Thursday, August 31, 2017

Leones-Pericos game in Puebla rained out (again)

Wednesday's scheduled Game Five of the Mexican League's South Division championship series in Puebla was rained out, marking the second time in three days the Pericos and visiting Yucatan Leones were unable to get some baseball in.  The defending champion Pericos, who finished a fairly distant second to the Leones in the LMB South during the regular season, lead the series, 3 games to 1, and will seek to close out the series with Andres Meza tabbed as Thursday's starting pitcher.  Yucatan will try to stay alive by sending James Russell to the mound for the 1:00PM ET contest at Estadio Hermanos Serdan in the colonial city.

Weather permitting, of course.

Meanwhile, the Tijuana Toros stand one game away from their second consecutive trip to the Serie del Rey. Manager Pedro Mere's squad has a 3-games-to-2 edge over rivals Monterrey in the LMB North title series. The Toros won the first two games of their set at home before dropping two of three at Estadio Monterrey. Following Wednesday's travel day, the two sides will lock horns again Thursday night at 7:35PM ET at Tijuana's Estadio Gasmart.  Former major leaguer Horacio Ramirez will throw the game's first pitch for the Toros while the Sultanes try to stave off elimination with Angel Castro starting for Felix Fermin's club.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Toros, Pericos both one win away from Serie del Rey rematch

Tijuana Toros pitcher Alex Sanabia
The Tijuana Toros and Puebla Pericos came away with Tuesday night triumphs in their respective Mexican League division championship series, and both are one win away from punching their tickets to the LMB's Serie del Rey league championship series.  The two teams collided in last year's finals, with Puebla coming away with the pennant.

Alex Sanabia contributed a brilliant pitching performance in Tijuana's 4-1 victory in Monterrey Tuesday, allowing no earned runs on one hit and no walks over seven innings as the Toros edged ahead of the Sultanes in their LMB North final series, 3 games to 2.  In Puebla, both the Pericos and Yucatan Leones broke out the bats to combine for 18 runs and 28 hits as the hosts posted an 11-7 win over the men from Merida to take a 3-games-to-1 advantage in their LMB South title set.  Jesus Arredondo had three hits and three RBIs for the winners.

The Toros and Sultanes will take Wednesday off as a travel day prior to Thursday night's Game Six in Tijuana.  The Pericos and Leones will play Game Five of their series after Monday's rainout in Puebla pushed their set back a day.

Tijuana 4-4-1, MONTERREY 1-1-0
W-Sanabia (2-0).  L-Solano (0-2).  SV-Urquidez (1).  A-21,285.  T-2:33.

Although the boxscore won't reveal it, Tijuana starting pitcher Alex Sanabia literally threw away whatever shutout bid in the bottom of the first inning but pulled himself together to dominate Monterrey over the next six innings to register his second win of the LMB North championship series.  Sultanes leadoff hitter Chris Roberson tapped a grounder back to the mound that Sanabia meant to throw to Toros first baseman Jorge Cantu for the first out of the inning.  Instead, the former Marlins hurler's throw sailed out of Cantu's reach into right field foul territory, allowing the speedy Roberson to advance all the way to third base on the play.  Robo then scored on Ramon Rios' sacrifice fly to give Monterrey an early 1-0 lead.  One out later, Sanabia plunked Jesus Montero to put another runner on, but induced Daniel Mayora into a fielder's choice grounder to Alex Liddi for the final out of a shaky frame.

After that, the righty from San Diego settled down to dominate the Sultanes lineup for the next six innings, allowing only a Zoilo Almonte leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh before being replaced by Juan Sandoval in the eighth.  Sanabia retired 15 Monterrey batters in a row, pitching 1-2-3 innings from the second through the sixth entradas, and threw strikes on 50 of his 73 pitches on the night.  He has now allowed one earned run on six hits over 14 innings in his two victories against the Sultanes after winning last Thursday's opener, 10-1.

Sanabia still had to pitch from behind through three innings before his teammates scored three times in the top of the fourth to give him a lead to work with, with all runs coming in on Dustin Martin's three-run homer off Monterrey starter Javier Solano, who'd allowed a leadoff single to Roberto Lopez and gave up a two-out walk to Cantu before Martin stepped up to the plate.  Martin later made a standout defensive play in the seventh, when he caught a one-out Mayora fly ball to right field and then threw a strike to Cantu at first to double off Almonte for the final out of the frame.

Corey Brown gave Tijuana one more insurance run by belting his second homer of the series in the top of the ninth off Solano to make it a 4-1 game.  Solano pitched in tough luck in an otherwise decent 119-pitch performance, but that gopher ball to Martin in the fourth was the difference-maker.  Toros closer Jason Urquidez then came on to retire the Sultanes in order in the bottom of the ninth to give TJ the first win by a road team in the series, which now shifts back to Tijuana for Thursday's Game Six.  The Toros are now a win away from a second straight shot at the city's first Liga pennant.  A crowd of 21,285 watched the game at Estadio Monterrey to bring the three-day attendance total in Monterrey to over 60,000 aficionados.

