Monday, August 13, 2018

ALVAREZ OUT IN OAXACA, REPLACED BY GASTELUM

New Oaxaca manager Sergio Gastelum 
The Joe Alvarez Era in Oaxaca is over after 30 games.  After some early success in the Mexican League's Fall season, winning eight of their first 12 games and brief ownership of first place in the LMB South standings, the Guerreros lost 12 of their next 18 games before Alvarez was shown the door last Tuesday with a 14-16 record and the usual platitudes from the people firing him.  "The Cuban-born Alvarez achieved the necessary harmony in the dressing room and field of play," a Guerreros press release said, "but unfortunately, the results were not positive for the team.  We wish him a lot of success in his next project."

Alvarez was hired June 11 after former Mexico City Diablos Rojos star Jose Luis "Borrego" Sandoval piloted Oaxaca to a 22-35 record and last place in the South for the Spring season.  The 62-year-old Alvarez has had some past success in the Liga, leading Puebla to the South championship in 2014 after replacing Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez during the season and piloting Durango to a .500 record over the first month of the 2017 season after the Generales were forced to play the first four weeks of the schedule on the road while belated renovations to their ballpark were being completed.  However, Alvarez was sacked in Durango after the Generales faded down the stretch amid player discontent stemming from late paychecks while top talent was traded away for cash so payroll could be met.

Prior to his June hiring in Oaxaca, the three-time pennant-winning manager during his stint in the Dodgers system was preparing for his first winter managing the Mazatlan Venados, where Alvarez will return to another situation in which ballpark renovations are falling behind as the clock ticks toward a season opener.  Alvarez will be replaced in the Guerreros dugout by former second baseman Sergio Gastelum, a 39-year-old Sonoran who retired as a player last winter after compiling a .310 batting average with 82 homers and 1,054 runs scored in 22 seasons, the first 12 with the Tigres while they were located in Mexico City and then Puebla.

The Guerreros lost their first six games under Gastelum to see their losing streak drop to nine while sinking deeper in the standings with a 14-22 record, one game ahead of last-place Quintana Roo (13-23).  Defending champion Yucatan has won four straight, including a three-game weekend home sweep of Oaxaca, to pull into a virtual tie with Leon at the top of the LMB South standings.  The 19-15 Bravos are .003 percentage points ahead of the 20-16 Leones, half a game ahead of 19-16 Puebla and one-and-a-half games up on 18-17 Mexico City.  In the LMB North, Monclova (27-9) has won eight of their last ten games to maintain a six-game lead over Dos Laredos (21-15), who have played well since Felix Fermin assumed the reins from former manager Eddie Castro in May near the end of the Spring season.  Tijuana (20-15), Monterrey (20-16) and Aguascalientes (18-17) round out the top five teams in the North with Saltillo, Durango and Union Laguna fading out of playoff contention with three weeks left in the abbreviated regular season.

Former Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera has taken over the batting lead, with the Yucatan infielder posting a .423 average to lead teammate Leo Heras (.422) and Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt (.401) at the top of the table.  Saltillo outfielder Leandro Castro belted three solo homers last week to bring his season roundtripper total to 12, one ahead of Monterrey's Felix Perez and two up of Francisco Peguero of Monclova.  Perez was sent to the Sultanes along with pitcher Gabe Aguilar by Aguascalientes in a five-player trade last Tuesday that netted the Rieleros first sacker Ricky Alvarez, outfielder Francisco Lugo and pitcher Nestor Molina.   Puebla outfielder Delmon Young continues to lead the Liga in RBIs with 43 over 35 games.  The ex-MLBer had no ribbies in a weekend series in Quintana Roo after driving in five runs in three midweek games at Yucatan.  Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana stole two bases last week to bring his season total to a Liga-leading 19, five more than Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis.

Leon pitcher Rogelio Martinez won at Tabasco last Saturday in his only start of the week and while the three earned Olmecas runs he allowed brought his ERA up from 1.21 to 1.63, he still leads the LMB in that category.  After going 5-13 with an ERA above 5 over six previous seasons for four teams, the 26-year from Jalisco is having a breakout season for the Bravos and a big reason they occupy first place.  Another breakout year is coming from Mexico City righty Patrick Johnson, who beat Campeche for the second time in seven days last Friday to run his season record to 6-0 in seven starts and 9-0 since coming to the Diablos from Oaxaca during the Spring season.  The former University of North Carolina hurler was 2-3 for the Guerreros before being dealt to Mexico City on May 4 but hasn't lost since.  Puebla's Enrique Oquendo struck out three Yucatan batsmen over 1.1 innings last Wednesday before being pulled (he allowed five walks and a hit in that start, a no-decision) to bring his season whiff total to 43, still tops in the loop.  Monclova's Josh Lueke and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey each earned a save last week and both now have 10 for the season to tie for most in the LMB.

There'll be a big midweek series in Leon starting Tuesday when the Bravos host Yucatan in a three-game battle between the top two teams in the LMB South.  Next weekend's top series will likely be in Tijuana, when fifth-place Aguascalientes visits for a trio of games with the third-place Toros as two LMB North playoff contenders collide.


DIABLOS TO RETURN PROSPECT RIGHTS, PAY TIGRES


Texas Rangers minor league pitcher Damian Mendoza
In what may finally be the closing chapter of the ongoing Rookiegate situation, the Mexican League ha ordered the Mexico City Diablos Rojos to return the rights to five former prospects to Quintana Roo while also paying the Tigres money the Diablos had received from the sale of two of the young players who'd been property of the Cancun team before some reported sleight-of-hand during the February 2017 sale of the Tigres from former owner Carlos Peralta to ex-Dodgers Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela resulted in five prospects being moved from the Tigres' protected list to the Diablos.  The resulting scandal has been called "Rookiegate" and has reverberated throughout the LMB.

According to reporter Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, the Liga's Board of Directors (consisting of Monclova and Puebla owner Gerardo Benavides, Tijuana owner Alejandro Uribe, Eustacio Alvarez of Aguascalientes and Dos Laredos owner Jose Antonio Mansur unanimously declared the player transfers null and void, ordering the return to Quintana Roo of Fernando Villalobos, who was 14 at the time and protected from being transferred to another team, while compensating the Tigres for the sale of their former prospects Luis Fernando Medina, Damian Mendoza, Oliver Zepeda and Hansen Lopez to Major League Baseball organizations.  Medina was already in the Braves organization at the time of the sale while Zepeda was an infielder in the Blue Jays system, Mendoza was sold to the Texas Rangers for a reported US$1.2 million while Villalobos is said to have sold himself to the same organization for US$1.5 million.  The Mexican rights to all five will revert to Quintana Roo and while the Diablos will have to pay the US$1.2 they received from the Rangers for Mendoza, compensation for Villalobos may be tricky since the young catcher was not signed legally.

In fact, the whole Rookiegate affair is murky, depicted by current Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez (who came to Mexico City from Cancun almost immediately after the Tigres were sold, as a "gentleman's agreement" between former Quintana Roo team president Chto Rodriguez and ex-Diablos president Roberto Mansur in which the Diablos supposedly had room on their master roster for the prospects while the Tigres didn't.  Minjarez was suspended by the Liga for his role while both Rodriguez and Mansur are both out of baseball.  An interesting note is that Dos Laredos president Jose Antonio Mansur in essence voted against his brother as an LMB director.

The imbroglio was denounced loudly and often by Valenzuela and his wife, Linda Burgos, who both claimed to have seen the five prospects' names on a list of players whose rights were owned by the Tigres while the sale was being negotiated.  Reports were that if the Liga did not do something to rectify the matter to the Valenzuelas' satisfaction, the Tigres might have gone back on the market.  Instead, it appears the sordid matter has been resolved (if not to everyone's satisfaction) and that the Tigres will be five players and at least US$1.2 million richer.


AMADOR SUSPENDED BY NPB AFTER DRUG TESTS

Rakuten Golden Eagles slugger Japhet Amador
Mexican slugger Japhet Amador of Nippon Professional Baseball's Rakuten Golden Eagles has been suspended for six months after testing positive for two banned substances, chlorthalidone and furosemide, on June 23 ten days after being tested following a game against the Chunichi Dragons in Sendai.  Both are on a list of prohibited drugs on the World Anti-Doping Agency (or WADA) website.  According to writer Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, Amador was given a chance to defend himself during a Pacific League meeting on June 30 and while he denied intentionally taking any banned substance, an NPB press release said he did not dispute the actual findings.  At Amador's request, the sample was tested again on August 1 but results came back the same.

The suspension means the hulking (6'4" and listed at 310 pounds) Amador will not be eligible to play again in Japan until next February, but concerns exist that Rakuten will not bring him back for 2019 and that his NPB career may be over due to the test results.  There was some speculation among Mexican baseball cognoscenti that the so-called "Giant of Mulege" may join the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (who own his LMB rights) for the stretch run of the current Fall regular season and playoffs, he'll more likely cool his heels until his Mexican Pacific League team, the Jalisco Charros, begin winterball play in October.  Where Amador goes after the MexPac season may be the larger question.

In a statement released by the Eagles front office, Amador is quoted as saying, "I have never committed an act of doping in my baseball life up to this point.  I have never intentionally taken any banned drugs.  I haven’t used stimulants or anything to increase muscle, or thought about using diuretics or masking agents. I’ve been given many doping tests in the past and they’ve all been negative.”

Amador had a .269 average in 62 games for Rakuten this season with 20 homers (tied for sixth in the league) and 42 RBIs.  Since joining the Eagles for the 2016 season, he's belted 52 homers in 222 NPB games, including 23 longballs in 2017.  After his Mexican League debut with Minatitlan as a 20-year-old in 2007, Amador hit .330 with with 167 homers over nine Liga seasons.  He had a monster year for Mexico City in 2015, batting .346 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games before sending another 14 balls to the street in 58 games for Jalisco in the LMP's 2015-16 season.  He hit .248 with six homers in 36 contests for the Charros last winter, but should be much more rested when the 2018-19 MexPac campaign opens.

