Monday, August 13, 2018


New Oaxaca manager Sergio Gastelum 
The Joe Alvarez Era in Oaxaca is over after 30 games.  After some early success in the Mexican League's Fall season, winning eight of their first 12 games and brief ownership of first place in the LMB South standings, the Guerreros lost 12 of their next 18 games before Alvarez was shown the door last Tuesday with a 14-16 record and the usual platitudes from the people firing him.  "The Cuban-born Alvarez achieved the necessary harmony in the dressing room and field of play," a Guerreros press release said, "but unfortunately, the results were not positive for the team.  We wish him a lot of success in his next project."

Alvarez was hired June 11 after former Mexico City Diablos Rojos star Jose Luis "Borrego" Sandoval piloted Oaxaca to a 22-35 record and last place in the South for the Spring season.  The 62-year-old Alvarez has had some past success in the Liga, leading Puebla to the South championship in 2014 after replacing Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez during the season and piloting Durango to a .500 record over the first month of the 2017 season after the Generales were forced to play the first four weeks of the schedule on the road while belated renovations to their ballpark were being completed.  However, Alvarez was sacked in Durango after the Generales faded down the stretch amid player discontent stemming from late paychecks while top talent was traded away for cash so payroll could be met.

Prior to his June hiring in Oaxaca, the three-time pennant-winning manager during his stint in the Dodgers system was preparing for his first winter managing the Mazatlan Venados, where Alvarez will return to another situation in which ballpark renovations are falling behind as the clock ticks toward a season opener.  Alvarez will be replaced in the Guerreros dugout by former second baseman Sergio Gastelum, a 39-year-old Sonoran who retired as a player last winter after compiling a .310 batting average with 82 homers and 1,054 runs scored in 22 seasons, the first 12 with the Tigres while they were located in Mexico City and then Puebla.

The Guerreros lost their first six games under Gastelum to see their losing streak drop to nine while sinking deeper in the standings with a 14-22 record, one game ahead of last-place Quintana Roo (13-23).  Defending champion Yucatan has won four straight, including a three-game weekend home sweep of Oaxaca, to pull into a virtual tie with Leon at the top of the LMB South standings.  The 19-15 Bravos are .003 percentage points ahead of the 20-16 Leones, half a game ahead of 19-16 Puebla and one-and-a-half games up on 18-17 Mexico City.  In the LMB North, Monclova (27-9) has won eight of their last ten games to maintain a six-game lead over Dos Laredos (21-15), who have played well since Felix Fermin assumed the reins from former manager Eddie Castro in May near the end of the Spring season.  Tijuana (20-15), Monterrey (20-16) and Aguascalientes (18-17) round out the top five teams in the North with Saltillo, Durango and Union Laguna fading out of playoff contention with three weeks left in the abbreviated regular season.

Former Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera has taken over the batting lead, with the Yucatan infielder posting a .423 average to lead teammate Leo Heras (.422) and Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt (.401) at the top of the table.  Saltillo outfielder Leandro Castro belted three solo homers last week to bring his season roundtripper total to 12, one ahead of Monterrey's Felix Perez and two up of Francisco Peguero of Monclova.  Perez was sent to the Sultanes along with pitcher Gabe Aguilar by Aguascalientes in a five-player trade last Tuesday that netted the Rieleros first sacker Ricky Alvarez, outfielder Francisco Lugo and pitcher Nestor Molina.   Puebla outfielder Delmon Young continues to lead the Liga in RBIs with 43 over 35 games.  The ex-MLBer had no ribbies in a weekend series in Quintana Roo after driving in five runs in three midweek games at Yucatan.  Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana stole two bases last week to bring his season total to a Liga-leading 19, five more than Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis.

Leon pitcher Rogelio Martinez won at Tabasco last Saturday in his only start of the week and while the three earned Olmecas runs he allowed brought his ERA up from 1.21 to 1.63, he still leads the LMB in that category.  After going 5-13 with an ERA above 5 over six previous seasons for four teams, the 26-year from Jalisco is having a breakout season for the Bravos and a big reason they occupy first place.  Another breakout year is coming from Mexico City righty Patrick Johnson, who beat Campeche for the second time in seven days last Friday to run his season record to 6-0 in seven starts and 9-0 since coming to the Diablos from Oaxaca during the Spring season.  The former University of North Carolina hurler was 2-3 for the Guerreros before being dealt to Mexico City on May 4 but hasn't lost since.  Puebla's Enrique Oquendo struck out three Yucatan batsmen over 1.1 innings last Wednesday before being pulled (he allowed five walks and a hit in that start, a no-decision) to bring his season whiff total to 43, still tops in the loop.  Monclova's Josh Lueke and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey each earned a save last week and both now have 10 for the season to tie for most in the LMB.

There'll be a big midweek series in Leon starting Tuesday when the Bravos host Yucatan in a three-game battle between the top two teams in the LMB South.  Next weekend's top series will likely be in Tijuana, when fifth-place Aguascalientes visits for a trio of games with the third-place Toros as two LMB North playoff contenders collide.


Texas Rangers minor league pitcher Damian Mendoza
In what may finally be the closing chapter of the ongoing Rookiegate situation, the Mexican League ha ordered the Mexico City Diablos Rojos to return the rights to five former prospects to Quintana Roo while also paying the Tigres money the Diablos had received from the sale of two of the young players who'd been property of the Cancun team before some reported sleight-of-hand during the February 2017 sale of the Tigres from former owner Carlos Peralta to ex-Dodgers Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela resulted in five prospects being moved from the Tigres' protected list to the Diablos.  The resulting scandal has been called "Rookiegate" and has reverberated throughout the LMB.