PUEBLA 11-16-0, Yucatan 7-12-0
W-Roenicke (2-0).  L-Negrin (0-1).  SV-Heath (2).  A-11,099.  T-3:30.

Unlike Tuesday's Tijuana-Monterrey game, this contest had little to do with pitching as Puebla and Yucatan got together to post batting-practice totals of 18 runs and 28 hits on the night, with the host Pericos prevailing by an 11-7 score.  At least one run was scored by either team in every inning but the second and eighth as defending champion Puebla brought themselves one win away from the Serie del Rey.

Issmael Salas' two-run homer off Yucatan starter Jonathan Castellanos in the bottom of the first gave the Pericos an early lead while serving early notice that this would be a long night for pitchers.  Castellanos then gave up singles to Jesus Arredondo and Cesar Tapia before Leones manager Chico Rodriguez decided he'd seen enough and brought in Yoanner Negrin to stop the bleeding and the 2016 Pitcher of the Year obliged, getting Hector Garanzuay to fly to right for the third out.  Yuniesky Betancourt socked a solo homer in the top of the second against Pericos starter Josh Roenicke to cut the Puebla lead to one, but a (what else?) homer by Arredondo from a Negrin delivery put the home team up, 3-1.

A wild fourth inning in both halves generated a total of eight runs on eight hits for the two combatants. Roenicke staggered through the top of the fourth by allowing three runs after the first five batters accrued hit after hit: Juan Francisco singled, Betancourt doubled, Esteban Quiroz double (scoring Francisco and Betancourt), Ricky Alvarez singled and Sebastian Valle doubled to plate Quiroz.  Roenicke then drilled Juan Aguilar with a pitch before getting the first out of the inning, a bases-loaded Leo Heras sacrifice fly that brought in Quiroz from third to give Yucatan a 5-3 advantage.  Valle was then thrown out at the plate on Diego Madero's grounder to third before Ronnier Mustelier grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice at second.  Roenicke managed to stay in for all nine batters, but his insurance rates are likely to go up in the aftermath.

Then it was Puebla's turn to beat a drum on Negrin in the bottom of the fourth, also sending nine men to the plate.  Garanzuay led off with a double, moved to third on a Sergio Perez single and scored when shortstop Madero made a bad throw on an Alberto Carreon grounder.  It looked like Negrin might pitch himself out of trouble when he struck out Julio Borbon and Endy Chavez, but the gates opened again when Salas was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Arredondo walked to bring in Perez with the tying run and Ricky Rodriguez lined a single to left, scoring Carreon and Salas to bring the Pericos back into a 7-5 lead.  At that point, Negrin was replaced by Jesus Barraza, who struck out Tapia to end the carnage.

Puebla then rang up four more runs in the bottom of the fifth to go up 11-5 as the Leones sent three men to the mound.  Barraza lasted long enough to give up singles to Garanzuay and Carreon before Alejandro Soto came in with one out and immediately gave up run-scoring singles to Borbon and Chavez.  Soto was then yanked for Pedro Rodriguez, who bookended the final two outs around an RBI single by Arredondo.  From that point on it seemed a matter of time for the Pericos, although the Leones did fight back with single runs in the seventh (bases-loaded forceout by Alvarez that scored Ivan Araujo) and ninth (RBI single from Aguilar) to come within four counters before time ran out.

Where to begin with highlights from this one?  Let's start with Puebla DH Arredondo, who collected two singles and a homer to drive in three runs and score once.  Garanzuay and Perez, batting seventh and eighth, combined for six hits and three runs (both are batting .500 for the series) and Perez also homered and scored twice for the home team.  Five players had two hits each for Yucatan but Quiroz did the most damage, hitting one double and walking three times to score twice and drive in two more.  Betancourt also scored twice while singling and homering and Araujo (making his first appearance of the series when he batted for Mustelier in the seventh and took over in left) went 2-for-2 with a run.

Roenicke was awarded the win because, well, SOMEONE had to get the W, but it was probably a start he'd rather forget after giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks over 5.1 innings and 110 pitches.  Whew!  Negrin took the loss in his first relief appearance since July 12, 2015, allowing two runs on five hits in three innings.  Deunte Heath got his second save of the series for Puebla but even he let in a run in 1.1 innings of closing work.  It was that kind of night.

Over 11,000 fans turned out for the second night in a row in Estadio Hermanos Serdan, where the Pericos averaged just 3,186 per opening during the regular season, leading owner Gerardo Benavides (who dismantled his 2016 champions by sending 20+ players to his other team in Monclova during the last offseason) to declare his willingness to move the team north for 2018 if fans didn't turn out in the postseason.  The two teams will go at it again in Game Five Wednesday in Puebla as the Pericos try to close out the series with Andres Meza on the mound against Yucatan's James Russell.

