Monday, August 21, 2017

Toros eliminate Aguascalientes; division championships next

Tijuana outfielder Dustin Martin
Dustin Martin singled in Chris Valencia with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning and closer Jason Urquidez held Aguascalientes scoreless in the ninth, striking out the final two Rieleros batsmen, as the Tijuana Toros scored a 4-3 comeback win over the Railroaders Sunday night in front of 17,608 fans in the border city.

The victory gives the Toros a 4-games-to-2 first round playoff series win over Aguascalientes and a ticket to the Mexican League North Division championship series against Monterrey.  Yucatan and defending champs Puebla will square off in the LMB South championship set.  Both series will open Thursday night.

TIJUANA 4-10-1, Aguascalientes 3-8-1
W-Sandoval (1-0).  L-Merritt (0-1).  Sv-Urquidez (3).  A-17,608.  T-3:02.

Aguascalientes took an early 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first and second innings against Toros starter Miguel Pena.  Richy Pedroza lined a one-out single to right field in the opening frame and came all the in from first one out later when longtime vet (and former Rieleros player-manager) Saul Soto rapped a double to left to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage.  In the second, Eliezer Ortiz drew a two-out walk off Pena but, with Dave Sappelt batting, appeared to be picked off for the third out.  However, a throwing error by TJ first baseman Jorge Cantu during the ensuing pickle allowed Ortiz to take second.  Sappelt then punched a single through the left side of the infield to bring Ortiz home.

The Toros tied the game at 2-2 by posting single runs of their own in the third and fourth innings.  With Dustin Martin occupying first base, Isaac Rodriguez tapped a double-play grounder to Rieleros starter Yohan Flande, who threw to Pedroza covering second for the first out but Pedroza's relay to Jesse Castillo was off the mark and allowed Rodriguez to scamper to second.  Jose Guadalupe Chavez, who had a great series at the plate, then drove Rodriguez with a single up the middle.  Chavez went 14-of-24 (.583) at the plate over the six-game set, scoring six runs and driving in seven more.  Tijuana's second run came a bit more directly when Corey Brown lofted a solo homer to right off Flande to even the score.

Aguascalientes regained the lead in the sixth on a Carlos Rodriguez solo homer after Pena had opened the inning by whiffing Jose Vargas and Cristhian Presichi, but the contest was knotted back up at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh when Alex Liddi lined a leadoff homer to left off Rieleros reliever Roy Merritt, a Southern University alum who'd pitched 6.1 solid innings against the Toros in a start four nights earlier.  Liddi displayed a couple of shimmy-shake moves while circling the bases that won't bring him an invite to "Dancing With the Stars" but delighted the Tijuana fans regardless.  Merritt was pulled just before Liddi's next plate appearance in the eighth, but the Texan hurler may file Liddi's trip around the bags in his memory banks for next season.

The game-winning run came in the bottom of the eighth when Cyle Hankerd led off the inning by drilling a double to center.  Valencia was brought in as a pinch-runner to replace Hankerd while Alfredo Amezaga was sent up to the plate as a pinch-hitter for former Florida Marlins teammate Cantu and laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Valencia to third.  Merritt then intentionally walked Juan Apodaca to pitch to Martin, a dangerous hitter but only going 2-for-21 in the series when he strode to the plate.  The strategy failed, as Martin lined a single to left, scoring Valencia from third to put the Toros up by a 4-3 count.  Urquidez then came on in the ninth and after allowing a single by pinch-hitter Edson Garcia, got both Sappelt and Pedroza looking to end the game and series, collecting his third save in Tijuana's four wins in the process.

Chavez finished with a 3-for-4 night at the plate while Hankerd had two hits for the winners.  Aguascalientes, who'd overachieved all season with a dollar-store roster cobbled together by manager Homar Rojas, got two hits apiece from Pedroza and Julian Castro but the Rieleros were unable to overcome the Brown and Liddi homers as well as their own defensive miscues along the way.  Pena went 5.2 innings on the mound for Tijuana, allowing three runs on seven hits, but the win went to reliever Juan Sandoval, who tossed a scoreless eighth before Martin's heroics made him the pitcher of record.  Merritt took the defeat for Aguascalientes after giving up two runs in 2.1 frames out of the bullpen.  Urquidez earned a save in all three of his appearances for the Toros, allowing only Garcia's single and one walk while striking out eight Rieleros in 3.1 innings of work.

