Friday, July 21, 2017

LMB to play two seasons from April to November in 2018

LMB Assembly (with Javier Salinas on microphone)
The Mexican League has formally announced that it will be playing two shorter seasons during the 2018 calendar year, beginning in April and ending in November.  The announcement came at the Liga's Assembly of Presidents meeting Thursday in Mexico City. The plan is for two separate 66-game regular season schedules with playoffs, bridged by a one-week rest in July during which the LMB's All-Star Game (there'll be just one of those) is played.

While the move, approximating the country's popular Liga MX soccer circuit's Apertura and Clausura tournaments (which drew crowds of about 27,000 per match for its 2016-17 seasons), represents a radical departure from baseball orthodoxy, Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor was in attendance at Thursday's meeting and endorsed the move.  O'Connor, you may recall, was compelled to call an emergency meeting of LMB teams in February when internecine squabbling threatened to tear the 16 teams into two leagues or cancel the 2017 season altogether.  Instead of two leagues, now we'll see two seasons for 2018.

Currently, the Liga plays a single 112-game regular season schedule from early April to mid-August, followed by a three-tiered, eight-team playoff lasting about a month into mid-September.  The new format will include two 66-game regular seasons followed by playoffs, with the LMB's "Apertura" lasting from April to July and their "Clausura" running from August into November.  The notion of a two-season format was floated last month in a reference made by incoming league president Javier Salinas, whose background has been (not so ironically, apparently) entirely as a Liga MX marketing executive.  There was no word whether Salinas was going to divide the LMB into eight-team Premier and First Divisions with promotion/relegation playoffs for 2018, but it's only July.

Salinas, who will replace retiring LMB president Plinio Escalante at the conclusion of the current season and has been serving as a de facto co-president, addressed the addition of 20 games and a separate playoff to a league in which half its teams are teetering on economic collapse.  "The cost is relative," he said.  "You can raise or lower it.  If you qualify for the playoffs, it decreases.  If you manage your team better, the same. Each team is independent and will have the economic strategy that suits them best."  Salinas and the LMB team presidents will be relying on added sponsorships next season to help offset the added expenses accrued from lengthening the overall season two months for teams like the Tabasco Olmecas, who had 178 warm bodies rattling around Estadio Centenario 27 de Febrero for a game against Yucatan earlier this month, and the Durango Generales, who've had some players refusing to play because they hadn't been paid in weeks.

Prior to Thursday's press conference from the Assembly meeting, the two-season proposal had drawn almost universal skepticism from Mexican baseball's print commentators, but the move may ultimately draw the strongest reaction from the Mexican Pacific League.  While the LMB has eleven teams drawing fewer than 5,000 fans per night (seven clubs are bringing in fewer than 3,000 per opening), the MexPac has built itself into a juggernaut with a leaguewide attendance average of just under 10,000 per game, a figure that dwarfs every league in organized Minor League Baseball.  The LMP season traditionally opens in mid-October, meaning the LMB's Clausura will overlap the MexPac schedule by about a month.  

According to Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, the LMB will require players to sign contracts for both seasons, thus cutting the player pool for the MexPac.  Thus far, LMP president Omar Canizales has been silent on this topic, but it's expected by some that his league will respond by opening their rosters to more imported talent from the United States to fill the void while the Liga plays out its Clausura season.  In effect, the LMB's lengthening of its schedule is a declaration of war on the LMP, which has in the recent past explored expansion into Liga cities like Monterrey, Tijuana and even Mexico City. 

Whatever happens, the LMB will likely have the backing of Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred, which recently gave the Liga their version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval despite the financial mess many Mexican League teams are in.  According to Pereyra, three teams (Durango, Leon and Saltillo) each owe the Liga MX$15 million in assessments for 2017, with Leon owner Arturo Blanco owing another 900 thousand pesos toward the purchase price of the former Reynosa Broncos, while several other LMB franchises owe MX$2.5 million to the league office. 

One of those teams, the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, are looking to move, possibly to Nuevo Laredo. The Eagles are currently eleventh in the LMB attendance derby with a per-game average of 2,647. Team president Jose Antonio Mansur backtracked a bit by later stating he would keep the team in the port city if attendance improves over the rest of the current season, during which the 40-49 Rojos del Aguila have been a playoff contender in the weak South Division.  

The club has been a past recipient of government subsidies to remain afloat, a common occurance with several LMB franchises.  However, the exiled ex-State of Veracruz governor responsible for recent largesse, Javier Duarte, was arrested outside the country in April after a six-month manhunt and is facing charges of pilfering millions of dollars from public coffers, as are many of his associates.  Duarte was extradited from Guatemala City earlier this week.  In all, eight former Mexican governors have been indicted for similar crimes and their successors have typically reined in past subsidies to sports teams that have relied on them to meet payroll, among other expenses.

In all, the LMB's break from baseball tradition would be fascinating to observe, let alone report on, under any circumstance.  That the Liga is doing so amid internal financial peril to so many of its teams accentuates how badly Salinas and the owners will need this to work in order to bring fans in through the gates and sponsorship pesos to team bank accounts.  We'll be watching.

P.S.  The LMB also announced the return of its Mexican Winter League for a third season, opening on October 20.  The six-team LIM, considered Class A in the country's baseball system, is a prospect-oriented circuit that allows only Mexican-born players.  It's presumed the loop will play a single-season schedule.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No new Mazatlan ballpark; Teodoro Mariscal to be remodeled

Mazatlan mayor Fernando Pucheta Sanchez (center)
Now that halting attempts to have a brand-new ballpark built for Mazatlan have been abandoned, a full renovation of 55-year-old Estadio Teodoro Mariscal has gone from Plan B status to reality.  Between the resident Venados Mexican Pacific League franchise and both state and local governments, about 308 million pesos (or approximately $17,000,000US) has been earmarked for the project.

A ceremony invoving team and government officials was held Friday at the Teodoro Mariscal site.  According to a City of Mazatlan press release, mayor Fernando Pucheta Sanchez told the assembled group, "I appreciate everyone present for the enthusiasm they show in the works being carried out in the municipality, works that go within a framework of respect and legality, works that I don't mind paying the cost that means the discomfort they represent today, but tomorrow they'll be the pride of all Mazatlecos."  Pucheta may have been referencing alleged under-the-radar dealings involving politicians in the contruction of some of the many new MexPac ballparks that have popped up this decade.

While the Teodoro Mariscal renovation will not make the 15,000-seat facility a "new" ballpark, per se, it's projected to bring the facility more in line with its counterparts in places like Culiacan, Hermosillo and Obregon for amenities and revenue-producing potential.  Once one of Mexico's top ballparks, Mariscal has shown its age the past several winters and when talks were held weeks ago about where in Mexico to relocate next February's Caribbean Series from strife-torn Venezuela, the five-time CS host was not even considered.  The event went to Guadalajara instead.

Estadio Teodoro Mariscal was opened April 26, 1962, eighteen months after construction began on plans drawn up by architect Quirino Ordaz Luna.  The ballpark's location was regarded as somewhat remote at the time but as Mazatlan has filled in and added a Zona Dorado tourist enclave to the north, Teodoro Mariscal is now considered fairly central.  The scuttled plans for a new ballpark placed that proposed facility to the north of the Zona Dorado near the ocean, which would've made it a chore for some Mazeltecos to make it to a Venados game.  Instead, baseball will continued to be played where it's been for over five decades.

According to Puro Beisbol columnist Juan Angel Avila, the ballpark renovations (which will be performed in three stages) will bring about a Venados Hall of Fame, new locker rooms, a gym for player workouts, a medical/rehab room, an area for live musical performances and a children's play area.  Avila adds his admiration that, unlike similar projects elsewhere, the Mazatlan redo appears to be less about the talk and more about the action, and that work is already getting underway.

Beside the five Caribbean Series between 1978 and 2005, Teodoro Mariscal has been the scene of 15 MexPac championship series (the Venados have won nine LMP pennants) and All-Star Games in 1965 and 1983.  Mazatlan has historically been one of the better-drawing teams in the winterball circuit, but that was not the case last season.  The Deer drew a total of 198,589 fans to 34 home dates in the 2016-17 season for an LMP-low average of 5,851 per opening during a regular season during which nearly 10,000 aficionados clicked the turnstiles leaguewide on a nightly basis.

The renovations in Mazatlan will leave just Los Mochis and Navojoa among the eight MexPac franchise playing in ballparks that have not been at least renovated in the past decade.  The Caneros play at 11,000-seat Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada (erected 1947) while the Mayos call 11,500-seat Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria (1970) home.  Talks have been held in both LMP sites regarding ballpark renovations or replacement, but nothing firm has been agreed to in either city.

While nobody is saying anything right now, it's fairly common knowledge that brothers Juan Jose and Erick Arellano (Mazatlan natives who own both the Yucatan Leones and Union Laguna Vaqueros of the Mexican League) have coveted their hometown as a potential LMB franchise site.  The Arellanos reportedly were proponents of the new ballpark as a condition for bringing a Liga team to the Pearl of the Pacific, but it's not known whether they would still pursue a team to play in the new and improved Teodoro Mariscal instead.  An anticipated offseason scheduling turf war between the two leagues will hinder any LMB attempts to place teams in MexPac territory in any regard.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Toros' Barreda hurls no-no; Romero fired in Yucatan

Manny Barreda gets doused following his 2nd no-hitter since November
Although the 2017 season has not likely gone the way Manny Barreda hoped it would after a good enough start to the year, the Tijuana Toros' right-handed pitcher from Sahuarita, Arizona has accomplished a rare feat by tossing his second no-hitter in eight months in Sunday's 4-0 win over Tabasco.  Barreda turned in a similar performance for Los Mochis last November 28 when he blanked Hermosillo, 2-0, giving him a no-hitter in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues within eight months of each other.

