Monday, June 17, 2019

OAXACA WINS LMB SOUTH FIRST HALF TITLE


The Oaxaca Guerreros and manager Sergio Gastelum have at least suggested that last Fall's Serie del Rey appearance against eventual Mexican League champion Monterrey was no fluke. Ruddy Acosta allowed one run in five innings as the Guerreros topped Puebla, 7-2, Wednesday night to reach the midway point of the 2019 season with a 37-23 record going into the All-Star Break. Oaxaca thus wins the LMB South first-half title by two games over 32-24 Mexico City, who went into the final day one game out of the lead but lost 8-4 at Leon as Bravos third baseman Carlos Rivero doubled, singled twice and drove in four runs. The Diablos Rojos tied for second with the 34-26 Pericos, who likewise had a chance to tie for the South lead going into their last game at Oaxaca. Leon finished fourth at 27-32 to lead a group of five sub-.500 teams.


Oaxaca pitcher Ruddy Acosta
 Unlike the Guerreros' close-but-clear-cut triumph in the LMB South, things are far from certain in the LMB North.  Tijuana scored three runs in the top of the ninth at Monterrey Wednesday as Logan Watkins contributed a bases-loaded single and the Toros went on to beat the Sultanes, 10-7, pulling into a final-day tie with the Sultanes for the division crown at 40-22 apiece.  The teams played six times in the half (all since June 4), with Monterrey winning two of three games in Tijuana and the Toros returning the favor last week. The Toros outscored the defending champions by an aggregate 29-23 margin in head-to-head competition. Monclova won their last game Wednesday over Dos Laredos, 5-2, at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo as Rudy Amador had three singles and three RBIs for the winners. The Acereros finished in third (one game behind the co-leaders) at 39-21 while the Tecolotes came in fourth with a 33-27 showing.

Leon outfielder Felix Pie
Felix Pie of Leon continues to dominate the batting race with a .461 average, comfortably ahead (for now) of Tabasco's Ronnier Mustelier, who's hitting a mere .415.  Aguascalientes' Jose Vargas homered against Durango last Monday to bring his season total to 29 (four more than Chris Carter of Monclova and Puebla's Danny Ortiz) before sitting the final two games of the series with the Generales.  Vargas, who also leads Leon's Matt Clark in RBIs (69-68), is batting .372 with an LMB-best .814 slugging percentage. Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis stole two bases in Wednesday's loss to Monclova and now has 40 steals, twice as many as Oaxaca's Alonzo Harris.

Yucatan's Cesar Valdez did not pitch during the Leones' final series against Quintana Roo in Cancun, but his 9-0 record, 2.71 ERA and 1.16 WHIP were enough to lead the Liga in all three categories.  Valdez had 43 strikeouts and just six walks over 69.2 innings over the first half. Like Valdez, Monclova's Josh Lowey (8-0/3.91/1.17 WHIP) sat out his team's last series before the All-Star Break but Monterrey's 8-1 Edgar Gonzalez lost his first decision, 3-2, last Tuesday against Tijuana.  Gonzalez scattered five hits over as many innings, but two of them were solo homers by Carlos Peguero and Junior Lake. Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo, who got tossed in Wednesday's home loss to Tijuana, has otherwise stayed in enough games to save 19 of them, tops by four over Carlos Bustamante of Monclova.  Tijuana's Jesus Pirela leads with 19 holds and was recognized with a berth on the LMB North roster in Sunday's All-Star Game.

When second half action opens this Friday, the most interesting series may be in Monclova, where the Acereros will host Oaxaca for a three-game series.  Another set worth keeping an eye on next weekend should be when Mexico City visits Tijuana for a trio of games.


NORTH DRUBS SOUTH, 11-6, AS CAMPOS MAKES 10TH ALL-STAR START

The Mexican League held its annual All-Star Game on Sunday evening at Mexico City’s Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu and while a living legend started the contest for the home LMB South team, the North racked up an 11-6 win.  Ramiro Pena of Monterrey had three hits for the winners as only two of the North’s 21 hits were sent to the left side of the field. Attendance for the four-hour game was 13,514 at Mexico’s newest ballpark.

The North took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Chris Carter singled in Victor Mendoza but the South knotted the score in the bottom of the frame on Japhet Amador's single to plate Danny Ortiz.  The North regained the lead in the top of the second after Yamaico Navarro scored on an Amadeo Zazueta double to left. The score stood until the top of the fourth, when Junior Lake's two-run homer to left off Casey Harman to make it a 4-1 contest.  The South fought back with a counter in the bottom of the fourth as David Vidal scored on a Carlos Lopez double but back-to-back run-scoring singles by Leandro Castro and Juan Apodaca in the top of the fifth opened the North's lead to 6-2 and things were looking rather grim for the host Southerners.

Still, this WAS an All-Star Game, meaning no lead is truly safe, especially in a league where a new ball has led to an abundance of offense.  Hector Hernandez' two-run single in the bottom of the sixth brought the South to within a pair of tallies and when Marco Jaime scored from third on Felipe Gonzalez' strike-three wild pitch to Emmanuel Avila it became a one-run game.  