Manager Pedro Mere's Toros will now face the Monterrey Sultanes in a rematch of last season's LMB North championship series.  That set, won by Tijuana, lit a match under Monterrey owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz over the Toros' use of Mexican-American players that became a full-blown schism in the offseason.  With Maiz now in the background after selling half the team to the Grupo Multimedios in February, the level of volatility should be ratcheted down a notch but in the Mexican League, one never knows for sure.  We'll all find out starting Thursday.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Yucatan holds off Leon to reach South finals; TJ up 3 to 2

Diego Madero's two-run homer highlighted Yucatan's three-run eighth inning as the Leones outlasted the Leon Bravos, 5-4, Friday night in Leon to complete a four-game sweep in their Mexican League South Division semifinal playoff series.  Yucatan advances to play defending champion Puebla in the LMB South championship series.  The Pericos needed just four games to eliminte Quintana Roo in the first round.

In the LMB North semifinals, the Tijuana Toros pulled away from the Aguascalientes Rieleros, 11-4, Friday in Aguascalientes to take a 3-games-to-2 lead in that set.  The visitors kept the basepaths busy with eleven hits while drawing eight walks from Rieleros pitchers as leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez reached base four times, scored twice and drove in three runs.  The winner of this series will meet Monterrey in the LMB North finals.  The Sultanes swept Monclova earlier this week.

There'll be no action Saturday as the Toros and Rieleros travel to Tijuana for Sunday's Game Six.

Yucatan 5-7-0, LEON 4-14-3
W-Barraza (1-0).  L-W. Silva (0-1).  Sv-Belisario (2).  A-6,894.  T-3:15.
A pitcher's duel between veteran hurlers Jonathan Castellanos of Yucatan and Leon's Walter Silva through seven innings ended with both teams combining for seven runs over the final two entradas as Yucatan held off Leon, 5-4, in front of a season-high crowd of 6,894 in Leon.  Leon took a 1-0 lead in the third when Junior Lake doubled in Eduardo Arredondo from second, but Yucatan tied it up in the fifth after leadoff hitter Jose Aguilar reached base on a fielding error by Bravos third baseman Miguel Terrero and eventually scored on a bloop single by Leo Heras.  The score remained knotted at 1-1 until the top of the eighth, when Ivan Araujo singled one out before Madero took Silva deep with a line-drive homer to left for Yucatan.  Ricky Alvarez later doubled in Juan Francisco off reliever Fredy Quintero to give the visitors a 4-1 lead.  Leon scored twice in the eighth on RBI singles by Torrero and Brandon Macias, but Yucatan went up 5-3 in the ninth when Sebastian Valle scored on a Gerardo Sanchez wild pitch to Heras.  Niko Vasquez doubled in Dan Johnson in the bottom of the ninth to bring Leon to within a run, but Yucatan closer Ronald Belisario got the final two outs for the save and win.  The Bravos actually outhit the Leones, 14-to-7, but only hit 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men stranded on base.

Tijuana 11-11-0, AGUASCALIENTES 4-9-1
W-Mitre (1-0).  L-L. Castro (0-2).  A-6,645.  T-3:43.
The top four batters in the Tijuana order combined for eight hits, four runs and nine RBIs as the visiting Toros broke a 4-4 tie with a single run in the top of the fourth and pulled away from Aguascalientes, 11-4, Friday in Aguascalientes.  Leadoff hitter Jose Guadalupe Chavez was the primary pest for TJ, going 2-for-4 with a pair of walks, scoring twice and driving in three more runs.  Roberto Lopez scored the eventual game-winning run for Tijuana in the top of the fourth when he reached base on a fielder's choice grounder to Rieleros pitcher Linder Castro, advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Carlos Rodriguez and came in when Corey Brown's grounder found its way to left field.  The Toros then scored twice in the sixth and four times in the seventh (with Lopez punching a two-run double) to put the game away.  Former Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre replaced starter Carlos Hernandez in the third inning and tossed four innings of one-hit shutout ball for the TJ win.  Castro, who relieved Rieleros starter Francisco del Rosario in the third, gave up a pair of runs in 2.2 innings to take the loss.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Sultanes, Pericos advance; Rieleros tie series with Toros

Monterrey IF Agustin Murillo, during his 2015 stay in Japan
The Monterrey Sultanes and Puebla Pericos completed four-game sweeps of their respective Mexican League division semifinal playoff series Thursday night, the Yucatan Leones took the lead after Game Three of their tilt following Wednesday's rainout in Leon and the fourth-seed Aguascalientes Rieleros tied their series with LMB North champion Tijuana with a big win at home in Estadio Alberto Romo Chavez.

Agustin Murillo's two run single in the sixth inning paced Monterrey's 6-3 series-clinching win in Monclova as the Sultanes advanced to the LMB North championship series, Andres Meza and three relievers combined to blank Quintana Roo, 2-0, as the Pericos scored twice in the ninth to break up a scoreless contest in Cancun, Jose Aguilar's two-run homer highlighted a three-run second in Yucatan's 5-1 win at Leon to take a 3-to-0 lead in that set and a two-run Jose Vargas double was the centerpiece of Aguascalientes' go-ahead, three-run sixth in a series-knotting 3-2 win over the Toros.