Similar to his November no-no, which required 138 pitches, Barreda had to work deep into counts to Olmeca batters en route to a 145-pitch performance but only walked two Tabasco batsmen while striking out 14.  The contest was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning when Jose Guadalupe Chavez scored on a Juan Apodaca line-drive single to left.  Apodaca later came around to plate a run on Jorge Cantu's single up the middle.  Tabasco starter Angel Araiza found more trouble in the bottom of the fourth when Dustin Martin's 20th double of the year brought in Gabriel Gutierrez and Corey Brown to make it a 4-0 contest.

That would turn out to be more than enough cushion for Barreda to work with as he retired eleven Olmecas in a row before allowing a walk to the dangerous Sandy Madera in the seventh, then put away Tabasco's final seven men to seal the no-hitter and win.  Araiza was at times his own worst enemy on the mound for the visitors.  Despite only pitching those first four innings, the eighth-year veteran righty tossed 104 pitches but only 55 went for strikes as he walked five Toros hitters among the 25 he faced.

Barreda's strong winterball campaign for the Caneros (a 2.20 ERA and 1.077 WHIP with 66 strikeouts over 69.2 innings) led to his signing with the Atlanta organization in December, but he was returned to Mexico without ever pitching a regular-season inning in the Braves system.  Although the 28-year-old has pitched reasonably well for the Toros since arriving in the border city on April 4, showing a 3.63 ERA after 16 starts and striking out 88 hitters over 89.1 innings, Sunday's win was only his fourth in ten decisions for the team with the best record in the Liga.

A throng of 13,598 (equal to a week-long homestand in Villahermosa) looked at at Tijuana's Estadio Gasmart as the Toros won their seventh straight contest and widened their LMB North lead to three-and-a-half games over Monterrey, who lost at Oaxaca Sunday by a 6-2 count.  The Sultanes have lost six of their last ten games and now have to worry less about catching up to TJ and more about holding off a hard-charging Monclova team sitting one game behind them in the standings after the Acereros swept a road series in Oaxaca and took two of three games in Veracruz last week.  Aguascalientes is now six games behind Monterrey in fourth place and the Rieleros continue to play well for manager Homar Rojas, a past expert at working with low-budget rosters who's led the Railroaders to eleven wins in 14 games this month.

The Yucatan Leones continue to hold a comfy lead in the LMB South, but surprised observers by firing manager Willie Romero on Saturday.  Romero got into a heated argument with a fan following a heartbreaking 1-0 home loss to Puebla on July 9 and was serving a resulting suspension handed down by the Liga office when the axe fell on the two-time LMB Manager of the Year.  Romero arrived in Merida as a player in 2003 and was well-liked by Leones fans (except for at least one, apparently) after being a key performer for Yucatan's 2006 pennant winners and had led the Lions to an overall 193-110 record since taking the helm in 2015 and had them at 50-31 before his suspension began Friday.

Bench coach Oswaldo Morejon, who retired as a player last year after hitting .296 with 2,011 hits in his 20-year LMB career, has taken over for Romero and may remain manager the rest of the season although with the Arellano brothers in charge, one never knows for sure...don't be shocked if Union Laguna helmsman Ramon Orantes (like Morejon a longtime Liga infielder who retired last fall after 24 seasons) is brought in and reunited with former Vaqueros MVP candidate Ricky Alvarez.

Speaking of Alvarez, the stocky first baseman has struggled a bit since arriving from Torreon June 20 in a one-sided trade between the two teams owned by the Arellanos involving eight players.  Alvarez was hitting .330 with 13 homers and a LMB-high 75 RBIs in 66 games at the time of the trade (attendance in Laguna has plummeted in the aftermath), but has hit .295 with two homers and 14 ribbies in 22 games with Yucatan.  The Leones split road six games in Durango and Laguna last week while Puebla won four of six crossover home games against Aguascalientes and Saltillo to shave Yucatan's division lead to seven-and-a-half games.  The Pericos beat the Saraperos twice over the weekend as well-traveled Jon Del Campo (playing for his third team in 2017 and seventh Liga squad since 2011) socked a grand slam on Saturday and a two-run homer Sunday for his first two longballs of the year.

WIth three weeks remaining in the regular season, the batting title is Yadir Drake's to lose.  The former Durango outfielder from Cuba left his .385 average behind when he left to pay for Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters, for whom he's batting .138 after eight games.  Monterrey's Daniel Mayora is second at .372 after going 11-for-26 in his first six contests for the Sultanes.  Aguascalientes' Jesse Castillo hasn't dropped off since winning the All-Star Game MVP award in Campeche, belting two homers in Leon Friday to tie Tijuana's Corey Brown for the Liga lead.  Yucatan's Alvarez continues to top the list for RBIs with 89, but underrated Manny Rodriguez of Monclova (if a career .317 hitter can be called "underrated") drove in five runs last week to bring his total to 79.  Manny's new teammate, Justin Greene, swiped a base in each game of the Acereos' weekend series against Veracruz to continue running away with the stolen base title at 42.  And, yes, I'll use that line until I get bored with it.

It may be a good thing the Liga doesn't let gringos like me vote for postseason awards because I have no idea who I'd mark down for Pitcher of the Year.  Mexico City's Octavio Acosta beat Campeche last Friday in Estadio Fray Nano, which is no pitcher's park by any stretch, to run his season record to 12-1.  Acosta leads the LMB in wins, ranks sixth with 88 strikeouts in 104.2 innings and his 2.67 ERA is eighth on that list.  Then there's Nestor Molina, who has somehow posted an 11-1 mark for a very marginal Veracruz club.  Then again, his 1.63 ERA over 19 starts would take care of the "somehow" part of the equation, as would his 95 strikeouts (second to the 117 recorded by Monclova's Josh Lowey).  It's hard not to consider Yucatan's Yoanner Negrin, too.  Although he's not having anywhere near the year he had in winning this award in 2016, Negrin is 11-3 and fourth in ERA at 2.48.  The Cuban exile has a combined 33-5 record since joining the Leones from the Cubs organization just over two years ago.

Reliever of the Year won't be easy for voters either.  Last year's winner, Chad Gaudin, is tops with 24 saves to augment his 2.25 ERA while Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo is one behind at 23 saves with an even better 2.07 ERA.  Still, I'd cast my vote for Durango's Tiago da Silva, who's third with 21 saves in 28 appearances after missing over a month with an arm injury.  The Brazilian tossed a scoreless ninth in Sunday's win over Quintana Roo to lower his ERA to 1.78 in his first appearance since June 11.  The Generales are in seventh and 23 games out of first in the LMB North, but it's hard to imagine where they'd be without the 32-year-old righty.

Perhaps the biggest upcoming midweek series on the schedule will be in Aguascalientes, where the Rieleros try to stay hot against a Puebla team that's been playing better themselves in recent days.  The inter-divisional games continue next weekend with no huge sets on the docket, although Veracruz at Monclova hold some intrigue.  The Rojos del Aguila are trying to cement their hold on third place in the LMB South while the Acereros try to continue their climb up the North ladder.  Nestor Molina is scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Monterrey amid this buzzsaw of a road trip the Eagles will take this week and will not open in Monclova.

LMB STANDINGS (as of July 17)
North Division: Tijuana 61-28, Monterrey 57-31, Monclova 56-32, Aguascalientes 52-38, Union Laguna 47-41, Mexico City 46-43, Durango 38-51, Saltillo 35-52
South Division: Yucatan 52-32, Puebla 47-42, Veracruz 40-46, Quintana Roo 36-48, Leon 34-50, Oaxaca 33-53, Campeche 32-52, Tabasco 30-57

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ensenada wins both Liga Norte halves, playoffs open Saturday

Jermy Acey, interviewed by actor Branscombe Richmond
The Ensenada Marineros parlayed a four-run eighth inning into an 8-5 comeback win over Puerto Penasco Thursday night to clinch the North Mexico League's second-half championship with a 25-17 record, one game ahead of the 24-18 San Quintin Freseros.  Alberto Querales went 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs for the Marineros while Miguel Rodriguez slashed a two-run double in the decisive eighth, giving the home team a final season record of 52-31 and winning both halves to collect 16 total points toward playoff seeding.  Defending champion San Quintin (48-36) finished second in both halves to come in at 14 playoff points.  San Luis (40-43) came in third with 10.5 points and Puerto Penasco (41-43) rounds out the playoff field as the Tiburones picked up 11.5 points.  Caborca (37-45) and Mexicali (31-51) will both miss the postseason.

The Liga Norte is considered as Class AA within Mexico's pro baseball structure, with each of the circuit's six franchises sharing affiliations with two Mexican League teams.  The LNM is one of two AA leagues in the Mexican system; the other plays at the Mexican League Academy campus near Monterrey.  Ensenada is a farm team for the Mexico City and Oaxaca that (unlike their all-Mexican LMB parent clubs) has ten non-Mexican players on their 29-man roster, including San Diego-born infielder Nick Guerra, considered "nationals" via his Mexican-American status.  Guerra hit .250 in 25 games for the Marineros.

