Saturday, January 28, 2017

Three teams ticketed for CS; Generales to Monterrey(?); LAS underway

THREE WINTERBALL CHAMPS CROWNED

Three of the five national winterall champions who will converge on Culiacan next week for the 2017 Caribbean Series have been determined.  Puerto Rico's Caguas Criollos will be joined in the Sinaloa city by Venezuela's Zulia Aguilas and the Granma Alazanes of Cuba.

Caguas defeated Santurce, 5 games to 3, to win the championship series and pennant for Puerto Rico's five-team Roberto Clemente League.  The Criollos had to go 12 innings to beat the Cangrejeros, 6-5, on Henry Blanco's walkoff RBI single.  Another former MLBer, Joel Pineiro, earned the win in relief.  Prior to the game, the Creoles retired the number 7 worn by their former catcher Ivan Rodriguez, one of three recent Cooperstown inductees.  Caguas has won 17 flags in the Puerto Rican League, winning the Caribbean Series in 1954, 1974 and 1987 (the latter two were played in Mexico).

Zulia topped Lara, 5-2, Wednesday to end the Venezuelan League finals with a 4-games-to-1 victory over the Cardinales.  Mitch Lively, a former Giants farmhand who saved eight games with a 1.72 ERA for Reynosa of the LMB last summer, pitched seven innings for the Aguilas and allowed one run on two hits for the win as Jose Pirella contributed a two-run homer and Endy Chavez went 2-for-2 with an RBI.  Chavez and Caguas' Blanco were teammates on the 2013 Seattle Mariners.  The championship is Zulia's first since 2000 and sixth overall.  The Aguilas were CS winners in 1984 and 1989.

Granma (which is not a city but Cuba's national newspaper...think Pravda in Spanish) won this winter's Cuban National Series final by completing a four-game sweep of Ciego de Avila Monday with a 3-2 win. Longtime star Alfredo Despaigne was the first of three Alazanes batters to reach base on a walk in the eighth inning of the deciding game, breaking a 2-2 tie by scoring on a sacrifice fly.  Granma has been a member of the Serie Nacional since 1977-78, but this is their first Cuban title.  Security is expected to be on hand in Culiacan to help discoourage potential player defections.

In other CS-related league playoffs, the Licey Tigres and the Cibaenas Aguilas are tied at four gamies apiece in their best-of-9 Dominican League final going into Saturday night's deciding game.  The Aguilas beat Licey, 7-3, Saturday as Orlando Sixte drove in three runs for Cibaenas while Irwin Delgado allowed two runs in 6.1 innings pitched.  The Carolina Gigantes finished first in the LiDom regular season with a 27-23 record but were knocked out of pennant contention during the first playoff stage in which the top four finishers in the six-team loop played an 18-game round robin format.  Cibaenas advance with a 14-4 record, five games ahead of second-place Licey at 9-9.

And you've probably read somewhere that the Mexican Pacific League championship series between Mexicali and Los Mochis is still being played, with Mexicali holding a 3-2 series lead over Los Mochis going into Game Six at Mochis Saturday night

The Caribbean Series gets underway on Wednesday, February 1 at Culiacan's Estadio de los Tomateros.


GENERALES TO MONTERREY INSTEAD OF DURANGO?

The turmoil that has marked the Mexican League offseason appears to be taking another turn, with rumors floating that the would-be Durango Generales (who are the used-to-be Carmen Delfines) may end up spending the 2017 season sharing Estadio Monterrey with the Sultanes.  As noted in previous BBM missives, Delfines owner Virgilio Ruiz Isassi had planned to shift to Durango due to declining attendance in Ciudad del Carmen, a city of fewer than 200,000 in the southern state of Campeche.  However, promised renovations to Durango's 8,000-seat Estadio Francisco Villa to reach LMB ballpark standards have not materialized and now Ruiz is said to have been discussing the possibility of moving the team to Monterrey instead with Sultanes owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz.

