Saturday, July 30, 2011

2011 Mexican League First Round Playoff Previews

The Diablos finished the regular season with the best record in the Mexican League and as a team batted .334, hit 192 homers and averaged over seven runs per game while Puebla hit .301 with less than half as many homers (and stole a Liga-low 34 bases). Based on that, Mexico City seems the clear favorite here except for one little detail: Pitching.

Although the Diablos have one of the best pitchers in the Liga in Roberto Ramirez (10-3/3.59) while Marco Duarte (12-4/4.94) tied for the LMB lead in wins, Mexico City still showed a 5.35 ERA to Puebla’s 4.89 mound mark. Further, the Parrots have a solid 1-2-3 top of the rotation in Andres Meza (11-5/3.14), Lorenzo Barcelo (10-7) and Mauricio Lara (10-5) that rank among the best starting threesome in the league. Puebla closer Luis Ramirez has had a good year 16 saves and a 3.54 ERA, but Diablos short man Jean Machi (15 saves, 2.30 ERA) hasn’t given up an earned run in over a month.

Still, the idea in baseball is to outscore your opponent and few do it better than Mexico City. Manager Mako Oliveras can fill out a lineup card with eight .300 hitters, including likely MVP OF Luis Terrero (.390/38/110), 1B Japhet Amador (.376/25/84), OF Mario Valenzuela (.374/21/58) and OF Leo Heras (.342/18/60). The Diablos addressed a hole on the left side of their infield by bringing in SS Luis Alfonso Cruz (.406 in 16 games) and vet 3B Oscar Robles (.250 in 3 games).

Pitching can win for you, but Puebla’s probably isn’t deep enough to win this series.

NORTHERN ZONE SEMIFINAL: Reynosa vs. Monterrey
Reynosa was one of the surprise teams of the Mexican League this year, finishing second in the LMB North with a 57-47 record that was the third-best in the circuit. Broncos manager Homar Rojas put together a good everyday lineup that included 2010 Liga batting champ DH Willis Otanez (.341/22/82), who came over from Puebla in the offseason. Otanez is probably the biggest star on a team that features solid but mostly unspectacular players like OF Eduardo Arredondo (.346/32 steals), 1B Jesse Gutierrez (.331/27/87), 3B Marshall McDougall (.327/15/79) and OF Yurendell de Caster (.338/6/47).

The problem with the Broncos is pitching. Rojas does have the underrated Marco Tovar (12-4/3.11) as his stopper, but this year’s Liga ERA champion has little help in the rotation as no other starter had an ERA better than 5.70.

On the other hand, Monterrey’s batting and pitching may be better than Reynosa’s despite finishing behind the Broncos in the standings. Granted, the Sultanes lost OF Karim Garcia and 1B Luis Alfonso Garcia to Asian teams during the season, but they still have a good lineup with DH Edgar Quintero (.357/32/78), OF Chris Roberson (.337/96 runs/22 steals) and mid-season pickup 1B Sandy Madera (.325/19/70). These guys can put runs on the board.

Monterrey’s pitching is decent enough, with veteran Walter Silva (10-4/3.51), Dan Serafini (7-5/4.88) and Francisley Bueno (7-5/4.15) topping a good rotation to complement closer Oscar Villareal (18 saves/2.80).

Although Reynosa won the first 10 of 12 games between these two teams during the regular season, the Sultanes could surprise.

SOUTHERN ZONE SEMIFINAL: Quintana Roo vs. Oaxaca
Both the Tigres and Guerreros lost six of their last ten games to end the regular season, but Oaxaca comes into the postseason on a five-game losing streak and they’ll be facing a team that pitched its way to first place in the standings.

Quintana Roo is not a team that’ll pound its way to a win. Only OFs Sergio Contreras (.347/13/57) and Doug Clark (.315/21/58) hit over .300 while C Iker Franco (.276/23/74) led the team in homers and RBIs with relatively modest totals. DH Carlos Sievers (.266/16/65) is the only other power threat besides Clark and Franco, but you won’t see a lot of double-digit scores with the Cancun club. What you will see with manager Matias Carrillo’s Tigres is an intelligent team that doesn’t beat itself and features a deep pitching staff with vets like Pablo Ortega (10-3/3.29), Francisco Cordoba (7-9) and Jose Ramirez (7-4/3.60) in the rotation along with fireman Sandy Nin (8-4/2.80/24 saves) coming out of the bullpen.

