Friday, August 18, 2017

Sultanes, Pericos advance; Rieleros tie series with Toros

Monterrey IF Agustin Murillo, during his 2015 stay in Japan
The Monterrey Sultanes and Puebla Pericos completed four-game sweeps of their respective Mexican League division semifinal playoff series Thursday night, the Yucatan Leones took the lead after Game Three of their tilt following Wednesday's rainout in Leon and the fourth-seed Aguascalientes Rieleros tied their series with LMB North champion Tijuana with a big win at home in Estadio Alberto Romo Chavez.

Agustin Murillo's two run single in the sixth inning paced Monterrey's 6-3 series-clinching win in Monclova as the Sultanes advanced to the LMB North championship series, Andres Meza and three relievers combined to blank Quintana Roo, 2-0, as the Pericos scored twice in the ninth to break up a scoreless contest in Cancun, Jose Aguilar's two-run homer highlighted a three-run second in Yucatan's 5-1 win at Leon to take a 3-to-0 lead in that set and a two-run Jose Vargas double was the centerpiece of Aguascalientes' go-ahead, three-run sixth in a series-knotting 3-2 win over the Toros.

With two opening-round series concluded, two games are on the schedule Friday night as Yucatan plays at Leon while Tijuana concludes their three-game visit to Aguascalientes.

Monterrey 6-12-0, MONCLOVA 3-7-0
W-J. Reyes (1-0).  L-M. Lara (0-1).  Sv-Obispo (2).  A-8,500.  T-3:25.
The Sultanes and Acereros were in a 1-1 deadlock until the top of the sixth inning, when Monterrey scored three times to take the lead for good en route to a 6-3 win.  Walter Ibarra singled in Jesus Montero in the second to give the visitors the first run of the game, but Monclova tied it up in the fourth when Carlos Quentin came in from third on Tim Torres' two-out safety.  Veteran infielder Agustin Murillo broke the game open with a two-run single up the middle in the top of the sixth for Monterrey, with Ibarra adding another run-scoring single to post the Sultanes a 4-1 advantage.  The Acereros made it a one-run game in the bottom of the frame when Jose Amador's tripled plated one score and a Torres single brought in another, but that's as close as Monclova got.  Daniel Mayora had two singles and a double to drive in two runs and score another for Monterrey, who completed a four-game sweep.  Jorge Reyes gave up three runs in 5.2 innings for the win.  Mauricio Lara (5.2 IP, 4 ER) took the loss for the Acereros.

AGUASCALIENTES 3-7-2, Tijuana 2-6-1
W-Romero (1-0).  L-M. Serrano (0-1).  Sv-E. Salas (1).  A-5,899.  T-3:02.
The surprising Rieleros, who lost 7 of 9 games to Tijuana during the regular season (including two series sweeps), evened up their division semi set with the Toros with a 3-2 Game Four win at home.  Starters Horacio Ramirez of Tijuana and Aguascalientes' Francisco Moreno traded zeros through four innings before the Toros' Jose Guadalupe Chavez singled in Juan Apodaca with the game's first run in the top of the fifth.  The Railroaders took the lead in the sixth when Jose Vargas' double brought in two runs and a Cristhian Presichi single scored Vargas from second, giving the hosts a 3-1 lead.  Cyle Hankerd's two-out solo homer in the eighth brought Tijuana within a run.  The Toros had two runners on base in the ninth with one down when Roberto Lopez belted what looked to be a sure homer until Dave Sappelt made a leaping catch at the right field wall for the second out.  Edwin Salas then got Oscar Robles to hit a game-ending groundout to second.  Presichi singled twice to lead the Rieleros' seven-hit attack while Apodaca and Corey Brown both hit two singles for Tijuana.  Moreno gave up one run in five innings to earn the win.

Puebla 2-10-0, QUINTANA ROO 0-8-2
W-J. Felix (1-0).  L-Barron (0-1).  Sv-Heath (2).  A-5,306.  T-3:07.
The Pericos closed out their sweep of the Tigres with a 2-0 Game Four shutout during which Puebla starter Andres Meza blanked Quintana Roo on six hits over 5.1 innings and relievers Mario Morales, Julio Felix and Deunte Heath carried the whitewash to its conclusion.  For his part, Tigres hurler Misael Siverio threw six scoreless innings, allowing six hits.  The scorer was unbothered until the top of the ninth, when Puebla's Hector Garanzuay singled in the game's first run and Cesar Tapia came in from third on Sergio Perez' fielder's choice groundout to Tigres reliever Raul Barron.  Heath retired the hosts in order with two strikeouts on 19 pitches to seal the win for the Pericos.  The series sweep serves as delicious irony for Puebla fans who saw 20+ members of their 2016 pennant winners transferred to Monclova in the offseason after owner Gerardo Benavides bought the Acereros, who were founded in 1974 by Benavides' grandfather.  The loaded Steelers ended up getting swept by Monterrey while manager Tim Johnson's scrappy Pericos move on to the LMB South title series.

Yucatan 5-8-0, LEON 1-3-0
W-Samayoa (1-0).  L-Lively (0-1).  A-6,238.  T-2:25.
One night after Wednesday's rainout in Leon, Yucatan built a 4-0 third inning lead and went on the top the Bravos, 5-1, to take a 3-games-to-0 lead in their LMB South semifinal series.  The Leones went up 3-0 in the top of the second inning when Yuniesky Betancourt's run-scoring sacrifice fly was followed by a two-out, two-run homer by Jose Aguilar off Leon starter Mitch Lively.  Yucatan's Leo Heras led off the third with a double, then came in on Diego Madera's single to put the Lions up four runs.  The Bravos' lone tally came in the bottom of the fifth when Niko Vasquez doubled off Yucatan starter Jose Samayoa and scored one out later on a Miguel Torrero single.  Ricky Alvarez' solo homer in the ninth provided the Leones their final margin of victory.  Samayoa carried a no-hitter into the sixth to earn the win as the righty combined with three relievers to limit Leon to three hits on the night.  Lively gave up four runs on seven hits in 6.2 frames to absorb the loss.  The Liga's regular season RBI champ Alvarez homered and doubled, scoring twice for the Leones.

