Sunday, August 2, 2009

A-GON HOMERS IN THREE STRAIGHT GAMES FOR PADRES

If San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was distracted by trade rumors last week, he didn’t show it. The Cincinnati Reds could be forgiven for wishing any deal involving the All-Star had happened a week before last Friday’s trade deadline.

Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego but spent twelve years growing up in Mexico, blasted home runs in three consecutive games last week against the Reds in Cincinnati to raise his season total to 28, second in the National League to St. Louis’ Albert Pujols. The struggling Padres, who won three of their four games in Ohio, were sellers as the deadline approached, but Gonzalez remains in San Diego.

A-Gon is certainly a bargain for any team he plays for. He is in the middle of a contract that pays him $9 million over four seasons, with a $5.5 million team option for 2011. Good money for mere mortals, but not too much for a guy who’s hit 118 homers with 360 RBIs since coming to San Diego in 2006. Besides being a career .278 batter, Gonzalez is the National League’s defending Gold Glove first baseman.

He belted three homers for Mazatlan in a game during last winter’s Caribbean Series, and played for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic alongside brother Edgar Gonzalez (who also plays for the Padres).

LIGA PLAYOFF MATCHUPS SET AS REGULAR SEASON ENDS

The 2009 Mexican League playoffs got underway this weekend as the regular season came to a close last Thursday night. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos, who won the Northern Zone’s first half title, ended with a 36-16 record to finish on top in the second half as well, ending the season with a Liga-best 16 points. Points are assigned to all teams for each half based on how they finished in the standings, starting with eight points for the first-place team all the way down to four points for finishing eighth.

The Yucatan Leones won the Southern Zone’s second-half title at 35-18, but finished second overall to Quintana Roo. Both teams ended up with 15 points, but the Tigres got the nod for top playoff seed by posting a 71-36 overall record, while Yucatan ended the regular season 2.5 game behind with an aggregate 68-38 mark.

First round matchups in the Northern Zone have Mexico City taking on the Laguna Vaqueros while Saltillo battles Reynosa. Laguna is in the postseason for the first time in five years. In the LMB South, the Tigres are playing Campeche and Yucatan is facing off against Puebla. The first round will consist of best-of-7 series, after which the Zone Finals will begin a week from Monday.

One notable absence from the postseason is Monterrey, a perennial Mexican League powerhouse. The Sultanes finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Northern Zone in the second half, but only received 5.5 points after a poor first half to end up out of the money.

AROUND THE LIGA...

NORTHERN ZONE

Mexico City won both halves in the Northern Zone and finished 70-35. Robert Saucedo batted .348 with 24 homers and a Liga-high 109 RBIs as the Diablos hit .332 as a team. Roberto Ramirez was 13-4 with a .3.45 ERA, and closer Scott Chiasson had 34 saves.

Saltillo was 59-48 in 2009 with a balanced offense that featured six players with 12 or more homers. Nelson Teilon hit .353 with 18 homers and 82 RBIs. Saltillo’s pitching has been marginal, with nobody reaching double-digit win totals. Mario Mendoza, Jr. did win 9 games.

Reynosa finished 58-47, thanks to Marshall McDougall (20 homers with 86 RBIs), Ray Martinez (a .361 batting average over 71 games) and Edgard Clemente (.339 after a midseason trade with Yucatan). Closer Alan Guerrero led the Broncos with 9 wins and 22 saves.

Laguna was 55-51, and feature the Liga’s top hitter, Dionys Cesar, who batted .380 while stealing an LMB-best 40 bases. The Vaqueros were one of eight teams with a .300 or better batting average. Jorge Ibarra led the pitching staff with a 10-1 record

Monclova ended at 57-50, but was a half-point out of fourth. Saul Soto had a great year for the Acereros, batting .370 and leading the Liga with 28 homers. Nerio Rodriguez and Jasiel Acosta each won 11 games, and Rodriguez led the Mexican League with 117 strikeouts.

Monterrey came in sixth in the North at 51-56 to miss the playoffs only two years after winning the pennant. Edgar Quintero was second among Liga batters at .378 and hit 21 homers, but a mediocre pitching staff produced nobody with more than 8 wins.

Chihuahua ended the season with 11 straight losses to finish at 40-67. Jacob Cruz had a good year by batting .359 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, but ex-Kansas City pitcher Jose Santiago’s 7-11 record was the best among a weak group on the mound.

Nuevo Laredo finished last in both halves to end at 35-71, 35.5 games out of first. The Tecolotes had a sorry offense, hitting .271 and just 42 homers. Enrique Quintanilla’s 2.48 ERA was second in the LMB, but he was only 6-7 record in 20 starts.


