Monday, June 27, 2016

Monterrey opens LMB North lead; Puebla-Yucatan duel continues in South

Although they've dropped their last two games while rival Monclova has won three straight, the Monterrey Sultanes ended the weekend with a five-game lead over the Acereros in the Mexican League's North Division standings.

The Sultanes had won 13 of their first 15 games in June heading into a weekend series at Veracruz, where the home Rojos Aguilas have strugged all year and had just hired their third manager of 2016 last week.  Monterrey won the opener, 6-5, to raise their season record to 47-22 after opening June with a 33-20 mark, but then dropped the final two games of the set to fall to 47-24 and a five-game bulge over the second-place Acereros, who had held a comfortable lead in the LMB North before leveling off at the same time the Sultanes caught fire.

For their part, Monclova had mixed results on their six-game road trip last week, losing all three games at Puebla to the LMB South-leading Pericos before going into struggling Oaxaca and winning all three contests over the host Guerreros to bring their season ledger up to 42-29.  While Monterrey has gone 14-4 thus far this month, the Acereros have struggled to an 8-10 record, including a five-game losing skid.

The LMB South has been a two-team dogfight for weeks, and last week's results only underscored that fact.  Puebla has been strong all season, leading the South since the first few games of the season, and they've built a six-game winning skein by sweeping home series with both Monclova and Laguna between the 21st and 26th.  Travis Blackley won games on both those dates, including a 5-2 win over the Vaqueros and venerable 39-year-old righty Walter Silva, who was making the 2001st appearance of his 11-year Liga career.  Blackley's two wins brought his season record to 6-4 while Silva fell to 1-3 as the Pericos maintained their division lead with a 49-22 mark, best in the league.

So how did Yucatan do while Puebla was reeling off six straight victories?  The Leones swept a pair of three-game series to extend their own unbeaten string to seven games in a row.  Yucatan first traveled to Aguascalientes and scored 37 runs en route to three straight wins over the Rieleros and then spent three nights in Saltillo, where they put another 23 runs on the board during their sweep over the Saraperos as Yucatan's record rose to 48-23, one game behind the Pericos.

The two division leaders will start this week facing each other in a three-game series as Monterrey hosts Puebla in a vital matchup for both sides.  Monclova will be at home Tuesday to open a set with Tabasco while Yucatan welcomes Mexico City to Merida's Parque Kukulcan for a trio of games.

Lowey beats Oaxaca for 12th win, chasing pitching Triple Crown

Entering the Mexican League's 2016 season, Monclova pitcher Josh Lowey had one tough act to follow: His own 2015 campaign.  Even with that burden, the 31-year-old Floridian has been outdoing himself this year.

Let's hit the rewind button and go back in time.  Lowey was coming off a fair 2014 debut south of the border when he went 7-5 with a 4.11 ERA for the Acereros after kicking around for all or part of seven seasons pitching for independent teams (going 40-12 in three different leagues between 2011 and 2013).  The 5'11" righty really came into his own in 2015, earning Pitcher of the Year honors after a 13-6 season
in which he tied Mexico City's Marco Duarte for the Liga high with 13 wins, finished second with 145 strikeouts and was fourth in ERA at 3.03 as Monclova went on in the postseason to advance to the Serie del Rey finals against eventual LMB champion Quintana Roo.  How do you improve on a year like that?

If you're Josh Lowey, you start out your next season by winning 12 of your first 15 starts out the gate (including an 8-0 shared shutout at Monclova last Saturday) to lead the league in victories, topping the circuit with 123 strikeouts in 97.2 innings, registering an 0.92 WHIP that tops the charts and turning in an ERA of 1.66 that would lead the LMB under the age-old standard qualifier of innings pitched equaling the number of games played by a team.  The Liga still lists Tijuana's Hector Ambriz as the current ERA leader at 1.23 in 9 starts even though Ambriz hasn't pitched an inning in over five weeks and his 58.2 innings fall short of the 71 games the Toros have played.