According to reporter Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, the Liga's Board of Directors (consisting of Monclova and Puebla owner Gerardo Benavides, Tijuana owner Alejandro Uribe, Eustacio Alvarez of Aguascalientes and Dos Laredos owner Jose Antonio Mansur unanimously declared the player transfers null and void, ordering the return to Quintana Roo of Fernando Villalobos, who was 14 at the time and protected from being transferred to another team, while compensating the Tigres for the sale of their former prospects Luis Fernando Medina, Damian Mendoza, Oliver Zepeda and Hansen Lopez to Major League Baseball organizations.  Medina was already in the Braves organization at the time of the sale while Zepeda was an infielder in the Blue Jays system, Mendoza was sold to the Texas Rangers for a reported US$1.2 million while Villalobos is said to have sold himself to the same organization for US$1.5 million.  The Mexican rights to all five will revert to Quintana Roo and while the Diablos will have to pay the US$1.2 they received from the Rangers for Mendoza, compensation for Villalobos may be tricky since the young catcher was not signed legally.

In fact, the whole Rookiegate affair is murky, depicted by current Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez (who came to Mexico City from Cancun almost immediately after the Tigres were sold, as a "gentleman's agreement" between former Quintana Roo team president Chto Rodriguez and ex-Diablos president Roberto Mansur in which the Diablos supposedly had room on their master roster for the prospects while the Tigres didn't.  Minjarez was suspended by the Liga for his role while both Rodriguez and Mansur are both out of baseball.  An interesting note is that Dos Laredos president Jose Antonio Mansur in essence voted against his brother as an LMB director.

The imbroglio was denounced loudly and often by Valenzuela and his wife, Linda Burgos, who both claimed to have seen the five prospects' names on a list of players whose rights were owned by the Tigres while the sale was being negotiated.  Reports were that if the Liga did not do something to rectify the matter to the Valenzuelas' satisfaction, the Tigres might have gone back on the market.  Instead, it appears the sordid matter has been resolved (if not to everyone's satisfaction) and that the Tigres will be five players and at least US$1.2 million richer.


Rakuten Golden Eagles slugger Japhet Amador
Mexican slugger Japhet Amador of Nippon Professional Baseball's Rakuten Golden Eagles has been suspended for six months after testing positive for two banned substances, chlorthalidone and furosemide, on June 23 ten days after being tested following a game against the Chunichi Dragons in Sendai.  Both are on a list of prohibited drugs on the World Anti-Doping Agency (or WADA) website.  According to writer Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, Amador was given a chance to defend himself during a Pacific League meeting on June 30 and while he denied intentionally taking any banned substance, an NPB press release said he did not dispute the actual findings.  At Amador's request, the sample was tested again on August 1 but results came back the same.

The suspension means the hulking (6'4" and listed at 310 pounds) Amador will not be eligible to play again in Japan until next February, but concerns exist that Rakuten will not bring him back for 2019 and that his NPB career may be over due to the test results.  There was some speculation among Mexican baseball cognoscenti that the so-called "Giant of Mulege" may join the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (who own his LMB rights) for the stretch run of the current Fall regular season and playoffs, he'll more likely cool his heels until his Mexican Pacific League team, the Jalisco Charros, begin winterball play in October.  Where Amador goes after the MexPac season may be the larger question.

In a statement released by the Eagles front office, Amador is quoted as saying, "I have never committed an act of doping in my baseball life up to this point.  I have never intentionally taken any banned drugs.  I haven’t used stimulants or anything to increase muscle, or thought about using diuretics or masking agents. I’ve been given many doping tests in the past and they’ve all been negative.”

Amador had a .269 average in 62 games for Rakuten this season with 20 homers (tied for sixth in the league) and 42 RBIs.  Since joining the Eagles for the 2016 season, he's belted 52 homers in 222 NPB games, including 23 longballs in 2017.  After his Mexican League debut with Minatitlan as a 20-year-old in 2007, Amador hit .330 with with 167 homers over nine Liga seasons.  He had a monster year for Mexico City in 2015, batting .346 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games before sending another 14 balls to the street in 58 games for Jalisco in the LMP's 2015-16 season.  He hit .248 with six homers in 36 contests for the Charros last winter, but should be much more rested when the 2018-19 MexPac campaign opens.

Monday, August 6, 2018


Monclova outfielder Francisco Peguero
The surprising exit of new manager Carlos Garcia three weeks into the Mexican League's Fall 2018 season has done nothing to stem the Monclova Acereros' tide after former Tijuana skipper Pedro Mere took over the reigns of the team with the Steelers holding a 14-5 record at the time.  Since his arrival two weeks ago, Mere has piloted the Acereros to a 9-2 record (including a current five-game win streak), giving Monclova an MXL-best 23-7 overall record and a six-game lead over Tijuana and Dos Laredos in the North Division standings.