With two opening-round series concluded, two games are on the schedule Friday night as Yucatan plays at Leon while Tijuana concludes their three-game visit to Aguascalientes.

Monterrey 6-12-0, MONCLOVA 3-7-0
W-J. Reyes (1-0).  L-M. Lara (0-1).  Sv-Obispo (2).  A-8,500.  T-3:25.
The Sultanes and Acereros were in a 1-1 deadlock until the top of the sixth inning, when Monterrey scored three times to take the lead for good en route to a 6-3 win.  Walter Ibarra singled in Jesus Montero in the second to give the visitors the first run of the game, but Monclova tied it up in the fourth when Carlos Quentin came in from third on Tim Torres' two-out safety.  Veteran infielder Agustin Murillo broke the game open with a two-run single up the middle in the top of the sixth for Monterrey, with Ibarra adding another run-scoring single to post the Sultanes a 4-1 advantage.  The Acereros made it a one-run game in the bottom of the frame when Jose Amador's tripled plated one score and a Torres single brought in another, but that's as close as Monclova got.  Daniel Mayora had two singles and a double to drive in two runs and score another for Monterrey, who completed a four-game sweep.  Jorge Reyes gave up three runs in 5.2 innings for the win.  Mauricio Lara (5.2 IP, 4 ER) took the loss for the Acereros.

AGUASCALIENTES 3-7-2, Tijuana 2-6-1
W-Romero (1-0).  L-M. Serrano (0-1).  Sv-E. Salas (1).  A-5,899.  T-3:02.
The surprising Rieleros, who lost 7 of 9 games to Tijuana during the regular season (including two series sweeps), evened up their division semi set with the Toros with a 3-2 Game Four win at home.  Starters Horacio Ramirez of Tijuana and Aguascalientes' Francisco Moreno traded zeros through four innings before the Toros' Jose Guadalupe Chavez singled in Juan Apodaca with the game's first run in the top of the fifth.  The Railroaders took the lead in the sixth when Jose Vargas' double brought in two runs and a Cristhian Presichi single scored Vargas from second, giving the hosts a 3-1 lead.  Cyle Hankerd's two-out solo homer in the eighth brought Tijuana within a run.  The Toros had two runners on base in the ninth with one down when Roberto Lopez belted what looked to be a sure homer until Dave Sappelt made a leaping catch at the right field wall for the second out.  Edwin Salas then got Oscar Robles to hit a game-ending groundout to second.  Presichi singled twice to lead the Rieleros' seven-hit attack while Apodaca and Corey Brown both hit two singles for Tijuana.  Moreno gave up one run in five innings to earn the win.

Puebla 2-10-0, QUINTANA ROO 0-8-2
W-J. Felix (1-0).  L-Barron (0-1).  Sv-Heath (2).  A-5,306.  T-3:07.
The Pericos closed out their sweep of the Tigres with a 2-0 Game Four shutout during which Puebla starter Andres Meza blanked Quintana Roo on six hits over 5.1 innings and relievers Mario Morales, Julio Felix and Deunte Heath carried the whitewash to its conclusion.  For his part, Tigres hurler Misael Siverio threw six scoreless innings, allowing six hits.  The scorer was unbothered until the top of the ninth, when Puebla's Hector Garanzuay singled in the game's first run and Cesar Tapia came in from third on Sergio Perez' fielder's choice groundout to Tigres reliever Raul Barron.  Heath retired the hosts in order with two strikeouts on 19 pitches to seal the win for the Pericos.  The series sweep serves as delicious irony for Puebla fans who saw 20+ members of their 2016 pennant winners transferred to Monclova in the offseason after owner Gerardo Benavides bought the Acereros, who were founded in 1974 by Benavides' grandfather.  The loaded Steelers ended up getting swept by Monterrey while manager Tim Johnson's scrappy Pericos move on to the LMB South title series.

Yucatan 5-8-0, LEON 1-3-0
W-Samayoa (1-0).  L-Lively (0-1).  A-6,238.  T-2:25.
One night after Wednesday's rainout in Leon, Yucatan built a 4-0 third inning lead and went on the top the Bravos, 5-1, to take a 3-games-to-0 lead in their LMB South semifinal series.  The Leones went up 3-0 in the top of the second inning when Yuniesky Betancourt's run-scoring sacrifice fly was followed by a two-out, two-run homer by Jose Aguilar off Leon starter Mitch Lively.  Yucatan's Leo Heras led off the third with a double, then came in on Diego Madera's single to put the Lions up four runs.  The Bravos' lone tally came in the bottom of the fifth when Niko Vasquez doubled off Yucatan starter Jose Samayoa and scored one out later on a Miguel Torrero single.  Ricky Alvarez' solo homer in the ninth provided the Leones their final margin of victory.  Samayoa carried a no-hitter into the sixth to earn the win as the righty combined with three relievers to limit Leon to three hits on the night.  Lively gave up four runs on seven hits in 6.2 frames to absorb the loss.  The Liga's regular season RBI champ Alvarez homered and doubled, scoring twice for the Leones.

