Monday, July 11, 2016

LMB "canning season" continues: Three more skippers pink-slipped

Looks like they're getting serious.

In a 2016 season that has already witnessed a number of managerial firings, three more Mexican League skippers have axed days after Noe Munoz was canned in Saltillo on July 1.

Former big league infielder Luis Sojo (pictured during happier times) was fired July 4 as manager of the Tijuana Toros with the team holding fourth place in the LMB North Division at 40-37.  However, the Toros were coming off a three-game sweep in Yucatan and had dropped six of their last seven.  Sojo spent 13 seasons in MLB (11 with the Yankees) as a utility man, batting .261 in 848 games before retiring in 2003.  The Venezuelan later spent seven years between 2006 and 2013 managing the Yankees' Class A farm team in Tampa.  He was hired in Tijuana seven months ago.

Sojo, who was in his first season managing in Tijuana, was replaced by longtime Mexican baseball figure Pedro Mere.  The Veracruz-born Mere was a Mexican League infielder for 22 seasons between 1988 and 2009, batting .261 with 179 homers. He managed Veracruz to a 56-57 record in 2013 but has done far better in winterball, managing the Los Tuxtlas Brujos to six Veracruz Winter League championships in the past eight seasons.  So far, the move is panning out as Mere led the Toros to a three-game sweep of Reynosa and two wins in a set against Monterrey, all at home.  Joining the Tijuana coaching staff was Matias Carrillo, who had recently signed on as coach in Yucatan a month after his surprise firing in Puebla during the All-Star Break after leading the Pericos to the best record in the Liga at that time.

About the same time, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos were replacing a lamb with a flamingo when manager Jose Luis "El Borrego" Sandoval was cut loose in favor of Victor "El Flamingo" Bojorquez.  Ironically, both Sandoval and Bojorquez are natives of Los Mochis and were teammates for years with the Red Devils during their playing careers.  Sandoval was hired last November to replace former LMB catcher Miguel Olivo, who left to manage the Giant's AA Richmond affiliate this year.  Sandoval led the Diablos Rojos' farm team to a Mexican Winter League pennant earlier this year, but was struggling with the big team with a 39-40 record and a tie for fifth with Aguascalientes in the North when he was handed his walking papers July 7 after being swept by Monterrey in a three-game home series. Sandoval spent 23 years at shortstop for the Diablos between 1990 and 2012, batting .295 on 2,186 hits, 244 of them homers.

Bojorquez was brought in from the Diablos' Northern Mexico League affiliate in Ensenada, where the Marineros are currently tied for third in the second-half standings at 18-15 after winning the first-half crown with a 24-14 record.  A former outfielder, Bojorquez led Mexico City to a three-game weekend home sweep of Reynosa at Estadio Fray Nano.  The 41-year-old made his playing debut in 1996 with the Diablos and spent 16 of his 17-year playing career in Mexico City, winning four pennants and batting .310 with 112 homers.  After coaching in Mexico City for three seasons under Olivo, he actually began last winter managing the Red Devils' LIM affiliate before being assigned to the Ensenada job.

Finally, Aguascalientes severed ties with manager Marco Antonio Romero (along with the prerequsite "thanks for your services" line in the press release) last Friday and replaced him with Saul Soto, a 19-year LMB veteran catcher/first baseman still playing for the Rieleros.  Soto was batting .311 with 88 hits for the Railroaders over 79 games when he was elevated to player-manager, the first in the Liga since Willie Romero performed double-duty for Yucatan in 2012.  Yet another Los Mochis product, the 6'4" 245-pound Soto was a 19-year-old rookie for Reynosa in 1998 and (minus two years in the Dodgers system) has played in the Liga ever since.  He's a career .305 batsman south of the border with 222 homers.