It wouldn't be the first time a league has played fast and loose with tradition and/or its own rules to achieve a desired result, but Lowey is on his way to pitching's Triple Crown in the Mexican League and a second straight POY award.  Somehow, with a severe pitching shortage north of the border that has led to mound performances that would be shamed by a batting tee, not one MLB organization has ever signed Josh Lowey to even a minor league contract.  Maybe it really IS who you know...

Among batters, Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia still leads the LMB with a .374 average, Quintana Roo third baseman Alex Liddi has taken the lead in homers with 18, Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez continues to head the RBI list with 75 and Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene's 22 stolen bases is best in the loop.  Monclova closer Arcenio Leon is best among all closers with 25 saves.

Edgar Gonzalez resigns as Mexicali skipper, focusing on Mexico WBC team

After receiving Manager of the Year accolades for leading the Mexicali Aguilas to a 38-29 record, the top playoff seed and a finals berth in the Mexican Pacific League last winter, Edgar Gonzalez is stepping down as skipper of the border team to concentrate on managing Mexico's national team in next year's World Baseball Classic.

Gonzalez was named the Aguilas' manager September 15, 2015.  He'd retired as a player one year earlier after spending 15 seasons as a pro playing mostly second base and third base in the minors for five MLB organizations, two years with the San Diego Padres and two years in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants.  He also played winterball for five years with the Mazatlan Venados, often alongside younger brother Adrian on the right side of the infield.  His career minor league batting average was .298 and he hit .255 in 193 games for the Padres in 2008 and 2009.

Following the Aguilas season, after which he was named Manager of the Year by both the MexPac and BBM, Gonzalez remained in Mexicali as interim manager for the Mexican Nationals, who posted a 3-0 record in the WBC qualifiers in March, outscoring the Czech Republic, Nicaragua and Germany by an aggregate score of 25-2 to reach the WBC for a fourth straight time.  

Gil Velazquez, a 36-year-old former infielder, has been tabbed to replace Gonzalez at the helm in Mexicali. Velazquez is currently in Midland, Michigan managing the Great Lakes Loons, the Dodgers' Class A Midwest League affiliate.  The Loons finished the first half of the MWL schedule at 29-41 under Velazquez, who is in his first year managing a team after spending 17 seasons as a shortstop before retiring after spending the 2014 season with Yucatan, the only year he played in Mexico.  Velazquez had five short stints in MLB between 2009 and 2013 with Boston, Miami and the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .233 in 33 games. Overall, he batted .249 with 47 homers over his minor league career.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jose Amador "loaned" to Campeche; Aldazaba to Monclova

The newly-minted Mexican League All-Star Game MVP, designated hitter Jose Amador, has been loaned by Monclova to the Campeche Piratas for the rest of the current season.  According to Puro Beisbol, Campeche shipped outfielder Eliseo Aldazaba (pictured) to the Acereros in return after rumors of the deal had been floating for days.

On the surface, this would not appear to be an even trade.  Amador's batting average sits at a barely adequate .281, but he has swatted 12 homers for the Acereros (tied for seventh in the Liga) after turning in a top-notch winterball season in the Mexican Pacific League in which he was picked as Baseball Mexico's MVP.  The 36-year-old Amador, who plays first or third base when he's in the field, has a career .311 average over all or part of 12 LMB seasons, topping the .300 mark 8 times.  His career 159 homers in that span don't particularly stand out, but he socked 97 roundtrippers between 2011 and 2015, an average of 19.7 per year.  And there's that All-Star Game MVP award.

In Aldazaba, the Steelers get a 25-year-old with a useful if not extraordinary bat.  Aldazaba hit .264 with 4 homers for the Piratas, underperforming numbers for a guy who'd hit 65 longballs over the previous four campaigns with both Carmen and Campeche, including 25 homers last summer.  He's usually in the .250-.265 batting range, although he did hit .290 for the Piratas in 2014.  Even so, in a league where a .300 average can be as common as the cold, Aldazaba stands out for one reason:  He's still in uniform, unlike Amador (who walked out on his Monclova teammates after the All-Star Break, telling the front office he no longer felt "comfortable" with the team), and something almost always trumps nothing.

