, CULIACAN 0-3-0 (Japhet Amador hits 4th playoff HR in road shutout)

Monday, January 1, 2018

LMP regular season ends, playoffs to begin Monday

Culiacan OF Sebastian Elizalde homering
The Mexican Pacific League has concluded its 2017-18 regular season, with the Culiacan Tomateros parlaying a third-place finish in the second half into a top seed berth for the January playoffs.  Mexicali ran away with the second-half title by turning in a 26-7 record under manager Pedro Mere to finish six games ahead of 20-13 Navojoa, collecting eight points toward the postseason in the bargain.  However, the Aguilas' 16-19 showing in the first half netted the borderites just four points while the defending champs' sixth-place finish cost former skipper Roberto Vizcarra his job.

In the end, however, it was Culiacan's steady performance throughout both halves that gave them home-field advantage for the pending postseason.  Although some breaths were held when the Tomateros brought back the volatile Benji Gil as manager in the offseason, fans were rewarded with a 20-15 record for second place and 7.0 points in the first half followed by a 19-16 mark in the second stanza, good enough for third place and the 6.0 points that come with it for a total of 13.0 points, one point ahead of Mexicali and 1.5 points up on Navojoa.  Mexicali had the best overall record at 42-26 while Culiacan went a combined 39-29 and Navojoa was 38-30.  All three teams will move on to the playoffs, as will Hermosillo (33-34/11.5), Mazatlan (37-31/11.0) and Jalisco (35-32/9.5).  Obregon (27-41/7.0) was never a factor in either half and Los Mochis (20-48/6.5) finished their season in disastrous fashion by losing their last 17 games under interim helmsman Ramon Orantes, at least implying that fired manager Luis Sojo wasn't the problem with the Caneros.

Culiacan outfielder Sebastian Elizalde won the batting title with a .380 average, nine points ahead of Jalisco second baseman Manny Rodriguez.  A Reds farmhand, Elizalde also led the loop with a .446 on-base percentage, tied Rodriguez for the MexPac lead with 95 hits apiece and finished a distant second to Mazatlan speedster Jeremias Pineda (who'll miss the playoffs after going home shortly before Christmas to play for the Dominican League's Cibao Gigantes) with 16 stolen bases.

Elizalde is in the conversation for MVP honors, but it'll be hard to beat out Rodriguez, whose .371 average was augmented by 25 doubles, 58 RBIs, 50 runs scored, 150 total bases, a .568 slugging percentage and a 1.009 OPS (all best in the loop) while his 10 homers were good enough to tie for fourth with teammate Agustin Murillo.  The 35-year-old Guasave native posted his seventh straight .300+ Mexican League season last summer for Monclova and even stealing 19 bases, showing little sign of slowing down.  Navojoa's Randy Arozarena led the LMP with 14 homers in another down year for roundtrippers while tying Rodriguez for the doubles lead at 25 two-baggers.  The Cardinals minor leaguer by way of Cuba may get some MVP mention, too, but it appears to be Manny's award to lose at this point.

Any debate for Pitcher of the Year will likely include just two candidates: Mazatlan's Mitch Lively and Rolando Valdez of Mexicali.  Lively, who made the best of a bad situation in Leon during the summer, had some dominant moments during the MexPac calendar and finished with a 9-2 record to lead the league in wins, tossed the only complete game shutout of the season, posted the best WHIP (0.96) and finished with 63 strikeouts to come in second to Jalisco's Tyler Alexander (66) over 12 starts.  Lively, whose 2.50 ERA was second to Valdez, hasn't pitched for the Venados since December 17 (when he was rocked by Mexicali for four runs on 10 hits in 6.2 innings), but Tweeted Saturday that he was returning to Mazatlan for the playoffs after some time off, presumably at home in California.  He'll help form a potentially lethal playoff rotation with Roy Merritt, Dustin Crenshaw and Alejandro Soto for manager Daniel Fernandez' Deer.  Obregon closer Manny Acosta, who was picked by Navojoa in Saturday's reinforcement draft, led the MexPac with 16 saves

Valdez will receive some MVP votes on the basis of his league-leading 1.74 earned-run average, finishing a remarkable .76 ahead of Lively en route to a 5-2 record.  If there's a Comeback of the Year award in the LMP, the 32-year-old Nuevo Laredo product is a shoo-in after a 2016-17 winter in Obregon in which he was 1-8 with a 5.03 ERA for the Yaquis.  Valdez was dealt to Mexicali along with shortstop Daniel Castro in the offseason in exchange for pitcher Marco Duarte and third baseman Emmanuel Avila, a trade that (like the season itself) was a disaster for the Yaquis.  While Valdez and Castro (.329 with 27 runs in 47 games before the Colorado Rockies shut him down for the winter on December 8) both had standout years for the Aguilas, Duarte (0-6/5.75) and Avila (.243/2/17) both suffered through miserable seasons in Obregon.