Oaxaca, on the other hand, has some players who can hit for average, including Liga batting champion 1B Barbaro Canizares (.396/20/76) and liner-hitting DH Kevin Barker (.358/12/79), but little power beyond those two. The Guerreros also have All-Stars in C Erick Rodriguez (.305/4/44) and 3B Sergio Gastelum (.288/4/41) and they’re strong defensively, but Oaxaca’s pitching is mediocre. Sergio Valenzuela (8-6/4.25) tops a so-so rotation and there’s been no closer since the Guerreros released Francisco.

The two teams split ten games this year, but it’s hard not to go with the Tigres here.

SOUTHERN ZONE SEMIFINAL: Campeche vs. Veracruz
This has the potential to be the most entertaining series among the four divisional semis. Between Veracruz OFs Jorge Guzman (.290/39/97) and Victor Diaz (.253/34/89) plus Campeche OF Ruben Rivera (.322/31/90), three of the top five home run hitters in the Liga this year will be on hand.

Campeche also has good hitters like OF Luis Matos (.331/8/32 with 15 steals), 1B Jolbert Cabrera (.300/19/74) and DH Javier Robles (.296/16/73), but the PIratas have had good pitching from starters Francisco Campos (12-5/3.42), Alejandro Armenta (11-4/3.80) Carlos Elizalde (8-2/4.03) and Miguel Ruiz ((5-6/3.36) in perhaps the Liga’s deepest rotation, and Hung-Weng Chen (2-1/1.82/6 saves) has solidified the bullpen after being picked up from the Chicago Cubs system. Campeche’s team ERA of 4.61 was third in the LMB this year behind Veracruz and Quintana Roo.

It’s easy to overlook the Aguilas pitching with Guzman and Diaz providing offensive fireworks, but Veracruz had a Liga-best ERA of 4.24 in 2011. Joel Vargas (11-7/3.60) turned in an impressive season while Juan Acevedo (9-5/3.68) was a solid number two starter, while Hector Navarro (3-3/4.25/15 saves) and Jailen Peguero (5-0/1.40/8 saves) have combined for 29 saves in leading a tremendous Aguilas bullpen. Veracruz will need the pitching because for all the home run power they have in the middle of the order, the Eagles hit a Liga-worst .273 and stuck out 718 times.

Campeche won 7 0f 10 meetings with Veracruz in the regular season and should prevail here as well.

Friday, July 29, 2011


The Mexican League’s 2011 regular season is in the history books, and first round playoff matchups are set.

The Mexico City Diablos Rojos won the Northern Zone title with the best record in the LMB at 63-40, finishing 6.5 games ahead of 57-37 Reynosa. Monterrey finished with seven straight losses to end up at 54-49 while Puebla took fourth at 53-53. Laguna, Monclova and Saltillo finished out of the playoffs.

In the LMB South, Quintana Roo took first at 62-42, 4.5 games up on 55-45 Campeche. Veracruz was third at 54-49 and Oaxaca copped the fourth and final playoff berth with a 51-51 mark after losing their last five games. Tabasco, Minatitlan and Yucatan finished 5-6-7 as the Leones, a perennial playoff team, turned in the worst record in the circuit at 43-62.

In the division semifinal openers Saturday, Monterrey will open at Reynosa while Mexico City hosts Monterrey in the North; Veracruz travels to Campeche and Oaxaca visits the Tigres in Cancun for the South semis.

For individual honors, Mexico City’s Luis Terrero fell short in his bid for a Triple Crown, but he did win the RBI title with 110. Oaxaca's Barbaro Canizares (pictured), the 2010 International League batting champion, was the top hitter with a .396 average while Jorge Guzman of Veracruz won the home run crown with 39, just ahead of Terrero’s 38.