There was another deal consummated in the Mexican League last weekend, as the Quintana Roo Tigres loaned former big league infielder Jorge Cantu to Tijuana Saturday.  Cantu is in his third Liga season, including a 2015 campaign for the defending champs during which he hit .351 with 25 homers and 100 RBI's.  He was batting .237 with 7 homers in Cancun this season.

Cantu was born in McAllen, Texas but attended high school across the border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  He signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Devils Rays as a 17-year-old free agent in 1999 and reached the majors in 2004.  Cantu spent eight MLB seasons with the Rays, Reds, Marlins, Rangers and Padres through 2011, with career totals of 104 homers and 476 RBI's to augment a .271 average splitting time between first, second and third bases.


Just when it looked like a lost season for the Veracruz Rojos Aguilas, the Eagles embarked on an eight-game winning streak that included one home sweep of Monclova, another sweep on the road in Reynosa and a win at LMB North leaders Monterrey.

The skein began June 9, a day after Eddy Castro took the managerial reins on an interim basis from Lino Connell, who had the club mired in last place in the South at 21-34.  Diaz led the Aguilas to a 5-2 win over Laguna at Parque Deportivo Universitario Beto Avila in the port city to begin the streak.  Veracruz had won just 3 of their last 22 games under Connell.

Castro spent four seasons as a pitcher in the Toronto system, beginning as a 19-year-old in 1982 with the Jays' Gulf Coast League squad and eventually spending time in Florence and Kinston before being released in 1985.  Three years later, the Puerto Rican popped up in the Mexican League as an outfielder-first baseman with Leon, batting .321 with 33 homers and 108 RBI's for the Bravos.

Although he never had another year like that one, Castro went on to a decent ten-year playing career in Mexico, hitting .302 and averaging 16 homers and 71 ribbies for eight teams, spending five of his last six six years mainly in Minatitlan before retiring after the 1997 campaign.  Castro was the Petroleros' player-manager his last two years and has also managed in Tabasco, Puebla and, yes, Veracruz (in 2014).  He was 240-328 over five seasons with one winning record, going 63-57 in 1999 with Tabasco, before returning to Veracruz.

Connell spent 16 years playing every position but pitcher or catcher and bouncing between the Mexican League and independent circuits north of the border as well as another four years in Italy before retiring in 2010.  He spent six years in the Mexican League between 2000 and 2005, his best coming in 2002 with Oaxaca, where he hit .356 with 8 homers, 31 steals and 102 runs scored in 108 games.  His term as skipper in Veracruz this year lasted 30 days after he was brought in by Rojos Aguilas owner Jose Antonio Mansur on May 9 to replace former Nationals coach Mark Weidemeier, who lasted six months after being hired last December 9 (what is it with Mansur and the 9th, anyway?) to replace, well, whoever had been managing the team before then.

Castro was given a "vote of confidence" after the win streak by Mansur, who said the new helmsman would remain for the rest of the current season.  Veracruz then promptly lost two in a row to Monterrey to fall to 23-48 for the season, 20-and-a-half games behind division-leading Puebla in seventh place.  Better rent that apartment by the week, Eddy.


A Mexican League foray into the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan no longer appears imminent.  The Mazatlan Marineros were the brainchild of brothers Erick and Juan Arellano, who already own the Merida-based Yucatan Leones.  ESPN first reported in March of last year that the Arellanos had been awarded a conditional Mazatlan franchise by the LMB, with a planned launch for this season.

The idea was to share Estadio Teodoro Mariscal with the Mexican Pacific League Mazatlan Venados for this year before moving into the city's new ballpark, which is being built near the Zona Dorado tourist enclave in Mazatlan's north end.  The Marineros even named Juan Jose Pacho their manager for 2016, which would've be convenient for Pacho, who led the Venados to the Caribbean Series title in February.  Mazatlan mayor Carlos Felton Gonzalez and Sonora governor Mario Lopez Valdez both supported the new Liga franchise, which would've marked the first time a Mexican city has hosted LMB and LMP teams simultaneously.  It was not announced whether the Marineros would be an expansion team or an existing club, although the latter seems more likely.