Yucatan (Castellanos, 7-5, 4.73) at Leon (Silva, 8-9, 3.07)
Tijuana (C. Hernandez, 10-2, 2.67) at Aguascalientes (del Rosario, 4-6, 3.71)
Stats are from regular season. Matchups provided by Puro Beisbol.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Monterrey, Puebla up 3-0 in division semis; rainout in Leon

The Monterrey Sultanes and defending champion Puebla Pericos have gone ahead 3 games to 0 in their respective Mexican League division semifinal playoff series while the Tijuana Toros' Wednesday night win in Aguascalientes gives them a 2-to-1 advantage in that set.  The Yucatan Leones and Leon Bravos will have to wait to break their 1-1 deadlock after their game in Leon was postponed due to rain.

Zoilo Almonte and Luis Flores combined for four homers and eight RBIs to lead Monterrey to a 9-5 road win in Monclova, bringing the Sultanes to within a win of the division championship series.  Jesus Arredondo belted a couple of longballs (making it three homers in two games for the Los Mochis native) in Puebla's 6-1 victory over Quintana Roo in Cancun, putting the Pericos on the brink of the LMB South title series.  Cyle Hankerd scored the go-ahead run for Tijuana on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the eighth inning as the Toros went on to post a 4-3 comeback win in Aguascalientes after trailing 3-1 in the seventh for their second straight win after losing the series opener Sunday at home.  Heavy rain in Leon prevented the Bravos from hosting Yucatan in their Game Three on Wednesday night.  They'll try again at 1:00PM local time this afternoon with Games Four and Five moved to Friday and Saturday nights.

Monterrey 9-14-1, MONCLOVA 5-8-0
W-Rivas (1-0).  L-Morales (0-1).  A-8,500.  T-3:43.
Zoilo Almonte's two-run homer in the top of the first inning staked Monterrey an early lead and another Almonte homer in the third, this time a three-run blast, put the Sultanes ahead 5-0.  Monclova fought back for four runs in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of a grand slam off the bat of former White Sox All-Star Carlos Quentin, who is batting .333 with five RBIs in the series after hitting .212 with two homers in 13 regular season games for the Acereros.  Luis Flores took over dinger duties from Almonte by swatting a two-run homer in the top of the fourth to give Monterrey a 7-4 advantage, but the stubborn hosts replied in the bottom of the frame when Jose Amador hit a leadoff double and later scored on a Jose Felix single.  Flores led off the sixth with his second homer, followed by a double from Chris Roberson, who eventually came in with the game's final run.  The contest was a marathon lasting 3 hours, 43 minutes as both teams combined to use 13 pitchers.

Tijuana 4-10-0, AGUASCALIENTES 3-4-3
W-Fisher (1-0).  L-L. Castro (0-1).  SV-Urquidez (2).  A-6,782.  T-3:50.
The Aguascalientes Rieleros had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before Tijuana fought back with one run in the top of the seventh and two more in the eighth to sneak away with a 4-3 win over the host team.  As with the Monterrey-Monclova game, longballs were the order of the day.  Jose Vargas led off the bottom of the second with a homer off TJ starter Alex Sanabia to give the Rieleros an early lead, and Jesse Castillo duplicated the feat two innings later with a leadoff blast to make it 2-0.  Jose Guadalupe Chavez drew a bases-loaded walk from Aguascalientes starter Roy Merritt to put the Toros on the board, but Castillo's second homer of the night in the sixth (yes, it was a leadoff homer and yes, it was off Sanabia) to put the Railroaders up 3-1.  Alex Liddi's one-out solo homer in the seventh for TJ made it a one-run game, but the game was decided in the eighth when Corey Brown's RBI single tied it and a second bases-loaded walk issued by an Aguascalientes pitcher (Edwin Salas to Juan Apodaca) pushed Cyle Hankerd across the plate with the eventual game-winner.  Sanabia allowed just four hits in five innings, but three were four-baggers.  Another marathon: 3 hours, 50 minutes and 11 pitchers.