After opening a midweek series with a 4-3 loss at Monterrey last Tuesday, Monclova topped the Sultanes twice to win the set before moving to Tijuana for a weekend trio of games, sweeping Mere's former Toros squad.  The Acereros broke out out the brooms after a 7-3 win Sunday at Estadio Gasmart in a contest where the home team was leading 3-0 after Dustin Martin led off the bottom of the second inning with a homer and Xorge Carrillo doubled in Francisco Perez from third with the third run of the frame.  The TJ lead held until the Acereros began chipping away at it, starting with a Rudy Amador RBI single in the top of the fourth and Francisco Peguero's solo homer one inning later.  Back-to-back RBI singles from Cade Gotta and Erick Aybar in the top of the fifth gave Monclova a 4-3 lead.  The Acereros went up 7-3 in the top of the eighth, thanks in part to Gotta's run-scoring single, and Peguero closed the scoring for the night with his second solo bomb in the ninth off ex-Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen.  Wilmer Rios pitched five innings to earn the win for Monclova, raising his record to 2-0 in six starts although his ERA rose to 2.76 after Tijuana plated all three runs off Rios over 5.2 innings pitched.

The sweep at the hands of the Acereros was apparently enough for Toros management to fire the team's manager for the second time this season, as Lino Rivera was cut loose Monday.  Rivera was brought in between the Spring and Fall campaigns to replace Mere, who lost his job after Tijuana despite leading the Bulls to a 33-23 finish and a second-place finish before being ousted by Monterrey in the North finals.  Rivera gives way to former Padres infielder Oscar Robles, who spent a number of seasons playing for Tijuana before retiring after last season.  Robles, who has never managed before, was hired earlier this year to the top post next winter with the Obregon Yaquis.

Surprising Dos Laredos pulled into a tie with Tijuana for second in the LMB North, with both teams showing identical 17-13 records.  The Tecolotes dropped the first two games of their weekend road series in Monterrey before posting a 4-3 win over the Sultanes Sunday.  The loss vaulted the Tecos into their tie with the Toros while bumping Monterrey into fourth at 16-14.  First-year Tecos manager Felix Fermin, who managed the Sultanes through last summer before being replaced by Roberto Kelly in the offseason, has been given much credit for Dos Laredos' ascension in the North after a number of mediocre seasons in Veracruz as members of the South Division, but veteran catcher Juan Apodaca deserves some accolades as well.  A former Red Sox and Cubs farmhand, Apodaca was a highly-regarded backstop the past three seasons in Tijuana before being dealt to the Tecos in time for the Fall campaign after fellow catcher Xorge Carrillo joined the Toros from the Mets system.  Apodaca has justified Dos Laredos' faith by hitting .337 with six homers in 23 games thus far while contributing his usual solid play behind the plate.

Meanwhile, the LMB South has been the more competitive division this fall.  The Leon Bravos top the standings with a 17-11 record, two games ahead of defending champion Yucatan (16-14) and two-and-a-half games up on Mexico City and Puebla, both of whom have 15-14 marks.  Even last-place Quintana Roo, whose 9-21 register is the MXL's worst, is only six-and-a-half games out of fourth.  The Bravos clobbered Tabasco by a 12-2 count Sunday as Marco Jaime and Cedric Hunter combined for six hits and four RBIs while Israel Nunez socked a two-run homer off Olmecas starter Thomas Malgarejo in the fourth to help Leon starter Rogelio Martinez lift his record to 3-1 with an ERA of 1.23.  Melgarejo absorbed the loss in his first start to fall to 0-1 while his own ERA ballooned to 9.00 after five appearances.

None of the pending midweek series have the look of classics, although the most interesting one has the Yucatan Leones hosting Puebla in Merida, with both squads in playoff contention but only separated by a half-game in the LMB South standings.  The pickings may be even slimmer among next weekend's three-game sets, but the most intriguing may be in Saltillo, where the Saraperos host rivals Monterrey Friday through Sunday.  Once one of the MXL's flagship teams, Saltillo has struggled on and off the field ever since the Ley family (owners of Culiacan's Mexican Pacific League franchise) sold the club in 2013 after 14 seasons, including two pennants and four division titles.  Under current owner Rene Rodriguez, the Saraperos have missed the postseason the past three seasons but manager Len Pecota has the team at 15-14, a half-game behind the fourth-place Sultanes and very much in postseason contention for September.


Oaxaca Guerreros infielder Yuniesky Betancourt
During his 14 seasons in Major League Baseball between 2005 and 2013, Cuban expat Yuniesky Betancourt was a starting shortstop during stops in Seattle, Kansas City and Milwaukee, never an All-Star but a decent batter with occasional power (a .261 career average and 80 home runs, including three 13+ homer seasons) and a defensive player equally capable of spectacular and maddening play in the field and on the basepaths.

The 36-year-old Betancourt has had some success playing winterball with Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League since his 2012-13 debut with the Aguilas, helping the border team to a 2016-17 MexPac pennant and winning a Caribbean Series title in 2016 as a pickup with Mazatlan as the Venados won all seven games they played.  Curiously, Betancourt was left off the all-tournament team despite batting .438 with six runs and driving in eight more.  Betancourt has since moved around the infield, playing third and first base as well as shortstop and often hitting in the neighborhood of .300.

However, it's with his current Mexican League team in Oaxaca this year that Betancourt has excelled at the plate.  After hitting .367 with 11 homers for the Guerreros in the Spring and ranking among the MXL's top ten batters in both categories, Betancourt has caught fire in the Fall and now holds third place in the Liga batting derby with a .411 average.  He's ripped pitchers for a sizzling .538 mark over his last ten games, going 21-for-39 with 13 RBIs (including a 4-for-5 night with three ribbies last Thursday at home against Quintana Roo) to pace a Guerreros batting order hitting .303 as a team, fourth in the circuit, for manager Joe Alvarez.  A fellow Cubano, Alvarez has the perpetual also-rans in fifth place in the LMB South with a 14-16 record, a game-and-a-half behind Mexico City and Puebla, who are tied for third at 15-14.