Fifteen months after the initial announcement, however, there is no Mazatlan team in the Mexican League with no visible activity that one is on the way.  A November story on the Al Bat website says negotiations for renting Teodoro Mariscal hit a snag and that the starting date for the upstart franchise had been moved to the 2017 season.  Ballparks would not be the only issue facing the Mexican League in Mazatlan.  The LMB season runs from April into September (playoffs included), which would mean scheduling home games during the city's rainiest and hottest months after the tourist season has ended and while Mazatlan is not as dependent on tourism as most Mexican resort cities because of its strong fishing and shrimp businesses, those visitors (and the dollars they bring) are significant.  Mazatlan is also a long distance from any other LMB franchise, which would mean a large travel budget for the Marineros themselves plus added expenses for incoming teams.

In short, Mazatlan may not be the best fit for the Mexican League right now.

Northern Division:  Monterrey 43-22, Monclova 39-26, Tijuana 36-29, Laguna 35-30, Mexico City 34-30, Aguascalientes 33-31, Saltillo 30-33, Reynosa 19-46
Southern Division: Puebla 43-22, Yucatan 42-23, Quintana Roo 39-27, Campeche 31-33, Oaxaca 26-38, Tabasco 24-42, Veracruz 23-43, Carmen 21-43

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monterrey takes LMB North lead, Yucatan chasing Puebla in South

The Monterrey Sultanes overtook fading Monclova as the Mexican League's North Division leaders while Yucatan closed the gap on South leaders Puebla during the first week following the LMB All-Star Break.

Monterrey won two of three games in Puebla and copped two wins at Oaxaca before Sunday's contest with the Guerreros was suspended by rain with the score at 6-6 after five innings.  In the meantime, Monclova won two games at Tabasco before dropping the third game in that set and moving on to Veracruz, where they were swept by the last-place Rojos Aguilas.  The Sultanes ended the weekend with a 38-21 record, two games up on the 36-23 Acereros.  Aguascalientes is third in the LMB North at 36-26 while Laguna holds fourth with a 32-27 mark, a half-game ahead of 32-28 Tijuana.

Yucatan is still in second place in the LMB South, but the Leones helped themselves with a 4-2 week capped by a three-game sweep of a road series in Tijuana.  Starter Jonathan Castellanos went six innings in a 5-0 one-hitter over the Toros Friday as Yucatan touched up 45-year-old Tijuana starter Rafael Diaz (pictured) for four runs in 4.1 frames.  Earlier this season, Diaz became the only pitcher in Mexican League history to record 100 wins, 100 saves and 1,000 strikeouts for his career.

While Yucatan was doing well away from home, Puebla was struggling at home, losing four of six games at Estadio Hermandos Serdan to Monterrey and Reynosa.  Losing two of three to the Broncos while allowing 18 runs was an especially hard pill for the Pericos to swallow.  Ex-MLB hurler Kyle Farnsworth got the win in Reynosa's 8-3 win on Friday.  Heading into Monday's travel day, Puebla was still atop the LMB South at 40-19 (best in the league), but Yucatan is now two-and-a-half games behind at 38-22.  Defending champion Quintana Roo is third at 36-34 while Campeche is in fourth at 30-29, ten games behind the leaders.

Puebla will be in Monclova for an important series beginning Tuesday, while Yucatan hosts Aguascalientes and Monterrey is at home for three against 23-37 Tabasco.


Just when it looked like Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez' unexpected power output in the first half of the season was an illusion after all, the 32-year-old Dominican cranked three homers and drove in seven runs during the Rieleros' 10-2 win over the Campeche Piratas Friday at Estadio Alberto Romo Chavez.  Hernandez hadn't gone deep since May 14 against Saltillo and had lost his league leadership in homers until he sent deliveries from three different Campeche pitchers over the wall, including homers in both the seventh and eighth innings. He sliced an RBI double as well en route to a 4-for-4 night.