Among pitchers, Marco Tovar of Reynosa topped the chart with a 3.11 ERA and tied with Campeche’s Francisco Campos, Tabasco’s Leo Gonzalez and the Diablos’ Marco Duarte in wins with 12. Saltillo’s Danny Rodriguez took the strikeout title with 118.

Standings and individual league leaders will be available in the BBM weekly newsletter Sunday. For a free subscription, email

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


After losing out to Pittsburgh in the Luis Heredia Sweepstakes last year, the Toronto Blue Jays don’t want to let another young Mexican pitching prospect slip through their fingers. Even though they reportedly offered more money than the Pirates, Heredia’s lifelong friendship with Pittsburgh scout Jesus “Chino” Valdez was likely a deciding in his signing with the Buccos last year…that and a $3 million signing bonus (much of which went to the Veracruz Aguilas, the Mexican League team that owned the rights to Heredia).

This time, Toronto may have landed a different well-regarded 16-year-old Sinaloa pitcher in Roberto Osuna, who said he was ready to sign with the Jays (who will likely offer Heredia-like money). Unlike Heredia, who had zero professional experience before reporting to the Pirates training complex in Florida last fall, the 6’0” 198-pound Osuna (who hits the mid-90’s on the radar gun) made 13 appearances in the Mexican League this season. Although he got roughed up more than once, the nephew of former MLB pitcher Antonio Osuna pitched reasonably well most of the time, going 19.2 innings for an 0-1 record and a 5.49 ERA, not a bad number for a hitter’s league like the LMB, striking out 12 and walking 10 for Mexico City. No doubt the Diablos will get their cut no matter who signs Osuna.

The right-handed Osuna, who is ranked fourth by Baseball America's Ben Badler on a list of international prospects, reportedly is leaning toward Toronto over four other teams and has already made an appearance at the Jays complex in Florida.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Pablo Ortega has been one of the top pitchers in Mexico for years: Not a guy who’ll blow batters away with speed or filthy breaking pitches, but a pitcher who genuinely “pitches” and relies on fooling batters. Sunday, he had the potent Veracruz lineup (including sluggers Jorge Guzman and Victor Diaz) entirely fooled, save for one patient batter.

The crafty 34-year-old righty registered the first no-hitter of the season as the Quintana Roo Tigres defeated the Aguilas, 10-0, beofre 4,270 fans in Veracruz’ Parque Universitario Beto Avila. And it was almost as efficient a no-no as you’ll ever see, as Ortega retired the first 25 hitters he faced until issuing a walk to Leo Rodriguez with one out in the bottom of the ninth before setting down the last two batters he faced. With the win, the former Tampa Bay farmhand improved to 10-3 on the season and lowered his ERA to 3.29 in the hitter-friendly Mexican League. As if the Tigres needed any more reason to celebrate, the win clinched the LMB South title for the Cancun side, who lead Campeche by 4.5 games with four left to play until the postseason.

Besides throwing the eighth no-hitter in the Tigres’ 57-year history (and the first since 2004), Ortega’s gem capped a year of vindication. After winning 36 of 49 decisions between 2007 and 2009, the Nuevo Laredo native suffered a horrible 2010 campaign, going 2-6 with an 8.24 ERA and causing some to wonder if he’d finally run out of gas after 113 wins over 14 professional seasons.

Instead, it would appear that Pablo Ortega still has a Tigre in his tank.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Although first-round matchups haven’t been finalized, four teams have clinched berths in the 2011 Mexican League Northern Zone playoffs. Mexico City, which qualified for the postseason in mid-July, remains on top of the LMB North standings at 59-40, three-and-a-half games ahead of 44-43 Reynosa, four games up on 54-43 Monterrey, and eight games in front of 51-48 Puebla. Laguna and Saltillo are tied for fifth at 43-57, 8.5 games behind the Pericos with seven games remaining on the schedule, while Monclova brings up the rear at 42-59. The elimination of the Saraperos means there will be a new Liga champion this summer.