Betancourt trails only Yucatan infielder Everth Cabrera (.441) and Campeche outfielder Asael Sanchez (.438) among Liga batsmen while Quintana Roo third baseman Brian Hernandez rounding out a quartet of .400 hitters as the former Angels minor leaguer has a .402 average.  Yet another Cuban product, Aguascalientes first baseman and onetime Reds farmhand Felix Perez, leads the circuit with ten homers after knocking out five longballs in six games for the Rieleros between July 28 and August 3.  Former MLB outfielder Delmon Young knocked in six runs for Puebla during a midweek home series against Yucatan to bring his season RBI total to 38, best in the MXL, and Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana swiped two bases last week to help the ex-Cub maintain his Liga swipes leadership with 17 to go along with a .342 average and 25 runs in 30 contests.

Monclova pitcher Andre de Rienzo continued his strong start to the Fall season by tossing five shutout innings at Monterrey last Thursday against a good Sultanes batting order.  Although the Brazilian did not earn the win, he did lower his LMB-leading ERA to 0.32 in six starts for the Acereros.  Mexico City right-hander Patrick Johnson has won his last four starts and five of six in the Fall schedule to take the victories lead with a 5-0 record.  The former Rockies/Pirates/Marlins minor leaguer has a perfect 8-0 record in 2018 since joining the Diablos Rojos from their little sisters in Oaxaca as part of a May 4 trade.  Puebla's Enrique Oquendo has put up consistent strikeout totals over his six starts (between 6 and 8 per outing) to head the whiff list at 40 over 32.1 innings of work.  Oquendo was 2-0 in 12 appearances for the Pericos as a reliever in the Spring season before being converted into a starter by Pericos manager Lorenzo Bundy for the Fall, under whom he's gone 2-1 with a 4-18 ERA.  Three closers are tied with nine saves to top the loop: Leon's Joe Colon, Josh Lueke of Monclova and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey.  A former Cleveland reliever, Colon has yet to allow an earned run for the Bravos in 13 outings since joining the team on July 5.  He's has been a major contributor to Leon's first-place position in the LMB South standings for manager Luis Carlos Rivera, a former Braves and Orioles pitcher who took over the team last summer and led them to a playoff berth.


Romulo Martinez (l) and Daniel Fernandez in Campeche
The Campeche Piratas fired manager Daniel Fernandez last Monday after the team got off to a 10-14 start to the Mexican League's Fall season, with six one-run losses among the 14 defeats.  While that was hardly the worst record in the MXL at the time (the Piratas were sixth in the LMB South), the team's board of directors were obviously galled after Campeche suffered a 23-4 loss at the hands of Puebla (completing a three-game sweep for the Pericos in the process) the day before Fernandez was given the axe.

A native of Cuidad Jose Cardel, Veracruz, the 52-year-old Fernandez is considered one of the top batters in Mexican League history.  During his LMB career, the former outfielder posted a .323 average over 26 seasons between 1983 and 2008 (all but one year spent with Mexico City) and his 2,648 total hits are tied for fifth on the all-time list with Roberto Vizcarra, a longtime infielder who later managed Quintana Roo to the 2014 MXL pennant and currently is dugout boss of the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros.

Fernandez had initial success as manager in Mexico City, leading the Diablos to a 66-39 record and the Liga pennant in 2008, his first year at the helm.  He was sacked as Red Devils skipper one year later despite taking the Diablos to an LMB-best 70-35 mark before falling to the Laguna Vaqueros in the first round of the playoffs.  He was 5-16 over a short 2010 stint in Tabasco and went 54-49 in 2011 as the Veracruz manager before taking the Rojos del Aguila to the pennant with playoff wins over Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Aguascalientes, going 12-6 over the three series.  For whatever reason, that wasn't enough to keep his job in the port city and Fernandez went on to manage partial seasons in 2013 for Yucatan and 2016 for Laguna before being hired to run the Piratas this year.  Campeche finished seventh in the LMB South during the spring with a 22-34 record.

Romulo Martinez, who had served as Fernandez' batting coach in Campeche, was named interim manager for the team.  Upon his promotion, Martinez was quoted as saying, "What ended it was the three defeats in Puebla.  It killed us emotionally, but from now on I will speak with all the players and start from scratch.  I'm confident that we'll move forward."  A 51-year-old product of La Guaira, Venezuela, Martinez had the Piratas batting .300 as a team (fourth in the MXL) prior to his ascension to the manager's post.  He's also managed in Mexican Pacific League with Los Mochis on an interim basis when Luis Sojo went to a World Cup, and has also led teams in the Italian Baseball League for ten seasons.

In Martinez' first week as Piratas skipper, Campeche lost two of three games in a midweek series at Leon before being swept in a three-game weekend set at Mexico City. A permanent manager in Campeche is expected to be announced but no timeframe has been publicly discussed.

Monday, July 30, 2018


Quintana Roo second baseman Manny Rodriguez
The Mexican League's Fall 2018 season has been anything but triumphant for the Quintana Roo Tigres thus far.  With a 6-18 record, the Cancun squad currently occupies the LMB South basement with the worst record in the circuit after a surprise Spring showing that included a playoff appearance and stretching eventual champion Yucatan to seven games in their first-round series.  Their slow start cost former manager Tim Johnson his job, with Hector Hurtado taking over the helm on July 22.