The explosion put the former Braves infielder back atop the LMB tables with 15 roundtrippers for the season, one ahead of Quintana Roo's Alex Liddi, Monclova's Jose Ruiz and Alex Valez of Monterrey.  Hernandez continues to lead the Liga with 69 RBI's (Felix Perez of Monterrey is second at 51) while batting .339.  Prior to 2016, Hernandez had hit 49 homers over 13 pro seasons and never more than seven in one campaign.  Now he's a legitimate MVP candidate.  Maybe it's the water...he DOES play in Aguascalientes.

Other Mexican League offensive leaders include Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia with a .379 batting average and Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene with 20 stolen bases.  Among pitchers, Tijuana's Hector Ambriz still leads the LMB with a 1.23 ERA, but the ex-MLBer hasn't appeared in a game for three weeks and is no longer on the Toros' active roster.  Don't ask me why...I've spent 15 minutes trying to find out and came up empty.  Among pitchers who are still pitching, Monclova's Josh Lowey leads all three Triple Crown categories with 10 wins, 99 strikeouts and a 1.51 ERA.  Acereros teammate Arcenio Leon tops the loop with 22 saves.  Another Monclova hurler, Jose Oyervides (7-1, 1.72), had formed a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Lowey before breaking his hand during a losing confrontation with a locker room door on May 18.


It's a good thing for Monclova that their pitching has been near the top of the Mexican League because their All-Star Game MVP jumped ship shortly after the event was held last weekend in Monterrey.  According to La Aficion, infielder Jose Amador, who hit a key three-run homer in the North's 8-4 win over the South, failed to join teammates last Monday to travel to Tabasco for a road series and then turned in his "resignation" from the Acereros one day later, stating that he didn't "feel comfortable" with the club and wanted to be traded.  Instead, the team placed him on the reserve list.

Amador, who was chosen as BBM's Mexican Pacific League MVP last winter, had been playing with a broken middle finger which prevented him from taking the field defensively but allowed him to serve as designated hitter.  It was a strange move for the 16-year veteran, who was not having one of his best seasons despite his All-Star selection (.281/12/29 numbers over 53 games), but the 36-year-old was still a key member of a team battling for first place.  Rumors are that someone from another LMB team talked to Amador last weekend in Monterrey and offered a better deal, but that has yet to be proven.

Then there's the case of Sandy Madera.

Longtime readers of Baseball Mexico will recognize Madera as one of the better hitters in the LMB for the past several seasons after bouncing around the minors for a decade.  Madera led the league in batting with a .403 average for Puebla in 2014, finished second in 2010 and 2013 and has never hit below .320 over seven summers in Mexico.  While the 35-year-old Dominican was not picked for the All-Star Game last weekend, he was hitting .362 with 10 homers and 31 RBI's over 46 games for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos until he was released last Monday.

Unlike the Amador situation in Monclova, there was no explanation given when the Diablos cut Madera loose, but an independent source says the 6'2" designated hitter has been difficult to deal with during his time in Mexico and a look at his travel itinerary may bear that out:

During his first year in the LMB, Madera was traded by Saltillo to Yucatan with a month left in the 2010 season despite a .391 average for the Saraperos.  In 2011, Madera was realeased by the Leones in midseason after going .320/9/42 over 67 games in Merida.  He finished that year in Monterrey.  Then came three years in Puebla, with two very productive seasons and a so-so 2015 that ended with Pericos manager Matias Carillo so enamored of Madera that the latter was dealt to Reynosa last December for Paul Oseguera, a decent pitcher who'd gone 8-4 for the Broncos last year but yet to pitch an inning in 2016.  The Broncos only needed until February 22 to send Madera packing to Mexico City with no players moved to Reynosa in return.