Marco Antonio Romero (no relation) had Aguascalientes at 39-41 when he was let go from his first managerial post in the LMB, where he spent 20 years as a first baseman for several teams and hit .292 with 235 homers (leading the Liga with 30 longballs for Dos Laredos in 1994).  Romero's ouster in Aguascalientes is the ninth managerial firing (that we know of) in the Liga this season.  And just in case you were wondering, he's NOT from Los Mochis...he's from Culiacan.


MexPac to hold first All-Star Game since 1997

For the first time in 19 seasons, the Mexican Pacific League will host an All-Star Game.  The contest will be played at Obregon's new ballpark on Sunday, November 27.  The last MexPac Juego de Estrellas was held at Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echevarria in Navojoa on November 24, 1997.

According to ESPN Deportes, LMP president Omar Canizales said, "There was an opportunity to wait until next season for an All-Star Game, but we believe there's already a demand and desire among fans and we want to meet them."  Details beyond date and place have not been announced.

Obregon's new 16,500-seater is expected to be completed by September, with a pricetag of approximately US$27 million.  The unnamed facility will replace Estadio Tomas Oroz Gaytan, which seats 13,000 fans and has hosted home games for the LMP Yaquis since 1971.


Puebla creates a little breathing room in LMB South race

The Puebla Pericos won four of five games last week to extend their season record to 57-25 and firming their tenuous hold on first place in the Mexican League's South Division.  Puebla swept a three-game home series over the Carmen Delfines to open the week's schedule and endured two rainouts bracketing a Saturday doubleheader in Campeche to split two contests there.  Chad Gaudin picked up saves in three of the four Pericos triumphs.  Second-place Yucatan had a tougher go of it last week, losing two of three tilts in Tabasco before coming home to Merida and dropping the last two games of three against Veracruz in a pair of series the Leones had high hopes for going in.  Instead, their 55-28 record drops them two-and-a-half games behind Puebla heading into the final weeks of the regular season.  Quintana Roo is third in the LMB South at 50-34 while Campeche has a firm grip on the fourth and final playoff berth at 41-40.

In the North, Monterrey swept Mexico City in three straight games and took one of three games against Tijuana to go 4-2 on the road swing in lifting their season mark to 54-29, five games up on 49-34 Monclova, who broke even by winning once in Saltillo and twice in Aguascalientes between Tuesday and Sunday.Laguna is hot on Monclova's heels at 49-25 while Tijuana is firmly ensconced in fourth with a 45-38 ledger.

Monclova suffered a severe blow to their chances of returning to the Serie del Rey in September when ace pitcher Josh Lowey left the team after receiving an offer to pitch for the KT Wiz in the Korea Baseball Organization.  The Floridian's contract with the Acereros allowed him to accept the offer, rumored to be worth US$220,000 (including a US$50,000 signing bonus), to pitch the rest of the KBO season.  The 5'11" righty was leading the Liga in all three pitching Triple Crown categories with 13 wins, a 1.65 ERA and 131 strikeouts and although Jose Oyervides appears healthy after missing a month to injury, Lowey is not someone easily replaced.  Acereros closer Arcenio Leon leads the circuit with 27 saves, one up on Puebla's Gaudin.

Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia raised his LMB-leading batting average to .373 after going 5-for-12 over the week, but Veracruz outfielder Carlos Lopez has been hitting .419 in July to bring his season average up to .371 after missing most of April before joining the Rojos Aguilas lineup.  Monterrey third baseman Alex Valdez socked two homers in the Sultanes series with Mexico City to take the LMB lead in roundtrippers with 22, two more than Qunitana Roo's Alex Liddi.  Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes drove in two runs last week to bring his season RBI total to 77, six more than Liddi's 71.  Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene stole a pair of bases, giving him 28 swipes on the campaign while twelve-year veteran outfielder Christian Zazueta has 25, seven more than last year's career high of 18.

Two important series over the coming week will be held in Monterrey, when the Sultanes host Quintana Roo starting Tuesday before Yucatan visits Estadio Monterrey Friday through Sunday.