Campeche's Francisco Campos
The North bounced back with one run in the seventh on a Ramiro Pena singleton and another score one inning later when Francisco Ferreira crossed the plate on a throwing error by South shortstop Jaime on a Castro grounder to open their lead to 8-5, then really poured gas on the fire with three more runs in the ninth on six consecutive singles (including RBI safeties from Jon Kemmer, Saul Soto and Rudy Amador) to open their lead to 11-5.  The North did push a run across in the bottom of the ninth when Jorge Cantu came in on Sebastian Valle’s single, but Jake Sanchez was able to get Jay Austin to fly out to left to complete the win. Frankie de la Cruz got the victory for the North while Yoanner Negrin absorbed the defeat for the South as a total of 23 pitchers took the mound for the two teams...did we mention this game went four hours?

Longtime Campeche Piratas pitcher Francisco "Pancho Ponches" Campos, who was honored before the contest, started the game for the South and recorded the first two outs before being replaced by Ruddy Acosta.  Now in his 25th season, Campos (a converted catcher) is one win away from becoming the 14th pitcher in the LMB's 95-year history to win 200 games, ranks fourth in career strikeouts with 2,173 and won the Pitching Triple Crown in 2004, the only Liga hurler to do so in the past 50 years.  Sunday marked his tenth All-Star Game start (a record) and 16th appearance overall. Campos, who'll turn 47 on August 12, will retire at the end of the season.

PUEBLA'S ORTIZ WINS HR DERBY; ZAZUETA, PENA KINGS OF DP

Puebla outfielder Danny Ortiz
Puebla's first-year slugger Danny Ortiz won the Mexican League Home Run Derby in Mexico City Saturday as part of the Liga's All-Star Weekend festivities.  A Pittsburgh outfielder in 2017, the Puerto Rico-born Ortiz outlasted seven competitors (four from each division) through three rounds to win the circuit clout crown and the 20,000 pesos that go with it.

Ortiz led all eight batsmen with 12 first-round homers to advance to the semifinals along with Mexico City's Japhet Amador and Aguascalientes' Jose Vargas (11 each) plus Yamaico Navarro of Monterrey (6).  Leon's Felix Pie (5), Oaxaca's Alonzo Harris (4), Aguascalientes' Michael Wing and Monclova's Chris Carter (3 apiece) were eliminated. Ortiz, Vargas and Navarro all hit five homers in the semis but Navarro was knocked out along with Amador (4) because Ortiz and Vargas had more total homers over two rounds.  That left Ortiz to fend off Vargas, 10-9, in the final round for the title and paycheck. The former Twins fourth-rounder deposited a total of 27 homers over three rounds while Vargas went deep 25 times. Yucatan powerhouse Luis Juarez won last year's Home Run Derby in Merida.

Monterrey's Amadeo Zazueta and Ramiro Pena
Earlier Saturday, the Monterrey Sultanes' keystone combo of shortstop Amadeo Zazueta and second baseman Ramiro Pena beat out four similar duos win the Double Play Derby.  In its second year (Yucatan's Everth Cabrera and Diego Madero won in last year's debut), this event includes middle infielders facing a preset number of line drives or grounders hit in certain situations with a countdown clock running while judges evaluate the fielding using various criteria.  Other twosomes at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu Saturday included second-place finishers Marco Jaime and Luis Medina (Leon), Moises Gutierrez and Javier Salazar (Durango), Juan Carlos Gamboa and David Vidal (Mexico City) and Union Laguna's Ciro Morzagaray and Daniel Hinojosa.

Saturday's festivities also included a celebrity softball game, in which a team of actors, singers, comedians, athletes and YouTubers from the South defeated a team of actors, singers, comedians, athletes and YouTubers from the North, 1-0, with the game's lone run scoring on a wild pitch.  Further details are unavailable and/or unnecessary.

Monday, June 10, 2019

RACES TIGHTEN AS ALL-STAR WEEKEND APPROACHES

Tecos OF Johnny "The Compton Comet" Davis

With three games to play before next weekend's All-Star break, two games separate the top three teams in both Mexican League divisions.  In the LMB North, defending champion Monterrey won their fifth straight Sunday at Monclova, 7-4, in a vital matchup between two pennant contenders.  The 39-18 Sultanes have the best record in the Liga after knocking the 37-20 Acereros down from first place to third. Monclova entered the series with a home record of 22-5 before being swept by the visitors.  Tijuana nipped Union Laguna, 20-11, in a pitcher's duel Sunday to slip past the Steelers into second with a 38-19 mark. The Toros' number nine batter, second baseman Maxwell Leon, belted two homers and four runs while newcomer Carlos Peguero (a former MLBer and NPBer) went 4-for-6 with two doubles and four ribbies.

In the LMB South, Oaxaca completed a three-game sweep of Tabasco Sunday with a 10-0 shutout in Villahermosa.  Andres Meza scattered three hits over seven innings for the Guerreros, striking out five and walking one. An Alejandro Gonzalez triple to right that scored Alonzo Harris from second to give Meza all the support he'd need as Oaxaca improved to a division-leading 35-22.  Mexico City sits two games back in second at 31-22 after drubbing Quintana Roo, 10-2, in the nation's capital. Diablos Rojos starter David Reyes entered the eighth with a shutout and left with two out and a 9-1 lead. One inning earlier, Emmanuel Avila socked a grand slam for the winner.  Puebla kept pace with Mexico City at 31-22 by winning for a fifth straight time, an 8-5 sweep-clincher over Leon at home. Herlis Rodriguez and Danny Ortiz both homered to key the Pericos' four-run first inning, but the Bravos fought back and tied the game at 4-4 before Puebla had another four-run clouburst in the fourth to essentially salt the game away. Jesus Arredondo's bases-loaded single to right and an errant throw by Felix Pie resulted in three runners crossing the plate and Arrendono standing safely on third.