A minor league veteran outfielder from Texas had a banner year at the plate in the LNM this summer. Puerto Penasco outfielder Jermy Acey, a former Blue Jays farmhand who's played independent ball since 2006, led the Liga Norte in batting with a .358 average and 106 hits, finished third in RBIs (63) and tied for sixth in homers (10).   San Quintin's Marcos Veccionacci's 17 roundtrippers were tops in the loop while Edgar Duran of Ensenada led in RBIs with 77.  Vecchionacci had an MVP-type year for the Freseros, finishing third in the batting derby at .344 and coming in second to Duran (81) with 72 runs scored.  Duran was another standout, hitting .334 (sixth in the Liga Norte batting derby) and coming in second with 16 homers.

There are several LNM Pitcher of the Year candidates for 2017.  Elian Leyva of Puerto Penasco went 11-1 to lead the circuit in wins, followed by the 10 victories of Ensenada's Wanel Vasquez.  The latter registered 92 strikeouts to tie San Quintin starter Yeiper de Jesus Castillo and matched San Luis' Daniel Bloch for fourth on the ERA table at 3.66.  Leyva was also first with a 1.18 WHIP, finished third in ERA with a 3.34 mark (Ensenada's Alexis Lara was first at 2.92) and fourth in strikeouts with 78 ponches.  Ensenada closer Rafael Cova's 20 saves topped the chart, followed by Caborca's Loiger Luis Padron's 15.  Cova had a 1.87 ERA with 40 strikeouts over 33.2 innings.

The Liga Norte held its All-Star Weekend at Puerto Penasco, culminating with a June 10 Sonora win over Baja California by a 3-1 score.  Cuban Lazaro Leal of San Luis was named Game MVP.  Before the All-Star contest, Leal's Algodoneros teammate, Juan Carlos Torres, won the Home Run Derby.

The Liga Norte playoffs will open Saturday with a pair of semifinal games.  Top-seed Ensenada will host #4 Puerto Penasco while second-ranked (and 2016 titlist) San Quintin hosts San Luis.  The winners of the best-of-seven series will collide in the North Mexico League's Championship Series in another set scheduled for seven games, starting July 25.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Flurry of activity as Tuesday LMB trade deadline passes

Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle
Tuesday marked the final day that Mexican League teams can make trades or sign free agents to their active rosters with one month remaining in the regular season, and fans of such transactions were not disappointed.  Dozens of players were either traded, brought in or cut loose throughout the LMB, and rather than go through the entire eye-glazing list, let's take a look at some of the key transactions made before the July 11 deadline passed.

The deal that drew the hottest reaction was the trade of the rights to catcher Sebastian Valle from Tabasco to Yucatan in exchange for pitcher Juan Delgadillo, infielder Kristian Delgado and two more players prior to the 2018 season.  The 26-year-old Valle played for Mexicali in last winter's Caribbean Series, putting the Aguilas into the semis by belting a walkoff homer in a 5-1 win over Venezuela's Zulia Aguilas in a battle of Eagles before catching for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara.  The former Phillies prospect was signed as a minor league free agent by Seattle in the offseason but has spent almost the entire season on the disabled list, making one July 6 plate appearance in a rehab assignment with the Mariners' Arizona Rookie League team before his release two days later.

A Los Mochis native who has never played in the Mexican League, Valle has hit .253 with 74 homers over 822 games in his minor league career.  His LMB rights have been held by the Olmecas, who've had their own problems even without paying what will likely be a good salary for a catcher of Valle's status in Mexico, so the Olmecas jumped at the chance to add a veteran pitcher like Delgadillo (a son of Villahermosa in his 13th LMB season with 77-66 career record, including a 5-1 mark this year) and the versatile Delgado, who plays three positions and has hit .239 this year for both Tabasco and Union Laguna, where he played eight games on loan.

"Foul!," cried Monterrey Sultanes part-owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz, who came out of his season-long hibernation to complain to LMB president Plinio Escalante and president-in-waiting Javier Salinas that the Sultanes had a deal worked out with Tabasco to obtain Valle's right.  The LMB responded quickly, replying that there is no record of such an arrangement in the Liga's Mexico City offices and that the Olmecas' swap with Yucatan would hold.  Not that the Sultanes ended up standing still, signing All-Star third baseman Daniel Mayora (who was released by the financially imploding Durango Generales on Monday) and inking free agent first baseman-catcher Jesus Montero, a onetime top Yankees prospect who was released by the Orioles organization in late June after three injury-plagued months at AAA Norfolk.  Mayora, of course, fell one game short of tying the Mexican League record of 36 consecutive games with a hit and is among the LMB batting leaders with a .367 average.  Montero, who hit .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs for Seattle in 2012, will give the Sultanes a powerful bat and suspect glove.

Monclova was also busy up to the deadline.  The Acereros signed former major leaguers Carlos Quentin and James Loney as free agents while placing second baseman Tim Torres on the reserve list.  Quentin, who briefly played in the Puebla outfield last summer, appeared in two MLB All-Star Games and hit 154 homers in 834 games over nine big league campaigns (including a .288/36/100 season for the White Sox in 2008) .  Loney has eleven years of experience as an MLB first baseman, seven with the Dodgers, after finishing sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2006.  He has a career average of .284 with 108 homers.  Torres spent nine years as minor leaguer in four organizations, playing in the 2010 Southern League All-Star Game, before making his LMB debut with Oaxaca in 2015.  A versatile Oral Roberts product who can play seven positions, Torres hit .348 in 32 games for Tabasco and Monclova before being placed on reserve.

Other player moves included the signing of free agents OF Eliseo Aldazaba (Mexico City), OF Jeremias Pineda (Veracruz), IB-3B Alex Valdez (Saltillo) and 3B Eudor Garcia (Tijuana).  The most notable of that foursome may be Valdez, who hit 30 homers and drove in 100 last year for Monterrey and added 12 more longballs for the Sultanes this summer.  He represented Carmen at the LMB All-Star Game in both 2014 and 2015 and brings five-year Liga totals of .296/112/424 to the Saraperos lineup.  Unlike the power Valdez will add to the Saltillo batting order, Pineda is all about speed.  The Gulf Coast League's MVP in 20112, the 26-year-old Dominican was an All-Star for Veracruz in 2015, where he hit .285 with a Liga-leading 60 steals.  He's since spent time in the Marlins system before his release from AA Jacksonville on July 3.  Aldazaba belted 41 homers with 138 RBIs for Campeche over the 2014 and 2015 campaigns and will give the Diablos a reliable vet in the outfield.

The most intriguing pickup may be Garcia in Tijuana.  The 23-year-old El Paso native spent four years in the Mets system after being picked in the fourth round of the 2014 draft before being let go in late June.  While Garcia has been slowed by injuries, he's shown a good bat with gap power.  His signing will allow Toros manager Pedro Mere the chance to rest retiring veteran infielders Jorge Cantu and Oscar Robles by shifting Alex Liddi to first base and inserting Garcia at third.  In the postseason, that will matter.

One more notable roster move was the placement on the 60-day disabled list of catcher Iker Franco by the Quintana Roo Tigres.  A five-time All-Star for the Cancun team who was MVP of the 2011 LMB Championship Series, the 36-year-old Franco had hit just .157 in 17 games for the Tigres before he was shelved for the season Tuesday.  Franco played sparingly in 2015 and 2016 and is nearing the end of a solid, workmanlike career as a tough customer behind the plate and opportunistic batter.  His 14-year Liga totals include a .269 average with 112 homers and 531 ribbies.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Molina having standout year in Veracruz, ERA now at 1.41

Veracruz pitcher Nestor Molina
Let's start this story with a proven fact: No matter where he's pitched, Nestor Molina has been a winner.  Throw out a 6-12 season in 2012 while pitching for the White Sox organization, and the Venezuelan right-hander has posted a winning record every year since his pro baseball debut in 2007, with a career MiLB record of 60-28 in his eleventh summer.  Along the way, Molina was a postseason All-Star in the Class A Florida State League after going 10-3 with a 2.58 ERA for the Blue Jays' Dunedin affiliate in 2011 (his first year as a starter) prior to being sent to the Pale Hose that winter in a swap of minor leaguers.  He hasn't backed into that career .682 winning percentage either, registering a 3.13 ERA over 230 appearances, 92 of them starts.

Even with an impressive background like that, the 28-year-old Molina has dialed it up at least one notch this year pitching for the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila.  Molina raised his 2017 Mexican League record to 10-1 after shutting out Tabasco over six innings last Saturday en route to a 3-2 Red Eagles victory in Villahermosa, limiting the Olmecas to four singles while striking out four batsmen.  It marked Molina's tenth straight win after losing an April 8 home game to Leon despite a decent start in which he gave up two Bravos runs in six innings.  Consistency has been a hallmark, with only one of 18 starts not being a "quality" outing when Molina let in four Durango runs on eleven hits in six frames during a May 11 no-decision.  Every time out, he gives the Rojos del Aguila a chance to win.

Last weekend's win over Tabasco lowered Molina's earned-run average to 1.41 on the season, more than a full run better than Tijuana's Carlos Hernandez at 2.44.  His ERA stood at 2.54 after that rocky start against Durango, but he has lowered it in each of his next nine starts over the past two months.  In that stretch, Molina's ERA has been a microscopic 0.42 with with 47 strikeouts and 17 walks over 66 innings.  Molina is second in the Mexican League in strikeouts with 90 whiffs in 121.1 innings, trailing only Monclova's Josh Lowey's 108 punchouts.

Although the Veracruz roster has past and present All-Stars like first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor and outfielder Luis Suarez, Molina is clearly the main reason the Red Eagles have passed the Quintana Roo Tigres into third place in the punchless LMB South with a 37-43 record.  Although being six games under .500 is nothing to write home about, Veracruz might be battling to keep out of the division cellar if manager Eddy Castro couldn't send Molina to the mound every five games.  Instead, they're positioning themselves for the playoffs after finishing sixth in the LMB South in 2016.