The gloom and doom was broken, however briefly, by a three-homer night for Quintana Roo second baseman Manny Rodriguez last Tuesday in an 11-3 Tigres win over Leon at Cancun's Estadio Beto Avila.  Rodriguez socked longballs in three consecutive innings, going deep against Bravos starter Dustin Crenshaw with a solo shot in the fourth frame, followed by a two-run bomb off Crenshaw in the fifth and another solo blast in the sixth against Leon reliever Edwin Quirarte.  It marks at least the second time the four-time All-Star has hit three homers in a single game, having turned the trick in 2014 en route to a career-best 28 homers when he was with the Saltillo Saraperos.

This has been a turbulent season for the 36-year-old Guasave native, who left the Monclova Acereros during the Spring season, citing internal problems on the team.  After cooling his heels for more than two weeks in California, Rodriguez was assigned from the Acereros' reserve list to Quintana Roo on April 26.  After having hit .308 with a homer and 16 RBIs in 15 games for Monclova, he only hit .219 over the remaining 26 games of the regular season for the Tigres, although he did rap four homers.  The second season is going better for Rodriguez, as he's showing a .333 average with seven homers and 21 ribbies in 26 games in what has to be shaping up to be a frustrating season for the proud veteran.

Despite that loss to Quintana Roo, things have gone much better for Leon, who now lead the LMB South with a 13-9 record despite losing two of three games in Yucatan over the weekend.  The Bravos sit a game-and-a-half ahead of streaking Puebla, winners of their past six games after series sweeps over Campeche at home and at Tabasco last week to lift their season mark to 12-11. Third place in the South is jointly held by Oaxaca and Yucatan at 12-12.  Monclova continues to lead the North with an MXL-best 18-6 register despite the unexpected departure of new manager Carlos Garcia and arrival of new skipper Pedro Mere, who was jettisoned by Tijuana between seasons (more on that below).  The Toros are tied with surprising Dos Laredos for second with identical 15-9 records, followed by Aguascalientes and defending North champ Monterrey, who share the fourth slot at 13-11.

Change continues at the top of the batting race list, with Campeche outfielder Asael Sanchez becoming the latest LMB leader with a .442 average, one point ahead of Yucatan infielder Everth Cabrera.  A 31-year-old Nicaraguan who played 300 games for San Diego between 2012 and 2014, Cabrera is having a good 2018 for the Leones after hitting .330 in 29 games for the Spring pennant-winners after landing in Merida following an April 24 swap with Union Laguna.  Monclova's Cesar Tapia rapped a homer against Tijuana Sunday to take the Liga lead with eight homers, breaking a tie with Quintana Roo's Rodriguez, Felix Perez of Aguascalientes and Laguna's Viosergy Rosa, who joined the Algodoneros a month into the Spring season after being selected a 2017 postseason All-Star in the AA Texas League for the Athletics' Midland affiliate.  The RBI leader is Delmon Young, a one-time American League Championship Series MVP for Detroit in 2012, who's driven in 32 runs for Puebla in 23 games.  Ex-Cubs outfielder Tony Campana still leads in stolen bases with 15 swipes in 17 attempts.

Brazilian Andre Rienzo pitched five scoreless innings for Monclova against Tijuana Saturday to lower his LMB-leading ERA to 0.39.  A 12th-year pro who was selected for the 2015 AAA All-Star Game as a member of the Marlins' New Orleans affiliate, Rienzo has gone 2-0 in five starts since joining the Acereros as a free agent on July 3.  Three pitchers have four wins apiece to top the MXL: Mexico City's Patrick Johnson, Carlos Chavez of Aguascalientes and Dos Laredos hurler Alex Sanabia, who was loaned to the Tecolotes by Tijuana last Friday, perhaps as part of the transaction that sent recalcitrant shortstop Amadeo Zazueta to the Toros after Zazueta refused to report to Nuevo Laredo.  Enrique Oquendo's 34 strikeouts are six ahead of the Rieleros' Chavez in the strikeout race while Josh Lueke of Monclova and Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo are tied for the lead in saves with eight apiece.

Monclova will open a series at Monterrey Tuesday in a midweek series pitting two of the top teams in the LMB North.  The Sultanes will remain at home in Estadio Monterrey for an important weekend series against surprising Dos Laredo, who've risen to contention in the North with a 15-9 record under new manager Felix Fermin.


New Monclova Acereros manager Pedro Mere
When former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Carlos Garcia was appointed to replace Dan Firova as manager in Monclova for the Acereros' Fall season, owner Gerardo Benavides' thinking may have been that the 1994 National League All-Star would somehow translate his own playing success into Monclova's first-ever Mexican League pennant.  The early returns under Garcia were certainly promising enough, as the Steelers won 14 of 19 games out the gate to take the lead in the LMB North standings with the best record in the Liga at that time.  Then he was gone.

The Acereros front office issued a press release last Thursday stating that the 50-year-old Garcia had left the club for personal reasons, but offered no specifics, only the usual platitudes including "appreciation of your support and professionalism and best wishes in you next project" that seem to pop up whenever a Mexican baseball manager is let go.  Following his 2001 retirement as a player from a career during which he hit .266 with 33 homers over ten MLB seasons (including a .277 average during his 1994 All-Star campaign), Garcia held a number of coaching and managing jobs over the years, serving as a coach with the Seattle Mariners between 2003 and 2005 under helmsman Bob Melvin and managing in the Pirates system between 2011 and 2014.  He had been hired as a batting coach for the Acereros under Firova prior to the Spring 2018 season.