Despite the defensive miscue, Pie continues to enjoy a comfortable lead in the LMB batting derby with a .459 average, well ahead of Tabasco’s Ronnier Mustelier (.410).  Pie's Bravos teammate Matt Clark is tied with Jose Vargas of Aguascalientes for the RBI lead at 68 each. Vargas remains atop the home run table with 28 longballs in 55 games for the Rieleros.  Monclova’s Chris Carter (25) and Puebla’s Danny Ortiz (24) are also on a pace to top 50 home runs this season, thanks in part to the livelier Franklin ball that replaced a Rawlings ball in the off-season.  Ortiz spent eight years in the Twins system and was MVP in the Puerto Rican League in 2017 while playing for Santurce. Dos Laredos outfielder Johnny Davis stole ten bases over his last eleven games to run his season steals total to 38.  The Compton, California product has twice as many swipes as his nearest Liga competitor (Tigres OF Alonzo Harris has 19).

Yucatan RHP Cesar Valdez is 9-0 with 2.71 ERA
Yucatan righthander Cesar Valdez' 6-1 win over Campeche Sunday in Merida brought his record to 9-0, edging him ahead him of 8-0 Josh Lowey (Monclova) and Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey) for the Mexican League wins lead among pitchers.  The 34-year-old Valdez, who made his MLB debut with Oakland in 2017 after toiling 12 seasons in the minors, has allowed just six walks in 69.2 innings while striking out 43 batters en route to a 2.71 ERA (and an LMB-best 1.16 WHIP).  The only moundsman in the league with a lower ERA is Leones teammate Yoanner Negrin at 2.63. Yasutomo Kubo of Leon has 80 strikeouts to lead Oaxaca’s Alex Delgado (74) by six Ks after Delgado whiffed nine Tabasco batters in 6.2 innings during the Guerreros' 3-1 road win. Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo recorded saves in his last ten outings dating beginning May 23 to take the Liga lead with 17 while Tijuana’s Jesus Pirela’s 16 holds is tops for that underrated stat (a Save being little more than a Hold with better timing).

A Mexican baseball legend’s birthday was marked last Thursday when all Liga ballparks hosting games celebrated Hector Espino Day.  Espino is widely regarded as Mexico’s best-ever ballplayer, a dignified hero who rewrote record books and never sold himself short as either a player or a man.  The Superman of Chihuahua represents a blend of Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson with a dash of Roberto Clemente to Mexican fans and his number 21 has been retired by all 26 LMB and LMP teams.

Mexican League teams will play one midweek series before taking a break for All-Star Weekend, scheduled for June 15-16 at Mexico City’s new Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu and including a Double Play Derby and Home Run Derby.  Rosters for both North and South teams were announced last week:


LMB NORTH ALL-STAR TEAM
Pitchers (12): Manny Barreda (Tijuana), Carlos Bustamante (Monclova), Frankie de la Cruz (Union Laguna), Jumbo Diaz (Tijuana), Romario Gil (Monclova), Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey), Felipe Gonzalez (Monterrey), Wirfin Obispo (Monterrey), Jesus Pirela (Tijuana), James Russell (Tijuana), Jake Sanchez (Tijuana), Ivan Zavala (Dos Laredos).
Catchers (2): Juan Apodaca (Saltillo), Bruce Maxwell (Monclova).
Infielders (8): Rodolfo Amador (Monclova), Erick Aybar (Monclova), Chris Carter (Monclova), Victor Mendoza (Monterrey), Ramiro Pena (Monterrey), Jose Vargas (Aguascalientes), Michael Wing (Aguascalientes), Amadeo Zazueta (Monterrey).
Outfielders (6): Domonic Brown (Dos Laredos), Francisco Ferreiro (Union Laguna), Jon Kemmer (Durango), Junior Lake (Tijuana), Francisco Peguero (Monclova), Juan Perez (Saltillo).
Designated Hitters (2): Yamaico Navarro (Monterrey), Saul Soto (Aguascalientes).
Manager: Roberto Kelly (Monterrey).

LMB SOUTH ALL-STAR TEAM
Pitchers (12): Ruddy Acosta (Oaxaca), Francisco Campos (Campeche), Erick Casillas (Oaxaca), Casey Harman (Campeche), Francisco Haro (Campeche), Yasutomo Kubo (Leon), Arturo Lopez (Mexico City), Yoanner Negrin (Yucatan), Jose Samayoa (Yucatan), Nathanael Santiago (Mexico City), Cesar Valdez (Yucatan), Fabian Williamson (Quintana Roo).
Catchers (2): Erik Rodriguez (Oaxaca), Sebastian Valle (Yucatan).
Infielders (8): Jesus Arredondo (Puebla), Emmanuel Avila (Mexico City), Jorge Cantu (Mexico City), Juan Carlos Gamboa (Mexico City), Hector Hernandez (Yucatan), Marco Jaime (Leon), Ronnier Mustelier (Tabasco), David Vidal (Mexico City).
Outfielders (6): Jay Austin (Campeche), Jesus Fabela (Mexico City), Carlos Lopez (Leon), Felix Pie (Leon), Nick Torres (Puebla), Ruben Sosa (Quintana Roo).
Designated Hitters (2): Japhet Amador (Mexico City), Matt Clark (Leon).
Manager: Sergio Gastelum (Oaxaca).