Greene to Culiacan in first LMP reinforcement draft

Obregon (now Culiacan) OF Justin Greene
With the selection of Obregon centerfielder Justin Greene, the Culiacan Tomateros led off two rounds of Saturday's Mexican Pacific League Reinforcement Draft, an exercise that takes place three times following the end of the regular season in which each remaining playoff team is allowed to pick two players from other clubs that have been eliminated from postseason contention.  Similar drafts will be held at the end of the first round and semifinals of the MexPac playoffs before the pennant-winner loads up prior to February's Caribbean Series in Guadalajara.

The reinforcement drafts are an often-controversial procedure that can cause hard feelings among players who are placed on a team's reserve list after new players are brought in at each stage.  One notable example is Mexicali third baseman C.J. Retherford, who had batted .296 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 66 games for the Aguilas during the regular season last winter but was dropped just prior to the team's trip to Culiacan for last February's Serie del Caribe.  The former Arizona State star and White Sox prospect, with at least some justification, did not hide his displeasure over the move.  As if to tempt fate again, Mexicali picked Los Mochis third baseman Rudy Amador in the second round of Saturday's draft.  Still, it's the way things have been done for some time in the LMP and fans have grown used to seeing teams playing in the CS that only vaguely resemble the outfit that represented the champions at the onset of the postseason.

Greene will arrive in Culiacan on the heels of a decent campaign for Obregon, where he hit .288 with 14 stolen bases for the Yaquis over 36 games after arriving in midseason.  The 32-year-old South Carolinian had a good summer in the Mexican League, batting a combined .354 with 13 homers and a LMB-best 51 steals in 96 games for Saltillo and Monterrey, landing with the Sultanes in a late-season salary dump by the Saraperos.  His numbers didn't translate to similar success this winter, but the situation in Obregon steadily approached critical mass as the season progressed, culminating with beloved mascot Chacho being fired late in the schedule after joining with fans in chants against team owner Rene Rodriguez during a game (See why I find MLB so boring these days?)  As for Culiacan, Greene adds more speed to a team that led the MexPac with 73 stolen bases and should patrol the outfield with batting champ Sebastian Elizalde and vet D'Arby Myers, who hit .309 for the Guindas.  Another speedy outfielder, Rico Noel, went 13-for-14 on steals in 25 games for the Tomateros, where he appeared to peacefully co-exist with manager Benji Gil (which hasn't always been the case) while Cuban Ronnier Mustelier (.301) and second-round pickup Dustin Martin (.297 in 10 games for Obregon) are yet further options for the number one seed.

LMP Reinforcement Draft 1 (Saturday, December 30, 2017)
1. Culiacan, OF Justin Greene (Obregon)
2. Mexicali, OF Olmo Rosario (Los Mochis)
3. Mazatlan, P Santiago Gutierrez (Los Mochis)
4. Jalisco, P David Reyes (Obregon)
5. Hermosillo, P Luis Perez (Los Mochis)
6. Navojoa, OF Leo Heras (Obregon)
1.  Navojoa, P Manny Acosta (Obregon)
2. Hermosillo, P D.J. Johnson (Los Mochis)
3. Jalisco, P Irwin Delgado (Obregon)
4. Mazatlan, OF Moises Gutierrez (Obregon)
5. Mexicali, 3B Rodolfo Amador (Los Mochis)
6. Culiacan, OF Dustin Martin (Obregon)

2017-18 LMP First Round Playoff Schedule
MON, Jan. 1:   Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
TUE, Jan. 2:    Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
THU, Jan. 4:    Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
FRI, Jan. 5:      Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
SAT, Jan 6*:    Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
SUN, Jan. 7*:  Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
MON, Jan. 8*: Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
*-If needed

Monday, December 25, 2017

MexPac playoff field determined, regular season winds down

Mexicali's MexPac ERA leader Rolando Valdez
Although the pairings for the opening round of the upcoming Mexican Pacific League playoffs have yet to be set, the six teams advancing to the postseason have been determined with four games remaining on the regular season schedule.