This time, it took half a season for Diablos skipper Jose Luis Sandoval to get his fill of Madera, who was signed by Tabasco two days after his release from Mexico City.  Perhaps veteran Olmecas skipper Enrique "Che" Reyes (who was let go in May as manager in Oaxaca) will find a way to keep the talented Madera on the straight and narrow. History indicates otherwise.

Mexican League standings
North Division: Monterrey 38-21, Monclova 36-23, Aguascalientes 32-26, Laguna 32-27, Tijuana 32-38, Mexico City 30-29, Saltillo 27-31, Reynosa 17-42.
South Division: Puebla 40-19, Yucatan 38-22, Quintana Roo 36-24, Campeche 30-29, Oaxaca 23-35, Tabasco 23-37, Carmen 20-39, Veracruz 19-41.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Amador goes deep as North beats South, 8-4, in LMB All-Star Game

While there's rarely been much surprise among followers of Mexican baseball when they see the stat line HR-Amador in a box score in recent years, there may have been a raised eyebrow or two among observers reading the box for Sunday's Mexican League All-Star Game in front of 23,421 fans at Estadio Monterrey.

Yes, that WAS an Amador who went yard for the North in the seventh inning off the South's Brazilian-born reliever Tiago da Silva, representing the Carmen Delfines. However, it wasn't 2015 Liga MVP Japhet Amador (who's in Japan this year), but Monclova infielder Jose Amador who launched da Silva's third pitch of the game over the wall in left-center field for a three-run homer as the North went on to clobber the South, 8-4, in a contest that lasted just 2 hours, 49 minutes despite a total of 23 pitchers trotting out to the mound for the two teams.

Jose Amador (pictured above) has done a lot to come out from under Japhet's considerable shadow since the latter signed with the Rakuten Golden Eagles during the offseason.  First, Jose (no relation) won Baseball Mexico's MVP award for last winter's Mexican Pacific League season (leading the MexPac with 11 homers and 39 RBI's and batting .323)  prior to embarking on an LMB season during which he's hit .281 with 12 homers in 53 games for the North-leading Acereros.  His Sunday bomb was enough to get him voted the All-Star Game MVP by media.

The North went up 4-0 early with four second-inning runs highlighted by a two-run homer by Juan Apodaca (Tijuana) off former big leaguer Travis Blackley (Puebla).  The South came back in the fifth off when LMP batting champion Jesus Valdez (Yucatan) socked solo homer off Hector Daniel Rodriguez (Saltillo), then plated two more in the top of the seventh when Jose Rodriguez (Puebla) whacked a two-run homer off Tony Pena, Junior (Laguna) to make it a one-run game.

The North had just gone ahead 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh when a pop single to center by Agustin Murillo (Monterrey) off Josh Judy (Quintana Roo) brought in Walter Ibarra (Monterrey) from third.  At that point, South manager Roberto Vizcarra pulled Judy for da Silva to pitch to Amador with Ibarra standing on first base and Zoilo Almonte (Monterrey) on second.  Da Silva seemed a worthy choice, bringing a 1.86 ERA with 15 saves in 16 opportunities for the 19-35 Dolphins heading into the break, but Amador changed that in one swing to extend the North lead from one to four runs in bringing the score to 7-3.  Each team scored once the rest of the way, but this one was decided by Amador.

Josh Lowey (Monclova) had been on the mound when the North scored their first four runs in the second and was awarded the win while Orlando Lara (Puebla), who was yanked by Vizcarra so Blackley could pitch to Apodaca, was tagged with the loss.  Ibarra and Ivan Terrazas (Mexico City) each had three hits for the North, including a double for Terrazas, while Valdez had three safeties for the South.

Before the All-Star Game, Quintana Roo third baseman Alex Liddi outlasted Tigres teammate Esteban Quiroz, 4-3, in the final round to take top honors in the Home Run Derby.  Liddi, a fomer Mariners prospect who has represented Italy in the World Baseball Classic, launched 12 homers over three rounds, some of them tape-measure shots that cleared the outfield fences easily.