Note:  You can receive Baseball Mexico free in your email inbox the same day any post is added.  Just look near the top of the right column of this site and sign up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reyes shuts down TJ as Sultanes tie series; rainout in Puebla

The Monterrey Sultanes received another night of top-shelf pitching (this time from starter Jorge Reyes) and a clutch two-run homer in the seventh inning from Agustin Murillo in a 4-1 win over Tijuana Monday night.  The Sultanes evened their Mexican League Northern Division championship series with the Toros at two games apiece as 17,086 looked on at Estadio Monterrey.  In the LMB South title set, Monday's game between Yucatan and Puebla at Estadio Hermanos Serdan in Puebla was rained out.  The host Pericos lead that series, 2 games to 1.

Two contests are scheduled for Tuesday night.  The Leones and defending champion Pericos will try again to get Game Four in when Yucatan sends Jonathan Castellanos to the mound against Puebla starter Andres Meza.  Monterrey will host Tijuana in Game Five of their best-of-seven set.  Pitching matchups were not announced as of late Monday evening, but a rematch of last Thursday's series opener featuring Alex Sanabia of Tijuana and Monterrey's Javier Solano seems likely.  Sanabia and the Toros won Game One, 10-1.

MONTERREY 4-10-0, Tijuana 1-5-1
W-J. Reyes (1-0).  L-Mitre (0-1).  SV-Obispo (2).  A-17,086.  T-3:10.

Two-time Class AA All-Star Jorge Reyes won his second playoff contest for Monterrey, shutting Tijuana down for one run on four hits while striking out eight Toros in six innings as the Sultanes took a 4-1 Game Four victory over the Bulls at home Monday.  Nick Struck followed with two hitless innings of relief before closer Wirfin Obispo recorded his second save in as many nights.

Monterrey drew first blood in the bottom of the second inning after Agustin Murillo got on base after Tijuana opener Sergio Mitre handled Murillo's comeback tapper to the mound, only to have first baseman Jorge Cantu mishandle Mitre's throw to complete the 1-3 groundout.  Murillo took advantage of the miscue by moving to third on Leo German's line-drive double to left and coming in to score when Walter Ibarra grounded out to Cantu.

Reyes' only mistake came in the top of the fifth, when leadoff batter Cantu atoned for his bobble by launching a delivery into the left field stands for a homer, tying the score at 1-1.  The Sultanes regained the lead in the bottom of the frame when Ramon Rios grounded a single up the middle, moved to second on Zoilo Almonte's groundout to second and scored on a Jesus Montero single to right.  Murillo tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh by belting a two-out homer to left center off reliever Carlos Fisher, bringing in Montero from first to raise the Sultanes' lead to 4-1.

It was left to Struck and Obispo to close out the contest with no further scores by Tijuana, although Dustin Martin livened up the ninth by stroking a leadoff single against Obispo, stealing second without drawing a throw and taking third on a wild pitch to Alfredo Amezaga before Obispo struck out Amezaga swinging to earn the save for the second night in a row.  Struck, a 27-year-old righty from Mount Hood Community College in Oregon, has thrived as manager Felix Fermin's setup man in the postseason.  The ex-Cubs farmhand has tossed 9.2 scoreless innings in five playoff appearances, striking out ten and beating Monclova in the August 13 first round opener.

It was Reyes, however, who was the man of the match.  A Southern League All-Star in 2011 as a Padres minor leaguer and Texas League All-Star in 2015 while with the Braves organization, the 29-year-old Oregon State grad threw 59 of his 91 pitches for strikes and retired eleven straight Toros hitters before Cantu's homer.  Reyes had runners reach scoring position twice after that, but exited after the sixth with no further runs scored against him.  Pretty good performance for a guy that Sultanes part-owner Jose Maiz would have insulted for being Mexican-American had he pitched for Tijuana.

Mitre took the loss for Tijuana but the former Yankees reliever did not pitch badly, giving up one earned run and scattering eight hits over five innings, striking out two with no walks.  Mitre's control was even sharper than Reyes' as 55 of his 79 deliveries went for strikes, but that error by Cantu hurt him early and his own rocky fifth inning hurt later.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pitching rules the night in Monterrey, Puebla clutch wins

Puebla closer Deunte Heath receiving high-fives after win
Although the Mexican League has gained a well-earned reputation as a hitter's league over the decades, both of Sunday's division championship series games were most influenced by the men on the mound.  Puebla starter Jaime Lugo scattered five hits over seven shutout innings to lead the Pericos to a 2-1 home win over Yucatan to take a 2-games-to-1 lead in their LMB South title series.  In the LMB North, Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez combined with two relievers to limit Tijuana to two runs on seven hits in the Sultanes' 4-2 victory against the Toros.  Tijuana still leads that set, 2 games to 1.