The defending champion Mexicali Aguilas have run away with the LMP second half, sporting a 23-6 record to lead 17-12 Navojoa and Culiacan by six games to lock up the eight points accompanying a first-place finish.  The Aguilas collected four points after a 16-19 first half finish landed the borderites in sixth place and led to the replacement of manager Roberto Vizcarra with Pedro Mere.  Under Mere, who won the Mexican League pennant with Tijuana in September, the Aguilas' 12.0 combined points assures them of a playoff berth and home-field advantage at least through the first round.

Things have not gone as well for first-half champion Hermosillo.  Skipper Lorenzo Bundy's Naranjeros have struggled to an 11-17 record in the second half and currently sit seventh on the table, a half-game game behind 12-17 Obregon and three games back from fifth-place Jalisco at 14-14.  The Orangemen will reach the playoffs no matter what because even if they finish with only 3.5 points in the half, the 11.5 total points will be enough to play into January.   Culiacan projects to be the top playoff seed.  The Tomateros picked up 7.0 first-half points after finishing tied with Mazatlan for second at 20-15 while their 17-12 second half mark would give them third place behind Navojoa, good enough for 6.0 points for the half and a combined 13.0 points overall.  Mazatlan and Navojoa will join Mexicali, Hermosillo, Culiacan and Jalisco in the postseason.  The 14-14 Charros sit in sixth, where the 4.5 points attached to a finish in that slot would be added to the 5.0 first-half points garnered by the Guadalajara squad for a 9.5-point overall total and a sixth (and final) seed.

On the outside looking in after this week will be Obregon and Los Mochis.  The 12-17 Yaquis are currently in sixth, two-and-a-half games behind Jalisco, but the most overall points they can mathematically qualify for are 8.0, well behind the Charros' projected 9.5.  The Yaquis canned manager Miguel Ojeda earlier this month and brought in Juan Navarrete, but problem with the Obregon organization run beyond the playing field and any manager would've struggled there this winter.  The 6-23 Caneros have suffered through a total collapse under manager Ramon Orantes, who replaced Luis Sojo at the helm on November 16 after Mochis finished seventh with a 14-21 record in the first half for 3.5 points.  The Caneros will finish with 6.5 overall points no matter what happens this week.

Three ongoing series will conclude Monday night with Obregon at Mexicali, Culiacan visiting Mazatlan and Jalisco hosting Navojoa while Tuesday night will see the Hermosillo at Los Mochis series end.  Starting Wednesday, Hermosillo will host Mexicali, Obregon will welcome Mazatlan, Los Mochis will be in Navojoa and Culiacan will entertain Jalisco in openers of season-ending three-game sets.  
The six playoff teams will choose reinforcements from Obregon and Los Mochis in a two-round draft next weekend prior to next week's first-round openers.  Among the nuggets to be mined from Obregon will be centerfielder Justin Greene, rightfielder Dustin Martin and closer Manny Acosta, the LMP's saves leader with 16.  Los Mochis has infielder Ramon Urias, outfielder Olmo Rosario and veteran first baseman/DH Saul Soto, still a dangerous hitter at age 39.

LMP SECOND HALF STANDINGS (through Sunday, December 24)
Mexicali (4.0) 23-6, Navojoa (4.5) 17-12, Culiacan (7.0) 17-12, Mazatlan (6.0) 15-14, Jalisco (5.0) 14-14, Obregon (3.0) 12-17, Hermosillo (8.0) 11-17, Los Mochis (3.5) 6-23
First half point totals per team are in parentheses
AVG-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .379, H-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 92,  R-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 48, HR-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 14, RBI-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 56, SB-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 31.
W-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 9, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.87, SO-Tyler Alexander (JAL) 65, SV-Manny Acosta (OBR) 16, HLD-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 17, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.96.

Ojeda to manage in Durango, not Monterrey, in 2018

Durango's Miguel Ojeda as an MLBer
In what has to be one of the more surprising managerial moves of the Mexican League offseason, former MLB catcher Miguel Ojeda went from being considered a shoo-in as the new manager in Monterrey to signing a contract to lead Durango in 2018 instead.  The deal was announced Sunday by Aguascalientes' El Heraldo, citing "sources close to the negotiations."  