Things aren’t quite as well-defined in the LMB South, although three teams have assured themselves of playing into August. Quintana Roo has led the division for weeks, and the Tigres are 58-40, 4.5 games ahead of 52-43 Campeche. Veracruz is six games back at 52-46 while Oaxaca holds fourth with a 50-46 mark. Tabasco is barely clinging onto hope with a 47-53 mark, five games out of fourth, but Minatitlan (43-56) and Yucatan (40-58) are getting ready to break out the golf clubs.

The regular season will end July 28, with the playoffs set to start two days later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Ryan Mulhern certainly made the most of his six weeks in Mexico. After arriving in Saltillo on June 3, the outfielder proceeded to tear the cover off the baseball, battering Mexican League pitching to the tune of a .366 average with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 36 games. That was enough to gain the notice of Japan’s Seibu Lions of the Pacific League. Seibu and Mulhern were able to come to terms and the Burbank, California native made his way to the Far East on July 18.

Mulhern was drafted by Tampa Bay out of high school in 2000 and again by St. Louis after two years at the University of Southern Alabama in 2002 before being picked and signed by Cleveland in 2003. The 6’2” Mulhern spent six years in the Indians organization before going to Pittsburgh’s farm system in 2008. His best season was in 2005, when he hit .315 and blasted 32 homers splitting the year with Kinston in the Carolina League and Akron of the Eastern League, winning the Lou Boudreau Award as the Tribe’s top minor leaguer. He spent two years with Lancaster in the Atlantic League before coming to Saltillo last month. Mulhern has hit 131 homers over nine minor league seasons.

Puro Beisbol quoted Mulhern as saying, “I’m very thankful for the opportunity that Sergio (Saraperos president Sergio Ley) offered me to play in Japan…I’m also thankful to the people of Saltillo for all the support and affection they’ve given me during this time. I hope to return to the Saraperos because it’s a great team with great people.”

Monday, July 18, 2011


The on-field demise of the Saltillo Saraperos this season has been well-documented. Coming off their second consecutive Mexican League pennant, the Sarape Makers entered 2011 with hopes of becoming only the second team in Liga history to win three straight flags (the Monterrey Industriales turned the ultimate triple play in 1947-49). Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, that ain’t gonna happen.

Even though longtime favorite Christian Presichi has been traded away, manager Orlando Sanchez was fired earlier this month and the Saraperos are 14 games under .500 and fighting Laguna and Monclova to stay out of the LMB North cellar, the fans continue to pour through the turnstiles at Estadio Francisco I. Madero. Through 48 home games, the Saraperos have drawn 410,056 people for an average of 8,542 per opening, both league-leading numbers.

The main reason attendance has maintained the top spot may be an extensive off-season ballpark remodel that saw the seating capacity increase to 17,500, new roofing placed over all seats, the playing field was completely reinstalled, a state-of-the-art Scoresound 1500 sound system was brought in and the placement of a 46’x72’ Daktronics scoreboard that is said to be the largest in Latin baseball.

Right behind Saltillo in attendance are the Monterrey Sultanes with an average of 8,023 fans while Puebla is third at 7,207 per game. Minatitlan is last with a 1,977 average, but overall attendance in the Liga appears to be up from 2010.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Although they’ve taken decidedly different routes to their identical records, both the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Quintana Roo Tigres have become the first teams to clinch berths in the Mexican League playoffs this season.

The Diablos have fashioned a 57-36 record by essentially bludgeoning their competition into submission. Mexico City is batting .330 as a team this year while belting an LMB-best 169 homers en route to scoring an average of 7.6 runs per game. Although Mexico City’s pitching is showing a hefty 5.18 ERA, that’s been more than enough to give the Diablos a five-game lead in the LMB North over second place Monterrey.

On the other hand, the Tigres offense is less than overwhelming with a .277 team average, 13th among the 14 Liga teams. The Cancun club is tied for third in the LMB with 113 homers (led by Iker Franco’s 23 bombs and Doug Clark’s 18), but this is a side that’s 57-36 and six games ahead of Veracruz in the Southern Zone because of pitching. The Tigres have a 4.30 ERA (second among Liga teams) and their 1.46 WHIP is tops in the circuit. While there’s no Bobby Cramer on the staff this year, crafty Pablo Ortega (9-2/2.91) leads a solid rotation and Sandy Nin (pictured) has won or saved 30 games out of the bullpen.