Game Four in both series is slated for Monday night.  Yucatan will send Jonathan Castellanos to the mound in Puebla against Pericos starter Andres Meza while in Monterrey, Jorge Reyes will take the hill for the Sultanes against Sergio Mitre and Tijuana.

PUEBLA 2-10-0, Yucatan 1-5-0
W-Heath (1-0).  L-Fr. Rodriguez (1-1).  A-11,812.  T-2:37

Puebla's Jaime Lugo and Yucatan's Jose Samayoa locked up in a pitcher's duel into the seventh inning and the respective bullpens carried it to the end as the Pericos slipped past the Leones, 2-1, on a ninth-inning run Sunday night in Puebla.  A season-high crowd of 11,812 witnessed the proceedings at Estadio Hermanos Serdan in the colonial city.

Lugo and Samayoa swapped zeros until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Pericos catcher (and 2017 LMB batting champ) Cesar Tapia lined a Samayoa delivery over the left field wall for a home run to give Puebla a 1-0 lead.  The Parrots clung to their narrow lead through the seventh, but the Leones tied it up in the top of the eighth when closer Deunte Heath (who was replacing Lugo) was touched for a solo homer to left by Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle.  Heath settled down to retire the side without any further damage and pitched a scoreless ninth, setting up late heroics by Tapia and Alberto Carreon.

Ex-MLB hurler Francisco Rodriguez took over on the hill for Yucatan in the bottom of the ninth and immediately gave up a leadoff single to Tapia, who then advanced to second when Hector Garanzuay walked. Both runners moved up on Sergio Perez' bunt single and Carreon delivered the game-winning blow by smoking a Rodriguez delivery to left, bringing Tapia across with the walkoff run.

Tapia, Perez and Carreon each had two of Puebla's ten hits while Valle singled and homered for Yucatan. While Lugo pitched seven scoreless innings for the Pericos, allowing three hits and striking out five, the win went to Heath, who blew the save on Valle's homer but otherwise had a creditable two-inning appearance. Samayoa let in one run on five hits and one walk over six frames for the Leones, good enough to win most nights, but Rodriguez was tagged with the loss after giving up three hits, a walk and the game-winning run without retiring a batter in the ninth.

MONTERREY 4-9-0, Tijuana 2-7-1
W-Ed. Gonzalez (1-0).  L-M. Pena.  A-23,176.  T-3:04.

Although the pitching in this game wasn't as dominant as the contest in Puebla, former Arizona hurler Edgar Gonzalez turned in a strong performance Sunday in Monterrey as the Sultanes topped Tijuana, 4-2, in Game Three of their LMB North Division championship series.  The Toros still lead the set, 2-games-to-1, but a throng of 23,176 were in the Estadio Monterrey stands to see the Sultanes bounce back after two losses in the border city.

Gonzalez and Toros starter Miguel Pena were both working on shutouts through the first three innings before Tijuana scored the first run of the night in the top of the fourth when Corey Brown clubbed a Gonzalez serving over the wall in right-center field to put the visitors up, 1-0.  Pena was struck by three bolts of lightning in the bottom of the fourth when he gave up solo roundtrippers to Ramon Rios, Luis Juarez and Daniel Mayora to fall behind, 3-1.  Pena recovered to get the final two outs of the inning, but the wounds would prove mortal with Gonzalez shutting down the potent Bulls.  The Sultanes added an insurance run in the fifth when Rios doubled in Chris Roberson.

The Toros did score once more in the top of the sixth on Roberto Lopez' leadoff homer off Gonzalez, but that would prove to be the last hit of the night for Tijuana as Gonzalez, Nick Struck and Wirfin Obispo would combine to allow just one walk en route to recording the final twelve TJ outs of the contest.  The Toros ended the night with seven hits, but the longballs by Brown (who also singled) and Lopez were the only ones of any significance.  Rios had two doubles and a homer for the Sultanes, scoring twice for the winners, while Juarez and Luis Flores each had a pair of hits.

Gonzales tossed six innings of two-run, seven-hit ball for the win, striking out five in a solid performance while Obispo's scoreless ninth was worth a save.  Pena suffered the loss by allowing all four Monterrey runs on five hits in 4.2 entradas, striking out five and walking one.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Madero HR paces Yucatan win; TJ bops Sultanes again

Diego Madero cracked a three-run homer to key a five-run outburst in the sixth inning as the Yucatan Leones defeated the Puebla Pericos, 7-6, Friday night at home to even their Mexican League South Division championship series at one game apiece.  In the LMB North title series, Horacio Ramirez pitched seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball as his Tijuana Toros pulled away from the Monterrey Sultanes, 7-1, in the border city, giving the Bulls a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 set.