Ojeda will replace Joe Alvarez as Generales skipper after the latter took the team to a 43-66 record for a last-place finish in the LMB North this summer, Durango's first in the Liga in 38 years after owner Virgilio Ruiz moved his franchise there from Carmen.  The Generales spent the first month of the season on the road while ballpark preparations at home were ongoing, winning 11 of their first 21 games before embarking on a crushing 14-game losing streak (six in a row at home) from which they never recovered.  Money problems plagued the team Ojeda is inheriting, with late paychecks and league support to keep the club alive through season's end.  The league wants to replace the underfinanced Ruiz with new ownership, but nothing has been announced on that front.  Durango gave the club remarkably good support given the situation, with the Generales finishing seventh in attendance with a 4,094 average per opening, but Ojeda (who hit .224 with 15 homers in 212 games for San Diego and three other MLB teams between 2003 and 2006) is stepping into a volatile situation.

Meanwhile, back in Monterrey, the Sultanes are back to the drawing board.  Details have not been found as to why things didn't work out between the team and Ojeda.  One omen came during the recent Winter Meetings in Orlando, a  potential "big splash" publicity moment for the Sultanes by introducing a former big league catcher and manager of the 2014 LMB champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos as their new manager.  Instead, he did not appear to even be mentioned by the team during the four-day event.  Ojeda's pending hiring in Monterrey was widely reported in mid-November.

One hiring that did come off was in Monclova, where the Acereros named another ex-MLB catcher as their new helmsman.  Dan Firova, 61, is a bilingual Texan who had three cups of coffee with Seattle and Cleveland in the 1980's and also played all or part of seven seasons in Mexico between 1981 and 1993, mostly for Nuevo Laredo, and hit .264 with 13 homers in 419 games as a defense-oriented backstop.  Firova then spent over two decades managing in the Mexican League winning three pennants with the Mexico City Tigres (1997, 2001, 2001) in his seven-year stint before going on to manage six other LMB teams between 2002 and 2013, reaching the postseason twice in Monterrey and once in Campeche.  He was a coach for the Washington Nationals the past two seasons under Dusty Baker.  

Firova will take over a loaded team that was expected to contend for the pennant last season but instead was knocked out in the first round.  Ex-Mets infielder Wally Backman was hired to manage the Acereros last winter, but his inability to speak or understand Spanish plagued him all the way up to Backman's midseason firing in Monclova, something that won't be a problem for Firova.  Backman, by the way, finished the year as a coach in Puebla and will manage the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League in 2018.

Diablos win Mexican Winter League for third straight year

2017 LIM champions Mexico City Diablos Rojos
It's been a tough baseball year for Alfredo Harp Helu.  The billionaire owner of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, has seen his Mexican League team miss the playoffs for a second straight year with attendance of only 2,503 per game was 14th in the LMB; his new 13,000-seat ballpark (named after himself) has been plagued by construction problems and delays resulting in the move of an anticipated MLB series next season to Monterrey and the possible loss of the 2018 LMB All-Star Game as well; and his franchise is embroiled in a controversy involving the allegedly corrupt transfer of five prospect to the Diablos and an opposing team owner who may arguably be the most popular Mexican ballplayer ever on either side of the border and is also threatening to take the matter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.  That bad run of luck for Harp extended to his own farm system, as his combined team with the Oaxaca Guerreros (which he also owns) was unable to win their third consecutive Academy Rookie League title, finishing fourth among six teams.

So forgive us for showing a little espíritu navideño when we say we're glad to see Harp's Mexican Winter League team save his year (a little) by winning the pennant, making it three titles in as many seasons for the Little Red Devils.  They copped the regular season crown by going 29-16 in the six-team circuit, which serves as the LMB's sanctioned winter league and includes Liga veterans and prospects alike.  First baseman Yousamot Cota led the league with a .392 average but it was left fielder Daniel Jimenez who swung the big stick by topping the LIM in hits, runs scored and runs batted in.  Jimenez, a 21-year-old Caracas native who played four year of rookieball in the Reds system at home in Venezuela and Arizona, is currently listed on Oaxaca's LMB roster but we've seen how that goes.  Starting pitcher Luis Miranda won five games with a 2.01 ERA to rank first in both categories.

The playoffs followed, with Mexico City being stretched to five games before knocking out Salamanca in a first round series mostly noted for Petroleros player Andres Martin Garcia attacking home plate umpire Carlos Leon, resulting in Martin's suspension from all LMB-related leagues throughout 2018.  The championship series was a trifle quieter, as the Diablos beat Oaxaca, 4 games to 1.  The Guerreros, who had finished in third at 22-23 in the regular season, shocked second-place Moroleon by sweeping the Toros Bravos in three straight games in their semi series.  Mexico City was stretched in Game Five, requiring 13 innings to extinguish the Warriors, 7-5, and claim the flag.