LMP EXPANSION DRAFT: GUASAVE, SULTANES SPLIT 64 PLAYERS

Arturo Rodriguez bats in a 2012 Liga Norte game
The Mexican Pacific League has held its expansion draft, during which the newly-minted Guasave Algodoneros and Monterrey Sultanes each picked the rights to 32 Mexican national players.  The draft was held over eight rounds with Guasave and Monterrey picking four players each per cycle, one from each existing LMP team.

Guasave had the first pick of the first round and chose Los Mochis catcher Arturo Rodriguez.  The Algodoneros' selection of the 31-year-old Monterrey native is a rather curious one. Rodriguez, who spent parts of four summers in the Marlins organization, has been a decent enough player in the Mexican League (batting .313 with 33 homers in 262 games over six Liga seasons) but his career numbers of .252 with 9 homers and 60 RBIs over five LMP campaigns hardly shout "First overall expansion pick."  Rodriguez, who can also play first base or the outfield, split last winter between Obregon and the Caneros and batted below .190 in both stops over a combined 38 games.

Monterrey snapped up former MLB pitcher Edgar Gonzalez from Culiacan with their first pick.  The 36-year-old righty may be getting a little long in the tooth by most baseball standards, but his 8-0 start this summer with the LMB Sultanes suggests a little more petrol in the tank.  Gonzalez went 0-4 with a 6.29 ERA in nine starts for the Tomateros in 2018-19 but he'll give the Mex Pac version of the Sultanes a veteran hurler who was a starter in Arizona, Oakland and Houston (plus a 2010 stint in Korea) before settling in Monterrey during the 2015 LMB season. Gonzalez was 0-4 in nine starts for Culiacan last winter before pitching for the Acayucan Tobis as one of Mexico's two teams co-hosting the Latin American Series at Veracruz in late January.

Edgar Gonzalez pitching for Acayucan
The old adage "You can't have enough pitching" was adhered to in the May 21 draft.  Of the 64 players chosen, 39 were hurlers: Monterrey took 21 pitchers while Guasave tabbed 18.  The arms buildups led to uneven rosters. The Cottoneers have just three infielders in tow (the rules suggest four) while the Sultanes show two outfielders when three are preferred.  Expect much trading.

Both teams came away with recognizable veterans on their rosters.  Guasave took two Mazatlan pitching products, longtime starter Walter Silva and onetime wunderkind Luis Heredia, as well as first baseman Maxwell Leon, shortstop Emmanuel Avila, outfielder Jon Del Campo and middle reliever Luis de la O.  Besides Gonzalez, Monterrey selected Mexican baseball notables like versatile infielders Niki Vasquez and Issmael Salas, hard-hitting outfielder Roberto Lopez and starting pitcher Jose Oyervides, who could form a solid 1-2 top of the rotation with Gonzalez for Monterrey.

GUASAVE ALGODONEROS
Pitchers (18):  Edgar Acosta, Filiberto Baez, Jesus Barraza, Octavio Becerra, Felipe Castaneda, Hector Galvan, Francisco Garcia, William Gonzalez, Luis Heredia, Jeffrey Ibarra, Isaac Jimenez, Jovani Lopez, Luis de la O, Jonathan Partida, Dalton Rodriguez, Oscar Rojas, Walter Silva, Joakim Soria.
Catchers (3):  Luis Barajas, Jose Maciel, Arturo Rodriguez.
Infielders (3):  Emmanuel Avila, Maxwell Leon, Jose Lizarraga.
Outfielders (6): Bryan Arraiza, Luis Cossio, Jon Del Campo, Jose Orozco, Alejandro Ortiz, Marco Valenzuela.

MONTERREY SULTANES
Pitchers (21):  Hector Ambriz, Oscar Arzaga, Gerardo Bojorquez, Jason Carmona, Erick Casillas, Oliver Cervantes, Jesus Garcia, Adrian Garza, Roberto Garza, Edgar Gonzalez, Demetrio Gutierrez, Jorge Leo, Thomas Melgarejo, Jose Oyervides, Marco Ramirez, Jorge Reyes, Jorge Rivera, Carlos Rodriguez, Rolando Valdez, Jorge Vazquez, Ernesto Zaragoza.
Catchers (3):  Jose Felix, Samuel Favela, Humberto Sosa.
Infielders (6):  Gilberto Carrera, Miguel Gamboa, Jose Luna, Manuel Partida, Issmael Salas, Niko Vasquez.
Outfielders (2):  Roberto Lopez, Duilio Ochoa.