Saturday will be an off day as both series shift to Puebla and Monterrey, respectively, for Game Three action Sunday.  No pitching matchups have been announced for either contest.

YUCATAN 7-9-1, Puebla 6-14-1
W-Fr. Rodriguez (1-0).  L-Morales (0-1).  SV-Belisario (1).  A-12,000.  T-3:30.

Puebla took an early lead with two runs in the top of the first inning and built their advantage to 5-2 until the bottom of the sixth, when Yucatan scored five runs to go ahead, and the Leones never looked back in a 7-6 win over the defending champs in Merida Friday.  The Pericos had won Game One at Parque Kukulkan on Thursday.

The Pericos got things going early, scoring runs on doubles by Issmael Salas and Ricky Rodriguez in the first off Leones starter James Russell to go up, 2-0.  Yucatan got one run back in the second on Juan Francisco's leadoff homer and one more in the third on Diego Madero's RBI single to knot the score in the third, but the visitors plated three tallies in the fourth to regain the lead.  Puebla loaded the bases with one out against Russell, who gave up a go-ahead single to Alberto Carreon before being replaced on the mound by Alejandro Soto, making his first appearance for Yucatan since July 29.  After Julio Borbon brought in Jon Del Campo with a sacrifice fly, Soto hurt his own cause by dropping a two-out popup by Carreon as Sergio Perez (who was running on the pitch) motored in from third.

Puebla held their three-run lead until the sixth, when the first three Yucatan hitters got on base to chase Pericos starter Josh Outman.  Reliever Mario Morales was welcomed into the game by a two-run double by Sebastian Valle, bringing in.  With two on and two out, Diego Madero lofted a homer to left, giving the Leones a 7-5 lead.  The visitors closed the gap to one run in the eighth when a fielder's choice grounder to second by Carreon scored Cesar Tapia, but Yucatan closer Ronald Belisario got the final out of the inning and pitched a scoreless ninth with Jesus Arredondo grounding into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

Onetime Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who's been a starter in Yucatan this year, pitched three scoreless innings out of the bullpen to earn the win for the Leones while Morales' bad fifth inning tagged him with the loss.  Madero finished the night with three hits and four RBIs for the winners while Valle had a pair of hits, two ribbies and a run.  Salas had three hits for Puebla, scoring one run and driving in another, and Del Campo contributed two doubles and a run for manager Tim Johnson's Pericos.

With the series tied at one game apiece, the two teams will play Game Three Sunday in Puebla.

TIJUANA 7-10-0, Monterrey 1-5-0
W-H. Ramirez (1-0).  L-A. Castro (0-1).  A-17,021.  T-2:57.

The Toros registered their second one-sided win over visiting Monterrey Friday, but this one was closer than the final score implies.  Tijuana starter Horacio Ramirez fell behind, 1-0, in the top of the first inning when Ramon Rios scored for the Sultanes on a Luis Juarez sacrifice fly, then settled into a pitchers duel with his Monterrey counterpart, Angel Castro, as Rios' counter stood as the only score of the game heading into the bottom of the sixth.  Then the potent Toros offense went to work.

Isaac Rodriguez led off the frame with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jose Guadalupe Chavez and scampered to third when Castro uncorked a wild pitch to Roberto Lopez.  Castro then plunked Lopez to put runners at the corners, bringing up Corey Brown, who singled Rodriguez in to tie the game while Lopez moved to second.  Castro walked Cyle Hankerd to fill the bags and Jorge Cantu followed with a two-run single to left, giving the home team a 3-1 lead.  That was all for Castro, who was replaced by Nick Struck on the hill.  The Oregonian rewarded Monterrey skipper Felix Fermin by retiring Dustin Martin and Juan Apodaca to end the inning.

Tijuana essentially put the game away with a four-run eighth inning against Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo.  Apodaca hit a two-run, ground-rule double with one out, then scored himself when Alex Liddi belted a two-run homer to left, bringing the score to 7-1.  It was left to Toros closer Jason Urquidez to take the mound in the top of the ninth, and while the Californian did allow a two-out double to Juarez, he induced Daniel Mayora into a groundout to Chavez at short to end the contest.

Ramirez earned the win for Tijuana as the ex-MLBer went seven innings and only allowed that single run in the first, scattering four hits and one walk while striking out four.  Castro was saddled with the loss, showing three earned runs on five hits for his 5.1 innings of work.  Rodriguez had three hits for the Toros while Brown had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run.  Juarez had two of Monterrey's five hits, including a double and his RBI sac fly.  A Tijuana crowd of 17,021 looked on, giving the Toros over 30,000 in attendance for Games One and Two.

