Monday, August 8, 2016

LMB regular season to end Friday, Laguna seeks final playoff berth

The Mexican League's regular season schedule will end Friday night with seven of eight playoff teams determined heading into the final week.  Torreon's Laguna Vaqueros are 59-49 after Sunday's 11-0 pasting of Saltillo at home and have a four-game lead over the 54-52 Mexico City Diablos Rojos.  The Red Devils are in danger of missing the postseason after turning in the Liga's best record last year and winning their 16th LMB pennant since 1956 two years ago.  The Vaqueros need just one win to clinch the final playoff berth as they open a three-game series at last-place Reynosa Monday night while the Diablos travel to Aguascalientes for a trio of games.

Monterrey has won 10 of their last 12 games to seal the top seed in the LMB North.  The Sultanes are currently 70-36, five-and-a-half games ahead of second-seed Monclova (65-42) and 8.5 games up on 62-45 Tijuana in third.  Aguascalientes, Saltillo and Reynosa have all been eliminated.

Things are a little tighter in the LMB South.  Yucatan (73-32) is in the driver's seat with the best record in the Liga, but Puebla (70-32) is just three-and-a-half games back in second.  The Leones helped themselves greatly over the weekend by sweeping the Pericos in a three-game set at home in Merida.  Yoanner Negrin (pictured) raised his LMB-best record to 18-1 Sunday by pitching 6.2 innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 win over Puebla.  Twelve thousand fans were on hand Sunday at Parque Kukulkan, with 32,000 clicking the turnstiles over the series.  A 32-year-old Cuban, Negrin's 18 wins are the most in a single season by a Mexican League pitcher since Danny Rios went 18-5 for Union Laguna in 2001.  He's scheduled for one more start, Friday's season-ending home game against Quintana Roo.

Yucatan will try to clinch the South title with three games in Carmen while Puebla welcomes Veracruz to Estadio Hermanos Serdan for a series.  Defending champion Quintana Roo (65-43) has clinched third place in the South and Campeche (56-48) has a 13-game bulge over Tabasco (42-64) for the fourth and final postseason slot.  Veracruz, Oaxaca and hapless Carmen bring up the rear.  The hapless Delfines haven't won since July 24, their ten-game losing skid interrupted for three days during a home series with Veracruz after an August 3 rainout was followed by two night game cancellations due to power problems at Carmen's Estadio Resurgimiento.

The batting race has been all but settled, with Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia (.375) holding a commanding lead over Vercruz outfielder Carlos Lopez (.356).  Monterrey third baseman Alex Valdez' 29 homers appear to be insurmountable, with Laguna infielder Ricky Alvarez five longballs behind at 24.  Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez has led the loop in RBI's nearly all season, and his 93 are four up on Valdez, Alvarez and Quintana Roo third sacker Alex Liddi.  Justin Greene, a Saltillo outfielder, enters the final week with 38 stolen bases to carry a three-swipe advantage over Seraperos outfield mate Christian Zazueta's 35.

Among pitchers, departed Monclova starter Josh Lowey has two of the three Triple Crown titles in the bag with a 1.65 earned-run average and 131 strikeouts, well ahead of Tijuana's Miguel Pena at 2.13 ERA and Acereos hurler Jose Oyervides' 119 whiffs.  Lowey is 2-2 with a 9.39 ERA for the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization after getting racked for six runs in four innings by the LG Twins last Friday.   Monclova closer Arcenio Leon (33) and former big leaguer Chad Gaudin (32) are neck-and-neck for the saves crown with five games left.


Guadalajara rumored as host site for 2017 WBC games 

According to Puro Beisbol's top writer, the Jalisco Charros and the city of Guadalajara appear to have the inside track on Major League Baseball's selection of a Mexican city to host first-round games of next spring's World Baseball Classic.

In his August 8 Zona de Contacto column, Fernando Ballesteros reports that Charros owner Armando Navarro and his partners are spending time in New York to quietly lobby on behalf of Guadalajara and the ballpark he bought from the city two years ago after purchasing the Guasave Algodoneros and moving them to Guadalajara in 2014.  Estadio Charros was built for $28 million to host the 2011 Pan American Games.