Puebla 6-9-0, QUINTANA ROO 1-10-1
W-Lugo (1-0).  L-Crenshaw (0-1).  A-5,754.  A-2:23.
Unlike the two LMB North playoff games Wednesday, this one featured only two homers and lasted just 2 hours, 23 minutes as Puebla took a commanding 3-games-to-0 series lead with a 6-1 win over Quintana Roo, making it a Wednesday sweep for road teams.  Jesus Arredondo's leadoff homer off Tigres starter Dustin Crenshaw opened a three-run second inning for the Pericos, who also benefitted from Alberto Carreon's two-run, bases-loaded single.  The 3-0 score stood until the bottom of the seventh, when Jesus Valenzuela hit a leadoff double, then scored on a Ramon Ramirez single.  That only served to nudge the Puebla offense from their nap as the Pericos put three scores on the board in the eighth, all off Arredondo's second homer of the night, a three-run shot off reliever Jose Meraz.  The Tigres actually outhit the visitors, 10 to 9, but only batted 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight baserunners stranded.  Puebla starter Jaime Lugo was sharp, allowing one run on seven scattered hits and no walks over six innings for the win.  Crenshaw (7 IP, 3 ER) took the loss.

Yucatan (Samayoa, 11-2, 2.29) at Leon (Lively, 7-2, 2.41)
Puebla (Meza, 5-6, 5.06) at Quintana Roo (Siverio, 4-5, 4.69)
Tijuana (Ramirez, 3-1, 3.86) at Aguascalientes (Torres, 4-3, 2.79)
Monterrey (Reyes, 4-3, 3.97) at Monclova (M. Lara, 7-7, 4.07)
Stats are from regular season.  Starters provided by Puro Beisbol.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yucatan beats Leon in 11 on Francisco HR, lead series 2-0

Yucatan Leones designated hitter Juan Francisco
Designated hitter Juan Francisco was hitless as he approached the plate for what turned out to be his final at bat of the night, but the former Atlanta Braves infielder more than made it for it by belting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning to give his Yucatan Leones a 5-3 win over the visiting Leon Bravos in their Mexican League South Division semifinal playoff series game in Merida.  The LMB South regular season champs now have a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 set as the two teams move to Leon for at least two more games.

In the other LMB South semi Monday night, defending champs Puebla defeated Quintana Roo, 5-2, to go up 2-0.  In the LMB North opening round, Tijuana rebounded to beat Aguascalientes, 6-3, to even their series at 1-1 while Monterrey held off Monclova, 6-5, taking a 2-0 lead in that series.  Tuesday will be a travel day as all eight participants shift to ballparks in the cities of the lower-seeded teams for their respective Games Three on Wednesday night.

YUCATAN 5-8-0, Leon 3-10-0 (11)
W-Belisario (1-0).  L-F. Quintero (0-1).  T-9,682.  A-3:41.
Visiting Leon was able to build a 3-0 lead after Junior Lake scored from third base on a Niko Vasquez infield single in the top of the fourth inning, followed two frames later when Dan Johnson singled in Gilberto Mejia and a Vasquez sacrifice fly plated Lake.  Yucatan narrowed the gap to 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh when a groundout to first by ex-MLBer Juan Francisco brought in Diego Madero from third to break up Bravos pitcher Guillermo Moscoco's shutout bid.  Leon held their two-run advantage until the bottom of the ninth, when Ronnier Mustelier's run-scoring single to left brought in Leo Heras and a Francisco sac fly plated Diego Madera with the tying run, sending the contest into extra innings.  In the eleventh, Mustelier line a single to right, setting the stage for Francisco against incoming reliever Sergio Alvarado.  Francisco drove an Alvarado delivery over the left-field wall for the walkoff triumph.  Former Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario tossed three perfect innings for the win, striking out four, as the Leones took a 2-0 series lead.  Game Three is in Leon Wednesday.

PUEBLA 5-10-1, Quintana Roo 2-5-1
W-Outman (0-1).  L-Ortega (0-1).  A-7,305.  T-2:16.
Puebla broke a scoreless tie by putting three runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Pericos went on to a 5-2 win over visiting Quintana Roo Tigres, taking a 2 games to 0 series lead in the process.  Starting pitchers Josh Outman of Puebla and venerable Pablo Ortega of the Tigres swapped zeros until the fourth, when an Issmael Salas double was followed by a homer to right by Jesus Arredondo to give the Parrots a 2-0 lead.  Ricky Rodriguez then hit a ground-rule double over the center-field wall and scored from second one out later on Hector Garanzuay's single to right.  Salas finished the night with two doubles and a single, scoring once and driving in two, while Garanzuay contributed a pair of singles to give the Pericos middle infielders five of Puebla's ten hits between them. Former MLB hurler Outman went eight innings for the win, giving up one earned run.  Deunte Heath, another ex-big leaguer, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.  Ortega, who turns 41 in November, let in five runs on nine hits in five innings for the loss.  Game Three is Wednesday in Cancun.