Veracruz is one of the Liga's oldest baseball cities.  The Rojos del Aguila predate the Mexican League by more than two decades, making their debut in 1903.  The team is the oldest in the circuit, with six LMB pennants since 1937 while such baseball greats as Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo (who led the Red Eagles to titles in 1937 and 1938), Santos Amaro, Roberto Ortiz, Al Pinkston, Pilo Gaspar, Ramon Arano and Miguel Fernandez have worn Veracruz jerseys.  Jorge Pasquel, who briefly challenged the hegemony of Major League Baseball in the 1940's, was a Veracruzano.  While it's unlikely anyone in the LMB South will challenge Yucatan in the postseason this year (although defending champion Puebla has shown some signs of life lately), Nestor Molina will likely carry the Rojos del Aguilas on his back to their first playoff berth since 2013.

Things have heated up considerably in the North, where Tijuana loosened Monterrey's season-long grip on first place by sweeping the Sultanes at Estadio Monterrey in a midweek series last week before going into Monclova for a weekend series with the red-hot Acereros.  Monclova won the first two games of the series to stretch their winning streak to ten games before the Toros took Sunday's closer, 1-0, as Monclova starter Miguel Pena combined with three relievers for a six-hit shutout.  Corey Brown's fifth-inning double off hardluck Acereros starter Mauricio Lara drove in Isaac Rodriguez with the game's lone run as Pena's record rose to 8-2 while his ERA fell to 3.12.  For their part, Monterrey dropped the first two games of their home series with Mexico City before bouncing back Sunday to blank the Diablos Rojos, 8-0.  Angel Castro tossed seven innings of three-hit ball to go to 10-3 on the season and Ramon Rios cracked a fifth-inning grand slam off Diablos Rojos starter Efren Delgado in the Sultanes win.

The result of all this activity is that Tijuana maintains a tenuous half-game lead over Monterrey while Monclova has moved to three-and-a-half games back in third.  The Aguascalientes Rieleros hold fourth place after winning their first eight games in July before dropping a 5-4 decision to Laguna at home Sunday.  Puro Beisbol editor/columnist Fernando Ballesteros calls the Railroaders "dangerous" because they have more pitching depth than most LMB teams along with solid everyday players like MVP candidate Jesse Castillo, ageless All-Star Saul Soto, outfielder Dave Sappelt and newcomer third baseman Michael Wing, who's hit .441 with five homers in his first 20 games in Rieleros togs.  Suffice to say, nobody wants to face this team in the playoffs.

With former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake and his .385 batting average gone to Japan, the Cuban (who'll barely qualify for the batting title) set the bar for the rest of the Liga's hitters to catch up to.  At this point, Drake's lead in the batting race appears safe.  His former Generales teammate, Daniel Mayora, has moved into a tie with Monterrey's Chris Roberson for second place on the table with .367 averages.  Mayora missed a couple weeks with an injury shortly after his 35-game hitting streak ended, but he's gone 6-for-14 (.429) over three games since his July 6 return.  Tijuana's Brown homered Thursday and Saturday to become the first LMB batsman to reach 20 homers for the season, two ahead of Monclova's Matt Clark and Raniel Rosario of Saltillo.  Brown has also gone 12-of-14 on stolen base attempts and while his .292 average will hamper his MVP aspirations, the former Oklahoma State star has been a linchpin in the Toros lineup this summer.  Yucatan first baseman Ricky Alvarez' 86 RBIs are 12 ahead of Monclova second sacker Manny Rodriguez' 72, while Acereros outfielder Justin Greene is running away with the stolen base title (couldn't resist) with 38 swipes, well ahead of Mexico City speedster Carlos Figueroa's 23.

As mentioned, Veracruz' Molina (10-1/1.41/90K) is on his way to a career year and should be considered the frontrunner for Pitcher of the Year honors by keeping an at-best mediocre Red Eagles team in the playoff hunt.  However, there have been a number of top pitching efforts in the 2017 LMB season.  Former Mets farmhand Octavio Acosta of Mexico City won at Monterrey, 8-1, Saturday for his Liga-leading eleventh win.  The 11-1 Acosta has an ERA of 2.71 with 82 strikeouts in 99.1 innings pitched.  Besides Molina, Monterrey's Castro, Yohan Flande of Aguascalientes and Yucatan ace Yoanner Negrin (2016's Pitcher of the Year) have all reached the 10-win threshold.  Monclova's Lowey is well out in front of Molina in the strikeout derby by a 108-90 margin and Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo has overtaken Durango's injured Tiago da Silva in the saves department.  Obispo has preserved 22 Sultanes wins while da Silva had 20 saves for the Generales before going on the shelf following a two-inning stint at Tijuana on June 11.

Coming up in the Mexican League, it'll be a crossover week as all eight LMB North teams do battle with counterparts in the South.  The most intriguing midweek series appears to be scheduled for Puebla, where the Pericos will host Aguascalientes in a matchup of teams positioning themselves for postseason runs.  The best series next weekend is slated for Torreon, where Union Laguna welcomes Yucatan as both teams owned by the Arellano brothers clash.  It'll be the first game back at Estadio Revolucion for Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez, who was traded to the Leones late last month, touching off a firestorm of criticism among Laguna fans and lower attendance at subsequent Vaqueros home games.  The numbers may rise next weekend but a festive mood is unlikely.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Toros sweep Sultanes in Monterrey, take LMB North lead

The Tijuana Toros knew they had an opportunity as difficult as it was enormous when they traveled to Monterrey for a three-game midweek series against the Sultanes.  Manager Pedro Mere's Toros had been looking up at Monterrey in the Mexican League's North Division standings all season, but Tijuana had whittled the Sultanes' lead down to two-and-a-half games by the time the set opened Tuesday.  The series gave the Bulls a chance to at least narrow the gap a bit, but they were facing a Monterrey team that leads the LMB in batting with a .315 average and had won seven games in a row, including road trip sweeps in both Campeche and Tabasco (where they endured lighting problems at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero, where just 178 fans attended a doubleheader last Thursday).

The Toros not only accepted the challenge in front of them, they won all three games at Estadio Monterrey to pull a half-game ahead of the Sultanes in the standings.  Tijuana is now 54-26 (the best record in the Liga) while Monterrey fell to 53-26.  Monclova has been a few games back in third in the LMB North, but the Acereros have won their last eight games to pull four-and-a-half games out of the lead in what is shaping up to be a dandy division race over the last month of the regular season schedule.

Tijuana opened the series Tuesday with a 4-3 win as Dustin Martin's ninth-inning leadoff solo homer off reliever Thomas Melgarejo provided the difference.  Martin's blast gave TJ a two-run cushion that was enough to withstand a Monterrey rally in the bottom in the frame when closer Jason Urquidez gave up three hits, including an RBI single by Moises Gutierrez, and had runners on the corners with one out before striking out MVP candidate Chris Roberson and getting Ramon Rios to fly out to Corey Brown in center to end the contest with his 16th save.  Martin, who has struggled his way to a .250 batting average this season, went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored twice for Tijuana.  The loss wasted a 4-for-4 night for Sultanes' DH Luis Juarez, last winter's Mexican Pacific League batting champion who's hit .447 over his past ten games to raise his LMB season average to .299.  Toros starter Miguel Pena allowed two runs over six innings to go to 7-2 on the year while Angel Castro let in three scores over six frames for Monterrey to fall to 9-3.

The Toros held off Monterrey again on Wednesday night in a 4-3 win over the Sultanes.  Tijuana outhit the home team by a 13-6 margin, leaving ten runners on base, but the key hit of the night was a dribbler to the mound by Jose Guadalupe Chavez in the top of the sixth that enabled Roberto Lopez to come streaking in from third base to give the visitors a 4-2 lead.  Once again, the Sultanes came back to make it a one-run game in the bottom of the eighth when Zoilo Almonte poked a single into right field with runners at the corners to score Walter Ibarra from third, but Urquidez had a 1-2-3 ninth and struck out the last two batters to preserve the TJ lead for his 17th save.  Chavez singled twice and doubled as the Toros' leadoff batter, scoring once in addition to his run-scoring safety and three other Tijuana batters had two hits apiece.  Ibarra and Leo German each had two of Monterrey's six hits (a German double was the Sultanes' lone extra-base hit) as Tijuana starter Manny Barreda (3-6) allowed one run on two hits over six innings, striking out seven.  Monterrey's Jorge Reyes (1-2) was scuffed for ten hits in five frames in the loss, but only let in two runs.

Tijuana had to go into overtime for Thursday night's 8-4 victory to complete the broom job.  The Toros scored single runs in the second (Oscar Robles doubling in Jorge Cantu) and third (Alfredo Amezaga socked a leadoff homer) as the MLB veterans gave the visitors a 2-0 advantage.  Juarez evened the game with a two-run homer in the fourth off TJ starter Horacio Ramirez, another MLB vet,  and then took a 4-2 led two entradas later when Almonte lofted a two-run bomb off Toros reliever Ricky Ramirez, who'd walked Rios to open the inning.  This time, it was Tijuana's turn to come back, scoring once in the eighth on Brown's leadoff homer (his LMB-leading 19th) and knotting the contest in the ninth when Chris Valencia came in from third when Ibarra bobbled a Robles grounder to short.  After a scoreless tenth inning, the Toros put four runs on the board in the top of the eleventh as Martin lined a two-run single off Marco Carrillo to cap the scoring.  Edwin Quirarte came in from the bullpen to retire the Sultanes in order to end the game and series with another Tijuana win.  Chavez, Brown and Robles all had three hits to key the Toros' 17-hit attack, with Brown scoring twice, while Almonte's homer and single represented two of Monterrey's eight hits.  Pedro Villareal pitched a scoreless ninth and tenth for the Toros to earn the win.  Marco Rivas gave up Tijuana's first two runs in the eleventh to absorb the loss for Monterrey.

