Monday, November 7, 2016

Mexican Nationals arrive in Tokyo for games vs. Japan

Mexico's National Baseball Team has arrived in Tokyo in advance of games against their Japanese counterparts on Thursday and Friday at the Tokyo Dome.  Manager Edgar Gonzalez was joined by 26 players who'll suit up for the two-game set, as well as his coaching staff (including father David, who will serve as first base coach) and brother Adrian, who will not play but serve in a supporting role.  The following is Mexico's roster for the series:

PITCHERS (12):  Miguel Aguilar, Andres Avila, Mauricio Lara, Rafael Martin Jr., Mario Meza, Jose Oyervidez, Oliver Perez, Hector Daniel Rodriguez, Sergio Romo, Gerardo Sanchez, Jacob Sanchez, Ernesto Zaragoza.
CATCHERS (2):  Cesar Tapia, Sebastian Valle.
INFIELDERS (7):  Ricky Alvarez, Japhet Amador, Jesse Castillo, Agustin Murillo, Ramiro Pena, Esteban Quiroz, Amadeo Zazueta.
OUTFIELDERS (5):  Jose Aguilar, Efren Navarro, Asael Sanchez, Tim Torres, Alex Verdugo.

The team as constructed has fairly solid pitching with reliable veterans (some with Nippon Professional Baseball playing experience) behind the plate and around the infield, but the outfield looks ordinary at best.  In all, five members of the Verdes Grande have Major League experience: Pitchers Martin, Romo and Perez, shortstop Pena and outfielder Navarro.

The Samurai Japan squad is hosting Mexico for games Thursday and Friday followed by games against The Netherlands' national team Saturday and Sunday as a tuneup for next March's World Baseball Classic.

Leon, Durango in; Reynosa, Carmen out of LMB

The Mexican League has shuffled its rostrum for the 2017 season.  During a November 1 meeting of Liga governors in Monterrey, the LMB approved the shifting of two of its weakest franchises westward to cities that have previously hosted teams in the summer circuit.

The Reynosa Broncos will be moving from the border to Leon, Guanajuato next year.  The Broncos had a dreadful 2016 by any standard, winning just 24 of 112 games to post the worst record in the league while finishing 26.5 games behind Saltillo, the LMB North's seventh-place team.  Erstwhile former Cubs pitcher Kyle Farnsworth interrupted his recent foray into semipro football in Florida to join Reynosa in early April, but had a fitful three months with the cellar-dwellers, going 1-3 with 2 saves and a 6.92 ERA in 18 appearances before being mercifully placed on the reserve list in July.

The Broncos' on-field futility carried over into the stands at Estadio Adolfo Lopez Mateos, where well-rested ushers welcomed just 102,823 fans over 53 home dates for an average of 1,940 per opening, both ranking 15th in the Liga.  The Broncos' struggles at the gate have coincided with the rise of violence involving drug cartels, both against each other and law enforcement officers, and gunfire outside the ballpark even halted a 2010 contest against Monterrey.  Reynosa could be a tough place to catch a ballgame.

Things will hopefully be a little quieter in Leon, a city of more than 1.5 million residents south of Aguascalientes and northwest of Mexico City in the Central Mexican Plateau.  Leon had a Mexican League franchise between 1979 and 1991. The Bravos (which will also be the name of the new entry) won their lone Liga pennant in 1990 under manager Francisco "Paquin" Estrada before moving to Minatitlan one year later.  The team, which is owned by a group headed by businessman Mauricio Martinez, will need to upgrade Estadio Domingo Santana, which underwent some refurbishing in 2014 but still seats only 3,000 spectators.

Meanwhile, the Carmen Delfines (or Dolphins) have given up the ghost after five years on Campeche's Gulf Coast.  With a population of 169,466, Ciudad del Carmen was one of the Mexican League's smallest cities.  After a good start at the box office, with the team pulling in 5,114 a night in 2013 (their second season), support gradually declined to last summer's 2,615 average, 12th in the Liga.  Like the Broncos, the Delfines are moving west.  Owner VIrgilio Ruiz is moving the club to Durango, where the club will be rechristened the Alacranes (or Scorpions).

Ciudad Durango is the capital of Durango State, a city of over half a million residents in north central Mexico about halfway between Mazaltan on the Pacific Coast to the southwest and Saltillo to the northwest.  Like Leon, the Mexican League has been tried but ultimately found wanting in Durango.  The Alacranes organization has actually been around in some form since 1951 and the team spent four years in the LMB between 1976 and 1979.  Although notable former big leaguers like Jerry Hairston, Earl Williams and Wayne Granger played for Durango in that time, the Alacranes won no pennants before dropping prior to the strike-shortened 1980 season.  The team has bounced around the lower Mexican minors ever since, most recently in the Laguna Major League, and will play in 8,000-seat Estadio Francisco Villa (yes, that Pancho Villa) after some planned offseason renovations.

Serie del Caribe champ Mazatlan Venados occupy MexPac cellar

Only two games separate the top seven teams in the Mexican Pacific League's first half standings, with a four-way tie for first place between Hermosillo, Los Mochis, Mexicali and Navojoa at 13-10.  Culiacan is one game back in fifth with a 12-11 mark while Jalisco and Obregon share sixth at 11-12.  Then there are the Mazatlan Venados.

The Deer, as you may recall, fought their way through the MexPac playoffs to win the pennant last winter before cruising to February's Caribbean Series championship in the Dominican Republic.  That was then, however, but this is now and "now" has Mazatlan all alone in the LMP cellar with a 6-17 register, seven games behind the leaders after three weeks of the 2016-17 season.

The Venados dropped a 2-0 home game to Los Mochis Sunday as Julian Arballo and four Caneros relievers combined for the shutout.  Mazatlan starter Walter Silva pitched creditably in absorbing the loss in allowing two runs over six innings, somewhat ironic given the difficulty the Venados mound staff has experienced thus far.  Typically a strong pitching team, Mazatlan is last in the MexPac with a 4.62 ERA (conversely, four teams are below 4.00).  Former Cubs minor leaguer Nick Struck is 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA in two starts but otherwise, the Venados rotation has been hemorrhaging runs since the campaign began and the batters are likewise bringing up the circuit's rear with a .242 average and 13 homers, a recipe that has brought just six wins in 23 games for skipper Juan Jose Pacho's team.

Jalisco third baseman Agustin Murillo went into his one-week break for the Japan trip with with a .392 average to lead LMP batsmen, 14 points up on Culiacan outfielder Ronnier Mustelier.  Mustelier's Tomateros teammate, outfielder Joey Meneses, is tied with four other players for the league lead at five homers while topping the loop with 23 RBI's in as many games to go along with his .333 average.  Despite not playing since October 29 after bunting a ball into his own face, Mexican League co-champion base stealer Justin Greene still tops the MexPac swipes list with nine, one more than Mazatlan outfielder Tito Polo.  Greene was batting .333 for Obregon when he was hurt and his return to the Yaquis lineup is unknown.

Obregon's Arturo Lopez and Hector Velazquez of Navojoa have become the first 4-game winners of the LMP campaign.  Velazquez' stat line is superior to that of Lopez in ERA (2.10 to 2.22) and strikeouts (35 to 20).  Former Cal Baptist righty Julian Arballo of Los Mochis has the best ERA in the MexPac at 0.69, Velazquez' 35 whiffs tops the circuit in that category and there's a three-way tie for most saves at 7 between Mexicali's Jake Sanchez, Hermosillo's Paul Sewald and Jon Sintes of Los Mochis.  Sanchez, an A's farmhand and California native, is in Tokyo with the Mexican National Team for this week's two games against Samurai Japan.