Monday, August 6, 2018

MONCLOVA OPENS SIX-GAME LEAD IN LMB NORTH

Monclova outfielder Francisco Peguero
The surprising exit of new manager Carlos Garcia three weeks into the Mexican League's Fall 2018 season has done nothing to stem the Monclova Acereros' tide after former Tijuana skipper Pedro Mere took over the reigns of the team with the Steelers holding a 14-5 record at the time.  Since his arrival two weeks ago, Mere has piloted the Acereros to a 9-2 record (including a current five-game win streak), giving Monclova an MXL-best 23-7 overall record and a six-game lead over Tijuana and Dos Laredos in the North Division standings.

After opening a midweek series with a 4-3 loss at Monterrey last Tuesday, Monclova topped the Sultanes twice to win the set before moving to Tijuana for a weekend trio of games, sweeping Mere's former Toros squad.  The Acereros broke out out the brooms after a 7-3 win Sunday at Estadio Gasmart in a contest where the home team was leading 3-0 after Dustin Martin led off the bottom of the second inning with a homer and Xorge Carrillo doubled in Francisco Perez from third with the third run of the frame.  The TJ lead held until the Acereros began chipping away at it, starting with a Rudy Amador RBI single in the top of the fourth and Francisco Peguero's solo homer one inning later.  Back-to-back RBI singles from Cade Gotta and Erick Aybar in the top of the fifth gave Monclova a 4-3 lead.  The Acereros went up 7-3 in the top of the eighth, thanks in part to Gotta's run-scoring single, and Peguero closed the scoring for the night with his second solo bomb in the ninth off ex-Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen.  Wilmer Rios pitched five innings to earn the win for Monclova, raising his record to 2-0 in six starts although his ERA rose to 2.76 after Tijuana plated all three runs off Rios over 5.2 innings pitched.

The sweep at the hands of the Acereros was apparently enough for Toros management to fire the team's manager for the second time this season, as Lino Rivera was cut loose Monday.  Rivera was brought in between the Spring and Fall campaigns to replace Mere, who lost his job after Tijuana despite leading the Bulls to a 33-23 finish and a second-place finish before being ousted by Monterrey in the North finals.  Rivera gives way to former Padres infielder Oscar Robles, who spent a number of seasons playing for Tijuana before retiring after last season.  Robles, who has never managed before, was hired earlier this year to the top post next winter with the Obregon Yaquis.

Surprising Dos Laredos pulled into a tie with Tijuana for second in the LMB North, with both teams showing identical 17-13 records.  The Tecolotes dropped the first two games of their weekend road series in Monterrey before posting a 4-3 win over the Sultanes Sunday.  The loss vaulted the Tecos into their tie with the Toros while bumping Monterrey into fourth at 16-14.  First-year Tecos manager Felix Fermin, who managed the Sultanes through last summer before being replaced by Roberto Kelly in the offseason, has been given much credit for Dos Laredos' ascension in the North after a number of mediocre seasons in Veracruz as members of the South Division, but veteran catcher Juan Apodaca deserves some accolades as well.  A former Red Sox and Cubs farmhand, Apodaca was a highly-regarded backstop the past three seasons in Tijuana before being dealt to the Tecos in time for the Fall campaign after fellow catcher Xorge Carrillo joined the Toros from the Mets system.  Apodaca has justified Dos Laredos' faith by hitting .337 with six homers in 23 games thus far while contributing his usual solid play behind the plate.

Meanwhile, the LMB South has been the more competitive division this fall.  The Leon Bravos top the standings with a 17-11 record, two games ahead of defending champion Yucatan (16-14) and two-and-a-half games up on Mexico City and Puebla, both of whom have 15-14 marks.  Even last-place Quintana Roo, whose 9-21 register is the MXL's worst, is only six-and-a-half games out of fourth.  The Bravos clobbered Tabasco by a 12-2 count Sunday as Marco Jaime and Cedric Hunter combined for six hits and four RBIs while Israel Nunez socked a two-run homer off Olmecas starter Thomas Malgarejo in the fourth to help Leon starter Rogelio Martinez lift his record to 3-1 with an ERA of 1.23.  Melgarejo absorbed the loss in his first start to fall to 0-1 while his own ERA ballooned to 9.00 after five appearances.

None of the pending midweek series have the look of classics, although the most interesting one has the Yucatan Leones hosting Puebla in Merida, with both squads in playoff contention but only separated by a half-game in the LMB South standings.  The pickings may be even slimmer among next weekend's three-game sets, but the most intriguing may be in Saltillo, where the Saraperos host rivals Monterrey Friday through Sunday.  Once one of the MXL's flagship teams, Saltillo has struggled on and off the field ever since the Ley family (owners of Culiacan's Mexican Pacific League franchise) sold the club in 2013 after 14 seasons, including two pennants and four division titles.  Under current owner Rene Rodriguez, the Saraperos have missed the postseason the past three seasons but manager Len Pecota has the team at 15-14, a half-game behind the fourth-place Sultanes and very much in postseason contention for September.

EX-MLBer BETANCOURT HITTING .411, THIRD IN MXL BAT RACE

Oaxaca Guerreros infielder Yuniesky Betancourt
During his 14 seasons in Major League Baseball between 2005 and 2013, Cuban expat Yuniesky Betancourt was a starting shortstop during stops in Seattle, Kansas City and Milwaukee, never an All-Star but a decent batter with occasional power (a .261 career average and 80 home runs, including three 13+ homer seasons) and a defensive player equally capable of spectacular and maddening play in the field and on the basepaths.

The 36-year-old Betancourt has had some success playing winterball with Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League since his 2012-13 debut with the Aguilas, helping the border team to a 2016-17 MexPac pennant and winning a Caribbean Series title in 2016 as a pickup with Mazatlan as the Venados won all seven games they played.  Curiously, Betancourt was left off the all-tournament team despite batting .438 with six runs and driving in eight more.  Betancourt has since moved around the infield, playing third and first base as well as shortstop and often hitting in the neighborhood of .300.

However, it's with his current Mexican League team in Oaxaca this year that Betancourt has excelled at the plate.  After hitting .367 with 11 homers for the Guerreros in the Spring and ranking among the MXL's top ten batters in both categories, Betancourt has caught fire in the Fall and now holds third place in the Liga batting derby with a .411 average.  He's ripped pitchers for a sizzling .538 mark over his last ten games, going 21-for-39 with 13 RBIs (including a 4-for-5 night with three ribbies last Thursday at home against Quintana Roo) to pace a Guerreros batting order hitting .303 as a team, fourth in the circuit, for manager Joe Alvarez.  A fellow Cubano, Alvarez has the perpetual also-rans in fifth place in the LMB South with a 14-16 record, a game-and-a-half behind Mexico City and Puebla, who are tied for third at 15-14.

Betancourt trails only Yucatan infielder Everth Cabrera (.441) and Campeche outfielder Asael Sanchez (.438) among Liga batsmen while Quintana Roo third baseman Brian Hernandez rounding out a quartet of .400 hitters as the former Angels minor leaguer has a .402 average.  Yet another Cuban product, Aguascalientes first baseman and onetime Reds farmhand Felix Perez, leads the circuit with ten homers after knocking out five longballs in six games for the Rieleros between July 28 and August 3.  Former MLB outfielder Delmon Young knocked in six runs for Puebla during a midweek home series against Yucatan to bring his season RBI total to 38, best in the MXL, and Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana swiped two bases last week to help the ex-Cub maintain his Liga swipes leadership with 17 to go along with a .342 average and 25 runs in 30 contests.

Monclova pitcher Andre de Rienzo continued his strong start to the Fall season by tossing five shutout innings at Monterrey last Thursday against a good Sultanes batting order.  Although the Brazilian did not earn the win, he did lower his LMB-leading ERA to 0.32 in six starts for the Acereros.  Mexico City right-hander Patrick Johnson has won his last four starts and five of six in the Fall schedule to take the victories lead with a 5-0 record.  The former Rockies/Pirates/Marlins minor leaguer has a perfect 8-0 record in 2018 since joining the Diablos Rojos from their little sisters in Oaxaca as part of a May 4 trade.  Puebla's Enrique Oquendo has put up consistent strikeout totals over his six starts (between 6 and 8 per outing) to head the whiff list at 40 over 32.1 innings of work.  Oquendo was 2-0 in 12 appearances for the Pericos as a reliever in the Spring season before being converted into a starter by Pericos manager Lorenzo Bundy for the Fall, under whom he's gone 2-1 with a 4-18 ERA.  Three closers are tied with nine saves to top the loop: Leon's Joe Colon, Josh Lueke of Monclova and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey.  A former Cleveland reliever, Colon has yet to allow an earned run for the Bravos in 13 outings since joining the team on July 5.  He's has been a major contributor to Leon's first-place position in the LMB South standings for manager Luis Carlos Rivera, a former Braves and Orioles pitcher who took over the team last summer and led them to a playoff berth.


DANIEL FERNANDEZ OUT AS CAMPECHE SKIPPER

Romulo Martinez (l) and Daniel Fernandez in Campeche
The Campeche Piratas fired manager Daniel Fernandez last Monday after the team got off to a 10-14 start to the Mexican League's Fall season, with six one-run losses among the 14 defeats.  While that was hardly the worst record in the MXL at the time (the Piratas were sixth in the LMB South), the team's board of directors were obviously galled after Campeche suffered a 23-4 loss at the hands of Puebla (completing a three-game sweep for the Pericos in the process) the day before Fernandez was given the axe.

A native of Cuidad Jose Cardel, Veracruz, the 52-year-old Fernandez is considered one of the top batters in Mexican League history.  During his LMB career, the former outfielder posted a .323 average over 26 seasons between 1983 and 2008 (all but one year spent with Mexico City) and his 2,648 total hits are tied for fifth on the all-time list with Roberto Vizcarra, a longtime infielder who later managed Quintana Roo to the 2014 MXL pennant and currently is dugout boss of the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros.