Garcia's replacement in Monclova is Pedro Mere, who was fired in Tijuana following the Spring season after the Toros finished second in the LMB North with a 33-23 record before falling to Monterrey in the division playoff finals.  Mere led the Bulls to their first pennant last summer for his first full year in the border city's managerial chair after taking Tijuana to the Serie del Rey in 2016, having taken over the reins of the team in June of that year.  His overall record with the Toros was 132-68, a winning percentage of .660.  Mere also managed the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila for parts of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, going 28-24.  He succeeded Orlando Merced during the 2012 season and piloted the Eagle Reds, a team first formed in 1903, to the city's sixth and final MXL pennant before the franchise was moved to Nuevo Laredo last winter.

Prior to his ascension to the bench boss job in Tijuana last year, Mere had a remarkable winterball run managing the Las Tuxtlas Brujos of the now-disbanded Veracruz Winter League, winning six pennants in seven seasons between 2008-09 and 2014-15, winning the 2013 Latin American Series in Veracruz as well.  A native Veracruzano himself who turned 48 on July 15, Mere spent 22 summers as an infielder for seven Mexican League teams between 1989 and  2009, batting .280 with 179 homers over 2,119 games. 


Mexico's National Baseball Team split their final four games at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia to conclude an underwhelming performance in a tournament for which they'd been expected to contend for a gold medal.  Some of the resulting fallout has included questions of whether most Mexican League teams had withheld their top players while sending relative roster flotsam-and-jetsam instead.

After starting out by dropping two of their first three games to quickly drop down the standings for the eight-nation field, the Verdes Grande fell to 2-4 by losing a 7-1 decision to Puerto Rico last Wednesday at Estadio Edgar Renteria.  Luis Juarez went 2-for-4 and scored Mexico's only run in the second inning to give them an early lead while Jose Alvarez added a pair of hits, but the Puerto Ricans took the lead with three runs off Mexican starting pitcher Jesus Soto in the bottom of the third and added three more in the fifth to essentially salt the game away.  Soto took the loss, giving up six runs in four innings of work.

Mexico then suffered a surprising 5-2 loss Wednesday to Panama, a country whose baseball has not been considered strong enough to send a team to the Caribbean Series for decades.  Sebastian Valle singled and doubled to join Alvarez and Paul Leon as Mexican batsmen with two hits, but the Panamanians broke a 2-2 tie with three runs in the top of the seventh against starter Javier Solano and two relievers and went on to post the win.  Solano gave up four runs on seven hits over 6.1 frames for the loss as the only fully-professional baseball team in Colombia saw their record bottom out at 1-4.

Manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' men finally gained a measure of success by winning their final two games, starting Friday with a 3-0 shutout of Venezuela.  Jose Samayoa went seven strong innings, striking out nine batters and walking two, to post the combined three-hitter with Aaron Kurcz, who pitched hitless ball over the final two entradas.  Juarez paced the winner with a double and a pair of singles, scoring one run and driving in another.

The Mexicans wrapped up their schedule Sunday with a 3-2 win over the Dominican Republic.  Leo Heras keyed the winners' seven-hit attack with a double and two singles, scoring twice.  Jesus Soto started his second game and had a better outing, allowing two runs on six hits over 4.1 innings, but the win went to Octavio Acosta, who let up just one single in 3.1 frames of work out of the bullpen. 

Puerto Rico and Cuba both finished the round-robin tournament with identical 5-2 records, with the Boricuans awarded the gold medal by virtue of their 8-1 win over the Cubanos on July 22.  Both teams qualified for net year's Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.  Host Colombia came in at 4-3 to leapfrog over Caribbean Series nations Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to take the bronze medal.  Mexico finished tied for fourth with Venezuela, Panama and Nicaragua at 3-4 while the Dominicans brought up the rear with two wins in seven outings.

Recrimination of the Mexican contingent was swift back home, with fans and columnists criticizing both the Mexican League and president Javier Salinas for not ensuring that a top-notch team represented the country in Colombia.  One notable exception was the Yucatan Leones, who sent catcher Valle, outfielder Heras, designated hitter Juarez and pitchers Samayoa and Alejandro Soto, all starters for the defending MXL champions.  The Leones went 4-6 in their absence.

Monday, July 23, 2018


Tijuana Toros pitcher Hector Ambriz
The Tijuana Toros have reeled off eight consecutive wins (and 9 of their past 10 games) to pull into a dead heat with Monclova atop the Mexican League North Division standings.  The Toros overcame a 6-3 deficit to pull out a 7-6 home victory over former LMB South leader Oaxaca at Estadio Gasmart on Sunday.  The Toros scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to knot the contest up at 6-6 and finally took the lead one frame later when an errant pickoff attempt by Guerreros reliever Luis Vasquez allowed Isaac Rodriguez to streak in from third base with the eventual game-winning run.  Daniel Moskos then came in from the TJ bullpen and recorded a 1-2-3 ninth on nine pitches to seal the triumph and secure the Toros' second straight series sweep after new manager Lino Rivera's men took three games from visiting Puebla in a midweek series on the border.