TIJUANA 6-8-1, Aguascalientes 3-9-1
W-M. Pena (1-0).  L-Flande (0-1).  A-15,327.  T-3:46.
Tijuana leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez collected three hits, scoring twice, and the Toros posted four runs (three unearned) in the bottom of the third inning to take a lead they'd never relinquish as the LMB North's top seed beat Aguascalientes, 6-3, Wednesday as 15,327 fans watched at Estadio Gasmart.  The Toros' win evened their series with the visiting Rieleros, 1 game to 1.  Aguascalientes took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Dave Sappelt's two-out double up the middle brought in Eliezer Ortiz from first.  Things got rugged for Rieleros starter Yohan Flande in the bottom of the third as he walked Roberto Lopez to open the frame, committed a fielding error on a Chavez bunt and walked Dustin Martin to load the bases after striking out Isaac Rodriguez.  Flande then served up a two-run single to Cyle Hankerd. A Corey Brown sacrifice fly scored Martin with TJ's third run and Alex Liddi's single brought in Hankerd with a fourth score.  Miguel Pena pitched five strong innings for the win while Flande took the loss.  Game Three is slated for Wednesday night in Aguascalientes.

MONTERREY 6-14-2, Monclova 5-8-2
W-A. Castro (1-0).  L-R. Verdugo (0-1).  A-18,543.  T-3:22.
The Monterrey Sultanes built up a 6-1 lead in the fifth inning, then had to hold on for dear life to outlast the Monclova Acereros, 6-5, Monday to take a 2-0 lead in their series.  Jesus Montero's RBI single put the Sultanes ahead, 1-0, in the bottom of the first but it was a four-run third inning, keyed by Luis Juarez' three-run homer, that provided most of the Monterrey cushion.  Trailing 6-1 late, Monclova shaved one run off their deficit when Ruben Rivera belted a solo homer to lead off the eighth, but it was the ninth when things really got interesting.  Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo replaced starter Angel Castro and gave up a leadoff walk to Carlos Quentin before striking out Matt Clark.  Quentin stole second uncontested with Tim Torres at the plate and scored on Torres' single to center.  2016 All-Star Game MVP Jose Amador then belted a two-run homer to make it a 6-5 contest before Obispo got the final two outs to end the game, then making an obscene gesture toward the Monclova dugout.  Montero and Zoilo Almonte each had three hits for the Sultanes, who travel to Monclova for Wednesday's Game Three.

Yucatan at Leon (Yucatan leads series, 2 games to 0)
Puebla at Quintana Roo (Puebla leads series, 2 games to 0)
Tijuana at Aguascalientes (Series tied, 1 game to 1)
Monterrey at Monclova (Monterrey leads series, 2 games to 0)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vargas hits 2 HRs as Rieleros top TJ in Liga playoff opener

Aguascalientes' 3B Jose Vargas hit two homers Sunday
Jose Vargas' home run-hitting exploits have carried over into the postseason as he led his Aguascalientes Rieleros to a surprising win at Tijuana Sunday night in the Mexican League first round playoff opener for both teams.  The Rieleros finished twelve games behind the Toros in the LMB North during the regular season with a 64-46 record, going 2-7 against Tijuana and getting swept in two three-game series.

Elsewhere in LMB division semifinal lidlifters, there were no surprises as upper-seeds Monterrey, Yucatan and defending champion Puebla each won their respective best-of-7 Game One contests, all at home. Game Two action is scheduled for Monday.

Aguascalientes 7-12-0, TIJUANA 3-7-0
W-Del Rosario (1-0).  L-C. Hernandez (1-0).  A-17,201.  T-3:32.
Vargas was the star of the show as the fourth-place Rieleros surprised LMB North regular season champs Tijuana, 7-3, in front of 17,201 onlookers in the border city.  The 29-year-old Ventura, California product went 3-for-3 with a pair of two-run homers while Jesse Castillo socked an eighth-inning solo shot to place an exclamation point on the Aguascalientes win.  Starter Francisco Del Rosario combined with four relievers, including former Yankees reliever Sergio Mitre, to limit the potent Toros to three runs on seven hits.  Del Rosario tossed 5.1 innings for the win, giving up two runs on four hits and four walks, striking out seven. Tijuana took a 1-0 lead in the first, but Vargas (who went deep 23 times in the regular season) replied with his first two-run bomb in the second frame and added another in the fourth to put the Railroaders up 5-2.  TJ leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez had three hits, two of them doubles, and drove in two runs but Toros starter Carlos Hernandez gave up five runs in four innings, including both Vargas homers, to take the loss.