The series shifts to Monterrey for Sunday's Game Three as the Sultanes try coming back from a 2-games-to-0 deficit.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Roenicke, Pericos win in Yucatan; Toros pound Sultanes

Puebla Pericos starting pitcher Josh Roenicke
Josh Roenicke pitched seven strong innings and his teammates posted a three-run eighth inning as the Puebla Pericos went on to defeat the Yucatan Leones, 4-1, in Game One of the Mexican League's South Division championship series Thursday night in front of 12,000 fans at Merida's Parque Kukulkan.

Roenicke, an MLB middleman between 2008 and 2013 prior to becoming an LMB South All-Star as a starter this past June in his first Liga campaign, found himself locked in a duel with Yucatan's 2016 LMB Pitcher of the Year Yoanner Negrin.  The Leones scored once in the bottom of the fifth when Leo Heras sped all the way in from first on Diego Madero's double, but the Pericos knotted the score up in the top of the sixth when Issmael Salas doubled in Alberto Carreon, but it was their three-run eighth that provided the defending champion Pericos their eventual margin of victory.

Jesus Barraza came in from the bullpen to replace Negrin to start the inning and immediately found himself in trouble when first batter Borbon dragged a bunt single down the third base line that Yucatan third sacker Yuniesky Betancourt threw into right field territory, allowing Borbon to advance all the way to third.  After Chavez popped out to Betancourt, Salas doubled to Mustelier in left to score Borbon with the go-ahead run.  After Barraza intentionally walked Jesus Arredondo to set up a force at any base, he was replaced on the mound by closer Ronald Belisario.  The ex-Dodger induced Ricky Rodriguez to ground a 1-3 comebacker to the hill for the second out as both runners moved 90 feet, but 2016 batting champion Cesar Tapia drilled a double to the busy Mustelier in left to score both Salas and Arredondo, putting the Pericos ahead, 4-1.  Puebla closer Deunte Heath came on in the bottom of the eighth and retired the last four Yucatan hitters (three on strikeouts) to end the game and earn the save.

Salas had a 3-for-4 night with two RBIs and one run scored for the Pericos while Madero collected three hits for Yucatan.  Roenicke, son of former MLBer Gary and nephew of ex-Brewers manager Ron (as well as brother-in-law to Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond)  was the winner after giving up one run and scattering seven hits in as many innings for the visitors and Barraza absorbed the loss after giving up three runs on two hits in one-third of an inning.  Negrin looked good over his seven frames, allowing one run on four hits.

The two teams will lock horns in Merida again Friday night for Game Two in their rematch of last year's LMB South division chamnpionship series.  Josh Outman will get the start for Puebla while James Russell will open for Yucatan.

Puebla 4-7-0, YUCATAN 1-8-1
W-Roenicke (1-0).  L-Barraza (0-1).  SV-Heath (1).  A-12,000.  T-2:55.

The Tijuana Toros sent 13 batters to the plate in a seven-run seventh innings en route to a 10-1 blowout win over visiting Monterrey in Game One of their LMB North championship series Thursday night.  An Estadio Gasmart crowd of 13,685 watched the Toros earn a leg up in their rematch from 2016 with the Sultanes.

That series concluded with loud complaints from Monterrey owner Jose Maiz about the Toros' large number of Mexican-American players (who are exempt from the Liga's roster limit of six foreigners), leading to last winter's split among owners over the issue that required the intervention of Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor to save the 2017 season.  Maiz, who was feted at the Little League World Series this week as a member of the 1957 LLWS champions from Monterrey, fanned the flames Tuesday with a comment calling the Tijuana team the "PochoToros."  The term pocho is an equivalent to words like sellout, traitor or even Uncle Tom among Mexicans, and Maiz' incorporation of it (which was widely reported across the country) has generally been panned by baseball columnists south of the border, especially since O'Connor ruled that there would be no limit to Mexican-American players on LMB rosters.

The Toros broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning off Sultanes starter Javier Solano.  Cyle Hankerd followed Corey Brown's leadoff single with a two-run homer to left field to put TJ up, 2-0.  Hankerd had been drilled by Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo in an August 4 game, putting him out of the lineup for the final ten games of the regular season and doing nothing to relieve tensions between the two teams in what has become the most intense rivalry in the Liga.  Dustin Martin added an RBI double later in the frame to put the Toros three ahead.

Monterrey got on the board in the top of the fifth on back-to-back doubles by Luis Flores and Chris Roberson, but the Toros put the game away two innings later.  In that entrada, Alex Liddi led the procession off with a line-drive single to left in an ugly frame that ended with seven Tijuana runs off a total of six singles, one Jorge Cantu double, two walks, two hit batsmen and three wild pitches (two by reliever Isaac Jimenez to Cantu prior to the latter's two-bagger).  Liddi also singled his second time up to become the eighth consecutive Toros hitter to reach base.