The LMP also announced their schedule for the 2019-20 season.  The Mexicali Aguilas will welcome Monterrey to El Nido on October 11, followed by a full slate of five games on October 12.  Teams will play a traditional 68-game Mex Pac regular season spread over two halves from mid-October through the end of 2019.  Playoffs will begin the first week of January, when an expanded eight-team field eliminates the "lucky loser" system, and the Winterball season will end in early February with the Caribbean Series (scheduled for San Juan, Puerto Rico).


CuartoBat.com WRITER'S TOP SIX MEXICAN BALLPARKS (PART 6)

A writer for Mexican baseball website CuartoBat.com, Yasser Trujillo, posted a column in April naming his picks for the top six ballparks in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues, showing a definite preference for venues in the west.  This is the final part of a series in which we’ve brought you a translated version. It was reported in BBM shortly after our series began that CuartoBat's site had apparently been suspended (as per a Google search), but we're glad to report that it’s back online and that you can download a free copy of their February magazine.  In a short time, CuartoBat has already become a good, entertaining source for news and commentary on Mexican baseball.

1.  ESTADIO TOMATEROS, CULIACAN

Located in the heart of Culiac├ín, a few streets from its historic center, sits the most spectacular baseball stadium in all of Latin America.  It is a property that not only any fan of the sport dreams of but even boasts better facilities than at least three major league parks: Oakland, Tampa Bay and the Chicago White Sox. Estadio Tomateros has all the attributes to be the best stadium in Mexican baseball.

External screens and colorful LED lighting are on its facade and roof. The lighting is coordinated to the rhythm of the audio equipment. It has an internal corridor of 360 degrees with which you do not need to take your eyes off the playing field to go to the bathroom or the food area or wherever you want.

Estadio Tomateros has televisions in each column, automated turnstiles to enter through your physical ticket or on your cell phone. It has an interactive team hall of fame, a time capsule and a giant official store with a baseball concept. It has several memorabilia stands throughout the park, luxury boxes, resting areas in free use chairs, photographic spots. It also has entertaining family dynamics in all its interior, allusive details to the sport in banisters, stairs and walls, ramps and elevators and ATMs.

It has a food area consisting of around 40 vendors with varied offer, a la carte bars, restaurants with a diamond view and three of the largest screens in all of Latin America with 4K definition.

Estadio Tomateros also has one of the best animation teams in the country. They squeeze all the juice out of this tool to entertain young and old for more than three hours in a park endorsed and inaugurated in a personal way by the very commissioner of the Major Leagues. I challenge anyone to mention a stadium in Mexico with more amenities.

The directors of Tomateros have understood the concept of sports tourism and have implemented it successfully. They have turned the visit to the stadium into a unique, special and very touristic experience. They have promotions, such as discounts to students, office workers, half-price drinks, free women, family packages, gifts to their assistants on key days or fireworks nights.

It is a ballpark that, even out of season, opens its doors so you can enjoy its restaurants or tours behind closed doors.  "Your stadium is 360, walk wherever you want, Welcome!" and "Go up and take the picture wherever it is, this is your stadium" are two slogans that the park proudly boasts on its screens and advertisements. And it is with a place that promotes the use of cameras and free access. For me, Estadio Tomateros in Culiacan is the best stadium in Mexican baseball.

YASSER TRUJILLO’S TOP 6 MEXICAN BALLPARKS
1.  Estadio Tomateros, Culiacan Tomateros (LMP)
2.  Nuevo Estadio Yaquis, Obregon Yaquis (LMP)
3.  Estadio Sonora, Hermosillo Naranjeros (LMP)
4.  Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, Mexico City Diablos Rojos (LMB)
5.  Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, Mazatlan Venados (LMP)
6.  Estadio Monterrey, Monterrey Sultanes (LMB/LMP)

Monday, May 27, 2019

RIELEROS’ VARGAS AT 26 HOMERS AFTER 3-HR GAME

Aguascalientes Rieleros 3B Jose Vargas
            Aguascalientes Rieleros third baseman Jose Vargas has opened a sizeable lead in the Mexican League’s home run title chase after a recent stretch during which the Californian crashed seven longballs in a six-game stretch last week, including three homers in a four-inning span against Leon last Saturday night in a wild 15-11 Railroaders loss to the Bravos.

           A gathering of 1,866 at Estadio Alberto Chavez Romo in Aguascalientes looked on at the Ventura College product and former White Sox farm hand socked a solo shot off Leon veteran Walter Silva in the fifth frame, followed by three-run dingers against Normand Mendoza in the sixth and Nicolas Heredia in the eighth, respectively, to run his season total to 26 homers to augment a .390 batting average with 50 RBIs over the first 44 games of the season as the Liga passed the first 1/3 of its 2019 schedule.

            Former Orioles five-tool prospect Felix Pie socked a pair of homers and drove in five runs for the Bravos, who won despite allowing 11 runs on 14 hits (which indicates exactly why the Bravos are just 19-25 on the season despite a starting lineup that boasts .300+ batters at all nine slots in the order.  Pie ended the weekend with a .461 average to top the LMB, his 16 homers are tied with teammate Matt Clark and two others for fourth in the circuit and his 57 RBIs are third in the league behind co-leaders Vargas and Clark.

