Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mexican League to open 2016 season Friday

The Mexican League will pop the cork for its 92nd season this Friday with games in Cancun and Tijuana.  Six more openers are slated for Saturday and Sunday's schedule has all 16 LMB teams in action.

The Quintana Roo Tigres will host the Yucatan Leones Friday at 9,500-seat Estadio Beto Avila in Cancun, one of two Liga ballparks named after the former Cleveland Indians star (the other is in Veracruz, Avila's hometown).  The Tigres, who moved to the resort city in 2007 after decades in Mexico City and six years in Puebla, won the team's third flag since 2011 last summer for the franchise's 12th title overall.

In Friday's other Liga opener, the Reynosa Broncos will be in Tijuana to take on manager Luis Sojo's Toros at Estadio Gasmart, a 41-year-old ballpark seating 16,811 after renovations in the mid-2000's.  Although there has been good interest in baseball for decades in Tijuana, the sport has had a tough go of it over the years for various reasons.  The Toros entered the LMB in 2014, taking the place of the Minatitlan Petroleros.  They've drawn well the past two seasons with 837,842 fans clicking the turnstiles for an average of 7,830 per opening.

The LMB's twelve other teams will take the field for Saturday's opening games: Ciudad Carmen is at Campeche, Oaxaca welcomes Puebla, Laguna hosts Aguascalientes in Torreon, Veracruz visits Tabasco, Saltillo travels to Monclova and Mexico City is at home against Monterrey.  Venues for all first-day matches will be reversed Sunday to complete each home-and-away series.  As usual, Monday will be a travel day before returning to the traditional three-game series format on Tuesday, April 5.

The Mexican League regular season used to run from March through July, with playoffs taking up the month of August.  This year, the LMB's 16 teams will play 113-game schedules from April 1 through August 12 with the postseason carrying into mid-September, if needed.  LMB standings are determined by won-lost percentage, with the top four teams in each division advancing to the first round of playoffs, followed by division championship sets and the league championship between each division titlist.  All playoff series are best-of-7 affairs.  All-Star Weekend will be June 3-5 in Monterrey.

As mentioned, Quintana Roo won the 2015 LMB pennant, beating Monclova in five games to capture the Serie del Rey.  Yucatan's Jesus Valdez (.365) nosed out Jesse Castillo of Aguascalientes (.363) for the batting crown. Valdez also won the Mexican Pacific League hitting title over the winter, batting .347 for Jalisco.  Mexico City's Japhet Amador ran away with both the Liga's home run (41) and RBI (117) race along with his .347 average to earn MVP honors (doing likewise with Jalisco in the LMP last winter before signing with Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles for 2016).  Cuidad Carmen's Gilberto Mejia stole 43 bases to lead in that category.

Among LMB pitchers in 2015, Mexico City's Marco Duarte and Josh Lowey of Monclova each won 13 games to edge ageless Tigres hurler Pablo Ortega (12) for the victory title.  Tabasco's Cesar Vargas, who pitched for the Padres against Houston last weekend in Mexico City, led the LMB with two shutouts and 161 strikeouts.  Saltillo's Edgmer Escalona's 2.54 ERA was best in the Liga in 2015.  Former Royals starting shortstop Tony Pena, son of the eponymous former All-Star catcher and American League manager of the year, has converted into a closer, and the 34-year-old saved 25 games for Laguna to top the circuit. Yucatan's 18-year-old middleman Manuel Rodriguez was named Rookie of the Year after he went 4-0 with a 1.84 ERA in 50 appearances out of the bullpen.