The finals featured two teams owned by the same man, making Harp a winner no matter what happened, and managed by the men who'll lead their respective "big teams" next season: Victor Bojorquez in Mexico City and Jose Luis Sandoval in Oaxaca.  Both are former longtime Diablos stars.  Bojorquez takes the reins of the Red Devils from Miguel Ojeda, who may be having as bad a year as Harp (who still has his billions), while Sandoval succeeds Houston Jimenez with the Guerreros.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mexicali opens 4-game lead; Lively win streak ends at 8

The defending champion Mexicali Aguilas have continued to respond to new manager Pedro Mere and have built a four-game lead over Mazatlan and Navojoa in the Mexican Pacific League’s second-half standings.  The Eagles won two of three hard-fought games in a weekend series in Mazatlan to lift their record to 18-6 with nine games left in the regular season. The Venados dropped to 14-10 after losing Sunday’s game, 4-2, falling into a second-place tie with the Mayos.  Righty Mitch Lively took the loss for the Deer to fall to 9-2 on the season after winning his last eight starts.  Meanwhile, Navojoa won in Culiacan, 2-0, as Eddie Gamboa and four relievers combined on the shutout.
A 6’5” Californian, the 32-year-old Lively has enjoyed a banner 2017 south of the border.  He pitched well for a poor Leon team in the Mexican League, going 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA for the Bravos over 74 innings, including 12 starts, to give him a combined 16-4 mark between the two leagues.  The Venados ace leads the MexPac in wins, strikeouts and WHIP and is threatening to become the LMP’s first 10-game winner since Culiacan’s Jorge Campillo in 2004-05.  Campillo went on to pitch in the majors for Seattle and Atlanta and is currently a VP with the LMB Tijuana Toros after serving as the team’s GM for several seasons.
The Hermosillo Naranjeros’ second-half slide following their first-half title has continued, with the Orangemen next-to-last with a 9-14 record, three games ahead of hapless Los Mochis.  Hermosillo’s front office and fans are used to success and rumors have surfaced that manager Lorenzo Bundy’s seat may be getting warm.  The Naranjeros recently became beneficiaries of Obregon’s sell-off by acquiring former MLB and NPB pitcher Luis Mendoza from the Yaquis for three prospects.  One of them, Hermosillo native Isaac Paredes, was a well-regarded Cubs farmhand before being dealt to the Tigers organization last summer.  The infielder spent the entire season playing in the Class A Midwest League, pretty fast company for an 18-year-old who hit .252 with 11 homers and 70 RBIs in 124 games for South Bend and West Michigan.
What’s been a long season in Obregon got a little longer when new fan favorite outfielder Tomo Otosaka returned to Japan after playing the last of his 27 games for the Yaquis on December 14.  Otosaka won over supporters with a .410 batting average with 15 runs scored and another 12 driven in while walking 13 times in 113 plate appearances for an on-base percentage of .487.  The 23-year-old Otosaka has hit .237 with 7 homers and 22 RBIs in 196 games for the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League since his 2014 debut.  Attendance has plummeted at year-old Nuevo Estadio Yaquis this winter as fans appear to be losing confidence in the Yaquis organization under owner Rene Rodriguez, who bought the team from the Grupo Modelo brewery following the team’s trio of LMP titles earlier this decade.

Mexicali (4.0) 18-6, Mazatlan (6.0) 14-10, Navojoa (4.5) 14-10, Culiacan (7.0) 13-11, Obregon (3.0) 11-13, Jalisco (5.0) 10-13, Hermosillo (8.0) 9-14, Los Mochis (3.5) 6-18
First half point totals per team are in parentheses
AVG-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .372, H-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 83,  R-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 44, HR-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 14, RBI-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 50, SB-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 29.
W-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 9, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.75, SO-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 63, SV-Manny Acosta (OBR) 15, HLD-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 16, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.96.