Yucatan (Castellanos, 7-5, 4.73) at Leon (Silva, 8-9, 3.07)
Tijuana (C. Hernandez, 10-2, 2.67) at Aguascalientes (del Rosario, 4-6, 3.71)
Stats are from regular season. Matchups provided by Puro Beisbol.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Monterrey, Puebla up 3-0 in division semis; rainout in Leon

The Monterrey Sultanes and defending champion Puebla Pericos have gone ahead 3 games to 0 in their respective Mexican League division semifinal playoff series while the Tijuana Toros' Wednesday night win in Aguascalientes gives them a 2-to-1 advantage in that set.  The Yucatan Leones and Leon Bravos will have to wait to break their 1-1 deadlock after their game in Leon was postponed due to rain.

Zoilo Almonte and Luis Flores combined for four homers and eight RBIs to lead Monterrey to a 9-5 road win in Monclova, bringing the Sultanes to within a win of the division championship series.  Jesus Arredondo belted a couple of longballs (making it three homers in two games for the Los Mochis native) in Puebla's 6-1 victory over Quintana Roo in Cancun, putting the Pericos on the brink of the LMB South title series.  Cyle Hankerd scored the go-ahead run for Tijuana on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the eighth inning as the Toros went on to post a 4-3 comeback win in Aguascalientes after trailing 3-1 in the seventh for their second straight win after losing the series opener Sunday at home.  Heavy rain in Leon prevented the Bravos from hosting Yucatan in their Game Three on Wednesday night.  They'll try again at 1:00PM local time this afternoon with Games Four and Five moved to Friday and Saturday nights.

Monterrey 9-14-1, MONCLOVA 5-8-0
W-Rivas (1-0).  L-Morales (0-1).  A-8,500.  T-3:43.
Zoilo Almonte's two-run homer in the top of the first inning staked Monterrey an early lead and another Almonte homer in the third, this time a three-run blast, put the Sultanes ahead 5-0.  Monclova fought back for four runs in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of a grand slam off the bat of former White Sox All-Star Carlos Quentin, who is batting .333 with five RBIs in the series after hitting .212 with two homers in 13 regular season games for the Acereros.  Luis Flores took over dinger duties from Almonte by swatting a two-run homer in the top of the fourth to give Monterrey a 7-4 advantage, but the stubborn hosts replied in the bottom of the frame when Jose Amador hit a leadoff double and later scored on a Jose Felix single.  Flores led off the sixth with his second homer, followed by a double from Chris Roberson, who eventually came in with the game's final run.  The contest was a marathon lasting 3 hours, 43 minutes as both teams combined to use 13 pitchers.

Tijuana 4-10-0, AGUASCALIENTES 3-4-3
W-Fisher (1-0).  L-L. Castro (0-1).  SV-Urquidez (2).  A-6,782.  T-3:50.
The Aguascalientes Rieleros had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before Tijuana fought back with one run in the top of the seventh and two more in the eighth to sneak away with a 4-3 win over the host team.  As with the Monterrey-Monclova game, longballs were the order of the day.  Jose Vargas led off the bottom of the second with a homer off TJ starter Alex Sanabia to give the Rieleros an early lead, and Jesse Castillo duplicated the feat two innings later with a leadoff blast to make it 2-0.  Jose Guadalupe Chavez drew a bases-loaded walk from Aguascalientes starter Roy Merritt to put the Toros on the board, but Castillo's second homer of the night in the sixth (yes, it was a leadoff homer and yes, it was off Sanabia) to put the Railroaders up 3-1.  Alex Liddi's one-out solo homer in the seventh for TJ made it a one-run game, but the game was decided in the eighth when Corey Brown's RBI single tied it and a second bases-loaded walk issued by an Aguascalientes pitcher (Edwin Salas to Juan Apodaca) pushed Cyle Hankerd across the plate with the eventual game-winner.  Sanabia allowed just four hits in five innings, but three were four-baggers.  Another marathon: 3 hours, 50 minutes and 11 pitchers.

Puebla 6-9-0, QUINTANA ROO 1-10-1
W-Lugo (1-0).  L-Crenshaw (0-1).  A-5,754.  A-2:23.
Unlike the two LMB North playoff games Wednesday, this one featured only two homers and lasted just 2 hours, 23 minutes as Puebla took a commanding 3-games-to-0 series lead with a 6-1 win over Quintana Roo, making it a Wednesday sweep for road teams.  Jesus Arredondo's leadoff homer off Tigres starter Dustin Crenshaw opened a three-run second inning for the Pericos, who also benefitted from Alberto Carreon's two-run, bases-loaded single.  The 3-0 score stood until the bottom of the seventh, when Jesus Valenzuela hit a leadoff double, then scored on a Ramon Ramirez single.  That only served to nudge the Puebla offense from their nap as the Pericos put three scores on the board in the eighth, all off Arredondo's second homer of the night, a three-run shot off reliever Jose Meraz.  The Tigres actually outhit the visitors, 10 to 9, but only batted 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight baserunners stranded.  Puebla starter Jaime Lugo was sharp, allowing one run on seven scattered hits and no walks over six innings for the win.  Crenshaw (7 IP, 3 ER) took the loss.