One interesting aspect of the series was attendance at the 27,000-seat Estadio Monterrey.  The Sultanes lead all of Minor League Baseball in attendance with a 12,047 average per opening and drew 27,529 over the three-game series with Tijuana (all played in triple-digit temperatures), but only 5,232 turned out for Tuesday's game while 6,858 were on hand Wednesday before 15,439 were in the stands for Thursday's finale.  One Puro Beisbol columnist mentioned earlier this week that the Sultanes have regularly given away tickets this season to put more backsides in the seats, but were not giving out free ducats for the tilts with the Toros.  No word on whether the house was papered for the Thursday night game, but it serves as a cautionary tale for teams in any sport who let people into their games for free and hope to make more money on concessions and merchandise sales: After people get used to attending your games for nothing, you run the risk that they'll eventually believe that's what your games are worth.

The Toros will move on to Monclova Friday for a three-game series with the Acereros while the Sultanes welcome the Mexico City Diablos Rojos for a weekend set in Monterrey.

Monday, July 3, 2017

LMB: Drake to Japan, Greene traded, Johnson released

The Durango Generales offense suffered a huge blow last week when All-Star outfielder Yadir Drake signed a contract with Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters for the rest of the 2017 season.  A onetime refugee who traveled from Cuba to Mexico on a raft, the 27-year-old Drake signed a half-season deal with the Hokkaido team for a reported 1.5 million yen (or about US$133,000), according to the Japan Times. The deal culminates what has been an incredible rise for Drake, who was leading the Mexican League with a .385 average (four points ahead of Monterrey's Chris Roberson) over 71 games with a month to go in the regular season while contributing 14 homers and 61 RBIs.

The Generales gave Drake his release last Thursday so he could sign with the Fighters, whose manager, Hideki Kuriyama, said, "I'm expecting big things from him, to act as a spark for our comeback in the second half of the season."  The team is currently fifth in the Pacific League standings with a 30-44 record.  Drake will be joining infielder Brandon Laird, the reigning league MVP who played for Mexico in this year's World Baseball Classic.  Another familiar name on the Fighters is pitcher Luis Mendoza, a former MLB hurler from Veracruz who is currently 2-6 with a 3.82 ERA. Mendoza has never pitched in the Liga, but spent parts of six winters pitching for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League.

Meanwhile, Saltillo has traded their sarape for a white flag by sending their leadoff batter, All-Star outfielder Justin Greene, to the Monclova Acereros in what is likely a salary dump for the Saraperos, who are struggling in both the standings (last in the LMB North with a 31-44 record) and at the gate, where the team is averaging 5,482 fans per game at Estadio Francisco I. Madero, respectable by Mexican League standards but a far cry from when the team was averaging twice as many turnstile clicks just over a decade ago.  The Saraperos were built into an LMB powerhouse during the 14 years the team was owned by the Ley family (who also own the Culiacan Tomateros of the MexPac), but the franchise has been sold twice since 2013 and the current squad under owner Nerio Rodriguez has not bene popular among local fans, not shocking for a last-place entry.

Like Drake, Greene is a legitimate contender for MVP with a .365 average (fourth in the LMB), 63 runs scored (tied for third with Mexico City's Ramon Urias) and 37 stolen bases, far and away the most in that category.  Greene has also belted 10 homers this season, including a roundtripper during his Monclova debut Saturday in Campeche in which he went 3-for-5 with three runs scored.  Greene had his winterball season shortened last October 29 in a game for the Obregon Yaquis when he bunted a ball into his own face, causing a fracture and ending his campaign.  The South Carolinian was leading the LMP with 11 steals at the time.  To make room for Greene, Monclova shipped outfielder Julio Borbon (who recently tied a Liga record with six hits in a nine-inning game) to the Puebla Pericos.

There was one more player move that was somewhat surprising when Puebla released first baseman-pitcher Dan Johnson, who knuckleballed his way through five hitless innings in a June 24 start, his first in Mexico.  Johnson's second start four days later against Laguna ended early after he allowed five runs on as many hits in one inning.  He'd been productive at the plate for the Pericos since his mid-May arrival, batting .298 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 32 games.  Perhaps the former MLBer wanted to continue pitching but if he does, he'll be doing it for the Leon Bravos, who signed and activated him as a free agent on July 2, one day after Puebla manager Tim Johnson let him go.  There shouldn't be much issue with Dan Johnson taking the mound in Leon, where the Bravos (owners of the worst record in the Liga at 26-47) are 13th of 16 LMB teams with a 5.27 ERA under manager Luis Rivera.

Don't think it hasn't escaped notice that Drake, Greene, Borbon and Johnson have all been featured in Baseball Mexico recently, but I'm not ready to declare a BBM Jinx quite yet.  But just in case, I stuck an LMB logo atop this story.  Whatever jinx the Liga has this season was likely self-inflicted.  There's no jinx in Monterrey, however, as the Sultanes have won seven games in a row (including road sweeps in Campeche and Tabasco last week) to take a two-and-a-half-games lead over Tijuana in the LMB North.  Monclova is solidly in third place while just two games separate Aguascalientes, Mexico City and Union Laguna in the battle for fourth and fifth places.  The Mexican League has added a wild card playoff game between fourth and fifth place teams in each division.  Yucatan (48-26) is ten-and-a-half games ahead of 39-38 Puebla in the LMB South standings.  Quintana Roo is in third while Veracruz holds fourth.

There are only four games between the remaining four teams for the fifth and final playoff berth, but the concern in Tabasco may be more about survival than postseason contention. The Olmecas had a disastrous homestand last week, drawing 2,337 fans to their three-game series against Monclova, had their Friday opener against Monterrey postponed due to power problems at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero and pulled in 1,194 spectators to a Saturday doubleheader before just 178 warm bodies were in the seats for Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Sultanes.  That's an average attendance of 742 for five dates as interest in Villahermosa continues to dwindle.  Mercifully, the Olmecas will play a midweek series in Oaxaca, where the Guerreros aren't exactly packing them in either but at least they're drawing a fairly steady 2,500 per opening.

In the LMB batting race, Drake's numbers in Durango will qualify him for a few weeks after his departure for the Far East, and his .385 average still has the nod over Monterrey's Roberson at .381. Corey Brown of Tijuana leads the loop with 18 homers, two more than four players tied for second with 16 roundtrippers: Aguascalientes' Jesse Castillo, Matt Clark of Monclova, Alex Liddi of Tijuana and Saltillo's Rainel Rosario.  Ricky Alvarez appears to be adjusting to his new Yucatan team, driving in nine runs during last week's road trip to bring his season RBI total to 85 (14 ahead of Monclova second baseman Manny Rodriguez in second).  Greene's 37 steals in 52 attempts put him atop that table with 14 more than Mexico City's Carlos Figueroa.

Among pitchers, Diablos Rojos righty's Octavio Acosta's breakout year continues as he tossed seven innings of three-hit shutout ball against Oaxaca Sunday to win his third straight start, becoming the first LMB hurler to reach double figures in wins.  The 10-1 Acosta, a former Mets farmhand, is also sixth in strikeouts (74 in 92.1 IP) and ninth in ERA (2.92).  Veracruz ace Nestor Molina leads the Liga with a 1.48 ERA after holding potent Tijuana to one run in 16 innings over two starts last week.  The 9-1 Molina is tied with six others for second in wins while his 86 strikeouts are second to Monclova's Josh Lowey, whose 104 K's (including 11 whiffs in a seven-inning stint last Tuesday in Tabasco) have given him a nice cushion.  Lowey recorded 47 strikeouts and just nine walks over 32 innings for his last five starts.  With Durango closer Tiago da Silva shelved with a shoulder injury, Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey has gained the saves lead after going 5-for-5 in opportunity situations between June 25 and Jult 2.  Obispo now has 22 saves to da Silva's 20.

There will be a couple of midweek series worth watching this week.  The biggest will be in Monterrey, where the Sultanes will try to stretch their seven-game skein with a series against second-place Tijuana, while Campeche is in Veracruz in an attempt to gain ground on the Rojos Aguilas.  Next weekend's top series may be in the LMB South, when Puebla is in Merida for three games against Yucatan, although the Oaxaca-Campeche series at Estadio Nelson Barrera Romellon will be important for both teams in the playoff battle going on in that division.

Mexican League standings (as of Monday, July 3)
NORTH DIVISION: Monterrey 53-23, Tijuana 51-26, Monclova 43-30, Aguascalientes 43-35, Mexico City 41-36, Union Laguna 40-36, Durango 33-44, Saltillo 31-44
SOUTH DIVISION: Yucatan 48-26, Puebla 39-38, Quintana Roo 34-37, Veracruz 33-42, Oaxaca 30-45, Campeche 29-45, Leon 26-47, Tabasco 26-49

Спасибо за прочтение

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fernando now sole buyer of struggling Tigres franchise

When a small group of investors led by former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Fernando Valenzuela purchased the Quintana Roo Tigres from Carlos Peralta amid great fanfare in February, there was optimism that the one-time Dodgers star would revitalize local interest in the team. Peralta's father, Alejo, built the Mexico City Tigres into one of the Mexican League's legacy franchises after forming the club in 1955, including a rivalry with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos when both teams shared Social Security Park that was nationwide in scope among Mexican baseball fans.