El Titan traded to Atlanta, designated for assignment
Five-time All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez could be forgiven if he’s beyond ready to turn the calendar to 2018 a couple weeks early as his nightmarish 2017 has taken yet another couple of dagger-like twists.  The man known as “El Titan” and considered by many to be the best MLBer of Mexican descent was one of four Los Angeles Dodgers players sent to Atlanta last weekend in a trade for outfielder Matt Kemp.  Also dealt to the Braves were veteran pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy and young infielder Charlie Culberson in a transaction regarded by some as a salary dump for both teams.  Gonzalez is scheduled to make $22.4 million for the last year of his contract in 2018, of which the Dodgers picked up $4.5 million of the tab as part of the swap.
However, if the 35-year-old Gonzalez had even begun thinking of hitting in the high-altitude, homer-happy environment of Atlanta’s new ballpark (a 13-year-old Little Leaguer homered off the left field upper-deck facade in August), such thoughts were dashed as the Braves designated him for assignment almost as soon as the trade was announced, in effect putting the 14-year-veteran back on the trading block.
Gonzalez has collected 2,010 career hits, including 311 homers and 1,176 RBIs, with a slash line of .288/.359/.488 over 1,875 MLB games since he debuted with the Texas Rangers in 2004.  Along with his five All-Star picks, the San Diego native (who spent many years growing up in Tijuana along with brother Edgar, now in the Jalisco Charros front office) has won four Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards while being named Player of the Month once in each league and picking up eight Player of the Week designations.
There had been speculation in some quarters that Gonzalez might join his brother in Guadalajara and play for the Charros this winter, but that appears unlikely.

Tijuana’s Blanca Uribe first woman LMB Executive of the Year
The Mexican League Assembly of Presidents enjoyed a relatively quiet week at the annual Baseball Winter Meetings earlier this month in Orlando, and even made a little history in the process when Tijuana Toros’ deputy vice president Blanca Uribe became the first woman to receive Executive of the Year honors in the LMB’s 92-year history.  Uribe is the daughter of Toros owner Alberto Uribe and sister of team president Alejandro Uribe, and was recently promoted from a vice president’s position she’d held since 2014.
While her father and brother are more involved in the baseball end of the Toros, Blanca has served a more “heart-and-soul” role with the team, organizing several events and creating tie-ins involving charitable organizations along with other outreach efforts.  The Toros have become one of the Mexican League’s model franchises in just four years.  They won their first LMB pennant in September and their Academy Rookie League affiliate won that loop’s title.  The Toros’ Mexican Winter League club in Moroleon (shared with Leon) qualified for the LIM playoffs, but was swept by Oaxaca in the first round.  Mexico City then beat Oaxaca to win their third straight LIM flag.
Also at the Winter Meetings, the LMB confirmed their two 2018 short-season schedules.  The first season will run between March 22 and May 28 with three-tiered playoffs to follow in June.  After a June 29 All-Star Game scheduled for the perpetually-delayed Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City, the second season will open July 3 and end September 8 with another month-long playoff ending with an October 8 Championship Series Game Seven (if needed).  Each regular season will consist of 57 games, although the schedules will not be evenly balanced in games between divisions.
For the second Assembly of Presidents meeting in a row, LMB president Javier Salinas confiscated all cell phones from participants to prevent leaks to the media.  The move worked, as no mention was made of either the Rookiegate imbroglio between the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and the Quintana Roo Tigres or the volatile ongoing ownership situation involving the Durango Generales.  Durango has been included as one of the 16 teams playing in 2018 but the question of whether embattled Generales owner Virgilio Ruiz can hang on to the team remains a mystery.

3,000 attend Liga Olmeca opening ceremony in CDMX
Mexico’s largest Little League organization held opening ceremonies for the 2017-18 season earlier this month at the Liga Olmeca complex in Mexico City.  An estimated 3,000 people were on hand as New York Yankees pitchers Luis Cessa and Giovanny Gallegos joined Lee Sigman (the Yanks’ Mexican scouting director) to help first-year Liga Olmeca president Carlos Fragoso welcome players and parents to another season of amateur baseball in the capital city.
Fragoso, an Obregon native who grew up with David Gonzalez (father of Edgar and Adrian) and works as an engineer for Siemens, himself has been a scout for both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox as well as a coach at the national level in Mexico.  According to Fragoso, there are about 900 youth baseball and softball players in Liga Olmeca while another 500-plus adults play softball at night for a total of nearly 1,500 ballplayers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