Yucatan (Samayoa, 11-2, 2.29) at Leon (Lively, 7-2, 2.41)
Puebla (Meza, 5-6, 5.06) at Quintana Roo (Siverio, 4-5, 4.69)
Tijuana (Ramirez, 3-1, 3.86) at Aguascalientes (Torres, 4-3, 2.79)
Monterrey (Reyes, 4-3, 3.97) at Monclova (M. Lara, 7-7, 4.07)
Stats are from regular season.  Starters provided by Puro Beisbol.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yucatan beats Leon in 11 on Francisco HR, lead series 2-0

Yucatan Leones designated hitter Juan Francisco
Designated hitter Juan Francisco was hitless as he approached the plate for what turned out to be his final at bat of the night, but the former Atlanta Braves infielder more than made it for it by belting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning to give his Yucatan Leones a 5-3 win over the visiting Leon Bravos in their Mexican League South Division semifinal playoff series game in Merida.  The LMB South regular season champs now have a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 set as the two teams move to Leon for at least two more games.

In the other LMB South semi Monday night, defending champs Puebla defeated Quintana Roo, 5-2, to go up 2-0.  In the LMB North opening round, Tijuana rebounded to beat Aguascalientes, 6-3, to even their series at 1-1 while Monterrey held off Monclova, 6-5, taking a 2-0 lead in that series.  Tuesday will be a travel day as all eight participants shift to ballparks in the cities of the lower-seeded teams for their respective Games Three on Wednesday night.

YUCATAN 5-8-0, Leon 3-10-0 (11)
W-Belisario (1-0).  L-F. Quintero (0-1).  T-9,682.  A-3:41.
Visiting Leon was able to build a 3-0 lead after Junior Lake scored from third base on a Niko Vasquez infield single in the top of the fourth inning, followed two frames later when Dan Johnson singled in Gilberto Mejia and a Vasquez sacrifice fly plated Lake.  Yucatan narrowed the gap to 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh when a groundout to first by ex-MLBer Juan Francisco brought in Diego Madero from third to break up Bravos pitcher Guillermo Moscoco's shutout bid.  Leon held their two-run advantage until the bottom of the ninth, when Ronnier Mustelier's run-scoring single to left brought in Leo Heras and a Francisco sac fly plated Diego Madera with the tying run, sending the contest into extra innings.  In the eleventh, Mustelier line a single to right, setting the stage for Francisco against incoming reliever Sergio Alvarado.  Francisco drove an Alvarado delivery over the left-field wall for the walkoff triumph.  Former Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario tossed three perfect innings for the win, striking out four, as the Leones took a 2-0 series lead.  Game Three is in Leon Wednesday.

PUEBLA 5-10-1, Quintana Roo 2-5-1
W-Outman (0-1).  L-Ortega (0-1).  A-7,305.  T-2:16.
Puebla broke a scoreless tie by putting three runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Pericos went on to a 5-2 win over visiting Quintana Roo Tigres, taking a 2 games to 0 series lead in the process.  Starting pitchers Josh Outman of Puebla and venerable Pablo Ortega of the Tigres swapped zeros until the fourth, when an Issmael Salas double was followed by a homer to right by Jesus Arredondo to give the Parrots a 2-0 lead.  Ricky Rodriguez then hit a ground-rule double over the center-field wall and scored from second one out later on Hector Garanzuay's single to right.  Salas finished the night with two doubles and a single, scoring once and driving in two, while Garanzuay contributed a pair of singles to give the Pericos middle infielders five of Puebla's ten hits between them. Former MLB hurler Outman went eight innings for the win, giving up one earned run.  Deunte Heath, another ex-big leaguer, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.  Ortega, who turns 41 in November, let in five runs on nine hits in five innings for the loss.  Game Three is Wednesday in Cancun.

TIJUANA 6-8-1, Aguascalientes 3-9-1
W-M. Pena (1-0).  L-Flande (0-1).  A-15,327.  T-3:46.
Tijuana leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez collected three hits, scoring twice, and the Toros posted four runs (three unearned) in the bottom of the third inning to take a lead they'd never relinquish as the LMB North's top seed beat Aguascalientes, 6-3, Wednesday as 15,327 fans watched at Estadio Gasmart.  The Toros' win evened their series with the visiting Rieleros, 1 game to 1.  Aguascalientes took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Dave Sappelt's two-out double up the middle brought in Eliezer Ortiz from first.  Things got rugged for Rieleros starter Yohan Flande in the bottom of the third as he walked Roberto Lopez to open the frame, committed a fielding error on a Chavez bunt and walked Dustin Martin to load the bases after striking out Isaac Rodriguez.  Flande then served up a two-run single to Cyle Hankerd. A Corey Brown sacrifice fly scored Martin with TJ's third run and Alex Liddi's single brought in Hankerd with a fourth score.  Miguel Pena pitched five strong innings for the win while Flande took the loss.  Game Three is slated for Wednesday night in Aguascalientes.