San Diego native Alex Sanabia pitched seven innings of five-hit, one-run baseball for Tijuana to earn the win while Solano allowed nine hits and five earned runs to take the loss for Monterrey. Martin (Corpus Christi, Texas) had three hits for the winners while Roberto Lopez (San Diego), Cantu (McAllen, Texas), Liddi (San Remo, Italy) and Hankerd (Covina, California) each had two hits as the Toros finished the night with 16 hits.  Luis Juarez (a proud son of Culiacan, Sonora) had two singles for the Sultanes while Roberson (Oakland) and Flores (San Diego) contributed their doubles.  There were no reported comments from Maiz on the ethnic makeup of the two lineups after the rout, but this was only Game One.

Game Two is scheduled for Friday night in Tijuana.  Dominican Angel Castro gets the start for Monterrey while Horacio Ramirez (Carson, California) earns the nod for the Toros.

TIJUANA 10-16-0, Monterrey 1-5-0
W-Sanabia (1-0).  L-Solano (0-1).  A-13,685.  T-3:02.

NOTE: BBM will be in Tucson along with four Mexican Pacific League clubs and a Cincinnati Reds select team for the seventh annual Mexican Baseball Fiesta from October 5 to October 8 at Kino Stadium.  More later.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Toros eliminate Aguascalientes; division championships next

Tijuana outfielder Dustin Martin
Dustin Martin singled in Chris Valencia with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning and closer Jason Urquidez held Aguascalientes scoreless in the ninth, striking out the final two Rieleros batsmen, as the Tijuana Toros scored a 4-3 comeback win over the Railroaders Sunday night in front of 17,608 fans in the border city.

The victory gives the Toros a 4-games-to-2 first round playoff series win over Aguascalientes and a ticket to the Mexican League North Division championship series against Monterrey.  Yucatan and defending champs Puebla will square off in the LMB South championship set.  Both series will open Thursday night.

TIJUANA 4-10-1, Aguascalientes 3-8-1
W-Sandoval (1-0).  L-Merritt (0-1).  Sv-Urquidez (3).  A-17,608.  T-3:02.

Aguascalientes took an early 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first and second innings against Toros starter Miguel Pena.  Richy Pedroza lined a one-out single to right field in the opening frame and came all the in from first one out later when longtime vet (and former Rieleros player-manager) Saul Soto rapped a double to left to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage.  In the second, Eliezer Ortiz drew a two-out walk off Pena but, with Dave Sappelt batting, appeared to be picked off for the third out.  However, a throwing error by TJ first baseman Jorge Cantu during the ensuing pickle allowed Ortiz to take second.  Sappelt then punched a single through the left side of the infield to bring Ortiz home.

The Toros tied the game at 2-2 by posting single runs of their own in the third and fourth innings.  With Dustin Martin occupying first base, Isaac Rodriguez tapped a double-play grounder to Rieleros starter Yohan Flande, who threw to Pedroza covering second for the first out but Pedroza's relay to Jesse Castillo was off the mark and allowed Rodriguez to scamper to second.  Jose Guadalupe Chavez, who had a great series at the plate, then drove Rodriguez with a single up the middle.  Chavez went 14-of-24 (.583) at the plate over the six-game set, scoring six runs and driving in seven more.  Tijuana's second run came a bit more directly when Corey Brown lofted a solo homer to right off Flande to even the score.

Aguascalientes regained the lead in the sixth on a Carlos Rodriguez solo homer after Pena had opened the inning by whiffing Jose Vargas and Cristhian Presichi, but the contest was knotted back up at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh when Alex Liddi lined a leadoff homer to left off Rieleros reliever Roy Merritt, a Southern University alum who'd pitched 6.1 solid innings against the Toros in a start four nights earlier.  Liddi displayed a couple of shimmy-shake moves while circling the bases that won't bring him an invite to "Dancing With the Stars" but delighted the Tijuana fans regardless.  Merritt was pulled just before Liddi's next plate appearance in the eighth, but the Texan hurler may file Liddi's trip around the bags in his memory banks for next season.

The game-winning run came in the bottom of the eighth when Cyle Hankerd led off the inning by drilling a double to center.  Valencia was brought in as a pinch-runner to replace Hankerd while Alfredo Amezaga was sent up to the plate as a pinch-hitter for former Florida Marlins teammate Cantu and laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Valencia to third.  Merritt then intentionally walked Juan Apodaca to pitch to Martin, a dangerous hitter but only going 2-for-21 in the series when he strode to the plate.  The strategy failed, as Martin lined a single to left, scoring Valencia from third to put the Toros up by a 4-3 count.  Urquidez then came on in the ninth and after allowing a single by pinch-hitter Edson Garcia, got both Sappelt and Pedroza looking to end the game and series, collecting his third save in Tijuana's four wins in the process.

Chavez finished with a 3-for-4 night at the plate while Hankerd had two hits for the winners.  Aguascalientes, who'd overachieved all season with a dollar-store roster cobbled together by manager Homar Rojas, got two hits apiece from Pedroza and Julian Castro but the Rieleros were unable to overcome the Brown and Liddi homers as well as their own defensive miscues along the way.  Pena went 5.2 innings on the mound for Tijuana, allowing three runs on seven hits, but the win went to reliever Juan Sandoval, who tossed a scoreless eighth before Martin's heroics made him the pitcher of record.  Merritt took the defeat for Aguascalientes after giving up two runs in 2.1 frames out of the bullpen.  Urquidez earned a save in all three of his appearances for the Toros, allowing only Garcia's single and one walk while striking out eight Rieleros in 3.1 innings of work.

Manager Pedro Mere's Toros will now face the Monterrey Sultanes in a rematch of last season's LMB North championship series.  That set, won by Tijuana, lit a match under Monterrey owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz over the Toros' use of Mexican-American players that became a full-blown schism in the offseason.  With Maiz now in the background after selling half the team to the Grupo Multimedios in February, the level of volatility should be ratcheted down a notch but in the Mexican League, one never knows for sure.  We'll all find out starting Thursday.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Yucatan holds off Leon to reach South finals; TJ up 3 to 2

Diego Madero's two-run homer highlighted Yucatan's three-run eighth inning as the Leones outlasted the Leon Bravos, 5-4, Friday night in Leon to complete a four-game sweep in their Mexican League South Division semifinal playoff series.  Yucatan advances to play defending champion Puebla in the LMB South championship series.  The Pericos needed just four games to eliminte Quintana Roo in the first round.

In the LMB North semifinals, the Tijuana Toros pulled away from the Aguascalientes Rieleros, 11-4, Friday in Aguascalientes to take a 3-games-to-2 lead in that set.  The visitors kept the basepaths busy with eleven hits while drawing eight walks from Rieleros pitchers as leadoff batter Jose Guadalupe Chavez reached base four times, scored twice and drove in three runs.  The winner of this series will meet Monterrey in the LMB North finals.  The Sultanes swept Monclova earlier this week.

There'll be no action Saturday as the Toros and Rieleros travel to Tijuana for Sunday's Game Six.

Yucatan 5-7-0, LEON 4-14-3
W-Barraza (1-0).  L-W. Silva (0-1).  Sv-Belisario (2).  A-6,894.  T-3:15.
A pitcher's duel between veteran hurlers Jonathan Castellanos of Yucatan and Leon's Walter Silva through seven innings ended with both teams combining for seven runs over the final two entradas as Yucatan held off Leon, 5-4, in front of a season-high crowd of 6,894 in Leon.  Leon took a 1-0 lead in the third when Junior Lake doubled in Eduardo Arredondo from second, but Yucatan tied it up in the fifth after leadoff hitter Jose Aguilar reached base on a fielding error by Bravos third baseman Miguel Terrero and eventually scored on a bloop single by Leo Heras.  The score remained knotted at 1-1 until the top of the eighth, when Ivan Araujo singled one out before Madero took Silva deep with a line-drive homer to left for Yucatan.  Ricky Alvarez later doubled in Juan Francisco off reliever Fredy Quintero to give the visitors a 4-1 lead.  Leon scored twice in the eighth on RBI singles by Torrero and Brandon Macias, but Yucatan went up 5-3 in the ninth when Sebastian Valle scored on a Gerardo Sanchez wild pitch to Heras.  Niko Vasquez doubled in Dan Johnson in the bottom of the ninth to bring Leon to within a run, but Yucatan closer Ronald Belisario got the final two outs for the save and win.  The Bravos actually outhit the Leones, 14-to-7, but only hit 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men stranded on base.

Tijuana 11-11-0, AGUASCALIENTES 4-9-1
W-Mitre (1-0).  L-L. Castro (0-2).  A-6,645.  T-3:43.
The top four batters in the Tijuana order combined for eight hits, four runs and nine RBIs as the visiting Toros broke a 4-4 tie with a single run in the top of the fourth and pulled away from Aguascalientes, 11-4, Friday in Aguascalientes.  Leadoff hitter Jose Guadalupe Chavez was the primary pest for TJ, going 2-for-4 with a pair of walks, scoring twice and driving in three more runs.  Roberto Lopez scored the eventual game-winning run for Tijuana in the top of the fourth when he reached base on a fielder's choice grounder to Rieleros pitcher Linder Castro, advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Carlos Rodriguez and came in when Corey Brown's grounder found its way to left field.  The Toros then scored twice in the sixth and four times in the seventh (with Lopez punching a two-run double) to put the game away.  Former Yankees pitcher Sergio Mitre replaced starter Carlos Hernandez in the third inning and tossed four innings of one-hit shutout ball for the TJ win.  Castro, who relieved Rieleros starter Francisco del Rosario in the third, gave up a pair of runs in 2.2 innings to take the loss.

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.