Fernandez had initial success as manager in Mexico City, leading the Diablos to a 66-39 record and the Liga pennant in 2008, his first year at the helm.  He was sacked as Red Devils skipper one year later despite taking the Diablos to an LMB-best 70-35 mark before falling to the Laguna Vaqueros in the first round of the playoffs.  He was 5-16 over a short 2010 stint in Tabasco and went 54-49 in 2011 as the Veracruz manager before taking the Rojos del Aguila to the pennant with playoff wins over Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Aguascalientes, going 12-6 over the three series.  For whatever reason, that wasn't enough to keep his job in the port city and Fernandez went on to manage partial seasons in 2013 for Yucatan and 2016 for Laguna before being hired to run the Piratas this year.  Campeche finished seventh in the LMB South during the spring with a 22-34 record.

Romulo Martinez, who had served as Fernandez' batting coach in Campeche, was named interim manager for the team.  Upon his promotion, Martinez was quoted as saying, "What ended it was the three defeats in Puebla.  It killed us emotionally, but from now on I will speak with all the players and start from scratch.  I'm confident that we'll move forward."  A 51-year-old product of La Guaira, Venezuela, Martinez had the Piratas batting .300 as a team (fourth in the MXL) prior to his ascension to the manager's post.  He's also managed in Mexican Pacific League with Los Mochis on an interim basis when Luis Sojo went to a World Cup, and has also led teams in the Italian Baseball League for ten seasons.

In Martinez' first week as Piratas skipper, Campeche lost two of three games in a midweek series at Leon before being swept in a three-game weekend set at Mexico City. A permanent manager in Campeche is expected to be announced but no timeframe has been publicly discussed.

Monday, July 30, 2018

MANNY RODRIGUEZ BELTS 3 HRs IN TIGRES WIN

Quintana Roo second baseman Manny Rodriguez
The Mexican League's Fall 2018 season has been anything but triumphant for the Quintana Roo Tigres thus far.  With a 6-18 record, the Cancun squad currently occupies the LMB South basement with the worst record in the circuit after a surprise Spring showing that included a playoff appearance and stretching eventual champion Yucatan to seven games in their first-round series.  Their slow start cost former manager Tim Johnson his job, with Hector Hurtado taking over the helm on July 22.

The gloom and doom was broken, however briefly, by a three-homer night for Quintana Roo second baseman Manny Rodriguez last Tuesday in an 11-3 Tigres win over Leon at Cancun's Estadio Beto Avila.  Rodriguez socked longballs in three consecutive innings, going deep against Bravos starter Dustin Crenshaw with a solo shot in the fourth frame, followed by a two-run bomb off Crenshaw in the fifth and another solo blast in the sixth against Leon reliever Edwin Quirarte.  It marks at least the second time the four-time All-Star has hit three homers in a single game, having turned the trick in 2014 en route to a career-best 28 homers when he was with the Saltillo Saraperos.

This has been a turbulent season for the 36-year-old Guasave native, who left the Monclova Acereros during the Spring season, citing internal problems on the team.  After cooling his heels for more than two weeks in California, Rodriguez was assigned from the Acereros' reserve list to Quintana Roo on April 26.  After having hit .308 with a homer and 16 RBIs in 15 games for Monclova, he only hit .219 over the remaining 26 games of the regular season for the Tigres, although he did rap four homers.  The second season is going better for Rodriguez, as he's showing a .333 average with seven homers and 21 ribbies in 26 games in what has to be shaping up to be a frustrating season for the proud veteran.

Despite that loss to Quintana Roo, things have gone much better for Leon, who now lead the LMB South with a 13-9 record despite losing two of three games in Yucatan over the weekend.  The Bravos sit a game-and-a-half ahead of streaking Puebla, winners of their past six games after series sweeps over Campeche at home and at Tabasco last week to lift their season mark to 12-11. Third place in the South is jointly held by Oaxaca and Yucatan at 12-12.  Monclova continues to lead the North with an MXL-best 18-6 register despite the unexpected departure of new manager Carlos Garcia and arrival of new skipper Pedro Mere, who was jettisoned by Tijuana between seasons (more on that below).  The Toros are tied with surprising Dos Laredos for second with identical 15-9 records, followed by Aguascalientes and defending North champ Monterrey, who share the fourth slot at 13-11.

Change continues at the top of the batting race list, with Campeche outfielder Asael Sanchez becoming the latest LMB leader with a .442 average, one point ahead of Yucatan infielder Everth Cabrera.  A 31-year-old Nicaraguan who played 300 games for San Diego between 2012 and 2014, Cabrera is having a good 2018 for the Leones after hitting .330 in 29 games for the Spring pennant-winners after landing in Merida following an April 24 swap with Union Laguna.  Monclova's Cesar Tapia rapped a homer against Tijuana Sunday to take the Liga lead with eight homers, breaking a tie with Quintana Roo's Rodriguez, Felix Perez of Aguascalientes and Laguna's Viosergy Rosa, who joined the Algodoneros a month into the Spring season after being selected a 2017 postseason All-Star in the AA Texas League for the Athletics' Midland affiliate.  The RBI leader is Delmon Young, a one-time American League Championship Series MVP for Detroit in 2012, who's driven in 32 runs for Puebla in 23 games.  Ex-Cubs outfielder Tony Campana still leads in stolen bases with 15 swipes in 17 attempts.

Brazilian Andre Rienzo pitched five scoreless innings for Monclova against Tijuana Saturday to lower his LMB-leading ERA to 0.39.  A 12th-year pro who was selected for the 2015 AAA All-Star Game as a member of the Marlins' New Orleans affiliate, Rienzo has gone 2-0 in five starts since joining the Acereros as a free agent on July 3.  Three pitchers have four wins apiece to top the MXL: Mexico City's Patrick Johnson, Carlos Chavez of Aguascalientes and Dos Laredos hurler Alex Sanabia, who was loaned to the Tecolotes by Tijuana last Friday, perhaps as part of the transaction that sent recalcitrant shortstop Amadeo Zazueta to the Toros after Zazueta refused to report to Nuevo Laredo.  Enrique Oquendo's 34 strikeouts are six ahead of the Rieleros' Chavez in the strikeout race while Josh Lueke of Monclova and Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo are tied for the lead in saves with eight apiece.

Monclova will open a series at Monterrey Tuesday in a midweek series pitting two of the top teams in the LMB North.  The Sultanes will remain at home in Estadio Monterrey for an important weekend series against surprising Dos Laredo, who've risen to contention in the North with a 15-9 record under new manager Felix Fermin.


GARCIA OUT, MERE IN AS MONCLOVA MANAGER

New Monclova Acereros manager Pedro Mere
When former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Carlos Garcia was appointed to replace Dan Firova as manager in Monclova for the Acereros' Fall season, owner Gerardo Benavides' thinking may have been that the 1994 National League All-Star would somehow translate his own playing success into Monclova's first-ever Mexican League pennant.  The early returns under Garcia were certainly promising enough, as the Steelers won 14 of 19 games out the gate to take the lead in the LMB North standings with the best record in the Liga at that time.  Then he was gone.

The Acereros front office issued a press release last Thursday stating that the 50-year-old Garcia had left the club for personal reasons, but offered no specifics, only the usual platitudes including "appreciation of your support and professionalism and best wishes in you next project" that seem to pop up whenever a Mexican baseball manager is let go.  Following his 2001 retirement as a player from a career during which he hit .266 with 33 homers over ten MLB seasons (including a .277 average during his 1994 All-Star campaign), Garcia held a number of coaching and managing jobs over the years, serving as a coach with the Seattle Mariners between 2003 and 2005 under helmsman Bob Melvin and managing in the Pirates system between 2011 and 2014.  He had been hired as a batting coach for the Acereros under Firova prior to the Spring 2018 season.

Garcia's replacement in Monclova is Pedro Mere, who was fired in Tijuana following the Spring season after the Toros finished second in the LMB North with a 33-23 record before falling to Monterrey in the division playoff finals.  Mere led the Bulls to their first pennant last summer for his first full year in the border city's managerial chair after taking Tijuana to the Serie del Rey in 2016, having taken over the reins of the team in June of that year.  His overall record with the Toros was 132-68, a winning percentage of .660.  Mere also managed the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila for parts of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, going 28-24.  He succeeded Orlando Merced during the 2012 season and piloted the Eagle Reds, a team first formed in 1903, to the city's sixth and final MXL pennant before the franchise was moved to Nuevo Laredo last winter.

Prior to his ascension to the bench boss job in Tijuana last year, Mere had a remarkable winterball run managing the Las Tuxtlas Brujos of the now-disbanded Veracruz Winter League, winning six pennants in seven seasons between 2008-09 and 2014-15, winning the 2013 Latin American Series in Veracruz as well.  A native Veracruzano himself who turned 48 on July 15, Mere spent 22 summers as an infielder for seven Mexican League teams between 1989 and  2009, batting .280 with 179 homers over 2,119 games. 


MEXICO ENDS DISAPPOINTING COLOMBIA TRIP WITH 3-4 RECORD

Mexico's National Baseball Team split their final four games at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia to conclude an underwhelming performance in a tournament for which they'd been expected to contend for a gold medal.  Some of the resulting fallout has included questions of whether most Mexican League teams had withheld their top players while sending relative roster flotsam-and-jetsam instead.

After starting out by dropping two of their first three games to quickly drop down the standings for the eight-nation field, the Verdes Grande fell to 2-4 by losing a 7-1 decision to Puerto Rico last Wednesday at Estadio Edgar Renteria.  Luis Juarez went 2-for-4 and scored Mexico's only run in the second inning to give them an early lead while Jose Alvarez added a pair of hits, but the Puerto Ricans took the lead with three runs off Mexican starting pitcher Jesus Soto in the bottom of the third and added three more in the fifth to essentially salt the game away.  Soto took the loss, giving up six runs in four innings of work.

Mexico then suffered a surprising 5-2 loss Wednesday to Panama, a country whose baseball has not been considered strong enough to send a team to the Caribbean Series for decades.  Sebastian Valle singled and doubled to join Alvarez and Paul Leon as Mexican batsmen with two hits, but the Panamanians broke a 2-2 tie with three runs in the top of the seventh against starter Javier Solano and two relievers and went on to post the win.  Solano gave up four runs on seven hits over 6.1 frames for the loss as the only fully-professional baseball team in Colombia saw their record bottom out at 1-4.

Manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' men finally gained a measure of success by winning their final two games, starting Friday with a 3-0 shutout of Venezuela.  Jose Samayoa went seven strong innings, striking out nine batters and walking two, to post the combined three-hitter with Aaron Kurcz, who pitched hitless ball over the final two entradas.  Juarez paced the winner with a double and a pair of singles, scoring one run and driving in another.

The Mexicans wrapped up their schedule Sunday with a 3-2 win over the Dominican Republic.  Leo Heras keyed the winners' seven-hit attack with a double and two singles, scoring twice.  Jesus Soto started his second game and had a better outing, allowing two runs on six hits over 4.1 innings, but the win went to Octavio Acosta, who let up just one single in 3.1 frames of work out of the bullpen. 

Puerto Rico and Cuba both finished the round-robin tournament with identical 5-2 records, with the Boricuans awarded the gold medal by virtue of their 8-1 win over the Cubanos on July 22.  Both teams qualified for net year's Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.  Host Colombia came in at 4-3 to leapfrog over Caribbean Series nations Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to take the bronze medal.  Mexico finished tied for fourth with Venezuela, Panama and Nicaragua at 3-4 while the Dominicans brought up the rear with two wins in seven outings.

Recrimination of the Mexican contingent was swift back home, with fans and columnists criticizing both the Mexican League and president Javier Salinas for not ensuring that a top-notch team represented the country in Colombia.  One notable exception was the Yucatan Leones, who sent catcher Valle, outfielder Heras, designated hitter Juarez and pitchers Samayoa and Alejandro Soto, all starters for the defending MXL champions.  The Leones went 4-6 in their absence.

Monday, July 23, 2018

TJ WINS 8 STRAIGHT TO TIE MONCLOVA IN LMB NORTH

Tijuana Toros pitcher Hector Ambriz
The Tijuana Toros have reeled off eight consecutive wins (and 9 of their past 10 games) to pull into a dead heat with Monclova atop the Mexican League North Division standings.  The Toros overcame a 6-3 deficit to pull out a 7-6 home victory over former LMB South leader Oaxaca at Estadio Gasmart on Sunday.  The Toros scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to knot the contest up at 6-6 and finally took the lead one frame later when an errant pickoff attempt by Guerreros reliever Luis Vasquez allowed Isaac Rodriguez to streak in from third base with the eventual game-winning run.  Daniel Moskos then came in from the TJ bullpen and recorded a 1-2-3 ninth on nine pitches to seal the triumph and secure the Toros' second straight series sweep after new manager Lino Rivera's men took three games from visiting Puebla in a midweek series on the border.

While the Toros have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team thus far in the LMB's Fall season, the pitching staff has been solid, turning in a 3.04 ERA over Tijuana's 14-4 start to trail only North co-leader Monclova's 2.83 mark among the Liga's 16 teams.  It's been a true staff effort, as the highest-ranking Toros starterer among ERA leaders is 0-1 Hector Ambriz, a former MLBer who's 20th at 3.38 after three starts.  Former MLBer Tom Wilhelmsen leads the squad with five saves in eight outing, although his own 3.86 ERA is a bit higher than the rest of the team.  Wilhelmsen hasn't pitched since earning a save against Spring champ Yucatan in Merida on Sunday, July 15 after joining the team just before the opening of the MXL's second season, but is still listed on the Toros' active roster.  For his part, Moskos has been unscored upon in 10.1 innings over 11 appearances while fellow reliever Jesus Pirela has a 1.74 ERA out of the bullpen.  Centerfielder Justin Greene's .411 average is fifth in the league batting race and leftfielder Junior Lake, a newcomer who came from Leon in exchange for reliever Cesar Carrillo on July 10, is among the circuit's leaders with 16 runs over 16 games despite a .220 average.

Meanwhile, in the LMB South, Lake's former Bravos teammates have won six in a row to surge into the division lead with a 10-6 record, one game up on equally-surprising Campeche (10-8).  There'll be a guest story below on Leon's comeback win over Union Laguna Sunday, but skipper Luis Rivera's men moved up the ladder by virtue of home series sweeps over Durango and the Algodoneros last week while last Monday's leader Oaxaca fell to the mythical BBM curse by being swept in road sets at Monterrey and Tijuana after being our headline story (the pressure no doubt got to the Guerreros). 

The Bravos have shown a nice balance between batting and pitching thus far.  Centerfielder Eduardo Arredondo is batting .396 to rank eighth in the batting derby and Felix Pie, a former MLB outfielder, has a .317 average, but Leon is fourth (.296) in the MXL through a team effort at the plate.  Starter Dustin Crenshaw, who went from Laguna to Quintana Roo before arriving in Leon in March after being released by the Tigres, leads the mound staff with a 2.55 ERA to augment his 2-0 record.  Recent arrival Joe Colon, who pitched for Cleveland's 2016 American League champions, has yet to allow a run in eight outings and has four saves to show for it since coming to the Guanajuato team on July 5.

Quintana Roo third baseman Brian Hernandez leads the LMB with a .452 average, Monclova's Cesar Tapia is tops with seven homers after knocking out a longball Sunday against Campeche, Eric Aguilera of Union Laguna has 22 RBIs to lead Felix Perez (Aguascalientes) and Ricardo Serrano (Yucatan) by one and Perez' Rieleros mate Tony Campana heads the stolen bases list with ten.  Josh Lowey (Monclova) has been joined by Acereros reliever Carlos Fisher, Tiago da Silva (Durango) and Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey) as three-game winners.  Another Monclova hurler, Andre Rienzo, has an Liga-best 0.49 ERA in four starts, Puebla's Enrique Oquendo has the most strikeouts with 28 in 20.2 innings and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey has eight saves to top that list.

The biggest midweek series of the MXL will commence Tuesday when Monterrey (11-7) visits Monclova (14-4), followed by a big one between the Acereros and Tijuana (14-4) at Estadio Monclova next Friday through Sunday.


GUEST GAME STORY: LEON TAKES 10-8 WIN OVER LAGUNA

Bob Broughton is a Canadian expat now living in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.  Bob is a baseball nut who oversees the CourtesyRunner.com website, which is primarily devoted to NAIA college baseball but also has included stories on the Caribbean Series and his adopted Mexican League team, the Leon Bravos.  It's a good, lively site worth looking at.  The following is his writeup of Sunday's exciting 10-8 Bravos win over visiting Union Laguna in which Leon maintained first place in the LMB South:

Leon Bravos outfielder Felix Pie
The Bravos de León (10-6) defeated the Algodoneros (Cotton Farmers) de Unión Laguna (7-11) 10-8 at Estadio Domingo Santana in León on July 22. This was the Bravos' sixth straight win, and they are in first place in the South Division of the Mexican League.
The game was scoreless for the first three innings, with the Bravos getting a double play in the top of the third inning, and leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the third. The shutout ended with an RBI single by 3B Eudor Garcia in the top of the fourth, and his single loaded the bases with nobody out. Bravos starter RHP Eder Llamas struck out the next batter, and the following batter hit a ground ball that resulted in a force out at home. Llamas was relieved by RHP Marco Quevedo, and he was greeted by a grand slam home run by CF Jonathan Jones. The Algodoneros added another run in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by C Daniel Mercado. They led 6-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, and it looked like the Bravos' winning streak was coming to an end.

The Bravos ended the shutout in the bottom of the sixth when LF Felix Pie scored on a ground out by DH Julio Perez. The next batter, 3B Joe Munoz, hit an RBI single. Munoz was followed by C Israel Nunez, who hit a single (good dive into first base), putting runners on first and second. Algodoneros starter RHP Saul Castellanos was relieved by LHP Roman Pena, and Pena got out of the inning with two fly outs.

Pena was relieved by RHP Humberto Montiel in the bottom of the seventh, and all hell broke loose. 2B Niko Vasquez got it started by reaching on an error, then scored on a single by CF Cedric Hunter. Hunter stole second on a call that was reviewed, but the next batter, Pie, hit a home run, and the score was 6-4. Montiel was relieved by RHP Alejandro Chavarria (Indio, CA) without recording an out. Chavarria walked the first batter he faced, and the second one, Perez, reached on an error. Munoz bunted the runners to second and third, and Nunez hit a double to bring them home. The next batter, SS Marco Jaime (Phoenix, AZ), hit another double to score Nunez, and the Bravos led 7-6. Chavarria was relieved by RHP Jose Barajas, and the only out recorded by Chavarria was the bunt by Munoz. Barajas was greeted with an RBI double by 1B Eduardo Arredondo. Vasquez flied out for the second out of the inning, and Hunter hit a single for his second RBI of the inning. Barajas struck out Pie to end the inning, with the Bravos leading 10-6.
The Algodoneros got within striking distance in the top of the eighth with a two-run home run by Mercado. The Bravos responded by sending in LHP Marco Ramirez. He recorded two ground outs and a strikeout to end the inning. He started the top of the ninth with a ground out and a walk. Another ground out put a runner on second, and a passed ball put him on third. Another walk put the tying run on first, and the Bravos bullpen was busy. However, Garcia flied out to end the game.

RHP Ulises Lopez, who recorded the final out of the seventh and gave up the home run by Mercado, got the win. Chavarria got the loss. Nunez, the ninth hitter in the batting order, finished 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Arredondo finished 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI. For the Algodoneros, Garcia finished 3-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and three runs scored.
Jones (Vacaville, CA) played college ball at Long Beach State, was in the Blue Jays organization 2010-14. Garcia (El Paso, TX) was a JUCO All-American at El Paso CC, was a fourth round draft pick by the Mets in 2014. He was in the Mets organization through 2017. Castellanos (Jalostotitlan, Jalisco) was in the Dodgers organization 2015-2017. Pena (San Diego, CA) was drafted in the ninth round by the Indians in 2005, was in the Indians organization through 2010. Barajas (Las Vegas, NV) was in the Orioles organization 2008-10.
Pie (La Romana, Dominican Republic) played 425 Major League games, for the Cubs in 2007-08, the Orioles in 2009-11, and the Pirates in 2013. He had a career batting average of .246. Munoz (Hacienda Heights, CA) was drafted in the second round by the Diamondbacks in 2012, was in the Diamondbacks organization through 2016. Vasquez (Oxnard, CA) was drafted in the third round by the Cardinals in 2008, was in the Cardinals organization through 2012, then the Reds organization in 2012. Hunter (Decatur, GA) was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft by the Padres, played in six Major league games for the Padres in 2011, and 13 games for the Phillies in 2016. Lopez (Cananea, Sonora) played college ball at Central Oklahoma, played some independent league ball and played in Australia.
The third base umpire for the game was Luz Gordoa, the first female umpire in the Mexican League.


MEXICO OPENS 1-2 AT CENTRAL AMERICAN & CARIBBEAN GAMES

Mexico's Octavio Acosta pitching to Nicaraguan batter 
The Mexican National Team was expected to have a fairly easy go of things at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.  After all, manager Enrique "Che" Reyes had the only fully professional team in the baseball portion of the event (although Cuba typically sends teams of top "amateurs" to such tournaments) and it was thought they'd make short work of the eight-team field.

Instead, the Verdes Grande dropped their first two games before picking up a Sunday win to end the weekend at 1-2 with four games to play.  The Mexicans opened play last Friday with a 5-0 shutout loss to Cuba as veteran Lazaro Blanco combined with two relievers on a four-hitter.  Alan Espinoza had two of Mexico's hits with a single and double but starter Javier Solano was roughed up for all five Cuban runs on ten hits over 4.2 innings before being replaced by David Reyes as 2,500 looked on at Estadio Edgar Renteria.

Losing to Cuba can't be considered a shocker but Saturday's 9-1 defeat at the hands of host Colombia can.  Mexico actually had a 1-0 lead until the Colombians tied the score in the bottom of the fifth inning as starter Jose Samayoa was cruising along, but Samayoa and his teammates suffered a nightmarish sixth as Colombia posted five runs to take a 6-1 lead.  The home side plated another three tallies in the eighth on a bases-loaded single by Cristian Cano to put the game away for good.  Mexico's seven hits on the day were recorded by as many players, with Alberto Carreon and Luis Juarez each rapping doubles, but Sebastian Valle's RBI single in the top of the fourth brought in the only Mexican run of the night as 10,000 mostly-Colombian spectators were sent home happy.

Mexico finally broke into the win column Sunday by topping Nicaragua, 5-0, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first and never looking back.  Amadeo Zazueta and Jose Alvarez both singled and doubled for the winners while Ricardo Rodriguez had two singletons, but it was Octavio Acosta's solid 5.1 innings on the mound that set the tone for what ended up as a three-hitter shared among Acosta (who got the win) and three relievers.  After Saturday's great crowd, only 800 hearty souls showed up for this one in Barranquilla. 

Mexico's four remaining round-robin games will come Tuesday against Puerto Rico, Wednesday against Panama, Friday against Venezuela and Sunday against the Dominican Republic.  Puerto Rico has a 2-0 record, including an unexpected 8-1 win over Cuba, to lead the standings along with 2-0 Colombia, who preceded their win over Mexico with a 3-1 triumph over Nicaragua. 

There was a controversy before the tournament when two-time Mexican League MVP Jesse Castillo was dropped from the Mexican roster without explanation.  Initially it was thought that Castillo's LMB team in Monclova refused to allow him to make the trip to Colombia, but Castillo himself said that was not the case and all but dared Liga president Javier Salinas to give the real reason why.  Castillo was suspected by some to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but that contention has not as yet been proven. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

OAXACA PULLS INTO LMB SOUTH LEAD

Oaxaca catcher Erick Rodriguez with Alfredo Harp Helu
While the Monclova Acereros continue to dominate the Mexican League North Division, the Oaxaca Guerreros have ascended to the rare air of first place in the LMB South after sweeping a three-game weekend series at home over Saltillo.

The Guerreros have traditionally been one of the Liga's weak sisters, winning just one pennant (in 1998) since their 1996 inception.  Oaxaca rarely qualifies for a playoff berth and when they have, it's usually led to an early exit as the Warriors have only advanced from the first round once since 2005.  The team finished last in the LMB South with a 22-35 record for the Spring 2018 season and little was expected going into the current Fall schedule under new manager Joe Alvarez, who replaced Jose Luis Sandoval at the helm during the break between seasons.

Instead, Alvarez has led the Guerreros to an 8-4 record two weeks into the Fall season, giving Oaxaca a one-game lead over defending champion Yucatan and Campeche (both are 7-5) and a three-game bulge over Tabasco, Puebla and Leon, who are tied for fourth at 5-6.  The Guerreros capped their sweep of Saltillo with an 8-3 win Sunday after trailing 2-0 in the second inning.  The Guerreros reached Saraperos starting pitcher Arnold Leon for six runs on nine hits before Leon was yanked three batters into the fourth without retiring a batsman.  Jaime Brena had two singles, driving in a pair of runs and scoring once to lead Oaxaca's 14-hit attack as every Guerreros starter recorded at least one hit.  Angel Castro got the win after allowing three Saltillo runs in six frames as 2,885 watched at Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.

Oaxaca has shown well early with decent work in both hitting (a team .295 average, sixth in the LMB) and pitching (a 3.91 ERA, good for seventh in the circuit).  The batting order has been led by 38-year-old catcher Erick Rodriguez, a six-time All-Star who was MVP of the 2015 game.  Now in his 18th season of wearing a Guerreros jersey, Rodriguez is hitting a robust .438 over 10 games to trail only Campeche outfielder Azael Sanchez (.500) and Yucatan shortstop Everth Cabrera (.460) in the early stages of the batting race.  Another longtime LMB vet, first baseman Adan Munoz, is batting .356 while former Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara is third on the Guerreros with a .314 mark.  Among pitchers, Irwin Delgado is 2-0 after three starts with a 1.59 that ranks eighth in the MXL and Castro's Sunday win over Saltillo gives him a 2-0 record, although his ERA rose to 2.37.  Closer Josh Judy (3.60), who came to Oaxaca from Tabasco last winter, has three saves in five outings.  While it would be unlikely to see the Guerreros remain at the top of the South standings, Alvarez has his players believing for now and fans in Mexico can at least hope to see someone new in the playoffs when the postseason arrives in September.

As mentioned, Monclova is pulling away in the LMB North with an 11-1 record.  The Acereros finally lost a game after winning their first seven, a 6-4 home defeat to Leon last Wednesday despite back-to-back fourth inning homers from Francisco Peguero and Cesar Tapia and a fifth inning solo shot by Jose Flores off Bravos starter Dustin Crenshaw.  The Steelers bounced back to win the rubber match with Leon before sweeping a three-game weekend set against Mexico City at home.   Peguero and teammate Rudy Amador are tied for fourth in the MXL bat derby with identical .432 averages and top pitcher Josh Lowey tops the loop in wins with a 3-0 record, although Lowey's 4.00 ERA is a bit high (for him) and his 17 strikeouts in 18 innings only ranks fifth.  New manager Carlos Garcia, who was brought in after Dan Firova was canned last month, has to be in the good graces of Acereros management for the time being, but volatile owner Gerardo Benavides has pretty much shown that nothing short of a pennant for his hometown team will satisfy him.  We'll check on Garcia's status when the playoffs are done.

While Campeche's Sanchez sits atop the batting table (that .500 average is likely to drop at some time), Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez has swatted six homers in nine games to take the lead in that category after going deep in all three games at Yucatan over the weekend as the Leones won twice.  Aguascalientes first baseman Felix Perez is tops in RBIs with 19 after 12 games.  A former Reds farmhand, Perez hit 40 homers in three seasons for Monterrey before being sent to the Rieleros prior to the Spring 2018 campaign, during which he hit 15 longballs to lead the MXL.  Another Aguascalientes newcomer, former Cubs outfielder Tony Campana, leads in stolen bases with nine swipes in ten attempts.

Among pitchers, Monclova's Lowey's three wins tops the MXL, one more than ten other hurlers with two wins each.  Tabasco's Adrian Garza has yet to allow a run after two starts and 11 innings while Andre Rienzo of Monclova has an 0.59 ERA in three starts and 15.1 frames.  Oaxaca's Castro and Enrique Oquendo of Puebla are tied for the lead in strikeouts with 22 apiece.  The early saves leader is former Mariners closer Tom "The Bartender" Wilhelmsen, now toiling for Tijuana.  The Tucson native, who pitched last summer for the Diamondbacks before sitting out the 2018 season until signing with the Toros for the Fall schedule, has five saves in eight trips from the bullpen.

The top upcoming midweek series appears to be in Monterrey, where the defending LMB North champs take a 6-6 record into a home series against 8-4 Oaxaca starting Tuesday.  The marquee weekend matchup will see the Guerreros' road trip take them to Tijuana, where they'll face a Toros team opening the week with an 8-4 ledger.  The six games will go a lot towards establishing whether Oaxaca is a genuine playoff contender or a pretender.  After the job manager Alvarez did with Durango last year, when the Generales played .500 ball for a month on the road before their first home game, one shouldn't count out the Guerreros just yet.


MEXICAN NATIONALS TOP COLOMBIA IN PRE-GAMES TUNEUP

Mexican Nationals celebrate Saturday win over Colombia
The Mexican National Team scored four runs in both the third and sixth innings Sunday and went on to beat Colombia, 8-3, at Estadio Monterrey in the second of a two-game tuneup series prior to the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games, set to open later this week in Barranquilla, Colombia.  Mexico also won Saturday's opener in Monterrey, 8-7.

The Colombians led the second game early when a solo homer by Edwin Pomare gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage in the second inning.  However, Mexican starter Javier Solano settled down after that in an outing in which he earned the win by going four frames and allowing the lone run while scattering six hits and striking out three.  A Ricky Alvarez groundout in the bottom of the third brought in Amadeo Zazueta from third with the tying run and manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' squad plated three more tallies before being retired to take a lead they'd never relinquish.