MONTERREY 6-14-2, Monclova 5-8-2
W-A. Castro (1-0).  L-R. Verdugo (0-1).  A-18,543.  T-3:22.
The Monterrey Sultanes built up a 6-1 lead in the fifth inning, then had to hold on for dear life to outlast the Monclova Acereros, 6-5, Monday to take a 2-0 lead in their series.  Jesus Montero's RBI single put the Sultanes ahead, 1-0, in the bottom of the first but it was a four-run third inning, keyed by Luis Juarez' three-run homer, that provided most of the Monterrey cushion.  Trailing 6-1 late, Monclova shaved one run off their deficit when Ruben Rivera belted a solo homer to lead off the eighth, but it was the ninth when things really got interesting.  Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo replaced starter Angel Castro and gave up a leadoff walk to Carlos Quentin before striking out Matt Clark.  Quentin stole second uncontested with Tim Torres at the plate and scored on Torres' single to center.  2016 All-Star Game MVP Jose Amador then belted a two-run homer to make it a 6-5 contest before Obispo got the final two outs to end the game, then making an obscene gesture toward the Monclova dugout.  Montero and Zoilo Almonte each had three hits for the Sultanes, who travel to Monclova for Wednesday's Game Three.

Yucatan at Leon (Yucatan leads series, 2 games to 0)
Puebla at Quintana Roo (Puebla leads series, 2 games to 0)
Tijuana at Aguascalientes (Series tied, 1 game to 1)
Monterrey at Monclova (Monterrey leads series, 2 games to 0)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Vargas hits 2 HRs as Rieleros top TJ in Liga playoff opener

Aguascalientes' 3B Jose Vargas hit two homers Sunday
Jose Vargas' home run-hitting exploits have carried over into the postseason as he led his Aguascalientes Rieleros to a surprising win at Tijuana Sunday night in the Mexican League first round playoff opener for both teams.  The Rieleros finished twelve games behind the Toros in the LMB North during the regular season with a 64-46 record, going 2-7 against Tijuana and getting swept in two three-game series.

Elsewhere in LMB division semifinal lidlifters, there were no surprises as upper-seeds Monterrey, Yucatan and defending champion Puebla each won their respective best-of-7 Game One contests, all at home. Game Two action is scheduled for Monday.

Aguascalientes 7-12-0, TIJUANA 3-7-0
W-Del Rosario (1-0).  L-C. Hernandez (1-0).  A-17,201.  T-3:32.
Vargas was the star of the show as the fourth-place Rieleros surprised LMB North regular season champs Tijuana, 7-3, in front of 17,201 onlookers in the border city.  The 29-year-old Ventura, California product went 3-for-3 with a pair of two-run homers while Jesse Castillo socked an eighth-inning solo shot to place an exclamation point on the Aguascalientes win.  Starter Francisco Del Rosario combined with four relievers, including former Yankees reliever Sergio Mitre, to limit the potent Toros to three runs on seven hits.  Del Rosario tossed 5.1 innings for the win, giving up two runs on four hits and four walks, striking out seven. Tijuana took a 1-0 lead in the first, but Vargas (who went deep 23 times in the regular season) replied with his first two-run bomb in the second frame and added another in the fourth to put the Railroaders up 5-2.  TJ leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez had three hits, two of them doubles, and drove in two runs but Toros starter Carlos Hernandez gave up five runs in four innings, including both Vargas homers, to take the loss.

MONTERREY 5-14-0, Monclova 2-10-0
W-Struck (1-0).  L-Lowey (0-1).  A-22,458.  T-2:55.
Luis Juarez stroked a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie as Monterrey went on to take a 5-2 win over Monclova in their series opener with 22,458 in the stands at Estadio Monterrey.  The Sultanes drew first blood in the second when veteran Chris Roberson lined a two-out single to Acereros rightfielder Carlos Quentin, bringing in Daniel Mayora (who finally appeared in a couple of late-season games after going missing in the lineup since July 20, long enough to start appearing on milk cartons) and Agustin Murillo. Monclova knotted the score up in the top of the sixth on RBI singles from Quentin and Rudy Amador off Monterrey starter Javier Solano.  One-time Cubs farmhand Nick Struck replaced Solano after Amador's safety and tossed 2.1 innings of one-hit shutout ball through the eighth to earn the win for Monterrey and Wirfin Obispo hurled a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.  Roberson finished with three hits and a stolen base while Matt Clark went 3-for-4 for Monclova.

YUCATAN 2-3-0, Leon 0-3-0
W-Negrin (1-0).  L-Quevedo (0-1).  A-8,163.  T-2:08.
Leones starter Yoanner Negrin flashed the form that made him the Mexican League's 2016 Pitcher of the Year in Yucatan's 2-0 victory over surprising Leon in a briskly-played game at Merida.  The Cuban exile pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, striking out nine Bravos batsmen and walking just two as 69 of his 99 deliveries went for strikes.  Diego Madero scored the only run the Lions would need in the bottom of the first inning by hitting a one-out triple to center off Leon pitcher Marco Quevedo, then coming home on Ronnier Mustelier's sacrifice fly to Leander Castro in right.  The hosts added an insurance run in the fifth when Yuniesky Betancourt hit a leadoff single, went to second on Esteban Quiroz' sacrifice bunt and scored when Jose Aguilar lined a double to left.  Quevedo went all the way for Leon to take the tough-luck loss.  The Bravos were 45-60 in the regular season to finish fifth in the LMB South, but won a qualifier game at fourth-place Veracruz Friday in what may have been the final game for the Rojos del Aguila, rumored to be Nuevo Laredo-bound for 2018.