Contrast that with the problems the proposed Leon Bravos have been having with their proposed move from Reynosa, where the Broncos consistently struggled with small crowds due to violence related to drug cartels operating in the city across the USA border from Brownsville, Texas.  Owner Eliud Villareal's transfer of the team to Leon was approved by the Liga Assembly of Presidents last November but, as in Durango, the newly-rechristened Bravos (the name used by Leon's earlier LMB franchise) are running into problems with the 3,000-seat Estadio Domingo Santana, where promised upgrades have likewise failed to occur.  Villareal has reportedly sought to instead move the Broncos to Nuevo Laredo, another city on the Texas border with cartel problems but with a nicer ballpark than Leon's (albeit one sitting out of town), but has not received any support from the Presidents since his initially-planned move to Leon was approved.

In fact, although Ruiz has been accorded a seat and vote among the Presidents, Villareal has been kept out of meetings among the governing body altogether.  The reason?  Ruiz has sided with the "Old Guard" group of owners led by Maiz seeking to limit the number of Mexican-Americans per team (anywhere from three to six, depending on the source) and otherwise keep things where they've been, while Villareal has aligned with "New Breed" owners wanting no limits on Mexican-American players (who do not apply to the LMB's six-man limit on foreigners) and otherwise representing change in how the circuit moves forward.  After Plinio Escalante resigned, or was fired, from his league presidency, Maiz' group of eight owners have been able to outvote the seven "New Breed" owners in matters thanks to Villareal's exclusion.

A previously unscheduled Presidents' meeting is said to be set for next Wednesday, interestingly in Houston and not at Liga headquarters in Mexico City.  Wherever they convene, these men are presiding over a mess that threatens to split the LMB into two leagues or division or even shut down the Liga entirely in 2017.


LATIN AMERICAN SERIES UNDERWAY

The "other" international pro baseball winter tournament opened earlier this week and while Mexico is being represented as usual, it's been anything but a usual season for what are considered AA-level teams based in the state of Veracruz.

The fifth annual Latin America Series, an event featuring champions from Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama along with a Mexican representative, began Thursday in Monteria, Combia's 11,000-seat Estadio 18 de Junio. The Panama Metros topped Veracruz' Xalapa Chileros, 3-1, in the tourney opener Thursday, followed by a 5-2 win for Nicaragua's Chinandega Tigres over the host Monteria Leones.  That the Chileros are representing Mexico is not unusual in itself, but how they (and the LAS itself) got from Xalapa to Monteria is.

The Veracruz Winter League (aka the LIV) was formed in 2005 and operated with six teams last season, four in Veracruz and two in Chiapas, with Acayucan winning the title and playing in the 2016 LAS in Managua, Nicaragua.  However, a combination of LIV financial problems and political turmoil in Verazruz during the offseason led the circuit to suspend operations for this winter.  In its place, former pitcher Narciso Elvira (a Veracruz native who had a cup of coffee with the 1990 Milwaukee Brewers) created the Veracruz State Baseball League, aka the LBEV, arose to take its place.

All six of the new circuit's teams are from within Veracruz State and all players are required to be Veracruz natives. The LBEV played a weekend-only regular season with a mix of prospects and LMB veterans, followed by a January four-team playoff from which Xalapa defeated Minatitlan in the championship series for a berth in the LAS.  Among the Mexican League veterans playing for the Chileros in Monteria are infielders Kevin Flores, Heber Gomez and player-manager Francisco Rivera, catcher Humberto Sosa, outfielders Eliseo Aldazaba and Eduardo Arredondo, and pitchers Rodolfo Aguirre, Abraham Elvira and Jose Cobos.

The series itself had been slated to be played in Xalapa's 5,000-seat Parque Deportivo Colon as part of a rotation among participating countries similar to the Caribbean Series format.  However, the venue was shifted from Xalapa to Sincelejo, Colombia on January 21 for unclear reasons before the LAS was moved again two days later to Monteria after the Leones beat Sincelejo in the Colombian League title series.  The four teams will play a three-day round robin with a championship game between the two sides with the best first-round records set for Sunday.