Saturday's opener between the two countries ended up being much closer by the end as Colombia roughed up Mexico reliever Juan Noriega for five runs in the eighth inning, with Gerson Jimenez socking a grand slam and Pomare contributed a solo shot, but the host's lead proved insurmountable to the visitors as Raul Barron hurled a scoreless ninth for the save.  Mexican starter Jose Samayoa went four innings for the win, giving up no runs on three hits with three strikeouts.  Amadeo Zazueta and Christian Zazueta each drove in a pair of runs for the victors, with Christian Zazueta belting a fifth-inning homer (the only roundtripper for Mexico in the two games).

Following Sunday's contest, Reyes told the press, "After these two games, I see that the Mexican team is ready for the Central American Games.  We just have to fine-tune some details and be prepared."  Mexico's opening game is slated for Thursday when they face Cuba, with Solano penciled in by Reyes as his starter.  Mexico will reportedly be the only country in the baseball competition to bring professional players to Barranquilla.


ENSENADA SEEKS TOP LNM PLAYOFF SEED, REPEAT PENNANT

Ensenada Marineros infielder Edgar Duran
The Ensenada Marineros have a 26-13 record to top the Northern Mexico League second standings with nine games remaining in the regular season, hoping to make a clean sweep of both halves for the defending Liga Norte champions and the top seed for the upcoming playoffs.  Managed by former MLB catcher Geronimo Gil, the Marineros have a comfortable five-game lead over San Quintin and Caborca, who are 21-18, heading into a three-game home series against Puerto Penasco opening Tuesday night.  Ensenada will close out the schedule with road series at Tecate (July 20-22) and Puerto Penasco (July 24-26) before the playoffs open.  The Marineros won the LNM's first half title and the accompanying eight points by finishing 26-20.

Ensenada is led offensively by infielder Edgar Duran, whose .353 average is third in the LNM behind Caborca's Edgard Enrique Munoz (.363) and Josuan Hernandez (.359) of San Luis.  Among offensive leaders in the Liga Norte is longtime minor league infielder Jermy Acey of Puerto Penasco, who has 14 homers to lead Osniel Maderas of San Quintin by two.  Acey spent three years in the Blue Jays system between 2003 and 2005 before embarking on a 13-year odyssey that's taken him to independent leagues across the globe along with Mexican League stints in Minatitlan, Tabasco and Veracruz as well as an 11-game run with Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League last winter, hitting .175 for the Yaquis.  Caborca's Munoz tops the Liga Norte with 82 runs scored and a remarkable 19 triples (his nearest competitors have five three-baggers) and San Quintin's Maderas is first with 77 RBIs. 

Santiago Valdez of San Quintin has a 10-2 record to lead Liga Norte pitchers in wins despite a 4.24 ERA that won't impress many.  That's a category led by Caborca's Misael Silverio, whose 1.71 ERA augments his 8-2 record after 17 starts.  Silverio's Rojos moundmate, Jorge Luis Castillo, has the most strikeouts with a dominant 123 whiffs over just 96 innings, or 12.7 K's per nine innings.  Castillo is 6-1 in 14 starts.  Among LNM closers, San Quintin's Luis Castillo tops the table with 19 saves, two more than Ensenada's Luis Ramirez.

The Northern Mexico League consists of six teams with players and coaches supplied by two Mexican League teams apiece, and is considered the top Class AA league within the country's baseball system.  The current incarnation of the LNM was formed in 2012 after a split amongst teams from the states of Sonora and Baja California.  Ensenada won the pennant last year (its first since 2012) by defeating the San Luis Algodoneros in seven games in the league championship series.  The Marineros are co-affiliated with the LMB's Mexico City Diablos and Oaxaca Guerreros, who themselves are both owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu.

Monday, July 9, 2018

ACEREROS WIN FIRST SIX, DIABLOS TAKE SOUTH LEAD

Monclova Acereros ace Josh Lowey
The Monclova Acereros have won the first six games of their Fall 2018 schedule to take a two-game lead over second place Union Laguna in the Mexican League's North Division.  Under new manager Carlos Garcia, a former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star, the Steelers opened the Second Season last Tuesday with a 23-2 drubbing of the Dos Laredos Tecolotes at home as two-time MVP Jesse Castillo went 3-for-3 with six RBIs, including a three-run homer off Juan Antonio Pena to key a six-run fifth inning.  The Acereros scored a 5-2 victory one night later in front of over 8,000 onlookers at Laredo's Uni-Trade Stadium, with Cesar Tapia's three-run longball in the top of the first giving the visitors a lead they'd never relinquish.  The series shifted back to Estadio Monclova to conclude the unusual home-and-home-and-home set for a 6-5 Steelers comeback triumph.  The game swung on an unusual play in the bottom of the eighth.  With one out and runners on second and third, Tecos catcher Juan Apodaca dropped a swinging third strike pitch from Fernando Nieve to Cade Gotta, then threw the ball past first baseman Matt Clark (who was dealt to Dos Laredos by Puebla before the start of the Fall schedule) and into right field, scoring Rudy Amador with the tying run and Fernando Perez with the eventual game-winner.

Then it was off to Saltillo and a three-game sweep of the Saraperos, capped by a 7-3 Monclova win Sunday as Francisco Peguero stroked three singles and a double, scored one run and drove in another to support starter Josh Lowey, who won his second game within a week despite a tepid outing of six innings in which he allowed three runs on eight hits.  Second-place Laguna kept pace Sunday with a 2-0 shutout in Monterrey as Leuris Gomez and two Algodoneros relievers combined to scatter nine hits in the whitewash to rise to 4-2 but the week in the LMB North clearly belonged to the Acereros.  In the South,  the Mexico City Diablos Rojos won four of their first five contests to take a half-game lead over defending champion Yucatan in the standings.  The Diablos won their first four games of the Fall before losing a 3-2 home game to Oaxaca on Saturday as the Guerreros' Alejandro Ortiz scored the game-winner on an Alan Sanchez sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth.

Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle is the early batting race leader with a .571 average following an 8-for-14 week while Oaxaca's Erick Rodriguez and Michael Wing of Aguascalientes are tied for second at .536.  Wing's Rieleros teammate Carlos Rodriguez tops the loop with four homers while Castillo and Peguero of Monclova both have 12 RBIs to head that list and Leon outfielder Junior Lake's four steals are the most.   Monclova ace Lowey is the only two-game winner despite an ERA of 4.91 while unsurprisingly leading the MXL with 15 strikeouts.  Several pitchers have 0.00 ERAs, with Ruddy Acosta of Oaxaca's 6.2 innings in one start the most frames among them.  Laguna closer Maikal Cleto has four saves, two more than his nearest competitors.

If having a second 57-game season was league president Javier Salinas' idea to boost interest in cities whose teams might've been also-rans by July under the traditional 114-game schedule, that may not be how it's turning out.  Tijuana has drawn 32,809 fans in three openings but only 6,423 on Sunday while Dos Laredos did draw 8,136 in the Tecos' lone home game against Monclova last week but some teams are already struggling at the gate, none more than Campeche.  The Piratas drew gatherings of fewer than 800 for each of three games in a series against Tabasco last week.  Attendance picked up at Estadio Nelson Barrera for a weekend set with the nearby Yucatan Leones to bring Campeche's average to a tick above 1,000 per night, but the second season is not selling either there or in places like Leon, Tabasco or Aguascalientes, all of whom are averaging less than 2,000 thus far.


MEXICAN NATIONALS READYING FOR GAMES IN COLOMBIA


Mexican Nationals shortstop Amadeo Zazueta
The Mexican National Team roster is being prepared for the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games, to be held from July 20 through 29 in Colombia.  Mexican manager Enrique "Che" Reyes will take a squad of 24 Mexican League players to South America and Puro Beisbol reports that some adjustments have been made in the makeup of the team, who will report to Monterrey for training Thursday.

According to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, changes include Campeche shortstop Paul Leon replacing Monterrey third baseman Agustin Murillo, Yucatan's Leo Heras taking the place of Mexico City's Jesus Fabela in the outfield and pitchers Pedro Villarreal (Tijuana), Aaron Kurcz (also Tijuana) and David Reyes (Mexico City) are in while Ivan Salas (Campeche), Aldo Montes (Saltillo) and Irwin Delgado (Oaxaca) are out.  Assuming those changes will be later verified, Mexico's roster tentatively looks like this:

PITCHERS (12):  Octavio Acosta (Mexico City), Raul Barron (Quintana Roo), Jesus Castillo (Monterrey), Aaron Kurcz (Tijuana), Juan Noriega (Monclova), Brandon Quintero (Aguascalientes), David Reyes (Mexico City), Jose Samayoa (Yucatan), Nathaniel Santiago (Mexico City), Javier Solano (Quintana Roo), Alejandro Soto (Leon), Pedro Villarreal (Tijuana).
CATCHERS (2):  Alan Espinosa (Dos Laredos), Sebastian Valle (Yucatan).
INFIELDERS (6):  Alberto Carreon (Puebla), Jesse Castillo (Monclova), Luis Juarez (Yucatan), Paul Leon (Campeche), Javier Salazar (Durango), Amadeo Zazueta (Dos Laredos).
OUTFIELDERS (4):  Ricky Alvarez (Monterrey), Edson Garcia (Aguascalientes), Leo Heras (Yucatan), Christian Zazueta (Satillo).

The above roster included decent starting pitchers in Acosta, Reyes, Samayoa, Solano and Soto, a catcher in Valle who seems to rise to the occasion and a solid infield but so-so outfield.  The most intriguing name on the list is Amadeo Zazueta, who was sent in short order from Leon back to Monclova after the Bravos reportedly failed to make a payment to Zazueta's rights-owners in Monclova, who then shipped him to Dos Laredos for pitcher Jose Pina.  Zazueta has thus far declined to report to the Tecos after batting .356 for Leon in the Spring season, but has apparently agreed to suit up for the Verdes Grande in Colombia.

The Central American and Caribbean Games are a multisport event similar to the Olympics held every four years, the last occurring in 2014 in Veracruz.  This will mark the 23rd time the Games have been held since its 1926 inception in Mexico City and athletes from 37 countries participating in 40 sports will converge on Barranquilla, Colombia in less than two weeks.  The 2022 games are scheduled to be held in Panama.


DIABLOS-GUERREROS WIN 4TH STRAIGHT ACADEMIA AA CROWN


MVP/prospects Abraham Felix (l) and Luis Garcia
The combined team of young players from the mutually-owned Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros have won their fourth consecutive pennant in the Liga Academia's Class AA spring schedule, played entirely on the Mexican League Academy grounds near Monterrey.  The Diablos-Guerreros ran away with the pennant by turning in a 42-11 record to finish 12 games ahead of second place finishers Quintana Roo-Campeche and Aguascalientes-Durango, who both came in with 29-24 marks.  In all, eight teams co-owned by all 16 LMB franchises completed a schedule that opened in March and concluded on June 10, when the final week of the campaign was cancelled after it became apparent who was going to win the championship.  No playoffs were held.

The Diablos-Guerreros were led by a trio of batters who hit .333 or better during the season:  Andres Moreno (.339), Roberto Mendez (.333) and Luis Paez (.333).  Erubiel Armenta led the team with four homers and 33 RBIs in 40 games.  Starter Esteban Bloch (5-1) and swingman Roberto Hernandez (5-0) tied for the Diablos-Guerreros lead in wins.  Rodriguez had a team-high 36 strikeouts in 33.2 innings while Bloch only gave up three earned runs over 37 frames for a microscopic 0.73 ERA.  Yucatan prospect Abraham Tadeo Felix and Leon pitching aspirant Luis Roberto Garcia were named Players of the Year.  Felix hit .415 with three homers and 33 RBIs for the Leones-Algodoneros while Garcia ws accorded honors despite only two starts, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 12 innings.  Guess you had to be there. 

The so-called Liga Doble A consists of prospects who have already played an Academy Rookie League season during the winter months.  Although the spring loop is given a AA designation within Mexican baseball, the reality is that it's more of a Class A circuit and not on an equal footing to the North Mexico League, which is also considered Class AA south of the border but contains more veterans than the Academy loop with players far more likely to get called up to the MXL during the season.  The Academy itself opened in 1996 under the leadership of the late Alejo Peralta, who owned the Mexico Tigres franchise from its 1955 inception until his death in 1997.

Monday, July 2, 2018

LEONES TOP SULTANES IN 7 FOR SPRING '18 PENNANT

Yucatan Leones designated hitter Luis Juarez
Luis Juarez belted a two-run homer and Sebastian Valle cracked a solo shot to lead the Yucatan Leones to a 4-3 win over the Monterrey Sultanes last Thursday in Merida to win Game Seven of the Mexican League's Serie del Rey championship series for their Spring 2018 season.  With their win in front of 14,372 fans at a nearly sold-out Parque Kukulcan, Yucatan copped their first LMB pennant since 2006 and fourth since the team's inception in 1954 (the current team is the third incarnation of the Leones).  Juarez was named Most Valuable Player of the finals.

The title set opened Wednesday, June 20 with a 6-1 Yucatan win at home as Juarez pounded a pair of homers, followed one night later by a 3-0 Yucatan shutout with Samayoa combining with three relievers for the whitewash.  The set shifted to Monterrey for the next three games, all won by the Sultanes: 9-2 on June 23 as the hosts posted a seven-run eighth inning to break a 2-all tie, a 4-3 Monterrey win on June 24 that featured a Yadir Drake solo homer and 3-1 on June 25 with starter Jose De Paula tossing 6.2 frames of one-run ball.  The series shifted back to Yucatan for Game Six last Wednesday, with the Leones posting a 4-2 triumph behind Everth Cabrera's tiebreaking double in the fifth as the home team won all seven games of the finals for the first time in Mexican League championship series history.

The Leones worked their way to the flag by posting a 40-17 regular season record to top the Liga before beating Leon in five games in the South Division semifinals and Quintana Roo over seven games in the rain-delayed South finals.  It was a typical Yucatan team built around pitching as the Lions led the 16-team circuit with a 3.95 earned-run average, with veterans Jonathan Castellanos (5-3, 2.43) and Jose Samayoa (6-4, 2.57) leading the mound staff while Yoanner Negrin coming in at 6-1 over elevens starts.  Negrin, the MXL's Pitcher of the Year in 2016, won Game Seven.  The Leones were in the middle of the pack offensively, although Juarez (.370 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs) and Jesus "Cacao" Valdez (.364/8/44) both enjoyed standout campaigns during the 57-game regular season under manager Roberto Vizcarra.  In his first season in Merida, Vizcarra earned the second title of his LMB managerial career after winning with Quintana Roo in 2015.

Monterrey reached the Serie del Rey by knocking out both Monclova and Tijuana in the LMB North semis and finals, respectively.  Both Sultanes series wins preceded the dismissal of manager Dan Firova from the Acereros and skipper Pedro Mere from the Toros.  For the Fall 2018 campaign, Monclova will be led by former MLB second baseman Carlos Garcia, who represented the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1994 All-Star Game; taking the reins in TJ will be longtime helmsman Lino Rivera, who led Yucatan to the 2006 pennant and has also been a dugout boss in Monclova, Monterrey, Veracruz, Laguna and Campeche.  The Sultanes were led offensively by Ramon Rios (.353), Yadir Drake (.341), Chris Roberson (.340) and Ricky Alvarez (.302/13/49) while first-year manager Roberto Kelly's pitching corps was paced by Liga ERA leader Jorge Reyes (3-0, 1.97 in nine starts), Game Seven loser Marco Tovar (6-2, 3.51) and closer Wirfin Obispo (3-2, 2.30 and 10 saves).

Players and coaches for both teams will barely have enough time to catch their breath until the Fall 2018 schedule gets underway Tuesday night when all 16 MXL teams swing into action for the second 57-game regular season campaign of the year.


SOUTH POUNDS NORTH, 10-2, IN LMB ALL-STAR GAME

LMB South All-Stars celebrate win
Parque Kukulcan in Merida was also the site of the 86th Mexican League All-Star Game, held one night after the conclusion of the hometown Yucatan Leones' 4-3 Serie del Rey Game Seven win over Monterrey.  The Southern Division squad led by Yucatan manager Roberto Vizcarra laid a 10-2 licking on Monterrey skipper Roberto Kelly's LMB North team in a game that received scant attention in the media.  We'll do our best here at BBM to give you a reasonable recap.

The South opened the scoring with four runs in the bottom of the second inning, highlighted by an RBI double from Quintana Roo's Carlos Gastelum and a run-scoring single by Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt.  The game was put away for all intent and purposes in the bottom of the fifth entrada, when the South put another six runs on the board, starting with a bases-loaded walk to Emmanuel Avila (Mexico City) and followed by an RBI single from Avila's Diablos Rojos teammate Ivan Terrazas and an extra-base hit by yet another Mexico City player, catcher Hans Wilson to make the score 10-0.

The North finally got on the scoreboard with a pair of runs in the eighth, when Felix Perez (Aguascalientes) stroked a double to plate Enrique Osorio (Dos Laredos) while Perez later scored himself on a Maxwell Leon (Tijuana) single but the Nortenos had dug themselves too deep a hole by then.  A total of 20 pitchers were trotted out by both teams in the contest (none for more than one inning), which still managed to get played in fewer than three hours despite all the changes.  One-time Florida Marlins All-Star Henderson Alvarez (Quintana Roo) was the starter for the South but the win was credited to Alvarez' Tigres moundmate Dustin Crenshaw.  Monclova ace Josh Lowey was tabbed by Kelly as the North starter but the loss was hung on Tijuana lefty Carlos Hernandez.  Not surprisingly, the South had more hits than the North, 14 to 6.

A crowd of 12,963 was on hand in Merida for the contest as Terrazas was named All-Star MVP after going 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and three more driven in (which doesn't necessarily jibe with the above scoring summary but we can only report on what we can find).  One night later, the Liga held its annual Home Run Derby and a new competition, the Double Play Derby.  Hometown favorite Luis Juarez, who'd already won the Serie del Rey MVP trophy two nights earlier for the Leones, was able to beat Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez in the Home Run Derby final round by a 10-to-1 margin.  Prior to that, Yucatan infielders Everth Cabrera and Diego Madera combined to win the Double Play Derby final over Monterrey keystone combo Ramiro Pena (SS) and Ramon Rios (2B) in a competition judged by points on speed and precision.  In addition, no less than 13 LMB team mascots took the field simultaneously to generally cavort around to the delight of youngsters in the stands while LMB awards from the 2017 season were handed out in a postgame ceremony.


LUIS SOJO NAMED NEW MANAGER IN MEXICALI

New Mexicali Aguilas manager Luis Sojo
The Mexican Pacific League's Mexicali Aguilas have named former New York Yankees infielder Luis Sojo as their manager for the 2018-19 season, taking over the helm from Pedro Mere.  Sojo last managed in the MexPac with the Los Mochis Caneros, who he led to a surprising appearance in the LMP championship series in 2016-17 before being jettisoned during the season last winter.

A native of Venezuela, Sojo debuted as an MLB player in 1993 with Toronto and went on to spend 13 seasons in the big leagues, winning one World Series with the Blue Jays his first year and four more times with the Yankees between 1996 and 2000, earning him the nickname "Lord of the Rings."  He was a successful winterball player as well, winning a record five batting titles over 21 seasons in the Venezuelan League, mostly with the Lara Cardinales, during which he hit .320 lifetime and picking up MVP trophies in 1989-90 and  1993-93.

As a manager, Sojo led the Venezuelan National Team at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009 and 2013, taking third place in the WBC in 2009.  He also won a Venezuelan League pennant as helmsman of the Magallanes Navegantes in 2012-13.  Sojo is spending the summer working in the Yankees minor league system.

It's been an interesting year for the Aguilas, who'd brought Mere on board as manager only last November after sending former skipper Roberto Vizcarra packing after an uninspiring first half of the LMP season less than a year after Vizcarra had led Mexicali to the MexPac pennant and Caribbean Series championship.  Mere went on to take the Aguilas to the playoffs and a first-round series win over Mazatlan in six games before being swept in the semifinals to eventual champion Culiacan, leading to his pink slip.

Ironically, Vizcarra was fired in Mexicali three days after Sojo got his walking papers in Los Mochis and it's safe to say that the latter will be working with a short leash under Mexicali owner Dio Alberto Murillo, who has proven to be one of those "What-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" owners so ubiquitous in Mexican baseball.  It's worthy to note the name of the man Mere replaced in Tijuana as the Mexican League Toros' manager last year:  Luis Sojo.  You can't make this stuff up.

Monday, June 18, 2018

SULTANES TO SERIE DEL REY; ALL-STAR ROSTERS OUT

Monterrey Sultanes outfielder Leo German
Leo German launched a two-run homer off Tijuana reliever Daniel Moskos in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Monterrey a 6-5 lead they'd hold until the end of Saturday's Mexican League North Division championship series Game Six to win the set, 4 games to 2.  Thus, the Sultanes advance to the Serie del Rey for the first time since 2013 by knocking off the defending champs in the third consecutive LMB North title showdown between the two teams.  Chris Roberson also homered for Monterrey while Corey Brown and Roberto Lopez went deep for the Toros as setup man Nick Struck won his third game of the series.  A full house of 21,909 were on hand for the third straight sellout at Estadio Monterrey in a well-attended LMB North finals, during which 113,732 aficionados attended the six encounters for an average of 18,955 per opening.

The Toros had taken a 2-games-to-1 LMB North title series lead last Tuesday with an 11-5 win at home as Rodriguez' bases-full triple keyed a six-run fourth inning for the (Pedro) Mere Men of Tijuana.  The Sultanes came back to take the next two contests at Estadio Gasmart: a 4-3 Wednesday win when Chris Roberson doubled and came in on Guty Murillo's single in the top of the eleventh followed by a 6-5 Thursday triumph in which Murillo came in from third on Yadir Drake's bases-loaded single in the top of the ninth to score the tiebreaker.

The LMB South championships will go to a seventh and deciding game on Monday night.  Quintana Roo took a 2-games-to-1 lead in the set last Tuesday by beating Yucatan, 6-1, in Cancun as Javier Solano gave up one run on five hits before being replaced by Derrick Loop with two out in the eighth.  The Leones responded Wednesday night with a 6-2 victory over the hosts as starter Yoanner Negrin went seven strong innings, allowing one run on three hits.

Then the rains came and washed out Game Five both Thursday and Friday nights and delaying Saturday's contest by nearly seven hours.  The Leones won that one, 8-6, in a game marked by two big innings as the Tigres scored five times in the bottom of the fifth to break a scoreless tie before Yucatan posted six runs in the seventh as Everth Cabrera doubled in two runners and later scored on Art Charles' two-bagger.

The Tigres roared back to take Sunday's Game Six, 5-2, thanks to a three-run homer by Alonzo Harris in the top of the sixth off Yucatan reliever Jose Manuel Lopez to break a 2-2 deadlock.  Harris, who hit .301 with eight homers for Quintana Roo in 48 games, is a former Mets prospect who spent two years playing indy ball with St. Paul before batting .315 with 23 homers for York in the Atlantic League last summer.  Venerable Pablo Ortega took the 2-2 tie into the fifth before he was replaced by Javier Solano with two out and the bases loaded.  Solano induced Leo Heras to ground out sharply to C.J. Retherford at first to end the threat and went on to hurl three more scoreless frames to take the win in relief.  Although it was Lopez who gave up Harris' homer, predecessor Carlos Frias was charged with the go-ahead run and thus the loss, his second in the series.

Game Seven is set for Monday night at 7PM Eastern in Merida's Parque Kukulcan.  Manager Roberto Vizcarra will send Yoanner Negrin to the mound for the Leones while TIgres skipper Tim Johnson counters with Jesse Estrada.  The contest will be streamed live at the LMB En Vivo page on Facebook.  En espanol, por supuesto.


LMB ALL-STAR GAME ROSTERS RELEASED

A total of 56 players will converge on Merida at the end of June for the annual Mexican League All-Star Game, set for June 29 at Parque Kukulcan, the 14,917-seat home of the Yucatan Leones.  The game had originally been scheduled for Mexico City's Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu but was shifted to Yucatan earlier this year when construction delays on the Diablos Rojos' new ballpark pushed the facility's opening back to the 2019 season.

Both the North (managed by first-place finisher Monterrey's skipper Roberto Kelly) and South (headed by Yucatan helmsman Roberto Vizcarra) division rosters will include 28 players apiece, half of them pitchers.  Kelly will have Monclova's wins and strikeouts champ Josh "The Mayor" Lowey, wins co-leader Carlos Hernandez of Tijuana and Jorge Reyes, who was the Liga's ERA leader for Kelly's Sultanes, to choose from for the North's starting pitcher.  Vizcarra has plenty of starting material on the South roster, including Quintana Roo's Henderson Alvarez, Yucatan ace Yoanner Negrin and Octavio Acosta of Mexico City.

There are even a  pair of sentimental choice in Campeche's Francisco Campos and Pablo Ortega of Quintana Roo.  Campos, 45, is in his 24th season pitching for the perennial also-ran Piratas, spending some time on loan with Monterrey in 2006.  While his 2-2 record and 5.16 ERA are so-so at best, an All-Star Game without the beloved Pancho Ponches would be almost unthinkable (this is his 14th).  The venerable Ortega (in his 20th LMB campaign at age 41) has shown he can still pitch by going 3-2 with a 3.13 ERA in seven regular season starts for the Tigres and turning in a complete game win over Mexico City in the LMB South semifinals earlier this month.

A day ahead of the All-Star Game, there'll be the ubiquitous Home Run Derby plus a new competition featuring double play combinations.  The Home Run Derby will feature three longballists from each division:  Aguascalientes' Francisco Perez, Ricky Alvarez of Monterrey and Monclova's MVP Jesse Castillo will represent the North against Puebla's Daric Barton, Luis Juarez of Yucatan and former MLB shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, now with Oaxaca.  The Double Play Derby will feature five keystone combinations being timed on turning two outs:  Moises Gutierrez and Javier Salazar (Durango), Ramiro Pena and Ramon Rios (Monterrey), Maxwell Leon and Isaac Rodriguez (Tijuana), Rolando Acosta and Carlos Gastelum (Quintana Roo) plus Walter Ibarra and Everth Cabrera (Yucatan).

Here are the rosters for both All-Star squads:

NORTH DIVISION
Pitchers (14) - Anthony Carter (AGS), Linder Castro (AGS), Maikel Cleto (LAG), Tiago Da Silva (DUR), Carlos Hernandez (TIJ), Josh Lowey (MVA), Josh Lueke (MVA), Rafael Martin (SAL), Nestor Molina (LAR), Wirfin Obispo (MTY), Roman Pena (LAG), Jorge Reyes (MTY), Marco Tovar (MTY), Raul Valdes (MTY).
Catchers (2) - Jose Felix (MVA), Isidro Pena (DUR).
Infielders (7) - Jorge Cantu (TIJ), Jesse Castillo (MVA), Dustin Geiger (DUR), Agustin Murillo (MTY), Ramiro Pena (MTY), Isaac Rodriguez (TIJ), Saul Soto (AGS).
Outfielders (5) - Yadir Drake (MTY), Desmond Jennings (MVA), Maxwell Leon (TIJ), Enrique Osorio (LAR), Chris Roberson (MTY).
Manager - Roberto Kelly (MTY).

SOUTH DIVISION
Pitchers (14) - Octavio Acosta (MXC), Henderson Alvarez (QR), Francisco Campos (CAM), Dustin Crenshaw (LEON), Barry Enright (QR), Adrian Garza (TAB), Chad Gaudin (YUC), Arcenio Leon (OAX), Dallas Martinez (LEON), Yoanner Negrin (YUC), Juan Pablo Oramas (TAB), Pablo Ortega (QR), Pedro Rodriguez (CAM), Jose Samayoa (YUC).
Catchers (2) - Sebastian Valle (YUC), Hans Wilson (TAB).
Infielders (6) - Emmanuel Avila (MXC), Daric Barton (PUE), Yuniesky Betancourt (OAX), Alberto Carreon (PUE), Carlos Gastelum (QR), Alexei Ramirez (MXC).
Outfielders (6) - Carlos Figueroa (MXC), Leo Heras (YUC), Luis Juarez (YUC), Junior Lake (LEON), Ivan Terrazas (MXC), Jesus Valdez (YUC).
Manager - Roberto Vizcarra (YUC).


LOS MOCHIS DEALS VALLE TO MAZATLAN FOR QUIROZ
New Mazatlan catcher Sebastian Valle

The Los Mochis Caneros and Mazatlan Venados have swung a major Mexican Pacific League offseason trade, with the Caneros sending catcher Sebastian Valle to the Mazatlan Venados for second baseman Esteban Quiroz.  In the 26-year-old Quiroz, Los Mochis brings in one of the top second sackers in a country with several good ones (including Manny Rodriguez, Isaac Rodriguez and Ramon Rios), a nice blend of batting with extra-base power and good range afield.  In the 28-year-old Valle, Mazatlan gets one of Mexico's top catchers, a one-time Phillies prospect featuring solid defensive skills and some pop at the plate, if not necessarily a high average.

New Los Mochis second baseman Esteban Quiroz
Both are members of the Mexican National Team who've had their careers harmed by injuries.  Quiroz was placed on the 7-day DL April 30 by the Boston Red Sox with a leg injury suffered when the 5'7" sparkplug nicknamed "El Pony" was hitting .302 with 4 homers and 13 ribbies over 15 games for AA Portland.  He had .264/0/21 numbers in 59 games for Mazatlan last winter.  Valle hit just .203 with 6 homers in 36 games for Yucatan of the Mexican League this Spring (he's currently batting .381 after six games against Quintana Roo for the LMB South championship) after a .184/6/12 LMP season with Los Mochis in 2017-18

Veteran second baseman Paul Leon is expected to take Quiroz' place in new Venados manager Joe Alvarez' everyday lineup while former Padres farmhand Ricardo Valenzuela will battle 32-year-old Humberto Sosa (a current teammate of Valle in Yucatan) for the Yaquis catching job next winter.