LMB wrestles with internal issues (again) at Winter Meetings

You have to hand it to Javier Salinas.  His transition to Mexican League president has gone smoothly enough that little appears to have changed with the circuit since former LMB leader Plinio Escalante stepped down at the conclusion of the 2017 season.  Evidence?  One year after Escalante and the Assembly of Presidents were dealing with a myriad of issues within the league at the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings, Salinas and his employers have gathered in Orlando this week for the current winter meetings with yet another myriad of problems sitting on their plates, many of them new but one polarizing item last year may be broached again this time.  This is what Salinas & Co. may or may not deal with in Florida this week:
*A wrestling match between the LMB and the Durango Generales franchise, a basket case under owner Virgilio Ruiz this year after the team relocated from Carmen last winter.  The LMB first announced that the Generales would take 2018 off to get their financial house in order, then reversed their position to state Durango WOULD play after all while new owners would be sought and now Ruiz has stated in no uncertain terms that the league does not have the right to revoke his franchise and that HE will operate the Generales next year.
*Quintana Roo Tigres owners Fernando Valenzuela and his wife Linda have reportedly been told by Salinas that their protest over five Tigres prospects on a master roster they were given before buying the Cancun team, only to have those prospects mysteriously pop up in the employ of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos after the February sale was completed.  Two of those prospects were sold last summer to the Texas Rangers for a combined US$2.7 million, money the cash-strapped Valenzuelas say should be theirs.  Unwilling to anger the league's richest owner, Alfredo Harp Helu, Salinas has in effect closed whatever investigation he conducted and told the Valenzuelas to move on, which they say they will: straight to Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Connor and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
*The Diablos are on the receiving end of another complaint, this time a lawsuit brought by former bullpen coach Braulio Neri, who was injured last spring in Leon when a light tower in hastily-readied Estadio Domingo Santana collapsed during the Bravos delayed home opener and caused Neri a knee injury.  A ten-year Diablos coach, Neri was fired by Mexico City GM Francisco Minjarez (who appears to be very involved with the Tigres-Diablos imbroglio) a month after his knee was operated on.
*Another lawsuit, this one from pitcher Sergio Mora, was filed against the Oaxaca Guerreros, who (like the Diablos) are owned by the billionaire Harp.  This grievance centers on payment for treatment Mora received after suffering an injury while playing for the Guerreros.  In what appears to be typical fashion, the team has not responded to past entreaties from Mora to pay bills incurred on their watch.  
*Finally, Monterrey Sultanes co-owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz, who sold half the team to the Grupo Multimedios corporation at the same time the Tigres sale went through last winter, is rattling sabers about bringing up the use of Mexican-American players in the LMB again.  Maiz carried his snit over losing the 2016 Northern Division championship series to a Tijuana team loaded with such players to the winter meetings last year and the issue threatened to split the league in two or cause the cancellation of the 2017 season altogether before O'Connor convened an emergency meeting in Houston and essentially read the owners the riot act, ruling that there would be no limit on the number of Mexican-American players, partly because a limit would violate Mexican labor laws.  Maiz, who runs Mexico's Little League organization and was a member of Monterrey's 1957 LL World Series title team, remained under wrap during the season but appears to be spoiling to pick his fight up where he left off.
Other than that, it should be business as usual for the LMB in Orlando, including the announcement of 2018's two schedules.  Then again, it may be "business as usual" that has caused these problems in the first place. Ojeda fired in Obregon, replaced by Juan Navarrete
With 15 games remaining in the Mexican Pacific League's regular season, former major league catcher Miguel Ojeda became the fourth manager in the eight-team loop to lose his job since play opened in mid-October.  Ojeda, who was hired last month to manage the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultanes next year, had managed Obregon to a last-place finish in the first half with a 13-22 record.  He had the Yaquis in fifth place with a second-half record of 6-8 when he was let go last Wednesday following a 4-2 loss to Mazatlan.
It's been an interesting past few months for Ojeda, who was hired by Obregon last January after the Yaquis missed the playoffs.  Since the conclusion of the Mexican League regular season, when his Mexico City Diablos Rojos missed THAT league's postseason after his team was riddled by injuries while other longtime veterans showed their age and failed to deliver as expected, the Sonora native (who led the Red Devils to the 2014 pennant) was not re-hired for the 2018 season.  He then began his first year in Obregon with a roster that many Mexican baseball columnists say was poorly-assembled by the Yaquis front office during the offseason.  Entering this week's play, Obregon's offense is last in the LMP in batting (.243) and runs per game (3.25) while the pitching staff has been mediocre despite the strong work of starter David Reyes, who is 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA in ten starts.
Former star second baseman Juan Navarrete has replaced Ojeda in the Yaquis dugout.  A product of Gomez Palacio and former Expos farmhand, Navarrete hit .327 over 16 LMB seasons, collecting 2,396 hits and scoring 1,005 runs in 1,607 games (mostly for Saltillo) before retiring as a player following the 1990 season.  Navarrete was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1998.  Since his playing days ended, Navarrete has spent the past 20 years working for the Oakland Athletics, for whom he is currently their minor league coordinator.  As a manager, he led Tabasco to their lone Mexican League pennant in 1993 and was named the MexPac's Manager of the Year in 2014-15 while piloting the Jalisco Charros during their first winter in Guadalajara after moving east from Guasave.
Things have been going a little better in Mexicali, where new manager Pedro Mere (who replaced Roberto Vizcarra, who replaced Tony Tarasco in Jalisco) has the defending champion Aguilas in the lead with a 13-5 record, but Navojoa has won four in a row and nine of their past ten games to pull within one game of the leaders at 12-6.   The Mayos have been led by utilityman Randy Arozarena, a Cuban-born Cardinals minor leaguer who's hitting .299 with an LMP-best 12 homers while scoring 40 runs (also a league high) while Mexican League MVP 1B Jesse Castillo (.302/8/34) and 3B Jovan Rosa (.293/9/25) have also been prime contributors, but it's the Mayos' pitching staff that has really shone for combustible manager Willie Romero.  Navojoa leads the MexPac with a 2.96 team ERA, with knuckleballing vet Eddie Gamboa (5-0/2.72) leading a staff that should get an expected boost later this month from Red Sox hurler Hector Velazquez, last winter's Pitcher of the Year.
Speaking of the aforementioned Vizcarra, he hasn't had any more luck getting wins out of the Jalisco Charros than Tarasco did.  The front office is almost desperate to win the pennant so their team will represent Mexico in February's Caribbean Series (which the Charros will host), but Jalisco had lost seven of eight games before beating Los Mochis twice over the weekend to pull into a seventh-place tie with the Caneros at 6-12.  The Charros axed former MLB catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia last week after he hit just .189 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 27 games, going 1-for-14 over his final four games.  You can't blame second sacker Manny Rodriguez for Jalisco's poor showing, though.  The 35-year-old is hitting .340 with 9 homers and 47 ribbies, the latter ranking tops in the LMP.  Rodriguez has an outside shot at a Triple Crown and appears to be in the lead among potential MVP candidates.
LMP STANDINGS (as of 12/11/17)
Mexicali 13-5 (4.0), Navojoa 12-6 (4.5), Mazatlan 10-8 (6.0), Culiacan 9-9 (7.0), Hermosillo 8-10 (8.0), Obregon 8-10 (3.0), Los Mochis 6-12 (3.5), Jalisco 6-12 (5.0).
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .369, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 40, Homers-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 12, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 47, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 27.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 8, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.75, Strikeouts-Sergio Mitre (MXI) 52, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 15, Holds-Carlos Bustamante (NAV) and Edgar Gomez (MXI) 13, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.90.

