Monday, October 22, 2018

MANNY HOMERS, CHARROS PULL INTO LMP CO-LEAD

After a forgettable two-season 2018 stint in the Mexican League with Monclova and Quintana Roo, Manny Rodriguez may be getting his groove back in Jalisco.

The perennial All-Star second baseman broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning with a solo homer off Los Mochis starter Chris Huffman as the Charros went on to beat the host Caneros, 4-2, Sunday night as 5,932 watched at Mochis' Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada.  Rodriguez had a rocky Spring season in the LMB, leaving the Acereros two weeks into the schedule and forcing a trade to the Tigres, where he played the rest of Spring and the entire Fall campaign.  While he had a power surge with 9 homers in 54 games but only hit .253 and .294 for the two seasons.  Although Rodriguez picked up the pace after landing with the Tigres, it was for all intent a lost summer for the 36-year-old Guasave native.  He's off to a good winterball start with the Charros, however, with a .333 batting average over his first eight games (including a sizzling .467 mark in four home contests).  Rodriguez' homer Sunday night was his second and he now has eight RBIs.  It's early yet, but perhaps Manny's spring of discontent in Monclova has faded from his rear-view mirror.

The win hoisted Jalisco into a three-way tie for the Mexican Pacific League's first-half lead with identical 5-3 records.  Co-leaders Mazatlan and Culiacan both lost Sunday night.  The Venados lost a 3-2 contest at Hermosillo as Bryce Brentz' RBI single gave the Naranjeros a win in walkoff fashion in the bottom of the tenth.  The Tomateros fell, 4-1 in Mexicali as C.J. Retherford singled, doubled and drove in two runs for the victorious Aguilas, who are now a half-game out of the lead in third with a 4-3 record.

Mazatlan's strong start can be attributed to their collective .315 batting average, an unusual trait for a Venados team that has traditionally relied on pitching to win.  Four of the LMP's top seven batters are in the Mazatlan lineup.  While Navojoa's Alonzo Harris tops the list at .472 (Harris' five steals ties Mexicali's Juan Perez for most), the Venados have four hitters inside the Top Ten: Azael Sanchez at .458 (2nd), Anthony Giansanti and Brian Hernandez at .423 (tied for 4th) and Sherman Johnson at an even .400 (7th).  The aforementioned Manny Rodriguez is tied with seven other batsmen for the lead in homers with his two longballs while his eight ribbies are tops in that category as well. 

Although Mazatlan has maintained their strong pitching tradition with a team ERA of 2.59, that figure only ranks fourth among the MexPac's eight teams.  Mexicali and Navojoa are tied with a stingy 2.16 while Culiacan is third at 2.56.  The LMP has long been a pitcher's league, a contrast with summer's hitter-friendly Mexican League, but the hurlers are ahead the hitters more than usual.  Obregon reliever Jesus Anguamea has won twice in four outing to be the only 2-0 man in the league.  Mazatlan's Jose Hernandez has yet to allow a run in 12 innings over two starts (he's 1-0) and Mexicali veteran Javier Solano's 15 strikeouts in 11.2 frames tops that list.  Evan Marshall of Mazatlan is tied with Jalisco's Grant Sides with three saves apiece.  Marshall has not been scored upon in four appearances, giving up two hits and no walks in four innings.


MEXICO WINS 2 OF FIRST 3 GAMES AT U-23 WORLD CUP IN COLOMBIA

A Mexico team consisting of many of the country's top young ballplayers has won two of its first three games at the WBSC's Under-23 World Cup tournament in Barranquilla, Colombia.  Twelve national teams are entered in the competition, with Mexico in the six-team Group A along with host Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa and The Netherlands.  Group B consists of Australia, South Korea, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and both the Czech and Dominican Republics.

Mexico snuck past Taiwan, 2-1, last Friday in the World Cup opener.  Alan Garcia's two-run single scored Roberto Valenzuela and Julian Ornelas in the bottom of the first inning.  Garcia played outfield three years in the Padres system before debuting for Puebla in the Mexican League fall season, batting .259 in 25 games. That ended up being all the offensive support that starting pitcher Luis Rodriguez and four relievers would need.  Rodriguez, who went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 21 relief appearances for Quintana Roo this fall, gave up one run on five hits in as many innings to earn the win.  Erick Casillas (Oaxaca) worked a scoreless ninth for the save.

Manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' squad made it two straight Saturday by pounding The Netherlands, 14-7.  The Mexicans scored at least one run in every inning but the second and third as they outhit the Dutchmen by a 16-to-12 margin.  Outfielder Fabricio Macias, who played in the Pirates system this year after two seasons in Saltillo, had three hits (including a homer), three runs and three RBIs for the winners while Bernardo Heras (Puebla) had three hits, scored twice and drove in a run.  Starter Francisco Haro (Campeche) gave up three runs in five innings, but he struck out nine Dutch batters and pitched well enough to win.

Things fell back to Earth on Sunday as Japan knocked Mexico out of the unbeaten ranks by a 7-2 count.  The Japanese got off to a 4-0 lead before Heras put the Verdes Grande on the scoreboard with a solo homer in the top of the fourth, but the only other Mexican run came two frames later when Daniel Mercado (Union Laguna) singled in Roberto Valenzuela from third.  Marco Jaime (Leon) had two of Mexico's six hits while pinch-hitter Walter Higuera (Yucatan) added a seventh-inning double, but this one was Japan's to lose early.  Saul Castellanos (Saltillo) was bombed for five runs on seven hits in ust 3.2 innings to absorb the loss.

As might be expected, World Cup games not involving host Colombia have not been witnessed by large crowds at Barranquilla's Estadio Edgar Renteria.  Only 62 hardy souls attended Mexico's Friday tournament opener against Taiwan.  Although a reported 500 showed up for Saturday's Mexico-Netherlands game, only 250 wandered in for Sunday's Mexico-Japan encounter.  Conversely, crowds of 3,500 came out for each of Colombia's first two games (their Sunday night tilt with South Africa was halted by rain in the second inning).

First round round-robin play is scheduled to conclude Tuesday, weather permitting, with a three-day "super round" commencing Wednesday prior to Saturday's Bronze and Gold medal games.


MENESES LEAVES TOMATEROS, MAY PLAY IN JAPAN NEXT YEAR
Culiacan 1B Joey Meneses: Off to Osaka?
After not getting a callup to parent club Philadelphia despite winning the AAA International League's Most Valuable Player award, Joey Meneses is hoping for a fair shot in Japan next year.  The Culiacan native has reportedly been negotiating with a Nippon Professional Baseball team and has not played for his hometown Tomateros since homering and driving in three runs in a 6-1 Mexican Pacific League win over Los Mochis last Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Meneses was signed by the Phillies as a free agent last winter after seven seasons in the Atlanta system, including MiLB.com Organization All-Star selections in 2014 and 2017.  He'd batted .282 with a career-high 9 homers for the Braves' Mississippi affiliate in the AA Southern League, playing in that loop's All-Star Game in 2017, a good year but not good enough to keep his job.  The Phils signed him to a minor league deal and assigned him to their IL farm club in Lehigh Valley, where he proceeded to hit .311 while leading the circuit in homers (23), RBIs (82), and OPS (.870) while tying with Columbus' Brandon Barnes for most runs scored (75).  The IL named the 26-year-old both MVP and Rookie of the Year for 2018 for his efforts while unsurprisingly placing the first baseman on their postseason All-Star squad.  Lehigh Valley won the Northern Division title with a league-best 84-56 record before falling to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

Meneses was never brought up to Philadelphia despite his breakout campaign for the Iron Pigs, even after MLB rosters were expanded to 40 players on September 1.  The 6'3" 220-pounder was on a one-year deal with the Phillies, making him a free agent going into this offseason.  He has reportedly been in contract talks to play for the Orix Buffaloes, who were formed by a 2005 merger between the Pacific League's Orix Blue Wave and Kintetsu Buffaloes.  The Buffaloes finished fourth in the PL with a 62-69 record.  Japanese teams are allowed four foreigners on their 25-man rosters (there are no limits to gaijin in NPB's minor leagues) and while pitchers Andrew Albers (9-2/3.08) and Brandon Dickson (4-6, 3.55) plus outfielder Stefen Romero (.235/23/62) probably played well enough to be brought back in 2019, Chris Marrero (.201/11/26) dropped off noticeably since a good 2017 debut in Osaka and the ex-Nats and Giants first sacker may be considered expendable.

Meneses was batting .417 with a homer and 6 RBIs over four games when he made his last appearance for the defending MexPac champion Tomateros, managed this year by Lorenzo Bundy.  Meneses hit .248 with 6 homers for Culiacan in 66 games last winter.

Monday, October 15, 2018

SULTANES WIN LIGA FALL PENNANT; LMP SEASON OPENS

Sultanes 3B Agustin Murillo hoists the LMB title trophy
Ramiro Pena's walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth inning drove in Chris Roberson with the final run of the Fall 2018 season as Monterrey defeated Oaxaca, 3-2, last Tuesday in Game Six of the Mexican League's Serie del Rey.  The win clinched the Sultanes' eighth LMB pennant and Monterrey's tenth Liga flag overall since the northern city entered the circuit in 1939 (the former Industriales team won titles in 1943 and 1947).

Oaxaca took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Alejandro Gonzalez' two-out single to right off Monterrey starter Anthony Vasquez brought in Game Five hero Samar Leyva from second to give the underdog Guerreros the early advantage.  Sultanes rightfielder Sebastian Elizalde's throw to the plate allowed Gonzalez to scamper to second base while Alan Sanchez moved 90 feet to third, but Vasquez got Erick Rodriguez to ground out to Pena at shortstop, ending the threat.

Monterrey came back two innings later with a run to even the score at 1-1.  Agustin Murillo, who had a splendid series, opened the bottom of the fourth by lining a double to left off Oaxaca starter Ruddy Acosta.  Murillo was able to go from first to third during a Felix Perez groundout to Guerreros first sacker Henry Urrutia, then plated the Sultanes' first score on a Roberson single.  The Oakland native was able to advance to third on a Ramon Rios single, but died 90 feet from paydirt when Elizalde lofted a fly ball to Gonzalez in right to end the entrada.

The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the eighth.  Gonzalez led off by singling to left against Monterrey reliever Ozzie Mendez, moved to second on a Rodriguez sacrifice and took third on Jay Austin's groundout to Rios at second before Vasquez uncorked a wild pitch to Julian Ornelas, allowing Gonzalez to streak in with the Guerreros' go-ahead run.  The Sultanes came back in the bottom of the eighth to knot the game back up at 2-2 when Murillo's sacrifice fly to Ornelas in left brought in pinch-runner Marco Guzman (son of longtime LMB catcher and manager Marco Antonio Guzman) from third.  Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo then came in to retire the Oaxacans without a score in top of the ninth, setting up the Sultanes' pennant-winning heroics.

Roberson started things off by doubling an 0-1 Samuel Zazueta pitch to right, then skipped over to third when Rios laid down a bunt in front of home plate that Zazueta could only throw to Urrutia at first for the out.  Monterrey manager Roberto Kelly brought in Yadir Drake as a pinch-hitter for Elizalde, but Zazueta intentionally walked the 2017 LMB batting champion to put Sultanes runners at the corners.  That was a temporary situation, as pinch-runner Leo German (in for Drake) stole second whil Zazueta was working on the next batter, Arturo Rodriguez.  At that point, Rodriguez was intentionally walked to load the bases with Julio Borbon coming up.  Zazueta struck out Borbon swinging on four pitches for the second out, but Pena grounded the first pitch he saw up the middle to score Roberson from third, ending the game and season to the delight of an Estadio Monterrey sellout crowd of 21,909.

Obispo was awarded his second win of the Serie del Rey for his one inning of work, but Vasquez (who allowed five Oaxaca runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings in Game Two) gave the winners eight solid frames of pitching, letting in two runs and scattering five hits while walking one.  Zazueta absorbed the loss after allowing the winning run on three hits and two walks, also in one frame.  The 21-year-old Obregon product pitched in every game of the finals for manager Sergio Gastelum's Guerreros and generally did well before wilting in Game Six.  Guerreros starter Acosta acquitted himself well, giving up one run and scattering four hits in 5.1 innings before being replaced by Mendez.

Murillo was named the Serie del Rey MVP after helping the Sultanes win their first pennant since 2007.  While the Tijuana-born third baseman's finals numbers of a .308 batting average with two homers and five RBIs are hardly off-the-charts, Guty's two-run game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two was a shocking blow the Guerreros never really recovered from while his Game Three performance (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBIs) was key in giving the Sultanes a series lead they never relinquished.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE OPENS 2018-19 CAMPAIGN

Mexicali P Javier Solano was dominant Friday
When Culiacan pitcher James Russell threw a pitch to Navojoa centerfielder Alonzo Harris at 8:10 last Friday night it marked the opening of the Mexican Pacific League's 2018-19 regular season.  Let the record show it was a ball, as Russell fell behind in the count 3-0 before eventually getting Harris to pop out to Tomateros third baseman Ronnier Mustelier in foul territory for the first OUT of the season.

Navojoa went on to beat defending champion Culiacan, 8-2, as a crowd of 19,210 jammed Estadio Tomateros.  The Mayos knocked Russell, who spent seven years in the majors for the Cubs and Phillies between 2010 and 2016, for six runs on seven hits over 4.1 innings.  The 32-year-old served up a two-run homer to Fernando Flores in the second and a solo blast to Harris (an ex-Mets farmhand) in the third as the Mayos outhit the Tomateros by a 13-7 margin, with four Navojoa players collecting two hits each

In Friday's other opener, Mexicali shut out Hermosillo, 3-0, as former MexPac pitching champion Javier Solano blanked the Naranjeros over six innings, giving up two hits, striking out 12 and walking none.  It was a vintage performance for Solano, who turned in a 10-6 record in the LMB last summer for Monterrey and Quintana Roo but had an ERA of 5.31 ERA over the two seasons.

Two more openers were played Saturday.  Visiting Mazatlan overcame a two-run sixth inning deficit to pull past Jalisco, 5-4.  The game lasted until a minute before midnight as a combined 15 pitchers took the mound for both teams.  Former Cubs prospect Anthony Giansanti went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs for manager Joe Alvarez' Venados and newcomer Quincy Latimore, who was dealt to the Deer by Navojoa in the offseason, also had three hits and scored twice.

Obregon got strong outings from starter Nate Reed (5 IP, 1 R, 2 H) and four relievers to earn a 4-1 road win at Los Mochis Saturday.  The Yaquis got a three-hit night from John Nogowski but it was a two-run single by number 9 batter Juan Carlos Gamboa that keyed a four-run Obregon fourth inning to in essence put the game away for the visitors.

Four more openers in the MexPac's traditional two-game, home-and-away series were played Sunday.  Mexicali went to 2-0 on the season with an 8-3 win at Hermosillo as Ricardo Serrano highlighted a four-run Aguilas second by slamming a three-run homer off Scott Copeland.  Mazatlan is likewise 2-0 after blanking Jalisco, 1-0, on a one-hitter spun by Venados starter Jose Hernandez and five relievers.  Visiting Culiacan topped the Navojoa Mayos, 2-1, as International League MVP and Triple Crown winner Joey Meneses singled in Dylan Moore with the tiebreaking run in the top of the ninth.  A Ramon Urias RBI single in the top of the eleventh brought in the go-ahead score as Los Mochis went on to an 8-6 triumph in Obregon.

In all, 120,705 fans attended the eight openers, an average of 15,088 per game as all contests sold out.  Ballpark renovations have not been completed in either Mazatlan or Los Mochis, but both projects are expected to be completed in time for the January playoffs.  In the offseason, the LMP expanded the limit of foreign players from eight to 14 per team in response to the Mexican League's expanded schedule.  While roster churn is an accepted fact of life in the circuit, the first half is expected to be more active than usual as domestic players who've been performing in the LMB playoffs will become available over the next few weeks.


 PITCHER ORTEGA RETIRES, WILL COACH IN OBREGON

Tigres P Pablo Ortega after his 2011 no-hitter
Pablo Ortega earned a living as a pitcher for nearly two decades by baffling opposing batsmen in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues until he finally found someone he couldn't beat forever: Padre Tiempo (or Father Time).