Leon’s .330 team batting average trails only Monterrey’s .336 mark among the 16 Liga teams but the Bravos’ 8.15 team ERA is dead last and suggests that manager Tony Aguilera might be better served replacing his pitchers with a batting tee atop home plate while sending out a fourth outfielder instead (on either side of the wall.  The most effective Leon hurler thus far has been 38-year-old Manny Acosta, a onetime Braves and Mets pitcher whose 3-1 record and three saves suggest he’s throwing a little better than his 5.60 ERA indicates.

It’s been that kind of year in the LMB, which has apparently resurrected its longstanding reputation as a hitter’s have with 12 teams batting .304 or more and al but Tabasco averaging at least one homer per opening.  The offensive explosion has meant pitchers are proving Newton’s Third Law (“For every action…”) with 13 teams allowing five or more runs per game.  Even traditionally pitching-rich Yucatan has not been immune from the Curse of the Franklin Ball.  The Leones are usually hovering just above a 3.00 team ERA but this year the Merida club is showing a 5.38 ERA, and it’s a sign of the times that they’re still fourth in the circuit.  Fans who love 1-0 pitcher’s duels haven’t had much to cheer about in the 2019 version of the Mexican League.


MONCLOVA, OAXACA TAKE LEADS IN TIGHT LMB DIVISION RACES

            As the Mexican League approaches its ninth week of the current season, we’re starting to see some separation between contenders and pretenders for its eight playoff berths, with a couple of spirited battles for the LMB’s regular season division titles to spur fan interest. 

Campeche Piratas OF Jay Austin
The 32-13 Monclova Acereros stumbled a bit on the first leg of their six-game road trip in the South by losing two of three to Tabasco in Villahermosa before winning two of three in Campeche, including a 4-3 loss in the Walled City as Jay Austin’s walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth plated Jose Guadalupe Chavez with the game-winning run.  Despite the tough loss, the Steelers sport the Liga’s best record at 32-12 to hold a 1.5-game lead over 31-14 Tijuana in the LMB North.  Defending champion Monterrey sits two games behind the Toros at 29-16 while 26-19 Dos Laredos is fourth, four games up on 22-23 Saltillo.
            
            The 27-18 Oaxaca Guerreros have won five in a row (including three-game weekend sweep in Saltillo) to sneak past Mexico City in the LMB South to lead the 26-18 Diablos by a half-game.  Mexico City won two of three games apiece in series at Saltillo and Laguna during last week’s northern road trip but Friday’s defeat in Torreon was enough to drop the Red Devils out of first.  Puebla (25-20) sits two games out of the top slot and a nice battle has developed for the fourth and final playoff slot between 21-24 Yucatan and 20-25 Leon.

            Felix Pie of Leon is batting .461 to hold a commanding 52-point lead over Mexico City’s Emmanuel Avila.  Jason Vargas’ 26 homers for Aguascalientes are tops in the loop, four head of Monclova slugger Chris Carter’s 22.  The former NL home run champ went long once in both Tabasco and Campeche last week.  Leon’s Matt Clark has 61 runs batted in to lead Vargas by one.  Dos Laredos outfielder Johnny Davis has a good lead in stolen bases with 28, 12 more than Alonzo Harris of Oaxaca.  A darkhorse in the SB race is Leon outfielder Jeremias Pineda.  The speedy Dominican has only played 17 games for the Bravos after missing a month of the season, but he’s a perfect 12-for-12 in swipes over the 17 games he has played in to tie Campeche’s Jay Austin for fourth, but is a player who can pile up the SBs in a hurry.

 
Tijuana Toros P James Russell
           Both Josh Lowey of Monclova and Monterrey’s Edgar Gonzalez have eight wins to tie for the Liga lead in that category.  Lowey shut out Campeche over 5.1 innings in last Friday’s 4-2 Acereros road victory to go to 8-0 to match Gonzalez, who’d improved to 8-0 two nights earlier for the Sultanes in Cancun with a 4-2 triumph over the Tigres.  Yucatan’s Cesar Valdez is right behind the co-leaders with a 7-0 record.  James Russell of Tijuana blanked the Tigres over six frames in Cancun last Friday to lower his ERA to 1.94, making the son of ex-MLBer Jeff Russell the lone Mexican League starter at less than 2.00 while improving to 5-1.  Oaxaca’s Ruddy Acosta is 34 points back in second at 2.28, a rather remarkable figure for a starter with a 1-2 record for a division-leading team.  In fact, Acosta didn’t win his first game of the season until his 14-3 victory in Saltillo last Saturday, 44 games into the schedule.  Yasutomo Kubo of Leon still leads the LMB with 69 strikeouts, 13 more than Alex Delgado of Oaxaca.  Monclova’s Carlos Bustamante leads Saltillo’s Rafael Martin in saves, 13 to 12.


Cuarto Bat WRITER'S TOP 6 MEXICAN BALLPARKS (PART 5)

A writer for Mexican baseball website Cuarto Bat, Yasser Trujillo, posted a column in April about his picks for the top six ballparks in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues.  Here is the third part of a series in which we bring you a translated version. You'll find their site at CuartoBat.com, where fans can download a free copy of their February magazine.

2.  NUEVO ESTADIO YAQUIS, OBREGON

Nuevo Estadio Yaquis, Obregon
            The contrast that exists in the Yaqui Territory is worth mentioning.  Once Ciudad Obregon ends and the visitor drives for five minutes on a small road, the home of the Yaquis is erected.  It is a majestic scenario surrounded only by an asphalt road, dirt and an occasional rancheria.  It is the ideal location to avoid conglomerations but, in turn, far from presuming surroundings that invite tourism.