Following Alejo's passing, however, son Carlos first moved the team to Puebla and received a tepid response from fans there despite continued on-field success. The younger Peralta moved the team again, this time to the resort city of Cancun, which had been a tiny fishing village before government studies determined it might become a viable tourist destination in the 1970's. While the government turned out to be prescient about that tourism thing, Carlos Peralta didn't have the same result. Although the Tigres kept on adding pennants to fly at Estadio Roberto “Beto” Avila, fans have responded with a collective yawn, with attendance typically in the 3,000-4,000 range. The team had been heavily subsidized by the Quintana Roo state government up until the time the younger Peralta, never a baseball fan, finally sold the Tigres to Cbtqroo SAPI, SA de CV last winter for a reported 51 million pesos (about $2.8 million in US dollars). The hope among many was that Valenzuela's group would turn the Tigres' fortunes in the box office around and lessen, if not eliminate, the reliance on government subsidies that is common among most of the so-called “Old Guard” franchises.

Instead, according to Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, things have gone horribly wrong for the Tigres and Valenzuela, who along with his wife, Linda Burgos, are now the sole buyers of the team after the other two investors, the Tulum brewery and businessman Jose Luis Guillen, dissolved their partnership with the Valenzuelas on May 25. Tulum attorney Enrique Benet said in an interview that the Orvananos family, who owns the brewery, determined the Tigres are not financially viable and that they are not in a position to lose money. The story did not go into detail about Guillen's reasons for selling his 33 percent of ownership to the Valenzuelas, although Pereyra's piece mentions disagreements within the group and overall uncertainty of the team's financial prospects were the primary reasons for the split.

Another unwelcome development has been the growing public concern that the state subsidies aren't the most appropriate use of taxpayer pesos. According to Proceso, agreements signed from 2006 to 2016 show that former Quintana Roo governor Roberto Borge gave the Tigres a total of 239.7 million pesos in subsidies, an amount that doesn't include grant money provided by the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau or the Mayan Riviera Tourism Promotion Trust in 2015 and 2016. New governor Carlos Joaquin signed an agreement with former owner Peralta before the sale was announced to provide 23 million pesos in 2017, but is said to be less expansive with the public treasury than his predecessor was.

Tulum attorney Benet says that Joaquin had verbally agreed to increase the subsidy to 30 million pesos but that even if that came to pass, it wouldn't be nearly enough to cover the team's operating costs for the season, adding that the team payroll alone is 5 million pesos per month. Attendance this season has been less than 3,000 per game, which doesn't generate nearly enough revenue to fill the gap after subsidies and sponsorship deals are factored in, and players reportedly have had to wait for paychecks at least once this season. A proposal to send the players to a road series in Oaxaca by bus to cut expenses was also met with less than the most enthusiastic response.

As if that wasn't enough, the Proceso story says that Peralta has thus far received just one third of the 51 million peso sale price for the team. The cost was to be covered in three payments of 17 million pesos each but only the initial payment has reportedly been received. Pereyra mentions that thanks to the subsidies, sponsorships and ticket sales, Peralta has only had to invest five to six million pesos (about US$300,000) of his own money per year into the team. For the Valenzuelas' part, wife Linda says, “We're fine with Mr. Peralta. We have no problems with him.”

There's one more Valenzuela to come under increasing scrutiny this year, and that is Fernando Valenzuela, Jr.  After the ownership change, longtime general manager Cuauhtemoc "Chito" Rodriguez (a former LMB Executive of the Year who was named "King of Baseball" by Minor League Baseball in 2011) was replaced by Valenzuela, Jr. The result has been less than satisfactory, as the team has not replaced many well-paid veterans let go during the offseason with similar talent.  This year's offense ranks last in the LMB in batting (.261), homers (395) and runs scored (265, or 3.90 per game).  The pitching has been better, with a 4.13 team ERA that's currently fourth in the Liga, but you still have to outscore your opponents.  Veteran outfielder Freddy Guzman, still speedy at 33 and second in the league with 19 stolen bases in 24 attempts, was released on June 16, a move that effectively took away the Tigres' best baserunner.  Although the Tigres would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, that's more reflective of the poor overall performance of LMB South teams than anything the Cancun squad has done to qualify for the postseason. SOMEONE has to fill those four berths. Linda Valenzuela says, “The truth is that my son was better as a player.”

Unlike similarly shaky operations in Tabasco and Leon, the Tigres are highly unlikely to face the question of whether to continue operating in 2018. There's simply too much history with the team. However, there will be offseason questions regarding whether the team can survive in Cancun or if the Valenzuela family will continue to own and operate it. It's a sad state of affairs for one of the country's most prominent baseball teams that was once symbolic of national pride by winning pennants with all-Mexican rosters, and certainly hard to watch happen.  The hope here is that the Valenzuela family and the Quintana Roo Tigres get their acts together soon because there may not be much time for "later."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ex-MLB 1B pitches five hitless frames, gets win for Puebla

North American baseball fans who remember Dan Johnson's time in the major leagues will recall a 6'2" first baseman who belted 42 homers and drove in 157 runs for the Oakland A's between 2005 and 2007, hitting .275 with 15 dingers in 2005 and socking 18 longballs with 62 ribbies two years later.

After that three year stretch, the University of Nebraska alum struggled to stay in MLB, putting in stints with Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore, Toronto and St. Louis over the next eight summers, last appearing in 2015 with the Cardinals.  Johnson was also a respected slugger over his 15 seasons in minor league ball, batting .280 with 254 homers and 944 RBIs while being selected to four postseason All-Star Teams.  He was voted MVP for the Pacific Coast League in 2004 and received similar honors in the International League in 2010.

However, by last summer, Johnson was 36 years old and mostly out of organized baseball.  While he put in seven games for the Dodgers' Tulsa affiliate in the AA Texas League, he split the rest of the season between independent teams in the Atlantic League (Bridgeport and Long Island) and American Association (St. Paul), hitting a combined .236 with 13 homers in indy ball.  It was at this time that the right-handed Johnson was reinventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher.  Johnson put in four relief appearances with Tulsa and started 11 times in 12 mound appearances with Bridgeport (0-2 with a 7.50 ERA) and St. Paul (4-2/4.50) while not playing first.

This year has been Johnson's first south of the border after he was signed as a free agent by Puebla on May 15 to shore up one of many holes left when Pericos owner shifted most starters from the 2016 Mexican League champions to his Monclova franchise in the offseason, including first baseman Daric Barton. Johnson has since provided the Parrots some stability at the initial hassock, hitting .290 with five homers and 19 RBIs over 30 games, but it was Puebla's game last Saturday at Durango where he really raised eyebrows.

Facing a Generales lineup featuring four .300 hitters, including All-Stars Daniel Mayora (he of the 35-game hitting streak) and Yadir Drake (he of the LMB-leading .385 batting average), Johnson was handed the game ball by manager Tim Johnson and proceded to pitch five innings of near-perfect ball, with Drake the sole Durango batter to reach first base after being plunked by a Johnson pitch in the fifth after the ex-MLBer had retired the first 13 batsmen he faced.  While knuckleballers usually deal with a relatively high ratio of walks as one of the hazards of throwing such a pitch, Johnson gave up no bases on balls while throwing 36 of 57 pitches for strikes.  Although he recorded no strikeouts, Johnson induced eight groundouts, four popups and three flyouts for his 15 outs.

It's a good thing he was lights-out on the mound, as his Puebla teammates were no more successful scoring against Generales hurler Francisley Bueno, a Cuban expat who himself spent parts of four season in MLB pitching for Atlanta and Kansas City.  Bueno gave up seven hits over his five-inning stint but the game was scoreless going into the sixth, when the Pericos exploded for eight runs (including catcher Cesar Tapia's 100th career homer, a three-run bomb) off Durango relievers Erubiel Gonzalez and Sergio Sierra.  Puebla went on to post a 12-2 win, with Johnson getting credit for the victory in front of 5,470 fans at Estadio Francisco Villa.

Johnson had been tinkering with the knuckler since he was a kid growing up in Minnesota before floating them in earnest playing indy ball in 2016.  Last year, he told Marc Tomkin of the Tampa Bay Times during training camp (where he was trying out as a pitcher), "It's not the first time I've tried this out, but this is the first time I feel like I can take it seriously.  This is the time.  I'm 36 and ready to go on this."

The Durango Generales and Tim Johnson are probably taking him seriously, too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monclova's Borbon has six hits in 21-9 win over Campeche

Monclova outfielder Julio Borbon
Former major league outfielder Julio Borbon tied a Mexican League record Friday night by stroking six hits during the Monclova Acereros' 21-9 drubbing of the Campeche Piratas in front of 5,860 fans at Estadio Monclova.  The record of six hits in a nine-inning game was set in 1937 by Veracruz Rojos Aguilas Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo and had been tied 41 times before Borbon's outburst.  Saltillo's Bernardo Lopez and Cuban star Alfredo Despaigne of Campeche each had six-hit games in 2013, the last season the record was matched.

The 31-year-old Borbon had five singles and a double to key Monclova's 25-hit attack as the Acereros scored at least one run in each of the eight innings they sent batters to the plate.  Campeche actually led 7-4 until the bottom of the third, when the Steelers pushed five runs across the plate (with Borbon singling, but being called out at home after trying to score from first on Jose Felix' bases-loaded single).  Borbon, who also drove in five runs in the rout, saw his batting average jump from .324 to .345 in his fiftieth game of the campaign.  The former Rangers starter had plenty of help, as Amadeo Zazueta had four hits (including a two-run homer) and Matt Clark belted his 15th homer and singled twice as every Acereros batter except leadoff batter Willy Taveras had at least one hit and one run each.

