Monday, December 25, 2017

MexPac playoff field determined, regular season winds down

Mexicali's MexPac ERA leader Rolando Valdez
Although the pairings for the opening round of the upcoming Mexican Pacific League playoffs have yet to be set, the six teams advancing to the postseason have been determined with four games remaining on the regular season schedule.

The defending champion Mexicali Aguilas have run away with the LMP second half, sporting a 23-6 record to lead 17-12 Navojoa and Culiacan by six games to lock up the eight points accompanying a first-place finish.  The Aguilas collected four points after a 16-19 first half finish landed the borderites in sixth place and led to the replacement of manager Roberto Vizcarra with Pedro Mere.  Under Mere, who won the Mexican League pennant with Tijuana in September, the Aguilas' 12.0 combined points assures them of a playoff berth and home-field advantage at least through the first round.

Things have not gone as well for first-half champion Hermosillo.  Skipper Lorenzo Bundy's Naranjeros have struggled to an 11-17 record in the second half and currently sit seventh on the table, a half-game game behind 12-17 Obregon and three games back from fifth-place Jalisco at 14-14.  The Orangemen will reach the playoffs no matter what because even if they finish with only 3.5 points in the half, the 11.5 total points will be enough to play into January.   Culiacan projects to be the top playoff seed.  The Tomateros picked up 7.0 first-half points after finishing tied with Mazatlan for second at 20-15 while their 17-12 second half mark would give them third place behind Navojoa, good enough for 6.0 points for the half and a combined 13.0 points overall.  Mazatlan and Navojoa will join Mexicali, Hermosillo, Culiacan and Jalisco in the postseason.  The 14-14 Charros sit in sixth, where the 4.5 points attached to a finish in that slot would be added to the 5.0 first-half points garnered by the Guadalajara squad for a 9.5-point overall total and a sixth (and final) seed.

On the outside looking in after this week will be Obregon and Los Mochis.  The 12-17 Yaquis are currently in sixth, two-and-a-half games behind Jalisco, but the most overall points they can mathematically qualify for are 8.0, well behind the Charros' projected 9.5.  The Yaquis canned manager Miguel Ojeda earlier this month and brought in Juan Navarrete, but problem with the Obregon organization run beyond the playing field and any manager would've struggled there this winter.  The 6-23 Caneros have suffered through a total collapse under manager Ramon Orantes, who replaced Luis Sojo at the helm on November 16 after Mochis finished seventh with a 14-21 record in the first half for 3.5 points.  The Caneros will finish with 6.5 overall points no matter what happens this week.

Three ongoing series will conclude Monday night with Obregon at Mexicali, Culiacan visiting Mazatlan and Jalisco hosting Navojoa while Tuesday night will see the Hermosillo at Los Mochis series end.  Starting Wednesday, Hermosillo will host Mexicali, Obregon will welcome Mazatlan, Los Mochis will be in Navojoa and Culiacan will entertain Jalisco in openers of season-ending three-game sets.  
The six playoff teams will choose reinforcements from Obregon and Los Mochis in a two-round draft next weekend prior to next week's first-round openers.  Among the nuggets to be mined from Obregon will be centerfielder Justin Greene, rightfielder Dustin Martin and closer Manny Acosta, the LMP's saves leader with 16.  Los Mochis has infielder Ramon Urias, outfielder Olmo Rosario and veteran first baseman/DH Saul Soto, still a dangerous hitter at age 39.

LMP SECOND HALF STANDINGS (through Sunday, December 24)
Mexicali (4.0) 23-6, Navojoa (4.5) 17-12, Culiacan (7.0) 17-12, Mazatlan (6.0) 15-14, Jalisco (5.0) 14-14, Obregon (3.0) 12-17, Hermosillo (8.0) 11-17, Los Mochis (3.5) 6-23
First half point totals per team are in parentheses
AVG-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .379, H-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 92,  R-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 48, HR-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 14, RBI-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 56, SB-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 31.
W-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 9, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.87, SO-Tyler Alexander (JAL) 65, SV-Manny Acosta (OBR) 16, HLD-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 17, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.96.

Ojeda to manage in Durango, not Monterrey, in 2018

Durango's Miguel Ojeda as an MLBer
In what has to be one of the more surprising managerial moves of the Mexican League offseason, former MLB catcher Miguel Ojeda went from being considered a shoo-in as the new manager in Monterrey to signing a contract to lead Durango in 2018 instead.  The deal was announced Sunday by Aguascalientes' El Heraldo, citing "sources close to the negotiations."  

Ojeda will replace Joe Alvarez as Generales skipper after the latter took the team to a 43-66 record for a last-place finish in the LMB North this summer, Durango's first in the Liga in 38 years after owner Virgilio Ruiz moved his franchise there from Carmen.  The Generales spent the first month of the season on the road while ballpark preparations at home were ongoing, winning 11 of their first 21 games before embarking on a crushing 14-game losing streak (six in a row at home) from which they never recovered.  Money problems plagued the team Ojeda is inheriting, with late paychecks and league support to keep the club alive through season's end.  The league wants to replace the underfinanced Ruiz with new ownership, but nothing has been announced on that front.  Durango gave the club remarkably good support given the situation, with the Generales finishing seventh in attendance with a 4,094 average per opening, but Ojeda (who hit .224 with 15 homers in 212 games for San Diego and three other MLB teams between 2003 and 2006) is stepping into a volatile situation.

Meanwhile, back in Monterrey, the Sultanes are back to the drawing board.  Details have not been found as to why things didn't work out between the team and Ojeda.  One omen came during the recent Winter Meetings in Orlando, a  potential "big splash" publicity moment for the Sultanes by introducing a former big league catcher and manager of the 2014 LMB champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos as their new manager.  Instead, he did not appear to even be mentioned by the team during the four-day event.  Ojeda's pending hiring in Monterrey was widely reported in mid-November.

One hiring that did come off was in Monclova, where the Acereros named another ex-MLB catcher as their new helmsman.  Dan Firova, 61, is a bilingual Texan who had three cups of coffee with Seattle and Cleveland in the 1980's and also played all or part of seven seasons in Mexico between 1981 and 1993, mostly for Nuevo Laredo, and hit .264 with 13 homers in 419 games as a defense-oriented backstop.  Firova then spent over two decades managing in the Mexican League winning three pennants with the Mexico City Tigres (1997, 2001, 2001) in his seven-year stint before going on to manage six other LMB teams between 2002 and 2013, reaching the postseason twice in Monterrey and once in Campeche.  He was a coach for the Washington Nationals the past two seasons under Dusty Baker.  

Firova will take over a loaded team that was expected to contend for the pennant last season but instead was knocked out in the first round.  Ex-Mets infielder Wally Backman was hired to manage the Acereros last winter, but his inability to speak or understand Spanish plagued him all the way up to Backman's midseason firing in Monclova, something that won't be a problem for Firova.  Backman, by the way, finished the year as a coach in Puebla and will manage the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League in 2018.

Diablos win Mexican Winter League for third straight year

2017 LIM champions Mexico City Diablos Rojos
It's been a tough baseball year for Alfredo Harp Helu.  The billionaire owner of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, has seen his Mexican League team miss the playoffs for a second straight year with attendance of only 2,503 per game was 14th in the LMB; his new 13,000-seat ballpark (named after himself) has been plagued by construction problems and delays resulting in the move of an anticipated MLB series next season to Monterrey and the possible loss of the 2018 LMB All-Star Game as well; and his franchise is embroiled in a controversy involving the allegedly corrupt transfer of five prospect to the Diablos and an opposing team owner who may arguably be the most popular Mexican ballplayer ever on either side of the border and is also threatening to take the matter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.  That bad run of luck for Harp extended to his own farm system, as his combined team with the Oaxaca Guerreros (which he also owns) was unable to win their third consecutive Academy Rookie League title, finishing fourth among six teams.

So forgive us for showing a little espíritu navideño when we say we're glad to see Harp's Mexican Winter League team save his year (a little) by winning the pennant, making it three titles in as many seasons for the Little Red Devils.  They copped the regular season crown by going 29-16 in the six-team circuit, which serves as the LMB's sanctioned winter league and includes Liga veterans and prospects alike.  First baseman Yousamot Cota led the league with a .392 average but it was left fielder Daniel Jimenez who swung the big stick by topping the LIM in hits, runs scored and runs batted in.  Jimenez, a 21-year-old Caracas native who played four year of rookieball in the Reds system at home in Venezuela and Arizona, is currently listed on Oaxaca's LMB roster but we've seen how that goes.  Starting pitcher Luis Miranda won five games with a 2.01 ERA to rank first in both categories.

The playoffs followed, with Mexico City being stretched to five games before knocking out Salamanca in a first round series mostly noted for Petroleros player Andres Martin Garcia attacking home plate umpire Carlos Leon, resulting in Martin's suspension from all LMB-related leagues throughout 2018.  The championship series was a trifle quieter, as the Diablos beat Oaxaca, 4 games to 1.  The Guerreros, who had finished in third at 22-23 in the regular season, shocked second-place Moroleon by sweeping the Toros Bravos in three straight games in their semi series.  Mexico City was stretched in Game Five, requiring 13 innings to extinguish the Warriors, 7-5, and claim the flag.

The finals featured two teams owned by the same man, making Harp a winner no matter what happened, and managed by the men who'll lead their respective "big teams" next season: Victor Bojorquez in Mexico City and Jose Luis Sandoval in Oaxaca.  Both are former longtime Diablos stars.  Bojorquez takes the reins of the Red Devils from Miguel Ojeda, who may be having as bad a year as Harp (who still has his billions), while Sandoval succeeds Houston Jimenez with the Guerreros.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mexicali opens 4-game lead; Lively win streak ends at 8

The defending champion Mexicali Aguilas have continued to respond to new manager Pedro Mere and have built a four-game lead over Mazatlan and Navojoa in the Mexican Pacific League’s second-half standings.  The Eagles won two of three hard-fought games in a weekend series in Mazatlan to lift their record to 18-6 with nine games left in the regular season. The Venados dropped to 14-10 after losing Sunday’s game, 4-2, falling into a second-place tie with the Mayos.  Righty Mitch Lively took the loss for the Deer to fall to 9-2 on the season after winning his last eight starts.  Meanwhile, Navojoa won in Culiacan, 2-0, as Eddie Gamboa and four relievers combined on the shutout.
A 6’5” Californian, the 32-year-old Lively has enjoyed a banner 2017 south of the border.  He pitched well for a poor Leon team in the Mexican League, going 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA for the Bravos over 74 innings, including 12 starts, to give him a combined 16-4 mark between the two leagues.  The Venados ace leads the MexPac in wins, strikeouts and WHIP and is threatening to become the LMP’s first 10-game winner since Culiacan’s Jorge Campillo in 2004-05.  Campillo went on to pitch in the majors for Seattle and Atlanta and is currently a VP with the LMB Tijuana Toros after serving as the team’s GM for several seasons.
The Hermosillo Naranjeros’ second-half slide following their first-half title has continued, with the Orangemen next-to-last with a 9-14 record, three games ahead of hapless Los Mochis.  Hermosillo’s front office and fans are used to success and rumors have surfaced that manager Lorenzo Bundy’s seat may be getting warm.  The Naranjeros recently became beneficiaries of Obregon’s sell-off by acquiring former MLB and NPB pitcher Luis Mendoza from the Yaquis for three prospects.  One of them, Hermosillo native Isaac Paredes, was a well-regarded Cubs farmhand before being dealt to the Tigers organization last summer.  The infielder spent the entire season playing in the Class A Midwest League, pretty fast company for an 18-year-old who hit .252 with 11 homers and 70 RBIs in 124 games for South Bend and West Michigan.
What’s been a long season in Obregon got a little longer when new fan favorite outfielder Tomo Otosaka returned to Japan after playing the last of his 27 games for the Yaquis on December 14.  Otosaka won over supporters with a .410 batting average with 15 runs scored and another 12 driven in while walking 13 times in 113 plate appearances for an on-base percentage of .487.  The 23-year-old Otosaka has hit .237 with 7 homers and 22 RBIs in 196 games for the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League since his 2014 debut.  Attendance has plummeted at year-old Nuevo Estadio Yaquis this winter as fans appear to be losing confidence in the Yaquis organization under owner Rene Rodriguez, who bought the team from the Grupo Modelo brewery following the team’s trio of LMP titles earlier this decade.

Mexicali (4.0) 18-6, Mazatlan (6.0) 14-10, Navojoa (4.5) 14-10, Culiacan (7.0) 13-11, Obregon (3.0) 11-13, Jalisco (5.0) 10-13, Hermosillo (8.0) 9-14, Los Mochis (3.5) 6-18
First half point totals per team are in parentheses
AVG-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .372, H-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 83,  R-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 44, HR-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 14, RBI-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 50, SB-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 29.
W-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 9, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.75, SO-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 63, SV-Manny Acosta (OBR) 15, HLD-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 16, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.96.

El Titan traded to Atlanta, designated for assignment
Five-time All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez could be forgiven if he’s beyond ready to turn the calendar to 2018 a couple weeks early as his nightmarish 2017 has taken yet another couple of dagger-like twists.  The man known as “El Titan” and considered by many to be the best MLBer of Mexican descent was one of four Los Angeles Dodgers players sent to Atlanta last weekend in a trade for outfielder Matt Kemp.  Also dealt to the Braves were veteran pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy and young infielder Charlie Culberson in a transaction regarded by some as a salary dump for both teams.  Gonzalez is scheduled to make $22.4 million for the last year of his contract in 2018, of which the Dodgers picked up $4.5 million of the tab as part of the swap.
However, if the 35-year-old Gonzalez had even begun thinking of hitting in the high-altitude, homer-happy environment of Atlanta’s new ballpark (a 13-year-old Little Leaguer homered off the left field upper-deck facade in August), such thoughts were dashed as the Braves designated him for assignment almost as soon as the trade was announced, in effect putting the 14-year-veteran back on the trading block.
Gonzalez has collected 2,010 career hits, including 311 homers and 1,176 RBIs, with a slash line of .288/.359/.488 over 1,875 MLB games since he debuted with the Texas Rangers in 2004.  Along with his five All-Star picks, the San Diego native (who spent many years growing up in Tijuana along with brother Edgar, now in the Jalisco Charros front office) has won four Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards while being named Player of the Month once in each league and picking up eight Player of the Week designations.
There had been speculation in some quarters that Gonzalez might join his brother in Guadalajara and play for the Charros this winter, but that appears unlikely.

Tijuana’s Blanca Uribe first woman LMB Executive of the Year
The Mexican League Assembly of Presidents enjoyed a relatively quiet week at the annual Baseball Winter Meetings earlier this month in Orlando, and even made a little history in the process when Tijuana Toros’ deputy vice president Blanca Uribe became the first woman to receive Executive of the Year honors in the LMB’s 92-year history.  Uribe is the daughter of Toros owner Alberto Uribe and sister of team president Alejandro Uribe, and was recently promoted from a vice president’s position she’d held since 2014.
While her father and brother are more involved in the baseball end of the Toros, Blanca has served a more “heart-and-soul” role with the team, organizing several events and creating tie-ins involving charitable organizations along with other outreach efforts.  The Toros have become one of the Mexican League’s model franchises in just four years.  They won their first LMB pennant in September and their Academy Rookie League affiliate won that loop’s title.  The Toros’ Mexican Winter League club in Moroleon (shared with Leon) qualified for the LIM playoffs, but was swept by Oaxaca in the first round.  Mexico City then beat Oaxaca to win their third straight LIM flag.
Also at the Winter Meetings, the LMB confirmed their two 2018 short-season schedules.  The first season will run between March 22 and May 28 with three-tiered playoffs to follow in June.  After a June 29 All-Star Game scheduled for the perpetually-delayed Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City, the second season will open July 3 and end September 8 with another month-long playoff ending with an October 8 Championship Series Game Seven (if needed).  Each regular season will consist of 57 games, although the schedules will not be evenly balanced in games between divisions.
For the second Assembly of Presidents meeting in a row, LMB president Javier Salinas confiscated all cell phones from participants to prevent leaks to the media.  The move worked, as no mention was made of either the Rookiegate imbroglio between the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and the Quintana Roo Tigres or the volatile ongoing ownership situation involving the Durango Generales.  Durango has been included as one of the 16 teams playing in 2018 but the question of whether embattled Generales owner Virgilio Ruiz can hang on to the team remains a mystery.

3,000 attend Liga Olmeca opening ceremony in CDMX
Mexico’s largest Little League organization held opening ceremonies for the 2017-18 season earlier this month at the Liga Olmeca complex in Mexico City.  An estimated 3,000 people were on hand as New York Yankees pitchers Luis Cessa and Giovanny Gallegos joined Lee Sigman (the Yanks’ Mexican scouting director) to help first-year Liga Olmeca president Carlos Fragoso welcome players and parents to another season of amateur baseball in the capital city.
Fragoso, an Obregon native who grew up with David Gonzalez (father of Edgar and Adrian) and works as an engineer for Siemens, himself has been a scout for both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox as well as a coach at the national level in Mexico.  According to Fragoso, there are about 900 youth baseball and softball players in Liga Olmeca while another 500-plus adults play softball at night for a total of nearly 1,500 ballplayers.

Monday, December 11, 2017

LMB wrestles with internal issues (again) at Winter Meetings

You have to hand it to Javier Salinas.  His transition to Mexican League president has gone smoothly enough that little appears to have changed with the circuit since former LMB leader Plinio Escalante stepped down at the conclusion of the 2017 season.  Evidence?  One year after Escalante and the Assembly of Presidents were dealing with a myriad of issues within the league at the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings, Salinas and his employers have gathered in Orlando this week for the current winter meetings with yet another myriad of problems sitting on their plates, many of them new but one polarizing item last year may be broached again this time.  This is what Salinas & Co. may or may not deal with in Florida this week:
*A wrestling match between the LMB and the Durango Generales franchise, a basket case under owner Virgilio Ruiz this year after the team relocated from Carmen last winter.  The LMB first announced that the Generales would take 2018 off to get their financial house in order, then reversed their position to state Durango WOULD play after all while new owners would be sought and now Ruiz has stated in no uncertain terms that the league does not have the right to revoke his franchise and that HE will operate the Generales next year.
*Quintana Roo Tigres owners Fernando Valenzuela and his wife Linda have reportedly been told by Salinas that their protest over five Tigres prospects on a master roster they were given before buying the Cancun team, only to have those prospects mysteriously pop up in the employ of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos after the February sale was completed.  Two of those prospects were sold last summer to the Texas Rangers for a combined US$2.7 million, money the cash-strapped Valenzuelas say should be theirs.  Unwilling to anger the league's richest owner, Alfredo Harp Helu, Salinas has in effect closed whatever investigation he conducted and told the Valenzuelas to move on, which they say they will: straight to Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Connor and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
*The Diablos are on the receiving end of another complaint, this time a lawsuit brought by former bullpen coach Braulio Neri, who was injured last spring in Leon when a light tower in hastily-readied Estadio Domingo Santana collapsed during the Bravos delayed home opener and caused Neri a knee injury.  A ten-year Diablos coach, Neri was fired by Mexico City GM Francisco Minjarez (who appears to be very involved with the Tigres-Diablos imbroglio) a month after his knee was operated on.
*Another lawsuit, this one from pitcher Sergio Mora, was filed against the Oaxaca Guerreros, who (like the Diablos) are owned by the billionaire Harp.  This grievance centers on payment for treatment Mora received after suffering an injury while playing for the Guerreros.  In what appears to be typical fashion, the team has not responded to past entreaties from Mora to pay bills incurred on their watch.  
*Finally, Monterrey Sultanes co-owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz, who sold half the team to the Grupo Multimedios corporation at the same time the Tigres sale went through last winter, is rattling sabers about bringing up the use of Mexican-American players in the LMB again.  Maiz carried his snit over losing the 2016 Northern Division championship series to a Tijuana team loaded with such players to the winter meetings last year and the issue threatened to split the league in two or cause the cancellation of the 2017 season altogether before O'Connor convened an emergency meeting in Houston and essentially read the owners the riot act, ruling that there would be no limit on the number of Mexican-American players, partly because a limit would violate Mexican labor laws.  Maiz, who runs Mexico's Little League organization and was a member of Monterrey's 1957 LL World Series title team, remained under wrap during the season but appears to be spoiling to pick his fight up where he left off.
Other than that, it should be business as usual for the LMB in Orlando, including the announcement of 2018's two schedules.  Then again, it may be "business as usual" that has caused these problems in the first place. Ojeda fired in Obregon, replaced by Juan Navarrete
With 15 games remaining in the Mexican Pacific League's regular season, former major league catcher Miguel Ojeda became the fourth manager in the eight-team loop to lose his job since play opened in mid-October.  Ojeda, who was hired last month to manage the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultanes next year, had managed Obregon to a last-place finish in the first half with a 13-22 record.  He had the Yaquis in fifth place with a second-half record of 6-8 when he was let go last Wednesday following a 4-2 loss to Mazatlan.
It's been an interesting past few months for Ojeda, who was hired by Obregon last January after the Yaquis missed the playoffs.  Since the conclusion of the Mexican League regular season, when his Mexico City Diablos Rojos missed THAT league's postseason after his team was riddled by injuries while other longtime veterans showed their age and failed to deliver as expected, the Sonora native (who led the Red Devils to the 2014 pennant) was not re-hired for the 2018 season.  He then began his first year in Obregon with a roster that many Mexican baseball columnists say was poorly-assembled by the Yaquis front office during the offseason.  Entering this week's play, Obregon's offense is last in the LMP in batting (.243) and runs per game (3.25) while the pitching staff has been mediocre despite the strong work of starter David Reyes, who is 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA in ten starts.
Former star second baseman Juan Navarrete has replaced Ojeda in the Yaquis dugout.  A product of Gomez Palacio and former Expos farmhand, Navarrete hit .327 over 16 LMB seasons, collecting 2,396 hits and scoring 1,005 runs in 1,607 games (mostly for Saltillo) before retiring as a player following the 1990 season.  Navarrete was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1998.  Since his playing days ended, Navarrete has spent the past 20 years working for the Oakland Athletics, for whom he is currently their minor league coordinator.  As a manager, he led Tabasco to their lone Mexican League pennant in 1993 and was named the MexPac's Manager of the Year in 2014-15 while piloting the Jalisco Charros during their first winter in Guadalajara after moving east from Guasave.
Things have been going a little better in Mexicali, where new manager Pedro Mere (who replaced Roberto Vizcarra, who replaced Tony Tarasco in Jalisco) has the defending champion Aguilas in the lead with a 13-5 record, but Navojoa has won four in a row and nine of their past ten games to pull within one game of the leaders at 12-6.   The Mayos have been led by utilityman Randy Arozarena, a Cuban-born Cardinals minor leaguer who's hitting .299 with an LMP-best 12 homers while scoring 40 runs (also a league high) while Mexican League MVP 1B Jesse Castillo (.302/8/34) and 3B Jovan Rosa (.293/9/25) have also been prime contributors, but it's the Mayos' pitching staff that has really shone for combustible manager Willie Romero.  Navojoa leads the MexPac with a 2.96 team ERA, with knuckleballing vet Eddie Gamboa (5-0/2.72) leading a staff that should get an expected boost later this month from Red Sox hurler Hector Velazquez, last winter's Pitcher of the Year.
Speaking of the aforementioned Vizcarra, he hasn't had any more luck getting wins out of the Jalisco Charros than Tarasco did.  The front office is almost desperate to win the pennant so their team will represent Mexico in February's Caribbean Series (which the Charros will host), but Jalisco had lost seven of eight games before beating Los Mochis twice over the weekend to pull into a seventh-place tie with the Caneros at 6-12.  The Charros axed former MLB catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia last week after he hit just .189 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 27 games, going 1-for-14 over his final four games.  You can't blame second sacker Manny Rodriguez for Jalisco's poor showing, though.  The 35-year-old is hitting .340 with 9 homers and 47 ribbies, the latter ranking tops in the LMP.  Rodriguez has an outside shot at a Triple Crown and appears to be in the lead among potential MVP candidates.
LMP STANDINGS (as of 12/11/17)
Mexicali 13-5 (4.0), Navojoa 12-6 (4.5), Mazatlan 10-8 (6.0), Culiacan 9-9 (7.0), Hermosillo 8-10 (8.0), Obregon 8-10 (3.0), Los Mochis 6-12 (3.5), Jalisco 6-12 (5.0).
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .369, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 40, Homers-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 12, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 47, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 27.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 8, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.75, Strikeouts-Sergio Mitre (MXI) 52, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 15, Holds-Carlos Bustamante (NAV) and Edgar Gomez (MXI) 13, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.90.

Tijuana wins Academy Rookie League title
The Tijuana Toros claimed their second pennant of 2017 when their Academy Rookie League squad posted a 22-11-2 record to finish three games ahead of Veracruz-Leon, who came in second at 20-15 in the six-team circuit.  There will be no playoffs.
Under manager Jorge Luis Loredo (who is Monclova's helmsman during the LMB season), the Toros broke a two-year grip on the Academy League crown that Mexico City-Oaxaca had held, with the Diablos-Guerreros coming in fourth at 17-16-2, one game behind third-place Yucatan-Laguna, who went 18-15-2 (games are allowed to end in ties).  Quintana Roo's rookie team ended up in fifth with a 14-18-3 mark while Monterrey brought up the rear at 9-25-1.
Tijuana was led by the 1-2 pitching punch of youngsters.  Fernando Gallegos went 5-2 and struck out 37 batters while walking 6, somehow losing twice despite a 1.38 ERA.  Fernando Olguin was a perfect 6-0 with a not-as-otherworldly 2.87 ERA.  The Toros had four .300+ batters in their everyday lineup: Martin Gonzalez (.333), Victor Navarro (.331), Alejandro Gutierrez (.330) and Oscar Romero (.324).
However, it was Tigres rookie Efren Nieves who was selected Most Valuable Player.  Nieves batted .354 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 35 game with a .468 OBP aided by 26 walks in 158 plate appearances.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Friday, December 1, 2017

BBM EXTRA: Three stories for a Friday Afternoon

  Every so often, stories might pile up between Monday postings that might otherwise get delayed, cut short or even simply lost in the shuffle. Whenever that happens, it seems worth posting a BBM extra on Friday to make sure Mexican baseball news is put out in a timely fashion, and this is one of those days. So here we go...

LMB Assembly of Presidents adjusts 2018 schedules

Mexican League president Javier Salinas
The Mexican League Assembly of Presidents convened a meeting last month at LMB offices in Mexico City and made some adjustments in their upcoming two-season calendar for 2018.  The most notable event may be something that happened before the meeting started, when new league president Javier Salinas confiscated cell phones from all 16 team representatives on hand in an attempt to eliminate leaks of the discussion to the media, in particular the Puro Beisbol website (which has posted LMB information in the past that did not go over well at Liga HQ).  Salinas reportedly told the team owners and presidents on hand that phones would be taken prior to the next Assembly meeting later this month at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando.
The projected schedules were pushed back to earlier in the year, in part to avoid playing the 2018 All-Star Game on the originally-planned date of July 1, which coincides with Mexico's presidential election and the declaration of a national holiday during which events like baseball games are prohibited.  The LMB's version of an Apertura will commence with a March 15 Opening Day (originally slated on March 23), the All-Star Game will now be played between seasons on June 24 while the Clausura playoffs will conclude by no later than October 8, one week earlier than the previous October 15 end date and providing more of a cushion between LMB seasons and the Mexican Pacific League schedule.
Among other changes in the Mexican League structure were the allowance of foreign players to perform for up to three different teams per season (the previous limit was two teams), jerseys will be required to have the wearer's surname printed on the back, and attempts to speed up game will include automatic bases-on-balls and the installation of pitch clocks on outfield walls.  Minor League Baseball tried using pitch clocks this summer but games still averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes.