           Possessing an impressive and original external metal design, it immediately refers to the one used at Estadio BBVA, home of Liga MX soccer’s Monterrey Rayados.  The front of the Tribe’s lair consists of eight columns that symbolize the seven Yaquis peoples of the region and the proud eighth: The Yaquis Nation.

            It has an internal corridor of 270 degrees, in which access to the outfield is not allowed unless you have a ticket for that section.  It has a huge official store where you can almost anything to do with the local team.  To access the ballpark, there are automated turnstiles to present your physical ticket or via your cell phone.  There are televisions in each column, a free Wi-Fi network, and a huge screen with 4K definition.  It also has a large food court consisting of about 30 stores with varied offerings, including two a la carte bars/restaurants overlooking the playing field.  There is also a Hal of Fame with legendary trophies and uniforms, luxury boxes and even a gym on the second floor.

            Obregon has in their ballpark a beautiful scenario endorsed by Major League Baseball where, win or lose, the team has hired a musical group for after each game.  So what happens on the ground will always stay there, while the dancing and parties always accompanies everywhere.  A serious candidate to be the best stadium in Mexican baseball.


NOTE: I'm in The Philippines until June 20 and the internet here is spotty, so BBM may be interrupted for the next three Monday.  However, as no less than Douglas MacArthur said a few years ago, "I shall return."  MacArthur was in the Philippines at the time, too, although the stakes were just a trifle higher for him.

Monday, May 20, 2019

LAGUNA SINKS SLOWLY IN THE NORTH, LOSE 6TH IN ROW

Michael Crouse of Laguna swingin' in the rain
As Monclova (29-10) and Tijuana (28-11) continue their battle for the Mexican League's North Division lead and Mexico City (21-15), Oaxaca and Puebla (both 22-17) engage in a three-way battle for first in the LMB, the 13-23 Union Laguna Algodoneros lost their sixth straight game Sunday, dropping a 7-6 decision at Leon as the Bravos' Cedric Hunter and Liga batting leader Felix Pie both belted solo homers in the fourth inning off Laguna starter Pedro Fernandez.

It's been a tough season so far in Torreon for the Cottoneers and first-year manager Jonathan Aceves, an ex-catcher who took the reins of the Algodoneros from Ramon Orantes (who is now skipper in Tabasco).  Union Laguna has combined an ineffective offense with a poor pitching staff in a team effort to fall into the cellar, 14.5 games behind first-place Monclova and a half-game behind 15-24 Durango.

Let's begin with a look at the Algodoneros at the plate.  Among the LMB's 16 teams, Union Laguna ranks at or near the bottom of the table in all three Triple Crown categories: Batting (.286 for 16th), homers (38 for 15th) and RBIs (195 for 13th) while outranking only Durango in stolen bases (12 in 25 attempts) as the Algodoneros' 5.75 runs-per-game average is better than only Quintana Roo (5.58) and Campeche (5.53).  The lone offensive category in which Laguna rates among the league's best is a dubious one: The Algodoneros' 309 strikeouts (8.58 per game) is second only to Durango's 358 for the most whiffs in the circuit.

Helmsman Aceves is not completely without weapons.  Outfielder Francisco Ferreiro has quietly moved into fifth place in the LMB's batting derby with a .396 average while playing in all 36 games through last weekend.  A 29-year-old Culiacan native, Ferreiro was a Saltillo reserve between 2014 and 2017 before signing with Laguna as a free agent just before the LMB's Fall 2018 season, during which he hit .316 in 31 games before becoming a first-time starter this spring.  Outfielder Michael Crouse is only batting .256 but the former Jays farmhand from British Columbia leads the team with nine homers and 29 RBIs.

One familiar face on an otherwise no-name roster is first baseman Dustin Geiger, who signed with the Algodoneros on May 3 after his release from Yucatan.  The one-time MiLB Organizational All-Star from the Cubs system who represented Durango in last summer's LMB midseason showcase is batting .286 with two homers over his first eight games with Laguna.  However, in a league where 12 teams are batting higher than .300, the Algodoneros only have three starters above that mark.

Algodoneros starter Frankie de la Cruz
Then there's the Laguna pitching, which (like the offense) is struggling.  Among pitching Triple Crown figures, the Cottoneers are tied with Tabasco for 14th in the Liga with 13 wins (Campeche in the South has 12), last in strikeouts ( 203) and next-to-last with a 7.85 ERA.  As with their offense, Laguna ranks high in pitching in two less-than-positive categories: their 31 hit batsmen trail only Yucatan's 39 while their 1.85 WHIP is the Liga's third-highest.

With all the mound mess surrounding them, two pitching staff members have pitched well for Aceves:  Starter Frankie de la Cruz is 4-1 and sixth in the league with a 3.19 ERA while setup man Roman Pena is 0-0 but has a better (if non-qualifying) ERA of 2.84 in 22 outings from the bullpen.  Pena and de a Cruz, a 2017 All-Star for Saltillo amid an 11-4 campaign, are the only two pitchers on the Algodoneros staff with an ERA under 4.80.