MONTERREY 5-14-0, Monclova 2-10-0
W-Struck (1-0).  L-Lowey (0-1).  A-22,458.  T-2:55.
Luis Juarez stroked a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie as Monterrey went on to take a 5-2 win over Monclova in their series opener with 22,458 in the stands at Estadio Monterrey.  The Sultanes drew first blood in the second when veteran Chris Roberson lined a two-out single to Acereros rightfielder Carlos Quentin, bringing in Daniel Mayora (who finally appeared in a couple of late-season games after going missing in the lineup since July 20, long enough to start appearing on milk cartons) and Agustin Murillo. Monclova knotted the score up in the top of the sixth on RBI singles from Quentin and Rudy Amador off Monterrey starter Javier Solano.  One-time Cubs farmhand Nick Struck replaced Solano after Amador's safety and tossed 2.1 innings of one-hit shutout ball through the eighth to earn the win for Monterrey and Wirfin Obispo hurled a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.  Roberson finished with three hits and a stolen base while Matt Clark went 3-for-4 for Monclova.

YUCATAN 2-3-0, Leon 0-3-0
W-Negrin (1-0).  L-Quevedo (0-1).  A-8,163.  T-2:08.
Leones starter Yoanner Negrin flashed the form that made him the Mexican League's 2016 Pitcher of the Year in Yucatan's 2-0 victory over surprising Leon in a briskly-played game at Merida.  The Cuban exile pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, striking out nine Bravos batsmen and walking just two as 69 of his 99 deliveries went for strikes.  Diego Madero scored the only run the Lions would need in the bottom of the first inning by hitting a one-out triple to center off Leon pitcher Marco Quevedo, then coming home on Ronnier Mustelier's sacrifice fly to Leander Castro in right.  The hosts added an insurance run in the fifth when Yuniesky Betancourt hit a leadoff single, went to second on Esteban Quiroz' sacrifice bunt and scored when Jose Aguilar lined a double to left.  Quevedo went all the way for Leon to take the tough-luck loss.  The Bravos were 45-60 in the regular season to finish fifth in the LMB South, but won a qualifier game at fourth-place Veracruz Friday in what may have been the final game for the Rojos del Aguila, rumored to be Nuevo Laredo-bound for 2018.

PUEBLA 7-14-0, Quintana Roo 1-10-0
W-Roenicke (1-0).  L-Loe (0-1).  A-7,146.  T-2:55.
Puebla first baseman Ricky Rodriguez had an RBI double and a grand slam homer to lead the defending champion Pericos to a convincing 7-1 win over Quintana Roo in their Sunday opener at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.  Jesus Arredondo and Rodriguez opened the bottom of the second inning with back-to-back doubles off Tigres starter Kameron Loe, a onetime Texas Rangers starter during his nine-year MLB career.  Rodriguez came in on a Sergio Perez sacrifice fly to put the Parrots up 2-0.  The Tigres got a run back in the top of the fourth when Sergio Contreras scored from second on Osniel Madera's single up the middle but Puebla put the game in their pockets when Rodriguez greeted Quintana Roo reliever Alberto Leyva by belting a bases-loaded homer over the left field wall to make it a 6-1 game.  Julio Borbon, who had three hits on the night, added a solo blast for the Pericos in the eighth.  Former MLB reliever Josh Roenicke, son of ex-big leaguer Gary, gave up one run in seven innings for the Puebla win while Loe (6.1 IP, 5 ER) absorbed the loss.  Like Veracruz, the Pericos are exploring a move in the offseason.

Aguascalientes (Flande, 12-6, 4.36) at Tijuana (Pena, 11-2, 2.77)
Monclova (Verdugo, 8-2, 2.64) at Monterrey (Castro, 11-6, 4.28)
Leon (Moscoso, 7-3, 3.89) at Yucatan (Russell, 1-0, 2.03)
Quintana Roo (Ortega, 10-9, 3.43) at Puebla (Outman, 7-1, 5.02)
NOTE: Pitchers' totals are from the regular season. Matchups are posted on Puro Beisbol's LMB POR DENTRO column.

Friday, August 11, 2017

LMB regular season ends, Bravos at Veracruz for qualifier

2017 LMB batting champion Yadir "El Comandante" Drake
The Mexican League's 2017 regular season came to a close Wednesday and when the dust settled on the schedule, the bedraggled Leon Bravos were three games behind the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who finished fourth in the LMB's South Division, triggering a wild card qualifying game for the playoffs.  Leon came in at 45-60 while Veracruz was 48-57.  Liga rules state that whenever a fifth-place team finishes within three games or less behind the fourth-place team, a single game will be played to determine which team advances to the division semifinals.  Thus, the Red Eagles will host the Bravos Friday night at Estadio Universitario Beto Avila for the right to play LMB South-leading Yucatan in the first round, which starts Sunday.