PUEBLA 7-14-0, Quintana Roo 1-10-0
W-Roenicke (1-0).  L-Loe (0-1).  A-7,146.  T-2:55.
Puebla first baseman Ricky Rodriguez had an RBI double and a grand slam homer to lead the defending champion Pericos to a convincing 7-1 win over Quintana Roo in their Sunday opener at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.  Jesus Arredondo and Rodriguez opened the bottom of the second inning with back-to-back doubles off Tigres starter Kameron Loe, a onetime Texas Rangers starter during his nine-year MLB career.  Rodriguez came in on a Sergio Perez sacrifice fly to put the Parrots up 2-0.  The Tigres got a run back in the top of the fourth when Sergio Contreras scored from second on Osniel Madera's single up the middle but Puebla put the game in their pockets when Rodriguez greeted Quintana Roo reliever Alberto Leyva by belting a bases-loaded homer over the left field wall to make it a 6-1 game.  Julio Borbon, who had three hits on the night, added a solo blast for the Pericos in the eighth.  Former MLB reliever Josh Roenicke, son of ex-big leaguer Gary, gave up one run in seven innings for the Puebla win while Loe (6.1 IP, 5 ER) absorbed the loss.  Like Veracruz, the Pericos are exploring a move in the offseason.

Aguascalientes (Flande, 12-6, 4.36) at Tijuana (Pena, 11-2, 2.77)
Monclova (Verdugo, 8-2, 2.64) at Monterrey (Castro, 11-6, 4.28)
Leon (Moscoso, 7-3, 3.89) at Yucatan (Russell, 1-0, 2.03)
Quintana Roo (Ortega, 10-9, 3.43) at Puebla (Outman, 7-1, 5.02)
NOTE: Pitchers' totals are from the regular season. Matchups are posted on Puro Beisbol's LMB POR DENTRO column.

Friday, August 11, 2017

LMB regular season ends, Bravos at Veracruz for qualifier

2017 LMB batting champion Yadir "El Comandante" Drake
The Mexican League's 2017 regular season came to a close Wednesday and when the dust settled on the schedule, the bedraggled Leon Bravos were three games behind the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila, who finished fourth in the LMB's South Division, triggering a wild card qualifying game for the playoffs.  Leon came in at 45-60 while Veracruz was 48-57.  Liga rules state that whenever a fifth-place team finishes within three games or less behind the fourth-place team, a single game will be played to determine which team advances to the division semifinals.  Thus, the Red Eagles will host the Bravos Friday night at Estadio Universitario Beto Avila for the right to play LMB South-leading Yucatan in the first round, which starts Sunday.

The other three series are set in stone.  In the LMB North, the Aguascalientes Rieleros were able to hold off Union Laguna for fourth place by three-and-a-half games, meaning the Railroaders will travel to Tijuana for Sunday's opener against division kingpin Toros.  Monterrey came in second by a half-game over Monclova during the regular season, meaning the Sultanes will host the Acereros in Sunday's Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening round series.  Meanwhile, in the South, defending champion Puebla finished second and will welcome Quintana Roo to Estadio Hermanos Serdan Sunday for the inaugural game of their series.

After some initial confusion, former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake was awarded the batting title after batting .385 for the Generales prior to leaving for Japan in late June to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.  The Cuban exile is finding the going tougher in the Pacific League, hitting just .185 with no homers and 2 RBIs after 18 games.  The LMB office initially gave the batting crown to Drake's former Durango teammate, Daniel Mayora, who hit .375 for both the Generales and Monterrey through his last game on July 20 (subsequent absence still unexplained), including a 35-game hit streak which fell one shy of the regular season record.  Once someone at the Liga determined that Drake's 300 plate appearances barely met the requirement of 299.7 plate appearances for the batting title, a correction was made and Drake's name was re-entered at the top of the list and Mayora's bumped to second.

No controversy arose in any other statistical category.  Saltillo's Rainel Rosario's breakthrough season, similar to fellow Dominican Diory Hernandez' year in 2016, concluded with a Liga-high 26 homers, two more than Corey Brown's 24 dingers for Tijuana.  Rosario, who hit .331, finished with 104 RBIs to come in second to Ricky Alvarez of Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez' 105.  Alvarez drove in two runs in the Leones' season finale against Quintana Roo to slip past Rosario and claim leadership of a category he'd led most of the season.  Mexico City infielder Ramon Urias led the circuit with 91 runs scored, two more than Justin Greene of Monclova (by way of Saltillo).  Greene, by the way, easily won the stolen bases title with a combined 51 swipes for the Saraperos and Acereros.  Monterrey's Chris Roberson was tops in doubles with 35 while Yosmany Guerra of Campeche led with 12 triples.

Nestor Molina, who finished 12-3 for Veracruz, had the lowest ERA among LMB starting pitchers with a 1.89 mark.  Molina allowed 13 earned runs in 31 innings over his last five starts after his ERA had been just 1.41 heading into a July 13 start against Monterrey.  Mexico City's Octavio Acosta, who began the year with a 3-5 record and 6.84 ERA in two previous Liga campaigns, ended up with a 14-1 record for the Diablos Rojos to lead the loop in wins, two more than Molina and Yohan Flande of Aguascalientes.  Acosta and Molina are the two top candidates for Pitcher of the Year.  While 2015 POY Josh Lowey of Monclova wasn't as dominant as he was in 2016 before heading off to South Korea in midseason, he did win his second consecutive strikeout title with 146 ponches in 127 innings.  Lowey finished 8-5 while his ERA was 2.69 (it was 1.65 last year), but the Floridian put together a string of eight strong starts to bring his ERA down from 4.14 in mid-June.  He'll likely be a factor in the postseason for the Steelers.

