Saturday, July 30, 2011

2011 Mexican League First Round Playoff Previews

NORTHERN ZONE SEMIFINAL: Mexico City vs. Puebla
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.