Campeche didn't fare poorly at the plate themselves, gathering 15 hits on the night (three apiece for Yosmany Guerra, Oscar Williams and Engel Beltre), but Piratas starting pitcher Jorge Castillo coughed up seven runs on seven hits (including three homers) before being yanked with one out in the third and things didn't get much better for relievers.  The marathon lasted 4 hours, 31 minutes as the 7:30PM contest didn't conclude until a minute past midnight.  One night later, venerable hurler Francisco Campos recorded his first win of 2017 as Campeche defeated Monclova, 4-3.  Campos, who started the All-Star Game for the LMB South, gave the Pirates six strong innings by allowing one run and striking out four Acereros batsmen to go to 1-3 on the season and 192-138 for his 23-year Liga career.  His ERA is a solid 3.19 over seven starts bracketed around an injury that kept him off the mound from April 8 to May 24.

The Acereros dropped Sunday's game as well to fall to 41-30 in the LMB North Standings.  Monclova is in third place, looking up at 47-23 Monterrey and 46-25 Tijuana and casting a wary eye on the Aguascalientes Rieleros, sitting a game-and-a-half back in fourth at 40-32.  Union Laguna (38-34) had a tough week, losing home series to both defending champ Puebla and LMB South cellar-dwelling Leon.  Vaqueros fans appear to be reacting to the team's virtual giveaway of MVP candidate Ricky Alvarez to Yucatan by staying away from Estadio Revolucion.  Laguna had been averaging over 5,000 per opening prior to last week's player swap orchestrated by brothers Erick and Juan Jose Arellano (who own both clubs), but attendance totalled 13,660 over their six-game homestand for an average of 2,277.  Perhaps fans in Torreon and Gomez Palacio don't think much of their playoff-contending team being used as a feeder for the LMB South-leading Leones?

Yucatan was doing pretty well before Alvarez arrived, thank you, and their three-game weekend home sweep over Saltillo pushed their record to 44-24, opening their division lead to ten-and-a-half games over 35-36 Puebla.  The Leones have won seven of their past ten games, the only team in the South with a winning record over that same timespan.  Alvarez has been slow to adjust to his new surroundings, going just 5-for-23 (.217) with one RBI for his first six games in Lions' togs.  Quintana Roo (32-33) and Veracruz (31-39) currently hold the final two playoff positions ahead of Oaxaca (30-39) and Campeche (29-40).  The rules state that four LMB South teams will play in the postseason, but that doesn't mean they'll all deserve it.

Yadier Drake of Durango didn't have the most memorable week, going 4-for-16 in four games and seeing his average fall ten points to .385, but he's still the leader in the LMB batting derby ahead of Monterrey's Chris Roberson (.383).  The latter had a three-hit game Saturday against Tabasco en route to a 6-for-24 week over six games after the All-Star Break.  Jesus "Cacao" Valdez of Yucatan is third with a .375 mark.  Tijuana's Corey Brown cracked a two-run homer at Oaxaca last Tuesday to bring his season total to an Liga-leading 18, two more than teammate Alex Liddi's 16.  Monclova's Clark is tied for third with Jesse Castillo of Aguascalientes and Saltillo's Rainel Rosario with 15 apiece.  A ten-year minor league vet (mostly in the Cardinals and Red Sox systems), Rosario has already set a career record for homers and has 60 RBIs in 69 games for the last-place Saraperos.  Alvarez' 76 RBIs are still enough for the lead in that category, with Brown and Monclova's Manny Rodriguez tied for second at 65 apiece.  Saltillo gardener Justin Greene has gone two weeks without a stolen base, but Greene's 34 swipes are comfortably ahead of the 23 of Mexico City's Carlos Figueroa.  At 5'8" and 220 pounds, Figueroa doesn't conjure the classic image of a speedster, but some cronistas in Mexico consider him the LMB's fastest baserunner.

Veracruz starter Nestor Molina's dream season continues after the vet righty beat both Mexico City and Tijuana last week, allowing one run over 16 innings to raise his record to 9-1 (tied with  ) while lowering his ERA to a Liga-best 1.57.  Molina gave up one earned run in Sunday's win over the Toros, the first time he'd allowed one since May 28.  Oaxaca pitcher Irwin Delgado (9-2) is tied with Molina for wins and is second with a 2.16 ERA.  Delgado had won five straight starts before a no-decision against Tijuana last Wednesday, and his 83 strikeouts are second in the league only to Monclova's Josh Lowey's 93 K's.  Lowey has struck out 36 batters in 25 innings over his last four starts, going 2-1 in the process.  With a 3.83 ERA, the former Mercer University hurler hasn't been as dominant as he was in 2016 before going to South Korea, but three of those four outings would be considered quality starts as he appears to be regaining his past form.  Durango's Tiago da Silva continues to lead the LMB with 20 saves to augment his 1.84 ERA, but the Generales were dealt a blow when the Brazilian went down with a shoulder injury after appearing in a June 11 game against Tijuana.  A post last Thursday on the Generales' Facebook page says da Silva (who'd converted 20 of 21 save opportunities) will likely be out a couple more weeks.

Looking ahead to the coming week, there are no compelling midweek series on the Mexican League schedule but there are a couple weekend sets that have possibilities.  Tijuana will be in Aguascalientes, where they'll take on a competitive Rieleros team that shouldn't be overlooked.  The Toros had a six-game win streak (five on the road) snapped in Veracruz Sunday.  In the LMB South, Yucatan will visit Puebla for three games hoping to extend their lead over the Pericos in the standings.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Mayora falls one game short of Liga hit streak record

Durango Generales third baseman Daniel Mayora went 0-for-2 in a Tuesday night home game against Leon to see his hitting streak come to an end at 35 games.  Mayora's skein brought him to within one game of tying the Mexican League record of 36 consecutive games with a hit, set in 2000 by third baseman Luis de los Santos of Saltillo and tied by Quintana Roo second sacker Carlos Gastelum in 2012.

Mayora's last hitless game had come on May 5 against Union Laguna during the Generales' first-ever homestand following a month of games on the road to open the season while Estadio Francisco Villa was undergoing renovations needed to host the former Carmen Delfines.  The streak opened one night later when Mayora topped an Enrique Legucha pitch to send a slow roller to third and beat Jaime Pedroza's throw to first for an infield single for his only safety in a 1-for-5 outing.  Not the most auspicious start, perhaps, but from that game forward, Mayora went more than six weeks without being held hitless while seeing his batting average rise from .323 to a .363 mark.  Until Tuesday.

Batting in the cleanup slot, Mayora had no luck against Leon's crafty veteran starter Walter Silva, lining out to right fielder Junior Lake to open the second inning, drawing an inning-opening walk in the fourth and grounding out to third baseman Miguel Torrero to lead off the bottom of the seventh.  Mayora's last chance for a hit came in the ninth with the score tied at 2-2, but had the bat taken out of his hands when Leon reliever Fernando Villalobos intentionally walked him to set up a double play after Henry A. Rodriguez had bunted Daniel Nunez from first to second base.  That strategy became moot two batsmen later when Jairo Perez launched a three-run walkoff homer to give the Generales a 5-2 win.

The versatile Mayora, who can also play second base and shortstop when not manning the hot corner, is in his first Mexican League season but is no rookie.  The 5'11" product of Venezuela, who'll turn 32 next month, is a case study in persistence.  Mayora signed with Colorado as a free agent in 2005 and began his pro career with the Rockies' Casper affiliate in the rookie Pioneer League, hitting .263 with 1 homer.  Mayora spent a total of six season in the Colorado system, reaching as high as AA Tulsa, topping the .300 mark twice while being named to the Northwest League All-Star Team in 2006 and getting a South Atlantic League All-Star Team berth in 2007.

He opted for free agency after the 2010 season and began to bounce around the minors, first by signing on with Tampa Bay and splitting 2011 between Rays affiliates in AA Montgomery and AAA Durham and batting a combined .288 with 9 homers while being tabbed for the Southern League All-Star Game.  Mayora then inked a free agent deal with San Francisco for 2012 and hit .281 at AA Richmond, earning a nod for the Eastern League All-Star Game that year (his fifth such selection in six years).

Even so, the Giants released him the next March and he ended up spending 2013 with Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League and hit .306 for the Bluefish, earning yet another All-Star Game call. That was enough for the Dodgers to sign him after the season and ship him to AA Chattanooga in 2014, where Mayora posted a .302 average with the Lookouts.  He spent yet another year in AA for the 2015 campaign, this time for the Dodgers' Tulsa farm club, and batted .248 while battling injuries.

Once again, the 5'11" infielder chose free agency after the season but this time signed on with Rimini of the Italian Baseball League for 2016 and hit .311 in 33 games to finish eleventh in the batting race for the Coppa Italia champions.  Mayora has also spent nine seasons with the Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .281 for the Leones over that span.  His career average at all levels since 2005 is .294 over 1,523 games with 105 homers and 135 stolen bases.