Among relievers, Monclova closer Chad Gaudin recorded seven saves in his last ten outings to finish with 29, one more than Tijuana's Jason Urquidez and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey.  Gaudin let in seven earned runs over 9.1 innings for an ERA of 6.75 in that timespan, however, and will need to pick things up in the postseason, starting with the Acereros-Sultanes series.  In other pitching categories, Molina's 152.2 innings, 1.08 WHIP, 3 complete games and 23 starts (tied with Flande) were all most in the LMB, 2016 Pitcher of the Year Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan led with two shutouts, Tijuana middleman Juan Sandoval easily had the most holds with 29.  After putting that last sentence together, it'll be tough to not choose Molina as POY for this summer's BBM Awards even though Acosta lost only one of 15 decisions for a Mexico City team that failed to qualify for the playoffs a second consecutive season after 33 straight postseason appearances.

Note: Leon second baseman Carlos Valencia, a 17-year veteran who has played in several All-Star Games (winning the All-Star MVP trophy in 2009), was suspended for 100 games by the Liga after testing positive for amphetamines a second time in the past year.  The 37-year-old Valencia was suspended the first 50 games of the 2017 season and went on to hit .255 with 5 homers over the 45 games he did play.  For his Mexican League career, he has 237 homers and 951 RBIs in 1,510 games.  North American outfielder Jason Pridie of Puebla was suspended 50 games after testing positive for oxycodone.  Pridie, an All-Star in three leagues before moving south of the border, went 1-for-6 in two May games for the Pericos before being released one week after the team signed him as a free agent.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tigres sweep Tabasco, hold third in South with 3 games left

Two-time All-Star infielder Abel Martinez
It's been a long season in Cancun.  While many tourists may rejoice in that, the Quintana Roo Tigres would not likely share the sentiment.  Ever since Carlos Peralta, son of team founder Alejo Peralta, sold the Mexican League legacy franchise last winter to a small group of investors led by former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela, little has seemingly gone right for the Tigres.  Off the field, Valenzuela's two partners bailed out on him, leaving the former Dodgers All-Star and wife Linda to go it alone in a city that has never really warmed to the team, with attendance at just over 3,000 per game in 2017.

On the field, several well-paid veterans were dispatched during the offseason but the newcomers that first-year GM Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. replaced them with have mostly failed to pick up the slack.  Manager Roberto Vizcarra, who led the Tigres to pennants in 2013 and 2015, was fired last month as a result but neither he nor new skipper Hector Hurtado have had much to work with.  Quintana Roo is last in the LMB in batting average (.264) and runs per game (3.91) and while the pitching has been better, only wily veteran Pablo Ortega is among the top 20 in ERA (12th at 3.17).  The 10-8 Ortega is also the only Tigres pitcher to reach double figures in wins.

Into this bleak picture, however, some late-arriving hope has arrived in the form of a seven-game winning streak, including sweeps last week of series against LMB South Division leaders Yucatan and South cellar-dwellars Tabasco at home in Estadio de Beisbol Beto Avila.  With three games left in the regular season, the Tigres have a 48-54 record.  In any other season, being six games under .500 gives little reason for optimism but in the crazy 2017 Liga campaign, it's good enough for Quintana Roo to take over third place in a South Division where only two of eight teams have winning records. Veracruz has dropped into fourth at 46-57 while Leon is fifth with a 43-59 mark, virtually assuring the Tigres a playoff berth at a time in which it appears the team may be peaking.

The Tigres wrapped up their home schedule Sunday with an 11-inning win over Tabasco, 5-4, in front of a season-high 6,309 fans.  Quintana Roo starter Kameron Loe was reached for four runs on nine hits over five innings, but five relievers combined to hold the Olmecas scoreless on two hits for the next six frames until 21-year veteran Abel Martinez lined a walkoff single up the middle off Tabasco reliever David Gutierrez to score Brian Hernandez from third in the bottom of the eleventh.  It was sweet revenge for the 40-year-old Martinez, who was released by Tabasco on June 6 despite a .313 average and spent the next month jobless until the Tigres came calling on July 4 and signed him.

While the Tigres have won seven in a row, Yucatan has struggled a bit of late at the top of the division.  Although the Leones have clinched the top postseason seed in the LMB South with a 61-41 record, the Merida club lost three of their last five games of July before embarking on a five-game losing skid to begin August until beating Campeche, 2-1, Sunday.  The Piratas had won seven of their last nine games.  The Lions host the Tigres for three games at Estadio Kukulcan Monday through Wednesday to close the regular season.  Second-place Puebla (55-52) will be at home to face fifth-place Leon (43-59) for three games.  The defending champion Pericos have picked up the pace under new manager Tim Johnson and clinched second but it's do-or-die time for the Bravos, who are two-and-a-half games behind fourth-place Veracruz (46-57) and need to finish within three games of the Aguilas to force a play-in game for the fourth and final seed in the South.

Things are only a little less muddled in the LMB North, where Tijuana (74-33) has clinched the division with a six-and-a-half-games lead over Monterrey (67-39).  The Sultanes are trying to hold off Monclova (66-39) for second, but regardless of who finished where, the two teams will open the playoffs against each other.  Who will Tijuana play in the first round?  That would be the Aguascalientes Rieleros (63-44), who won two of three over the Acereros in Monclova over the weekend, including a doubleheader sweep Saturday during which former MLB reliever Jose Valverde picked up saves in both games to bring his season total to 25.  Union Laguna (57-49) has not been eliminated from postseason contention but the Vaqueros need to sweep a home series against Durango (43-63) with the Rieleros dropping all three home games against Saltillo (42-63) to sneak into a play-in game.  Mexico City (55-51) will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season after qualifying for the postseason 33 straight times.  The Diablos Rojos' demand to remain in the LMB North despite closer geographic proximity to LMB South teams now looks dubious; the Red Devils would be a half-game ahead of Puebla for second place in the South.