Ortega, who turns 42 on November 7, has announced his retirement as a player after a forgettable Fall 2018 season with the Quintana Roo Tigres in which he went 1-5 with a 9.55 ERA in ten starts.  He'd had a respectable Spring campaign with the Tigres, going 3-2 with a 3.18 ERA in eight outings, including a May 10 complete game 5-0 shutout over Leon in Cancun, scattering five singles and throwing 63 strikes in the 93-pitch performance.  However, the wheels gradually fell off Ortega's wagon in the second season, one that saw the Tigres miss the postseason for the first time in years.  His final outing was an August 29 start against defending champion Yucatan in Merida, where he lasted 3.1 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits before QR manager Raul Sanchez replaced him with Luis Ivan Rodriguez, who'd just turned 22 and hadn't even been born when El Maestro began his career.

The Nuevo Laredo made his Mexican League debut in 1995 with his hometown Dos Laredos Tecolotes as an 18-year-old.  Ortega didn't set the Liga on fire over his five appearances (two starts) that year, going 0-1 with a 5.93 ERA, but he showed enough to earn a contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had not yet fielded a team at the Major League level.  The 6'2" righthander spent four years in the Rays system and turned in a 30-38 record, pitching once for AAA Durham in 1999 before returning south of the border the following year.

That was when his legacy as a Mexican baseball pitcher began as he was 11-3 for the Mexico City Tigres and was the championship series MVP for the 2000 LMB pennant winners, the first of six Liga titles Ortega would win (all for the Tigres).  Although he would spend all or part of 2002 and 2003 with the Puebla Pericos, Ortega would become a mainstay in the Tigres rotation during his career.  He reached double figures in wins nine times and was selected to at least six All-Star Games.  He was named the LMB Pitcher of the Year in 2003 and Comeback Player of the Year in 2011, a year in which he was 10-3 (including a no-hitter against Veracruz) for the Tigres after going 2-6 with an 8.24 ERA the previous summer.  For his Mexican League career, Ortega was 164-107 and he turned in a 4.34 ERA, a respectable figure for a hitter's league like the LMB.  He had 1,174 strikeouts in 2,191 innings pitched.

El Maestro didn't limit his skills to the Liga.  He spent 17 winters pitching in the Mexican Pacific League, pitching for three title teams, and also appeared in the Caribbean Series (winning the 2005 CS with Mazatlan) and was on the Mexican National Team for several international tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic, Olympic Games qualifiers, Pan American Games, Central American and Caribbean Games and Americas Cup competitions.

While Ortega was in training camp with the MexPac's Obregon Yaquis when he announced his retirement, he won't be stepping away from the game.  He'll stay on with the Yaquis this winter as a bullpen coach under new manager Oscar Robles, who faced Ortega as a batter several times over the years as a player in Mexico City Oaxaca and Tijuana.

Monday, October 8, 2018

OAXACA TOPS SULTANES, STAY ALIVE IN SERIE DEL REY


Oaxaca's Samar Leyva stroked a bases-loaded pitch from Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo into the left field corner to bring in Yuniesky Betancourt with the winning run as the Guerreros topped the Sultanes, 6-5, in ten innings Sunday night at Oaxaca's Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos.  The win ended Monterrey's three-game Serie del Rey win streak and brought the Warriors to within a game of the Sultanes, who lead the Mexican League championship series, 3 games to 2.

Game Six is set for Tuesday night in Monterrey.


GAME 1 - Tuesday, October 2
Oaxaca 4-11-0, MONTERREY 1-3-1
W-A. Delgado. L-E. Gonzalez.
Oaxaca pitcher Alex Delgado
Alex Delgado mastered the Sultanes in the opener at Estadio Monterrey, blanking the hosts on two singles before exiting after 93 pitches with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Ex-Yankee Ramiro Pena did double off Samuel Zazueta in the eighth to score Ramon Rios and put the Sultanes on the board, but Oaxaca had been protecting a 4-0 lead since the second inning and a 1-2-3 ninth sealed the opening win on the road for manager Sergio Gastelum's club.

Yuniesky Betancourt doubled twice, drove in three runs and scored another to have a hand in every Oaxaca score but the story was Delgado, who battled out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the third when he induced Pena to pop out to Leyva at short and struck out Agustin Murillo to end the threat.  The 23-year-old Mexicali-born lefty struck out nine and walked two. Former Arizona starter Edgar Gonzalez took the loss for Monterrey in front of 21,909 at home.


GAME 2 - Wednesday, October 3
MONTERREY 7-9-0, Oaxaca 6-12-1.  
W-W. Obispo. L-C. Felix.
Monterrey third baseman Agustin Murillo
Murillo got revenge for his inning-ending whiff the night before in a huge way by drilling a two-run, two-out homer to left off Carlos Felix in the bottom of the ninth to erase a 6-4 Oaxaca lead and what looked like a sure Guerreros win. Two-time 2018 homer champion Felix Perez then launched a Felix pitch into the seats in right center to cap the stunning walkoff win and give the Sultanes a 1-1 split of the first leg of the Serie del Rey before another sellout crowd of 21,909 at Estadio Monterrey.

Perez ended the night with three hits and three runs for the winners, who touched Oaxaca starter Irwin Delgado (Alex' cousin) for four runs on six hits and three walks over the first six frames.  The Guerreros chased Monterrey starter Anthony Vasquez after 2.2 frames by plating five runs on seven hits as Oaxaca outhit the Sultanes, 12 to 6. Alan Sanchez had three safeties for the visitors, driving in three runs.  Wirfin Obispo pitched a scoreless ninth for the win while Felix was tagged with the loss.

GAME 3 - Friday, October 5
Monterrey 5-10-1, OAXACA 1-6-0  
W-J. DePaula. L-R. Acosta.
Monterrey pitcher Jose De Paula
Murillo's revenge carried past last Thursday's travel day and into Game Three in Oaxaca.  The veteran third sacker went 3-for-4 and homering off Erick Casillas in the top of the eighth to cap a night in which he also drove in Ramiro Pena with a second-inning single.  Pena, Julio Borbon and Felix Perez combined for another six hits, four runs and a ribbie for manager Roberto Kelly's Sultanes, who pulled into a 2-games-to-1 series lead in front of 7,000 onlookers in the Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos stands.

Former Yankees prospect Jose De Paula, who had only pitched winterball in his home Dominican Republic since 2015 before hooking on with Monterrey this year, tossed six shutout innings for the Sultanes.  He scattered five hits and a walk while striking out six. Ruddy Acosta absorbed the loss for Oaxaca, getting roughed up for three runs on four hits and three walks over 1.2 innings. The Guerreros got a single and double from Samar Leyva in the defeat.


GAME 4 - Saturday, October 6
Monterrey 3-9-0, OAXACA 2-8-2
W-D. Martinez. L-J.C. Medina.
Monterrey second baseman Ramon Rios
The Sultanes scored three runs in the top of the second, then had to hang on late for a 3-2 win in Oaxaca with 7,150 in attendance.  Jose Amador led off the second with a double off Guerreros starter Jose Carlos Medina, who then gave up consecutive singles to Chris Roberson, Ramon Rios (scoring Amador from third) and Sebastian Elizalde to bring in Roberson.  After an Ali Solis flyout, Julio Borbon's single plated Rios to give the Sultanes a 3-0 lead they carried into the seventh.

That's when Oaxaca fought back with two runs off reliever Felipe Gonzalez, who gave up an RBI triple to Samar Leyva before his pitch to Alejandro Gonzalez eluded catcher Solis, allowing Leyva to score but that's as close as it got.  Sultanes starter Dallas Martinez, another former Yanks farmhand, earned the win with six shutout innings while Medina was charged with the defeat. Amador had two hits for Monterrey while Julian Ornelas singled twice for the Guerreros.


GAME 5 - Sunday, October 7
OAXACA 6-13-1, Monterrey 5-16-1  
W-S. Zazueta. L-W. Obispo.
Oaxaca shortstop Samar Leyva
The Sultanes broke a 1-1 tie by scoring twice in the top of the fourth on a Ramon Rios double and Ali Solis, both with two out, and plating two more runs in the fifth on Ramiro Pena's leadoff homer against Alex Delgado and a Julian Ornelas RBI double to give Monterrey a 5-1 bulge.  With starter Marco Tovar having retired 10 of the last 11 Guerreros batsmen he'd faced since the first, the Sultanes appeared poised to win Monterrey's tenth LMB pennant before a full house of 7,230 hostile Oaxacan witnesses.

Instead, the Guerreros roared back to chase Tovar and tie the game with four runs in the bottom of the fifth.  Julian Ornelas doubled in one run and later scored the tying tally on Henry Urrutia's groundout. The two teams then traded zeros into the bottom of the tenth, when Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo allowed a Yuniesky Betancourt single and walked both Dustin Geiger and Alan Sanchez to load the bases, allowing Samar Leyva's liner to left to bring Betancourt in with the walkoff run.  Obispo was handed the defeat while Guerreros middleman Samuel Zazueta got credit for the win.

Monday, October 1, 2018

IT'S MONTERREY, OAXACA IN FALL SERIE DEL REY

The Oaxaca Guerreros continued their unlikely postseason surge by defeating the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, 8-4, Sunday in the nation's capital to clinch the Mexican League's South Division Championship Series, 4 games to 2.  The Guerreros move on to the Serie del Rey title set against the Monterrey Sultanes, starting Tuesday night at Estadio Monterrey.

Oaxaca barely qualified for the Fall 2018 postseason after finishing fifth in the LMB South with a 26-30 record, one game behind 26-28 Leon.  That margin was close enough to force a single play-in against the Bravos in Leon.  The Guerreros won that contest and went on to eliminate defending Liga champion Yucatan in seven games in the opening round to set up the division title series with sister club Mexico City (both teams are owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu).  After knocking the Diablos out, the Guerreros will now seek their second LMB pennant, the first coming 20 years ago under manager Nelson Barrera in the team's third season in the Liga since Harp led a group of investors in purchasing the Jalisco Charros following the 1995 season and moving the franchise to Oaxaca.  The Warriors have not won a division title since until now.  Manager Sergio Gastelum took the reins from former skipper Joe Alvarez in the middle of the fall campaign and while the team continued to struggle the rest of the regular season, Gastelum has them playing well at the right time.

The Guerreros will face a Monterrey team that reached the Serie del Rey in the Spring season, losing to Yucatan to fall short of winning the Sultanes' tenth pennant.  Monterrey finished the regular season with a 34-23 record, good enough for third place in the LMB North under first-year manager Roberto Kelly, who turned 50 on October 1.  Like Oaxaca, the Sultanes were stretched to a seventh game in the first round before defeating rival Tijuana to move on to the division championships against Monclova.  Monterrey had an easier time of it against the first-place Acereros, who had the Liga's best regular-season record with a 42-14 mark to win the top seed by seven games over second-place Tijuana (35-21).  The Sultanes knocked off Monclova in five games to reach the Serie del Rey for the second time in the calendar year, a record that will stand for some time to come now that the LMB is abandoning its two-season format in 2019 after one year.

Monterrey swept Oaxaca in three games at home in July (the only time the two teams have met in either 2018 season) and is likely favored to win their first pennant since 2007, but anything can happen in a seven-game series and Oaxaca has defeated two good teams to reach this point.

FALL 2018 SERIE DEL REY SCHEDULE
Game 1:  Tuesday, October 2 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey
Game 2:  Wednesday, October 3 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey
Game 3:  Friday, October 5 (8:30pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca
Game 4:  Saturday, October 6 (8:30pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca
Game 5:  Sunday, October 7 (5:00pm ET) - Monterrey at Oaxaca*
Game 6:  Tuesday, October 9 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey*
Game 7:  Wednesday, October 10 (8:30pm ET) - Oaxaca at Monterrey*
*-if necessary


GUERREROS, ORNELAS KNOCK OUT DIABLOS WITH 8-4 WIN


Oaxaca Guerreros celebrating LMB South title
The Oaxaca Guerreros overcame a midgame 3-1 deficit by scoring a combined seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings to defeat the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, 8-4, Saturday night in front of an overflow crowd of 6,400 at Estadio Fray Nano in Mexico City.  The win gave the Warriors a 4-games-to-2 win in the LMB South championship to punch their ticket to the Serie del Rey against Monterrey.