While it's far too early to count a team out for a postseason berth, Union Laguna is not looking like a team on the verge of contention anytime soon.  There are simply too many holes for Aceves and GM Francisco Mendez to fill for the Algodoneros to bring a pennant to Estadio Revolucion for the first time since 1950.


ATTENDANCE UP IN 15 OF 16 MEXICAN LEAGUE CITIES

Stands packed for a Tijuana Toros home game
Six weeks and 288 games into the 2019 Mexican League season, a cursory look at attendance figures shows that 15 of the Liga's 16 teams have seen an increase in average crowds from the Fall 2018 season.

The numbers are encouraging for an organization that suffered a downturn in attendance last year after the 114-game single schedule was scrapped in favor of two 57-game Spring and Fall seasons, each with full eight-team championship playoffs.  While turnout at LMB games in the Spring season was little different from previous full seasons, things went downhill during the second tournament as attendance plummeted leaguewide. For the first time in several years, no Mexican League team averaged more than 10,000 per opening in the Fall 2018 campaign, with Tijuana leading the pack at 9,358.  Monterrey, Yucatan and Monclova also topped the 5,000 mark but there were also seven teams that pulled in fewer than 3,000 fans per game, with Campeche only generating 855 turnstile clicks nightly.

The two-seasons-per-year concept has worked very well for Liga MX soccer (LMB president Javier Salinas' former employer) Apertura and Clausura tournaments in Mexico, but the philosophy failed to catch on with baseball fans and the experiment was scrapped after one year.  A more traditional 120-game schedule split into two halves from April through August with an eight-team playoff for September was adopted for the current season.

Whether it's interest in the Liga's return to a single season, the added attention to baseball brought on by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's vocal and activist love for the game or a return of the LMB's historic perception as a hitter's paradise, every team except Union Laguna has seen an increase in home attendance figures.  Crowds in Tijuana have increased to 11,862 per opening to lead the LMB while Monterrey is up to 10,665, or 3,000+ higher than last Fall when the Sultanes won the pennant.

Mexico City has benefitted from the opening of Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, as turnout for Diablos Rojos games has tripled from 2,463 to 9,093.  Yucatan, Saltillo, Monclova and Puebla are all averaging between 5,000 and 9,000 while Quintana Roo, Durango, Dos Laredos and Tabasco sit in the 3,000-5,000 range.  Attendance in Villahermosa for Olmecas games has trebled from 1,151 to 3,090.

The numbers are up in Campeche, too
There are still five teams averaging less than 3,000 fans per night, however.  One of those is Union Laguna, the only franchise to see attendance go down from last fall, but the drop from 3,372 to 2,904 is not all that precipitous.  Even Campeche, which was a train wreck last Fall, has gained from the extra interest. Attendance at Estadio Nelson Barrera for Piratas games has risen from an embarrassing 855 average last fall to a pulse-confirming 2,224 per opening.

It remains to be seen if these increases are long-term in nature or just excitement over the first month of the season.  None of the eight teams hosting at least one series last week saw an uptick at the gate, but in the wake of last Fall's bomb at the box office, the Liga office in Mexico City has to be encouraged that things have at least returned to normal and that their outreach efforts in the digital arena (e.g., the Quien es Quien yearbook is now available for free downloading on the LMB website) are beginning to pay dividends.  Whatever the cause, the effect in the stands has been positive.


Cuarto Bat WRITER'S TOP 6 MEXICAN BALLPARKS (PART 4)

A writer for Mexican baseball website Cuarto Bat, Yasser Trujillo, posted a column in April about his picks for the top six ballparks in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues.  Here is the third part of a series in which we bring you a translated version. You'll find their site at CuartoBat.com, where fans can download a free copy of their February magazine.

3. Estadio Sonora, Hermosillo

Never before has the analogy "an oasis in a desert" been so accurate. And it is within about 10 minutes of leaving the city of Hermosillo, next to the airport and already in desert territory, the Estadio Sonora emerges from the sand.  It resembles the "Pinacate Crater", an emblematic place located in a desert ecological reserve of the state. That natural structure was recreated for the spectacular exterior design of the home of the Naranjeros de Hermosillo.

The implementation of the internal corridor with a view to the field so you do not miss the action if you go to the bathroom or the food area was a completely innovative concept on this side of the border.  It should be remembered that 360 ballparks exist in the United States since the 1950s.

The televisions in each column meant great detail for the fan. Its food area was the largest in 2013, when it was inaugurated.  It laid the foundations for future venues with automated turnstiles to enter through via your physical ticket or on your cell phone, and also with the official store next to the main entrance.

It has a particular and emblematic theme that welcomes you when you arrive in the area with a cactus garden, flower arrangements, and artificial paths that recreate the reddish and ocher Sonoran desert. In addition, it presents several photographic spots and monuments that celebrate the idols of the franchise.

Pioneer in the wave of the new top-level stadiums in Mexican baseball, it is home to the most winning team in the Mexican Pacific League. Estadio Sonora was the initial experiment to change the paradigm of ballparks in this country. At the time it was the best stadium in Mexican baseball.

The Naranjeros were not only the first in Mexican baseball to have a first world stadium according to the needs of the 21st century. They have also been the only team in this wave of new properties to launch their resplendent home with a championship.