It's been a long and winding road for Daniel Mayora, who's making the most of his first Mexican League campaign.  He appeared in his seventh All-Star Game in six leagues Sunday in Campeche, grounding out to short in his only plate appearance after replacing Tijuana's Alex Liddi at third base in the fifth inning.  He was batting .364 (eighth in the LMB) after going 2-for-3 in Durango's 4-1 win over Leon Wednesday night.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alvarez shipped to Yucatan; Vaqueros fans talking boycott

LMB All-Star first baseman Ricky Alvarez
Syndicate baseball.  While ownership of multiple teams in the same league is something not allowed in Major League Baseball since the Robison brothers' transfer of top players from their Cleveland team to their St. Louis franchise led to the disastrous 20-134 Spiders of 1899, the Mexican League has no such problem.  In fact, incoming LMB president Javier Salinas has said he approves of such arrangements, stating that it's better to have one financially capable owner of two teams than an underfinanced owner of one.  Although there's some logic behind that viewpoint, fans in Puebla and now Laguna would be hard-pressed to agree that they're being well-served by owners who consider their local team as the lesser part of their respective equations.

We've already seen the core players of Puebla's 2016 Liga championship team shifted to Monclova prior to this season by owner Gerardo Benavides, whose grandfather founded the Acereros and desperately wants his hometown to fly its first LMB pennant this year.  Although the Pericos have brought in enough decent replacements to hold third place in the South Division standings at the All-Star Break, that is more the result of belonging to a division in which only Yucatan has a winning record.  With their current 32-33 record, the Parrots would be looking up at six teams in the LMB North rather than trail second-place Quintana Roo by just a half-game in the LMB South.  Not so coincidentally, attendance at Puebla's Estadio Hermanos Serdan has dropped from an average of 4,314 in 2016 to 3,241 per opening in 2017, a decline of 25 percent.  Then again, the Pericos were last in the LMB attendance derby in 2015 with a 2,316 per game average so one could say it's all relative, but it's been made clear to people in the colonial city who DO follow baseball that their team is not a priority to their team's owner.

Now let's shift attention to the Union Laguna Vaqueros.  The Mexican League has had a presence in the Torreon-Gomez Palacio area as far back as 1940, with Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo leading the Algodoneros to the region's first pennant in their third season.  Union Laguna won another title in 1950, but it would turn out to be their last.  The Vaqueros were purchased in the offseason by brothers Jose Juan and Erick Arellano, who also own the South-leading Yucatan Leones.  The Arellanos would love to place an LMB team in their own hometown of Mazatlan, but stalled development of a new ballpark there has put that desire on hold for now.  Unlike Benavides in Puebla, the brothers had largely left their Union Laguna team untouched and the Vaqueros have been in the midst of a battle for a playoff berth in the LMB North with a 35-31 record at the All-Star Break, one game out of the fourth and final postseason slot with one of the Liga's more potent offenses.  Until Monday.

That's when the Arellanos decided to ship the Vaqueros' best player, All-Star first baseman Ricky Alvarez, to Yucatan as part of a six-player swap clearly designed to load the Leones up for the playoffs.  Laguna also sent pitchers Edgar Osuna and Maikel Cleto to Merida in exchange for hurlers Tomas Solis, Alejandro Martinez and Leo Rosales, who have 50 innings pitched between them this year.  Alvarez is the main prize, with the 28-year-old Tijuana product having a season bringing him some support in MVP talks with a .330 average, 13 homers and an LMB-best 75 RBIs.  The former Angels minor league has hit 37 homers and driven in 166 runs over 177 games for the Vaqueros since coming to Torreon in a trade with Tabasco prior to last season.

Then there's Osuna, who set the Liga on fire in April by winning his first five starts but hasn't won a game since to see his record level off at 5-4 while his ERA (which had been 1.61 entering May) ballooned to 5.37 with no quality starts in his last eight outings.  Still, the 29-year-old from Mazatlan will give the Leones pitching staff a lefty with 12 years experience, much of it in the Braves and Royals organizations, and a former Texas League All-Star.  As well, Cleto (who previously pitched in MLB for both the Cardinals the White Sox) has had a good half-season in the Laguna bullpen, with a 3.20 ERA and 4 saves in 5 opportunities over 19 appearances, and will likely replace former Leones closer Jairo Asencio, who was released earlier this month despite being among the LMB leaders in saves.  The team also last Friday released Brad Snyder, another ex-MLBer who was batting .268, was second to Alvarez on the team with 12 homers and third with 41 RBIs while playing errorless ball in the outfield.

While this swap (which has not been officially announced by the Liga office) doesn't have the seismic effect that last winter's mass exodus from Puebla to Monclova, fans in Laguna have already let their opinions be known.   A group of six aficionados released a public letter posted on the Puro Beisbol site calling on others to boycott attending Vaqueros games, at least temporarily, at 86-year-old Estadio Revolucion, where the club is sixth in LMB attendance at 5,206 per opening.  The Vaqueros drew just 2,000 people in Tuesday night's 10-7 loss to Puebla (irony duly noted).

It's hard to believe this is the sort of syndicate ownership Salinas has envisioned for the troubled league he's taking over after current president Plinio Escalante retires following the season.  Then again, with franchise problems in places like Leon, Tabasco and now Quintana Roo (that's another story for another day), among others, perhaps Salinas has no choice as long as the Arellanos pay the bills and Benavides is heading the Assembly of Presidents who sign his paycheck.

Monday, June 19, 2017

All-Stars: North wins, 4-3; Castillo MVP; Diaz cops HR Derby

2017 LMB All-Star Game MVP Jesse Castillo
The Mexican League held its 2017 All-Star Weekend between Friday and Sunday in Campeche and the Walled City did not disappoint.  Festivities culminated in a 4-3 North Division win Sunday night as a record throng of 10,657 crammed 6,000-seat Parque Nelson Barrera Romellon, capping a three-day event that began with the LMB announcing Friday that they would play two shorter seasons in 2018 and hometown hero Francisco "Frank" Diaz beating Tijuana's Alex Liddi in the final round of Saturday's Home Run Derby.

Sentiment was the rule of the day at Sunday's Juego de Estrellas, with winless Francisco Campos (0-3) taking the mound for the LMB South as cheers rang out from all corners of the ballpark.  The man they call Poncho Ponches (which liberally translates to "Strikeout Man") was making the 15th All-Star appearance of his 23-year Liga career, all spent in Campeche except for a stint of five wins in as many starts on loan to Monterrey in 2006.  To many, Campos IS the Piratas, and he held up his end of the bargain by tossing a scoreless first inning and living up to his nickname by whiffing Mexico City shortstop Ramon Urias, older brother of Padres shortstop prospect Luis Urias.

After his South teammates gave Campos a lead in the bottom of the first when Balbino Fuenmayor (Veracruz) doubled in two runners off Octavio Acosta (Mexico City), the North got a run back when Zoilo Almonte doubled off Pablo Ortega (Tigres) in the top of the second.  It became a 3-1 game in the bottom of the entrada when another Campeche All-Star, third baseman C.J. Retherford, socked a solo homer off reliever Arturo Lopez (Mexico City), but the North roared back for three runs in the top of the third.  Yoanner Negrin (Yucatan) took over on the hill for the South and was immediately greeted by singles from Justin Greene (Saltillo) and Urias, followed by a three-run bomb detonated by Jesse Castillo (Aguascalientes) to produce what turned out to be the game-winning runs.

Castillo (pictured) was subsequently selected as the All-Star Game MVP by media members in attendance.  Greene and Urias each had two singles as part of the North's 10-hit attack.  The South's eight safeties were scattered among as many batters, with a double from Ronnier Mustelier (Yucatan) the only extra-base hit.  A total of 19 pitchers saw action for both teams as North manager Pedro Mere (Tijuana) and South skipper Willie Romero (Yucatan) kept to 20-pitch count limits.  Jose Oyervides (Monclova) tossed a scoreless third to pick up the win while Negrin came away with a blown save and the loss.  Tijuana closer Jason Urquidez blanked the South in the bottom of the ninth to earn the save.

On Saturday, a large turnout watched the Home Run Derby, featuring four players representing each division.  Leon's Leandro Castro swatted 10 homers in the opening round to lead all eight batters, advancing to the second round along with Campeche's Frank Diaz (7), Alex Liddi (4) and Issmael Salas (4).  Liddi and Salas moved on after a special tiebreaker with Durango's Yadir Drake and Veracruz' Balbino Fuenmayor, who'd also hit four homers in the opening stage.  Tijuana's Corey Brown (3) and the Rieleros' Castillo (3) finished tied for seventh.  In the second round, defending HR Derby champ Liddi knocked out 14 dingers to reach the final along with Diaz (10), as Castro (7) and Salas (6) fell well short.  Diaz then outhomered Liddi by an 8-6 margin to win the Derby and claim a check for MX$20,000 as Piratas fans in attendance roared their approval during a weekend that gave baseball in the Gulf city a badly-needed shot in the arm, with the help of Pirates' All-Stars Diaz, Retherford and, of course, Poncho Ponches.

However, the biggest news out of the weekend may have been delivered Friday after the LMB's Assembly of Presidents meeting.  While leaders apparently did nothing to address concerns in either Leon (non-payment of franchise fees) or Tabasco (bottoming-out attendance), outgoing president Plinio Escalante announced that 2018 will include two four-month seasons between February and November instead of a traditional six-month regular season plus playoffs, adding that the change came on a unanimous vote.  The format would be similar to Liga MX soccer, which has two annual tournaments (the Apertura and Clausura) in both its Premier and First divisions.  No details were made available by the LMB, but reaction among Mexican cronistas has been almost universally negative.  BBM will have more as details become available on this move, likely the brainchild of incoming LMB president Javier Salinas, a longtime Liga MX exec, and one that may have repercussions throughout baseball and draw challenges from Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales and Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor.