Monday, December 4, 2017

Mexicali rides six-game win skein to LMP second half lead

Mazatlan pitcher Mitch Lively
After a tepid first half in which defending Mexican Pacific League champion Mexicali finished sixth with a 16-19 record and manager Roberto Vizcarra was fired, the Aguilas have caught fire under new skipper Pedro Mere.  The Eagles swept a road series in Los Mochis and a home set against Hermosillo over the past week to head into Monday's travel day with six straight wins, a 10-2 second-half record and a two-game lead over second-place Mazatlan with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Mexicali is a balanced team, standing one point behind Culiacan for the LMP lead with a .272 team batting average while Aguilas pitchers are third in the loop with a 3.13 ERA.  Veteran outfielder Luis Juarez (350/4/19) is one of four starters above the .300 mark while fellow gardener Chris Roberson (.301) and third baseman C.J. Retherford (.220) each have seven homers.  Starter Rolando Valdez has pitched far better than his 2-2 record after nine starts implies and leads the LMP with a 1.78 ERA.  Fellow Mexicali hurler Sergio Mitre 5-3/3.12) tops the circuit with 47 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Mazatlan dropped the last two games of a weekend home series against Los Mochis to fall out of a first-place tie with Mexicali, but the 8-4 Venados have augmented their usual strong pitching with a top-notch offense led by speedy outfielder Jeremias Pineda.  The fleet Dominican is second to Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde (.381) in the MexPac batting race with a .377 average and his 24 steals in 35 games is more than twice his nearest competitor.  In comparison, the entire Mexicali team has swiped just 14 bases (in 30 attempts!) this season.  However, the biggest story in Mazatlan has to be pitcher Mitch Lively.
Strictly a reliever for the first six years of his 11-year MiLB career (most in the Giants organization), Lively has come off a solid (7-2/2.41) summer for Leon in a very trying Mexican League season for the Bravos and now leads the LMP with seven wins in nine starts, including six in a row, and his 0.89 WHIP is also tops.  The 32-year-old California tossed a one-hitter over Culiacan last Thursday, retiring the last 25 Tomateros in order after after Elizalde's first-inning double gave the hosts their only baserunner of the evening in a 1-0 Venados win as Erick Rodriguez' sacrifice fly in the seventh scored Fernando Luciano with the game's only run.
Bringing the fired Vizcarra back into the conversation, it didn't take long for the Coahuila native to find work, replacing ex-MLBer Tony Tarasco as manager of the Jalisco Charros last week.  A first-time helmsman, Tarasco led the Charros to a fourth-place finish in the first half with a 19-16 record, but Jalisco lost five of their first six games in the second stanza to sound the panic alarm in Guadalajara.  One problem Tarasco reportedly had was an inability to speak Spanish, always a good skill for managing a Mexican baseball team (as Wally Backman learned last summer in Monclova).  The Charros lost four of their first six games under Vizcarra.
There was some good news (always a rare treat for a manager in Mexico) when Hermosillo's Lorenzo Bundy won his 700th career MexPac game, pounding Culiacan by a 13-1 count November 23 at Estadio Tomateros.  A 58-year-old Philadelphian who began managing LMP baseball in 1991, Bundy trails only Francisco "Paquin" Estrada (856) for all-time wins in league history.  The late Benjamin "Cananea" Reyes is third with 605 victories.

LMP SECOND HALF STANDINGS*
Mexicali 10-2 (4.0), Mazatlan 8-4 (6.0), Navojoa 7-5 (4.5), Obregon 6-6 (3.0), Hermosillo 5-7 (8.0), Culiacan 5-7 (7.0), Los Mochis 4-8 (3.5), Jalisco 3-9 (5.0).
*First-half points for each team are in parentheses following their current record.
LMP HITTING LEADERS
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .381,  Hits-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 69, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 38, Homers-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 11, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 41, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 24.
LMP PITCHING LEADERS

Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 7, Earned Run Average-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.78, Strikeouts-Sergio Mitre (MXI) 47, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 14, Holds-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 13, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.89.

LIM regular season ends, female ump to work in postseason
The Mexican Winter League has concluded its 2017-18 regular season, with playoffs slated to open on Tuesday, December 5.  The two-time defending champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos finished in first place with a 29-16 record for the top seed in the postseason, four games up on the 25-20 Moroleon Toros Bravos and seven games ahead of the 22-23 Oaxaca Guerreros.  The Salamanca Petroleros copped the fourth and final seed at 21-24.  The Celaya Cajeteros and Maravatio Leones were both eliminated with identical 19-26 records.
Mexico City's Yousamot Cota led the LIM with a .392 batting average, nineteen points ahead of Diablos teammate David Jimenez, who was tops with 62 hits, 39 runs scored and 36 RBIs.  Salamanca's Roberto Ramirez had the most homers with eight while Maravatio's Walter Cirilo Higuera stole 15 bases in 21 attempts to lead in that category.  Diablos pitcher Luis Fernando Miranda paced the LIM with a 2.01 ERA and his five wins tied Oaxaca's Ariel Gracia for most in the circuit.  Rogelio Martinez of Moroleon's 51 strikeouts led the way.
Mexico City was number one in both team batting (.305) and team ERA (3.55) and will be favored to win a third straight flag under manager Victor Bojorquez, who'll manage the big club in 2018.  They'll open their first round series on the road in Salamanca while Moroleon will visit Oaxaca for the first contest in their semi set.
When the LIM playoffs get underway, the first woman umpire in league history will be working the games.  Culiacan native Luz Alicia Gordoa Osuna, 41, has played softball for over 20 years while umpiring the past five.  She's also spent two decades as a soccer referee.  Gordoa opened the fall in the Academy Rookie League along with another lady ump, 34-year-old Paulina Barajas Castro.  Barajas is from Mexico City, where she umpired in the Liga Olmeca, Liga Lindavista and Liga Maya youth organizations before heading to the Academy in El Carmen near Monterrey.  
The Mexican League says that at least one of the two female umpires will work during their 2018 two-season schedule, and it appears that Gordoa, who made her LIM debut in Salamanca in November, is on track to become the first woman arbiter in the LMB's 93-year history.


Eleven Mexicans on Major League Baseball 40-man rosters
Kansas City pitcher Joakim Soria
With the Baseball Winter Meetings less than a week away, eleven players of Mexican descent have been protected among the thirty Major League Baseball's 40-man rosters heading into Orlando.  
Three of the eleven are with the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers: veteran All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, prized pitching prospect Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo.  Toronto is protecting closer Roberto Osuna and starter Marco Estrada, young hurlers Luis Cessa and Giovanny Gallegos are on the Yankees roster while third baseman Christian Villanueva (San Diego), pitchers Hector Velazquez (Boston), Joakin Soria (Kansas City) and Victor Arano (Philadelphia) are also exempt from the Rule 5 draft.  Soria was the top Rule 5 draft pick by the Royals in 2006 after an 8-0 start that winter for Obregon in the MexPac.

Seven Mexican MLB players entered December as free agents, including starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia and Miguel Angel Gonzalez plus relievers Sergio Romo, Oliver Perez, Jorge de la Rosa and Fernando Salas.  An eighth, Cesar Vargas, spent last summer in the Padres organization but did not appear in the majors.  Vargas is currently 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 appearances (two of them starts) for Hermosillo this winter.  Romo is anticipated to join Jalisco later this month for the stretch drive of the regular season and the January playoffs.