While the Toros have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team thus far in the LMB's Fall season, the pitching staff has been solid, turning in a 3.04 ERA over Tijuana's 14-4 start to trail only North co-leader Monclova's 2.83 mark among the Liga's 16 teams.  It's been a true staff effort, as the highest-ranking Toros starterer among ERA leaders is 0-1 Hector Ambriz, a former MLBer who's 20th at 3.38 after three starts.  Former MLBer Tom Wilhelmsen leads the squad with five saves in eight outing, although his own 3.86 ERA is a bit higher than the rest of the team.  Wilhelmsen hasn't pitched since earning a save against Spring champ Yucatan in Merida on Sunday, July 15 after joining the team just before the opening of the MXL's second season, but is still listed on the Toros' active roster.  For his part, Moskos has been unscored upon in 10.1 innings over 11 appearances while fellow reliever Jesus Pirela has a 1.74 ERA out of the bullpen.  Centerfielder Justin Greene's .411 average is fifth in the league batting race and leftfielder Junior Lake, a newcomer who came from Leon in exchange for reliever Cesar Carrillo on July 10, is among the circuit's leaders with 16 runs over 16 games despite a .220 average.

Meanwhile, in the LMB South, Lake's former Bravos teammates have won six in a row to surge into the division lead with a 10-6 record, one game up on equally-surprising Campeche (10-8).  There'll be a guest story below on Leon's comeback win over Union Laguna Sunday, but skipper Luis Rivera's men moved up the ladder by virtue of home series sweeps over Durango and the Algodoneros last week while last Monday's leader Oaxaca fell to the mythical BBM curse by being swept in road sets at Monterrey and Tijuana after being our headline story (the pressure no doubt got to the Guerreros). 

The Bravos have shown a nice balance between batting and pitching thus far.  Centerfielder Eduardo Arredondo is batting .396 to rank eighth in the batting derby and Felix Pie, a former MLB outfielder, has a .317 average, but Leon is fourth (.296) in the MXL through a team effort at the plate.  Starter Dustin Crenshaw, who went from Laguna to Quintana Roo before arriving in Leon in March after being released by the Tigres, leads the mound staff with a 2.55 ERA to augment his 2-0 record.  Recent arrival Joe Colon, who pitched for Cleveland's 2016 American League champions, has yet to allow a run in eight outings and has four saves to show for it since coming to the Guanajuato team on July 5.

Quintana Roo third baseman Brian Hernandez leads the LMB with a .452 average, Monclova's Cesar Tapia is tops with seven homers after knocking out a longball Sunday against Campeche, Eric Aguilera of Union Laguna has 22 RBIs to lead Felix Perez (Aguascalientes) and Ricardo Serrano (Yucatan) by one and Perez' Rieleros mate Tony Campana heads the stolen bases list with ten.  Josh Lowey (Monclova) has been joined by Acereros reliever Carlos Fisher, Tiago da Silva (Durango) and Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey) as three-game winners.  Another Monclova hurler, Andre Rienzo, has an Liga-best 0.49 ERA in four starts, Puebla's Enrique Oquendo has the most strikeouts with 28 in 20.2 innings and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey has eight saves to top that list.

The biggest midweek series of the MXL will commence Tuesday when Monterrey (11-7) visits Monclova (14-4), followed by a big one between the Acereros and Tijuana (14-4) at Estadio Monclova next Friday through Sunday.


Bob Broughton is a Canadian expat now living in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.  Bob is a baseball nut who oversees the website, which is primarily devoted to NAIA college baseball but also has included stories on the Caribbean Series and his adopted Mexican League team, the Leon Bravos.  It's a good, lively site worth looking at.  The following is his writeup of Sunday's exciting 10-8 Bravos win over visiting Union Laguna in which Leon maintained first place in the LMB South:

Leon Bravos outfielder Felix Pie
The Bravos de León (10-6) defeated the Algodoneros (Cotton Farmers) de Unión Laguna (7-11) 10-8 at Estadio Domingo Santana in León on July 22. This was the Bravos' sixth straight win, and they are in first place in the South Division of the Mexican League.
The game was scoreless for the first three innings, with the Bravos getting a double play in the top of the third inning, and leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the third. The shutout ended with an RBI single by 3B Eudor Garcia in the top of the fourth, and his single loaded the bases with nobody out. Bravos starter RHP Eder Llamas struck out the next batter, and the following batter hit a ground ball that resulted in a force out at home. Llamas was relieved by RHP Marco Quevedo, and he was greeted by a grand slam home run by CF Jonathan Jones. The Algodoneros added another run in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by C Daniel Mercado. They led 6-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, and it looked like the Bravos' winning streak was coming to an end.

The Bravos ended the shutout in the bottom of the sixth when LF Felix Pie scored on a ground out by DH Julio Perez. The next batter, 3B Joe Munoz, hit an RBI single. Munoz was followed by C Israel Nunez, who hit a single (good dive into first base), putting runners on first and second. Algodoneros starter RHP Saul Castellanos was relieved by LHP Roman Pena, and Pena got out of the inning with two fly outs.