Tijuana wins Academy Rookie League title
The Tijuana Toros claimed their second pennant of 2017 when their Academy Rookie League squad posted a 22-11-2 record to finish three games ahead of Veracruz-Leon, who came in second at 20-15 in the six-team circuit.  There will be no playoffs.
Under manager Jorge Luis Loredo (who is Monclova's helmsman during the LMB season), the Toros broke a two-year grip on the Academy League crown that Mexico City-Oaxaca had held, with the Diablos-Guerreros coming in fourth at 17-16-2, one game behind third-place Yucatan-Laguna, who went 18-15-2 (games are allowed to end in ties).  Quintana Roo's rookie team ended up in fifth with a 14-18-3 mark while Monterrey brought up the rear at 9-25-1.
Tijuana was led by the 1-2 pitching punch of youngsters.  Fernando Gallegos went 5-2 and struck out 37 batters while walking 6, somehow losing twice despite a 1.38 ERA.  Fernando Olguin was a perfect 6-0 with a not-as-otherworldly 2.87 ERA.  The Toros had four .300+ batters in their everyday lineup: Martin Gonzalez (.333), Victor Navarro (.331), Alejandro Gutierrez (.330) and Oscar Romero (.324).
However, it was Tigres rookie Efren Nieves who was selected Most Valuable Player.  Nieves batted .354 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 35 game with a .468 OBP aided by 26 walks in 158 plate appearances.