Former Durango outfielder Yadir Drake will back into the LMB batting title with a .385 average, just barely qualifying with exactly 300 plate appearances (the threshold was 299.7) before heading off to Japan at the end of June.  Only Monterrey's Daniel Mayora (.375) had a chance but Mayora hasn't played since July 20 with no explanation or transaction accompanying his absence.  Mayora had batted 17-for-40 (.425) with a homer and nine runs scored for the Sultanes in nine games after coming over from Durango, where paychecks are a rare treat, before disappearing from the lineup.  No word on when his visage will adorn milk cartons.

Saltillo's Rainel Rosario knocked out four homers last week to take the Liga lead with 25 for the season, one more than Tijuana's Corey Brown.  Rosario has a modest eleven-game hitting streak going, including two 3-hit games and five 2-hit nights, to bring his average up from .320 to .335 in that span.  The former Cardinals and Red Sox farmhand has also driven in 21 runs during his hit streak to overtake Yucatan's Ricky Alvarez for the RBI lead, 103 to 102.  Conversely, Alvarez has gone nine games without driving in a run for a total of 27 ribbies in 40 games with the Leones after bringing in 75 runs in 66 games for Laguna prior to the controversial June 20 trade that sent him to Merida.  Justin Greene of Monclova has had the stolen bases title locked up for some time, swiping two last week to bring his season total to 48, well ahead of former Saltillo teammate Christian Zazueta's 30 steals.

Although there've been some strong pitching performances in 2017, the list of candidates for Pitcher of the Year appears to be narrowed to two: Mexico City's Octavio Acosta and Nestor Molina of Veracruz.  A former Mets minor leaguer, Acosta beat Tijuana last Thursday to bring his record to 14-1, assuring him of the LMB wins title with no other hurler within three victories of him.  He also lowered his ERA to 2.99 (tenth in the circuit) with a strong outing against the potent Toros at Estadio Fray Nano, which is not a pitcher's park, and his 102 strikeouts rank sixth.  Molina was touched for five runs on seven hits over six innings last Thursday in Oaxaca, losing his second straight game to fall to 11-3 while his ERA went up from a phenomenal 1.54 to a merely remarkable 1.78.  Molina is tied for second in wins with five other pitchers and his 118 strikeouts are second only to the 138 of Monclova's Josh Lowey.

Acereros closer Chad Gaudin saved two games last week and now has 29, one more than Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo.  Obispo drilled Tijuana's Cyle Hankerd with an eighth-inning pitch and while Hankerd did finish the game, he'll be out of the Toros lineup with a resulting injury.  Some Tijuana observers believe Obispo deliberately hit Hankerd, stirring up bad blood between the two franchises that has existed since the Toros eliminated the Sultanes in the LMB North finals with a team laden with Mexican-American players (who do not count against the six-foreigner limit), a bone of contention with Monterrey owner Pepe Maiz that grew into a major offseason schism threatening the Liga's very future.

The biggest regular season-ending series?  They're all big for one reason or another, so here they are:  Mexico City at Monterrey, Saltillo at Aguascalientes, Durango at Union Laguna, Monclova at Tijuana, Leon at Puebla, Oaxaca at Veracruz, Campeche at Tabasco and Quintana Roo at Yucatan.  There will be no traditional Monday travel day so the schedule is slated to end Wednesday night.  Any seeding tiebreakers would be played Thursday.  If a play-in game is needed, they'd be played on Friday (or Saturday if a tiebreaker is first required).  The opening-round division semifinals will begin Sunday.

Mexican League Standings (through games of August 6)
LMB NORTH: Tijuana 74-33, Monterrey 67-39, Monclova 66-39, Aguascalientes 63-44, Union Laguna 57-49, Mexico City 55-51, Durango 43-63, Saltillo 42-63
LMB SOUTH: Yucatan 61-41, Puebla 55-52, Quintana Roo 48-54, Veracruz 46-57, Leon 43-59, Campeche 42-61, Oaxaca 40-65, Tabasco 36-68

Friday, August 4, 2017

LNM Finals: 10th inning doubles give Ensenada Game 7 win

Back-to-back doubles by Alberto Querales and Edgar Duran with one out in the bottom of the tenth inning gave the Ensenada Marineros a 3-2 win over the San Luis Algodoneros Wednesday night in Game 7 of the North Mexican League championship series, ending the season with the LNM flag going to the Pacific coast city for the first time since 2012.

The Marineros drew first blood in the bottom of the third when Orlando Pina lofted a leadoff homer against Cottoneers starter Daniel Bloch, one of two hits Bloch would allow in three-and-two-thirds innings of work.  Ensenada took a 2-1 lead three innings later when Querales led off the sixth with his first double of the night, moved to third via a Duran sacrifice and scored on a single from 37-year-old Barbaro Canizares.  Canizares is a former Cuban National Series star who had a cup of coffee with Atlanta in 2009 and led the Mexican League with a .396 average in 2011 for Oaxaca before setting a Mexican Pacific League record with 20 homers in 2011-12 for Obregon (who won three consecutive LMP titles while Canizares played there).

Ensenada's two-run advantage was quickly erased in the top of the seventh when, with two out, Juan Carlos Torres singled and Jackson Valera crashed a two-run homer for San Luis against Marineros starter Arturo Florentino, who'd been working on a no-hitter until Torres broke his spell.  The 2-2 tie carried into extra innings.  Lazaro Leal's two-out double in the top of the frame put the go-ahead run on second for the Algodoneros, only to see the threat die when Jesus Caporal's fly ball was caught for the third out.  After Roman Sesteaga grounded out to open the bottom of the tenth for Ensenada, Querales doubled off veteran hurler Francisco Cordoba, a San Luis native who spent 12 seasons in the LMB (mostly with Quintana Roo) and compiled a 63-63 Liga career record.  Cordoba then served up a walkoff double to Duran that plated Querales with the pennant-winning run.