Pena was relieved by RHP Humberto Montiel in the bottom of the seventh, and all hell broke loose. 2B Niko Vasquez got it started by reaching on an error, then scored on a single by CF Cedric Hunter. Hunter stole second on a call that was reviewed, but the next batter, Pie, hit a home run, and the score was 6-4. Montiel was relieved by RHP Alejandro Chavarria (Indio, CA) without recording an out. Chavarria walked the first batter he faced, and the second one, Perez, reached on an error. Munoz bunted the runners to second and third, and Nunez hit a double to bring them home. The next batter, SS Marco Jaime (Phoenix, AZ), hit another double to score Nunez, and the Bravos led 7-6. Chavarria was relieved by RHP Jose Barajas, and the only out recorded by Chavarria was the bunt by Munoz. Barajas was greeted with an RBI double by 1B Eduardo Arredondo. Vasquez flied out for the second out of the inning, and Hunter hit a single for his second RBI of the inning. Barajas struck out Pie to end the inning, with the Bravos leading 10-6.
The Algodoneros got within striking distance in the top of the eighth with a two-run home run by Mercado. The Bravos responded by sending in LHP Marco Ramirez. He recorded two ground outs and a strikeout to end the inning. He started the top of the ninth with a ground out and a walk. Another ground out put a runner on second, and a passed ball put him on third. Another walk put the tying run on first, and the Bravos bullpen was busy. However, Garcia flied out to end the game.

RHP Ulises Lopez, who recorded the final out of the seventh and gave up the home run by Mercado, got the win. Chavarria got the loss. Nunez, the ninth hitter in the batting order, finished 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Arredondo finished 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI. For the Algodoneros, Garcia finished 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and three runs scored.
Jones (Vacaville, CA) played college ball at Long Beach State, was in the Blue Jays organization 2010-14. Garcia (El Paso, TX) was a JUCO All-American at El Paso CC, was a fourth round draft pick by the Mets in 2014. He was in the Mets organization through 2017. Castellanos (Jalostotitlan, Jalisco) was in the Dodgers organization 2015-2017. Pena (San Diego, CA) was drafted in the ninth round by the Indians in 2005, was in the Indians organization through 2010. Barajas (Las Vegas, NV) was in the Orioles organization 2008-10.
Pie (La Romana, Dominican Republic) played 425 Major League games, for the Cubs in 2007-08, the Orioles in 2009-11, and the Pirates in 2013. He had a career batting average of .246. Munoz (Hacienda Heights, CA) was drafted in the second round by the Diamondbacks in 2012, was in the Diamondbacks organization through 2016. Vasquez (Oxnard, CA) was drafted in the third round by the Cardinals in 2008, was in the Cardinals organization through 2012, then the Reds organization in 2012. Hunter (Decatur, GA) was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft by the Padres, played in six Major league games for the Padres in 2011, and 13 games for the Phillies in 2016. Lopez (Cananea, Sonora) played college ball at Central Oklahoma, played some independent league ball and played in Australia.
The third base umpire for the game was Luz Gordoa, the first female umpire in the Mexican League.


Mexico's Octavio Acosta pitching to Nicaraguan batter 
The Mexican National Team was expected to have a fairly easy go of things at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.  After all, manager Enrique "Che" Reyes had the only fully professional team in the baseball portion of the event (although Cuba typically sends teams of top "amateurs" to such tournaments) and it was thought they'd make short work of the eight-team field.

Instead, the Verdes Grande dropped their first two games before picking up a Sunday win to end the weekend at 1-2 with four games to play.  The Mexicans opened play last Friday with a 5-0 shutout loss to Cuba as veteran Lazaro Blanco combined with two relievers on a four-hitter.  Alan Espinoza had two of Mexico's hits with a single and double but starter Javier Solano was roughed up for all five Cuban runs on ten hits over 4.2 innings before being replaced by David Reyes as 2,500 looked on at Estadio Edgar Renteria.

Losing to Cuba can't be considered a shocker but Saturday's 9-1 defeat at the hands of host Colombia can.  Mexico actually had a 1-0 lead until the Colombians tied the score in the bottom of the fifth inning as starter Jose Samayoa was cruising along, but Samayoa and his teammates suffered a nightmarish sixth as Colombia posted five runs to take a 6-1 lead.  The home side plated another three tallies in the eighth on a bases-loaded single by Cristian Cano to put the game away for good.  Mexico's seven hits on the day were recorded by as many players, with Alberto Carreon and Luis Juarez each rapping doubles, but Sebastian Valle's RBI single in the top of the fourth brought in the only Mexican run of the night as 10,000 mostly-Colombian spectators were sent home happy.

Mexico finally broke into the win column Sunday by topping Nicaragua, 5-0, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first and never looking back.  Amadeo Zazueta and Jose Alvarez both singled and doubled for the winners while Ricardo Rodriguez had two singletons, but it was Octavio Acosta's solid 5.1 innings on the mound that set the tone for what ended up as a three-hitter shared among Acosta (who got the win) and three relievers.  After Saturday's great crowd, only 800 hearty souls showed up for this one in Barranquilla. 

Mexico's four remaining round-robin games will come Tuesday against Puerto Rico, Wednesday against Panama, Friday against Venezuela and Sunday against the Dominican Republic.  Puerto Rico has a 2-0 record, including an unexpected 8-1 win over Cuba, to lead the standings along with 2-0 Colombia, who preceded their win over Mexico with a 3-1 triumph over Nicaragua. 

There was a controversy before the tournament when two-time Mexican League MVP Jesse Castillo was dropped from the Mexican roster without explanation.  Initially it was thought that Castillo's LMB team in Monclova refused to allow him to make the trip to Colombia, but Castillo himself said that was not the case and all but dared Liga president Javier Salinas to give the real reason why.  Castillo was suspected by some to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but that contention has not as yet been proven.