The other three series are set in stone.  In the LMB North, the Aguascalientes Rieleros were able to hold off Union Laguna for fourth place by three-and-a-half games, meaning the Railroaders will travel to Tijuana for Sunday's opener against division kingpin Toros.  Monterrey came in second by a half-game over Monclova during the regular season, meaning the Sultanes will host the Acereros in Sunday's Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening round series.  Meanwhile, in the South, defending champion Puebla finished second and will welcome Quintana Roo to Estadio Hermanos Serdan Sunday for the inaugural game of their series.

After some initial confusion, former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake was awarded the batting title after batting .385 for the Generales prior to leaving for Japan in late June to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.  The Cuban exile is finding the going tougher in the Pacific League, hitting just .185 with no homers and 2 RBIs after 18 games.  The LMB office initially gave the batting crown to Drake's former Durango teammate, Daniel Mayora, who hit .375 for both the Generales and Monterrey through his last game on July 20 (subsequent absence still unexplained), including a 35-game hit streak which fell one shy of the regular season record.  Once someone at the Liga determined that Drake's 300 plate appearances barely met the requirement of 299.7 plate appearances for the batting title, a correction was made and Drake's name was re-entered at the top of the list and Mayora's bumped to second.

No controversy arose in any other statistical category.  Saltillo's Rainel Rosario's breakthrough season, similar to fellow Dominican Diory Hernandez' year in 2016, concluded with a Liga-high 26 homers, two more than Corey Brown's 24 dingers for Tijuana.  Rosario, who hit .331, finished with 104 RBIs to come in second to Ricky Alvarez of Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez' 105.  Alvarez drove in two runs in the Leones' season finale against Quintana Roo to slip past Rosario and claim leadership of a category he'd led most of the season.  Mexico City infielder Ramon Urias led the circuit with 91 runs scored, two more than Justin Greene of Monclova (by way of Saltillo).  Greene, by the way, easily won the stolen bases title with a combined 51 swipes for the Saraperos and Acereros.  Monterrey's Chris Roberson was tops in doubles with 35 while Yosmany Guerra of Campeche led with 12 triples.

Nestor Molina, who finished 12-3 for Veracruz, had the lowest ERA among LMB starting pitchers with a 1.89 mark.  Molina allowed 13 earned runs in 31 innings over his last five starts after his ERA had been just 1.41 heading into a July 13 start against Monterrey.  Mexico City's Octavio Acosta, who began the year with a 3-5 record and 6.84 ERA in two previous Liga campaigns, ended up with a 14-1 record for the Diablos Rojos to lead the loop in wins, two more than Molina and Yohan Flande of Aguascalientes.  Acosta and Molina are the two top candidates for Pitcher of the Year.  While 2015 POY Josh Lowey of Monclova wasn't as dominant as he was in 2016 before heading off to South Korea in midseason, he did win his second consecutive strikeout title with 146 ponches in 127 innings.  Lowey finished 8-5 while his ERA was 2.69 (it was 1.65 last year), but the Floridian put together a string of eight strong starts to bring his ERA down from 4.14 in mid-June.  He'll likely be a factor in the postseason for the Steelers.

Among relievers, Monclova closer Chad Gaudin recorded seven saves in his last ten outings to finish with 29, one more than Tijuana's Jason Urquidez and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey.  Gaudin let in seven earned runs over 9.1 innings for an ERA of 6.75 in that timespan, however, and will need to pick things up in the postseason, starting with the Acereros-Sultanes series.  In other pitching categories, Molina's 152.2 innings, 1.08 WHIP, 3 complete games and 23 starts (tied with Flande) were all most in the LMB, 2016 Pitcher of the Year Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan led with two shutouts, Tijuana middleman Juan Sandoval easily had the most holds with 29.  After putting that last sentence together, it'll be tough to not choose Molina as POY for this summer's BBM Awards even though Acosta lost only one of 15 decisions for a Mexico City team that failed to qualify for the playoffs a second consecutive season after 33 straight postseason appearances.

Note: Leon second baseman Carlos Valencia, a 17-year veteran who has played in several All-Star Games (winning the All-Star MVP trophy in 2009), was suspended for 100 games by the Liga after testing positive for amphetamines a second time in the past year.  The 37-year-old Valencia was suspended the first 50 games of the 2017 season and went on to hit .255 with 5 homers over the 45 games he did play.  For his Mexican League career, he has 237 homers and 951 RBIs in 1,510 games.  North American outfielder Jason Pridie of Puebla was suspended 50 games after testing positive for oxycodone.  Pridie, an All-Star in three leagues before moving south of the border, went 1-for-6 in two May games for the Pericos before being released one week after the team signed him as a free agent.