At this stage of the season it's easy to envision these two longtime rivals meeting in the Championship Series next month, but there'll be the matter of two playoff rounds to attend to first and. as Saltillo proved last year, clinching a division title in July doesn't guarantee a pennant in August.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Even if his season ended today, Mexico City outfielder Luis Terrero has had one hell of a ride in 2011.

A 31-year-old Dominican who hit .234 with 14 homers in 243 games for three MLB teams between 2003 and 2007, Terrero bounced around the high minors before landing with the Diablos Rojos this year. The 6’3” right-handed batter was envisioned as a player who could give the Diablos a multi-talented player that could hit with power and run, but nobody expected him to have the kind of year he’s having. Now the question may be whether Terrero can lead the Liga in six major offensive categories: Batting average, slugging average, homers, runs, runs batted in and stolen bases.

Consider that after socking a three-run homer Tuesday night in a 7-4 Mexico City win at Puebla, Terrero now leads the LMB in batting (.390), slugging (.751) and runs (96), holds second place in homers (33), and RBIs (98), and is fourth in steals (26). He’s been see-sawing with teammate Japhet Amador for the batting title, has whacked five homers in July to close to within three of leader Jorge Guzman (who’s hit one this month), is just three ribbies behind Puebla’s slumping Mendy Lopez (.235 over 10 games), and steals leader Eduardo Arredondo (31 swipes) has been hurt for two weeks.

It’s hard to envision anyone but Terrero as MVP this year (though few things are ever certain in the LMB), but with a break here and there, he may be on the verge of a truly historic season with a shot at leading in six offensive categories.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Pitching prodigy Luis Heredia is finding common ground with young hurlers everywhere throughout baseball history: No matter how hard you throw, you need to throw strikes.

Heredia absorbed his first loss in four starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gulf Coast League rookie team on July 8, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Phillies. The 16-year-old righty only lasted 2.1 innings, letting in two runs on as many hits with five walks and only one strikeout.

The Mazatlan native has found home plate elusive thus far, with the 6’6” Heredia issuing nine bases on balls in nine frames to go with his six strikeouts. After giving up three free passes in 2.2 innings for his first pro outing against the Blue Jays on June 21, Heredia settled down in his next two starts and allowed just one walk with five whiffs over four stanzas before his control problems returned during last Friday’s loss in his first decision of the year.

While his propensity for walks is probably a concern (but not a major crisis, since Heredia IS a 16-year-old away from home for the first time in a foreign country) and his 4.00 ERA won’t knock anyone dead, one thing that probably has Pirates brass pleased is that while opponents are getting on base, they’re not knocking him out of the box. Heredia, whose fastball can reach the mid-90’s, has only allowed a .115 batting average among batters he’s faced and has given up just three hits over nine innings.

Imagine how effective he might be once he starts throwing strikes.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Pitcher Miguel Ruiz was the first overall selection in the Mexican Pacific League’s annual free agent draft, held recently in Obregon. Ruiz was chosen by the Hermosillo Naranjeros, who were dealt the top pick by Mexicali as part of the trade that sent Chris Roberson to the Aguilas. Ruiz is currently pitching for Campeche in the Mexican League.

Guasave took pitcher Luis de la O (Veracruz) second, followed by Navojoa’s choice of Laguna outfielder Jesus Romo. Los Mochis picked Hugo Perez, Culiacan chose Reynosa pitcher Oscar Hurtado, Mazatlan picked Veracruz pitcher Carlos Santamaria, Alexis Martinez went to Obregon and Hermosillo took Reynosa pitcher Arturo Mejia.
The draft continued for several rounds, with rights to a total of 73 players disbursed. One intriguing pick was Mazatlan’s late-round selection of Vinny Castilla...NOT the former MLB All-Star who retired from winterball in Hermosillo last season, but his nephew, who is a pitcher.

The Mex Pac draft involves teams selecting league rights to eligible domestic players not currently on any LMP team’s 60-man reserve list. Teams are also required to drop one player from their reserve list per pick to keep their number at 60.