It was a fitting way to close the season for Ensenada, a team that won both halves of the Liga Norte schedule to finish the regular season with a 52-31 overall record before sweeping Puerto Penasco in the first round of the LNM playoffs.  Duran had an MVP-worthy season for the Marineros, leading the circuit in both runs scored (81) and RBIs (77) while finishing second in homers (16) and sixth in batting (.334).  For his part, Querales gave Ensenada another solid bat in the order by finishing fourth in batting (.339) and third in RBIs (67) while Canizares hit .369 with ten homers (tied for sixth) in just 44 games as the Marineros hit .296 as a team while scoring 6.3 runs per game.

Puerto Penasco infielder Jermy Acey, a longtime veteran of independent leagues north of the border, led the LNM with a .358 average while Marcos Vecionacci of San Quintin edged Duran for the home run crown with 17 longballs.  Caborca's Carlos Colmenares and Randy Reyes of Puerto Penasco tied for the lead in stolen bases with 22 swipes each, with Colmenares caught stealing twice while Reyes was gunned down eleven times.

Elian Leyva of Puerto Penasco turned in an 11-3 record to lead the Liga Norte in wins while Ensenada's Wanel Vasquez (who was rocked by San Luis in Tuesday's Game 6) came in second with 10 triumphs.  Leyva also had a league-best 1.18 WHIP.  Vasquez topped the loop with 92 strikeouts in 96 innings, but he also gave up 43 walks and unfurled 14 wild pitches en route to a 3.66 ERA.  Marineros starter Alexis Lara also had a standout season on the mound, going 9-2 and leading the LNM with a 2.96 ERA.  Ensenada closer Rafael Cova, who did not pitch in Wednesday's Game 7, was easily tops in saves with 20.

Each of the North Mexican League's six teams receive the majority of their players from two Mexican League teams.  The Marineros, managed by former LMB star Victor Bojorquez, are affiliated with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Bojorquez' former team) and Oaxaca Guerreros, both owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu. Another Diablos-Guerreros affiliate clinched the Academy AA League pennant in late July but the parent clubs are in danger of missing the Liga postseason.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Laguna OF Chapman penning diary for Christian sports mag

Vaqueros outfielder Ethan Chapman with wife Kylie
Ethan Chapman is hardly the first North American to spend a season playing pro baseball in Mexico.  However, he may be the first to write a weekly diary about his experience for a national sports magazine.
An outfielder for the Union Laguna Vaqueros, the outfielder has certainly had a front-row seat to some interesting times in Torreon.  Even before the season starter, owners Juan Jose and Erick Arellano (who also co-own the Yucatan leones) had their assets frozen as part of a government investigation into possible money-laundering involving two Mazatlan-born brothers.   Then, the Vaqueros were battling for third place in the Mexican League’s North Division when All-Star first baseman Ricky Alvarez, who was the LMB leader in RBIs and a potential MVP candidate, was sent to Yucatan in a one-sided trade clearly swung to benefit the LMB South-leading Leones.  The resulting fallout among fans has resulted in a drop in attendance at Vaqueros home games at Estadio Revolucion (which turns 85 in September).
The Cal State-San Bernardino product, who was drafted by Kansas City in 2012 and spent four years in the Royals and Phillies systems.  Chapman spent last summer with Sioux Falls of the American Association before signing with the Vaqueros last November.  Thus far in 2017, he’s batting .281 (with a .342 on-base percentage), has five homers and 42 runs scored in 87 games for Laguna.  His 18 steals leads Union Laguna, one more than fellow outfielder Welington Dotel.
The 27-year-old Californian has taken the high road while writing weekly dispatches for Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine and website founded in 1985 which also features a website and podcasts.  Instead, Chapman’s contributions concentrate more on how his faith has been a factor during his first Mexican League campaign, which he hopes will lead him back to an MLB organization.  The following is his twelfth diary submission to Sports Spectrum this year, posted on July 26:

This week we played a three game series in Cancun. I thought it would be a good idea to have some family come out to enjoy the beach and watch some baseball.

My wife, dad, sister, mother in-law and friends all took time off from work and paid for flights and hotel rooms. We were all set to go and excited to have them here, until we found out that the team schedule was wrong and we would be playing Cancun three days earlier than expected!! Apparently, this was something that the entire team wasn’t even aware of. We were all thrown off by the wrong schedule so we had to cancel our original flights. Instead we had to drive 5 hours from Torreon to Monterrey, then fly from Monterrey to Mexico City and then another flight from Mexico City to Cancun. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I invited my family to come out to watch me play.  Instead of them watching 3 games and spending all day with me by the beach. They had to rush to the field to catch our last game in Cancun and we were only able to get dinner with them afterward before we took off for the next city. Sometimes our plans and what actually happens don’t align. My plan as a kid and still currently is to play in the Big Leagues. I never would have imagined the route that I would take to get me where I am today. But I know I am right where I am supposed to be right now. Being drafted, released twice, playing independent baseball, barely making any money, long terrible bus rides, early flights, away from my family and friends, good seasons, bad seasons, renting out my house, my wife quitting her job to join me in Mexico, all of it is part of His perfect plan. The sacrifices that so many people especially my wife have made so that I can play baseball professionally have been amazing. Every success would be so much less if it wasn’t for all the roadblocks. I don’t know when my career is going to end but the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve built through this great game will never be replaced.