Ballesteros says the effort has been hush-hush because Navarro doesn't want to say or do anything to jeopardize the effort, but Jalisco governor Aristoteles Sandoval has been enlisted as a supporter to bring both the WBC and Caribbean Series to the city of 1.5 million (4.3 million live in Guadalajara's metropolitan area).   The WBC will be an expensive proposition for any city seeking to host it.  According to Ballesteros, it'll cost US$2 million just for approval from MLB, plus there are a number of added requirements that appear to be scaring off other viable sites for the opening round.  The Mexicali Aguilas reportedly looked into applying to host the WBC while they were hosting a four-team qualifier last winter, but owner Dio Alberto Murillo backed off after adding the costs and determining that ticket prices would have to be set too high for many local fans to attend.  As well, Ballesteros says the Hermosillo Naranjeros were invited by MLB to send in a bid but have not yet been heard from.

Should Navarro succeed in bringing either event to town, it would seemingly complete what has been a fairly amazing turnaround of baseball's status there.  The original Jalisco Charros spent 21 interrupted seasons in the Mexican League from the 1960's through 1995, winning pennants in 1967 and 1971 (Navarro was team VP during the 1971 title run, during which the Charros overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat Saltillo in the championship series) but otherwise drawing tepid support while playing home games at rickety 4,000-seat Estadio Tecnologico, which was demolished in 2003.  The enormous local popularity of the Chivas pro soccer team seemingly pushed baseball in Guadalajara to extinction, but Navarro thought otherwise and two years after bringing the Mexican Pacific League to Jalisco, he appears to be on the precipice of bringing international baseball's prime showcase to his ballpark.


"El Titan" cracks 300th career MLB home run

Mexican National Team star Adrian Gonzalez whacked the 300th homer of his major league career Sunday as his Los Angeles Dodgers went on to beat the Boston Red Sox, 8-5, in an interleague game at Dodger Stadium.  Gonzalez hit his historic roundtripper off reliever Junichi Tazawa in the bottom of the seventh, a solo shot that extended Los Angeles' lead to 7-5 at the time.

Gonzalez was picked by the Florida Marlins on the first round of the 2000 draft, but was traded to Texas midway through the 2003 minor league season.  He made his MLB debut with the Rangers on April 18, 2004 against Seattle, but it wasn't until he was dealt to San Diego in 2006 when he broke through as an impact player, batting .304 with 24 homers and 82 RBI's for the Padres as a 24-year-old rookie.  He went on to play five seasons for his hometown team, earning three All-Star Game berths and winning a pair of Gold Gloves at first base before being dealt to Boston in a multiplayer deal after the 2010 season.

The 6'2" lefty-swinging "El Titan" thrived over the next two seasons at Fenway Park, hitting .321 with 42 homers and 203 ribbies for the Sox in 282 games and earning another Golden Glove and All-Star appearance before he was sent packing to Southern California once more, going to the Dodgers with a month to go in the 2012 campaign as part of a salary dump in Boston (where he'd signed a seven-year, $154 million contract with the Bosox in the offseason).

The younger brother of Mexican National Team manager Edgar Gonzalez (the two have played side-by-side in both San Diego and during the winter in Mazatlan), Adrian has remained a solid hitter during his second National League stint.  Although his 300th homer was only his tenth of the current season, he's hit .284 with 90 homers and 381 RBI's since coming to the Dodgers four years ago, winning a Golden Glove in 2014 and playing in his fifth All-Star Game last summer.  He hit his 400th career double in 2015, and became the seventh active big leaguer with 300 homers and 400 two-baggers Sunday, joining Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and the retiring Alex Rodriguez.

In all, Gonzalez (whose father David has been a longtime baseball figure south of the border and is still active in the family's baseball businesses) is a career .290 hitter who has averaged 27 homers and 99 RBI's in eleven seasons as a regular player.  He's batting .291 in the current campaign.  A dual citizen of the USA and Mexico, "El Titan" played for the latter in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic while joining brother Edgar's Mexican squad at the WBC Qualifier in Mexicali earlier this year.