Japhet Amador returning to Japan in 2018

Rakuten DH/1B Japhet Amador (on left)
Jalisco Charros slugger Japhet Amador will be returning to Japan for a third season in 2018 for a reported US$539,000.  
The 6'4" designated hitter/first baseman (who runs from 305 to 330 pounds, depending on the source) suffered an injury-plagued 2016 Nippon Professional Baseball debut campaign (.258/9/19 in 39 games) with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  El Gigante de Mulege came back healthier for Rakuten this summer and broke Karim Garcia's record for most homers by a Mexican in NPB with 23 roundtrippers and driving in 65 runs in 121 games.  His .237 batting average in 2017 was not a selling point for his contract renewal, but power hitters are forgiven lower averages and Amador has become a fan favorite in Sendai, home of the Eagles.  Rakuten is a Japanese internet shopping company similar to Amazon and Alibaba.

Before heading to Asia, Amador had established himself as the most-feared batter in Mexico, following a 2015 Mexican League MVP season (.346/41/117) in 101 games with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos with a strong winterball campaign for the Charros in 2015-16 (.288/14/48) before heading off to Japan after 58 regular season games.  He was named the MexPac MVP that season, too.  Amador, who turns 31 in January, showed .270/7/20 numbers over 44 games last winter in Guadalajara and is currently batting .239 with 3 homers in 19 contests for Jalisco after coming home from Japan last month.
Amador's return to NPB next season is the only certain one from among the 2017 Mexican contingent in Japan.  Former Rangers and Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza split a rocky season between the Nippon Ham Fighters and Hanshin Tigers, going a combined 3-9 with a 4.17 ERA, but Luis Alfonso Cruz (whose 73 RBIs for the Chiba Lotte Marines is a record for Mexican-born NPB players) spent this summer playing minor league ball in both the Rakuten and Yomiuri Giants organizations, as did ex-Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena, who played in the Hiroshima Carp system.

Salon de la Fama member Miguel Suarez dies at 65

Former Mexican baseball star Miguel "Mr. Hit" Suarez has passed away in his native Guasave, suffering from circulation problems in the days before his death last month at the age of 65.
The following is a profile on Suarez that was initially posted on BBM's predecessor, Viva Beisbol, as part of a "Maestros of Mexico" series of sketches on past Mexican baseball greats:
While Miguel Suarez does not immediately leap to mind as one of the great batsmen in Liga Mexicana history, his record indicates that he was consistently productive over his 17-year career. While he had neither power nor great speed on the basepaths, Suarez was nonetheless a perennial .300 batter as one of the best leadoff hitters ever in Mexico.
Miguel Suarez Lopez was born September 29, 1952 in Guasave, Sinaloa.  The tiny 5’4” 140-pounder began his pro career with Tampico in the Class A Mexican Center League as a 16-year-old in 1969.  He played two years in Tampico, batting .314 in 1969, followed by a league-best .393 in 1970.  He showed surprising power, knocking out 26 homers over those two seasons, but the longball was not his style, as Suarez would go on to hit only 23 circuit clouts during his LMB career (and never more than three in one season).
Suarez debuted with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in 1971, and led the Liga with 188 base hits en route to a .372 average and a selection as the LMB Rookie of the Year.  That would set a pattern for his career, as Suarez only failed to hit .300 once in his first eleven seasons, batting .297 in a strike-split 1980 season for Reynosa and the Mexico City Tigres.  He came back with a .303 mark for the Tigres in 1981 and eventually turned in .320 and .332 campaigns for Tabasco and Nuevo Laredo in the early 1980’s.  After consecutive .259 seasons for Veracruz and Monterrey in 1985 and 1968, he called it quits at the age of 33.
Suarez ended his Liga playing days with 2,444 career hits for a .323 average.  While he only had 63 stolen bases (and was actually caught stealing 96 times), he did swat 86 triples, reaching double figures four times between 1973 and 1979.  Although he never led the LMB in batting, Suarez is the only player ever to top the circuit in hits three times (including a record 227 safeties in 1977 when he hit .370 for the Red Devils) and led the Liga in triples with 13 in 1973.  He was not nearly so successful in the winter, with a career mark of .259 in 14 Mexican Pacific League seasons, mostly with his hometown team in Guasave. He was inducted into Mexico’s Salon de la Fama in 1994.