There was also a draft of foreign-born players who are currently playing in the Mexican League. Taiwanese pitcher Chen Wen Hung was the first extranero picked by Mazatlan.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The Salon de la Fama in Monterrey was the scene of an induction ceremony July 2 as four new members were brought into the fold: Pitchers Mercedes Esquer and Teodoro “Teddy” Higuera, outfielder Jimmie Collins and executive Dr. Arturo Leon Lerma (pictured, L to R) were honored at the CuauhtĂ©moc Moctezuma brewery grounds, home of the Salon.

Esquer is one of the best left-handed pitchers in Mexican baseball history. He spent 24 seasons in the Liga, mainly with Monterrey and Yucatan, winning over 200 games. Esquer also topped 100 career wins in the Mexican Pacific League.

Higuera had a 94-64 record in nine major league seasons with a 3.66 ERA, becoming the first Mexican-born 20-game winner in American League history with a 20-11 mark for Milwaukee in 1986 (appearing in the All-Star Game that year). Higuera also spent six seasons in the Mexican League, mostly with the Juarez Indios.

A Southern University product, Collins spent seven seasons in the Atlanta Braves system before playing in Mexico between 1978 and 1987, batting .354 for his LMB career (third on the all-time list) and topping .400 twice.

Leon Lerma has spent more than 40 years in the front offices of Mexican baseball teams and leagues. President of the Mexican Pacific League for 15 years, he is currently the Executive Chairman of the LMP’s Hermosillo Naranjeros.

Monday, July 4, 2011


But what have you done for me lately?

If he ever had any illusions about job security, Orlando Sanchez has learned the hard way that coming off two Mexican League pennants in a row doesn’t count for much if the team you’re managing now is in last place. Sanchez was fired as pilot of the Saltillo Saraperos on July 1 after the team slid into the LMB North cellar with a 35-50 record. He was replaced at the helm by longtime Liga catcher Noe Munoz (pictured).

Sanchez was introduced as manager of the Saraperos on December 2, 2008. In his first season, Saltillo won its first outright Liga pennant by defeating Quintana Roo, 4 games to 2, in the Finals. He followed that up last season with another flag, this time by bouncing Puebla in five games in the title set. Although the Saraperos did not have a dominant regular season either year, there were hopes for a three-peat going into the current season.

Instead, the Saraperos’ pitching staff, which was a question mark going into the campaign, has been battered for a 6.24 team ERA, far too deep a hole even for an offense averaging .303 to overcome. The result was Sanchez’ ouster, along with pitching coach Julio Cesar Miranda.

Munoz has caught for 21 years in the Liga, the past 13 in Saltillo. He’ll be asked to lead the Saraperos to their 13th consecutive playoff appearance, while new pitching coach Martin Enriquez will be asked to turn the pitching around. It’s hard to know which of the two has the harder job ahead of him.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Although it’s still a little early to start ordering tickets to playoff games in August, the haves and have-nots are showing a real sense of separation as the Mexican League enters the final month of its regular season schedule.

In the LMB North, Mexico City (49-34) and Reynosa (48-36) have been jockeying for first place for most of the season, Monterrey (46-39) plays well enough on the road to be a real postseason darkhorse and Puebla (40-40) is likely to finish fourth but unlikely to go far in the playoffs. Laguna (37-48) has won seven in a row to pull out of the cellar, Monclova (36-49) has never made a serious run this year and Saltillo (35-49) has looked nothing like the two-time champions they are.

In the LMB South, Quintana Roo (52-32) has the best record in the Liga and odds-on favorite for a Finals berth. Surprising Veracruz (46-39) is battling Oaxaca (42-37) and Campeche (43-38) for the second seed and home-field advantage in the first round. Tabasco (38-46), Yucatan (37-47) and Minatitlan (35-50) are the also-rans at this point, with the Leones as disappointing as Veracruz has been pleasantly surprising in 2011.

One facet of the July schedule to watch is that throughout July, all series will be two-game affairs instead of the usual three-game sets. Veteran-laden teams are likely to suffer from the shorter turnarounds and extra bus rides as clubs play three series per week instead of two. If the standings change, this will be a factor.