SOUTHERN ZONE

Quintana Roo nudged out Yucatan as the LMB South’s top seed at 71-36, mostly due to a pitching staff that led the LMB with a 3.94 ERA. Pablo Ortega was stellar, going 13-5 with a 3.19 ERA. Sergio Contreras batted .346 and Carlos Sievers had 24 homers and 77 RBIs.

Yucatan went 68-38 to finish second. Willie Romero had a .346 average and ageless Luis Arredondo hit .338 and stole 31 bases to become the first player in Liga history with 500 career swipes. Javier Martinez led a solid pitching corps with an 11-4 record and 2.95 ERA.

Puebla was 62-43 and finished third in the South. Serafin Rodriguez hit .358, Rene Reyes added a .355 average (plus 12 homers and 12 steals), vet Willis Otanez hit .349 with 19 homers and 91 RBIs, and Andres Meza led Liga pitchers with 15 wins against two losses.

Campeche came in fourth overall in the Southern Zone at 56-21. Ruben Rivera led Mexican batters with 32 homers to go with 17 steals, a .344 average…and 14 errors in the field. Francisco Campos won 11 games and led the league with a 2.31 ERA.

Veracruz end the year at 51-56. The Aguilas actually had very good pitching, with a team ERA of 4.05 (second in the LMB). Rafael Cruz was solid, going 12-7 and 2.81. The hitting was lackluster, though Timo Perez did bat .323 with 8 homers and 11 steals in 77 games.

Oaxaca had a tough season, ending at 42-63. Carlos Rivera, Raul Lopez and Christian Quintero all hit over .330 and combined for 55 homers and 240 RBIs to anchor a good batting order, but the pitching was awful. Wilton Chavez went 7-9 for a team with a 6.15 ERA.

Tabasco was 39-63 this season, although the Olmecas followed a horrible first half with a 23-26 second half. Pedro Valdes was tenth in batting at .354 with 17 homers, but he had no protection in the lineup. Leonardo Gonzalez was 8-8 and 4.02 for a mediocre pitching staff.

Minatitlan had the worst record in the Liga at 34-73, 37 games behind the Tigres. Only Ricardo Soriano (.309) hit over .300, Frank Diaz led the team with 6 homers in 39 games, and Alexander Francisco (6-8) stood out among pitchers. It was a lost year for the Petroleros.

HISTORIA MEXICANA I: The Olmecs and Mayans

The earliest settlers arrived in Mexico after crossing the Bering land bridge between Asia and Alaska some 20,000 years ago. By 2000 BC, farming villages were beginning to spring up. Sometime around 1500 BC, the first prominent culture, the Olmecs, was established on the hot and humid south Gulf coast. The Olmecs built ceremonial centers rather than cities, and their earthen pyramids suggest a centralized government capable of mobilizing extensive manpower used to raft heavy basalt blocks downriver and carving them into massive heads and other sculptures. The Olmecs also produced ceramic and exquisite jade figurines.

However, during the first millennium BC, Olmec centers declined and were the scene of systematic destruction by unknown marauders, and the Olmec civilization faded into obscurity. The Olmec “mother culture” spawned several subsequent groups of people, including the Mayans. Maya settlements began to appear in what is now the Mexico-Guatemala border region by around 500 BC, and their culture reached its zenith in the “classic period” of 200-900 AD. Numerous cities with elaborate temples surrounded by residential and agricultural areas developed at that time, as the Classic Maya pursued a ritual life and practiced sophisticated art, including a remarkable mathematical and astronomical knowledge. Once thought of as pacifistic, the Mayans actually engaged in conquest and warfare between cities regularly. Stone carvings from the period depict victories of great Maya rulers, who warred, allied, intermarried and patronized the arts in the same fashion as later princely families like the Medicis in Renaissance Italy.

By around 800 AD, though, the Classic Maya faced such crises as overuse of resources, and several centers were destroyed and abandoned, perhaps as victims of epidemics or peasant revolt.

Among the largest city-states was Monte Alban, a hilltop city in Oaxaca with a population of about 25,000 by the eighth century AD. When Monte Alban began to decline, Mitla and other lesser towns sprang up in Oaxaca. The biggest city of the first millennium AD, however, was Teotihuacan. Located just north of what is now Mexico City, Teotihuacan eventually was home to 125,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world. However, the same troubles that led to the decline and fall of the Mayan Empire beset Teotihuacan. As its population increased, so did the amount of poverty and discontent, and invaders from the north attacked and partly burned Teotihuacan in around 650 AD.

That began a decline in the seventh century that brought about Teotihuacan’s eventual downfall. In the wake of the demise of the early cultures, it would be centuries until the establishment of the next great Mexican empire, the Toltecs.

NEXT WEEK: Toltecs, Aztecs and Conquistadores