The Diablos drew first blood with three runs in the bottom of the first inning.  Juan Carlos Gamboa lined a single up the middle off the glove of Oaxaca starting pitcher Irwin Delgado to plate speedster Carlos Figueroa from second with the game's first run.  David Vidal singled Gamboa to second and both runners crossed the plate on a Luis Jimenez triple to put Delgado and the Guerreros in an early hole.  Henry Urrutia got one run back for the visitors by belting a leadoff homer in the top of the second but Mexico City's 3-1 advantage held until the sixth, when the Guerreros pasted Diablos starter Patrick Johnson and three relievers for four runs on as many hits.  The key blows were back-to-back doubles by Dustin Geiger and Julian Ornelas, the latter a liner to center that drove in Yuniesky Betancourt and Geiger with the go-ahead tallies.

Mexico City came back with a run in the bottom of the sixth Gamboa singled to right off reliever Samuel Zazueta to bring Jesus Fabela motoring in from second to cut Oaxaca's advantage to one run, but that was as close as the Diablos would get the rest of the game.  The Guerreros scored three more times in the top of the seventh as Ornelas contributed a two-run single off David Reyes to bring the score to 8-4.  From that point, relievers Erick Casillas, Rodolfo Aguilar and Carlos Felix blanked to hosts over the final three entradas to seal the win for the Guerreros, with Felix inducing pinch-hitter Ivan Terrazas to ground out to Betancourt at second to end the series in the bottom of the ninth.  Ornelas went 3-for-3 for Oaxaca with four RBIs as reliever Ozzie Mendez got the win.  Johnson absorbed the defeat for the Diablos.

The series was tied at a game apiece before Oaxaca topped Mexico City, 10-3, last Tuesday behind Jay Austin's double and triple with two runs scored and two more driven in.  The Diablos came back Wednesday with a 9-4 win at Oaxaca to tie the series back up as Vidal broke the game up with a bases-loaded triple in the top of the sixth to give the visitors an 8-3 lead.  Vidal was thrown out at the plate trying to complete a rare inside-the-park grand slam by Guerreros rightfielder Alan Sanchez but the damage was already done.  One night later, Oaxaca took the series lead with a 2-1 victory behind the four-hit pitching of starter Jose Medina (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R) and three relievers.  Attendance has been traditionally moribund at Guerreros home games but a combined 18,000+ fans clicked the turnstiles at Parque Eduardo Vasconcelos at the three games in Oaxaca before the series shifted to Mexico City for Saturday's fateful Game Six.

And now the Guerreros, led by manager Sergio Gastelum, who had never managed an LMB team prior to August 7, are four wins away from hoisting their second pennant in 23 years (and first since 1998).  Gastelum had been managing Ensenada in the Northern Mexico League when he was brought in to replaced the fired Joe Alvarez on August 7 and went 12-14 with Oaxaca the rest of the regular season. The postseason has thus far gone a trifle better for Gastelum and the Guerreros.


SULTANES BREEZE PAST MONCLOVA, SEEK TENTH LIGA FLAG

Monterrey Sultanes RF Yadir Drake
Monterrey had a surprisingly easy time of it against Monclova after surviving a seven-game first-round battle with Tijuana to reach the LMN North Championship Series.  The Acereros had dominated the Fall season with a Liga-best 42-12 record (including a 4-2 mark against the Sultanes) and were a favorite to win their city's first-ever pennant heading into the playoffs and did nothing to dispel that by eliminating Dos Laredos, 4 games to 1, in the opening round.

However, the Sultanes were able to exploit Monclova's lack of pitching depth to rack up 32 runs over the final four contests of the LMB North championship series to pull away with a 4-games-to-1 win over the Acereros and vault into the Serie del Rey against Oaxaca.  The set opened with a relatively normal 4-3 Monterrey win on September 20 in Monclova before the Sultanes bats heated up with a 7-3 triumph at Estadio Monclova on September 21.  After the series moved to Monterrey, the Sultanes made it a 3-games-to-0 advantage September 23 and while the Acereros bounced back last Monday with a 9-8 win in Game Four (thanks in no small part to a seven-run fifth inning highlighted by a Juan Perez grand slam and a solo blast Jesus Arredondo), it seemed only a matter of time until Monterrey eliminated the top seed to move on to the Serie del Ray while endangering Monclova manager Pedro Mere's job with volatile owner Gerardo Benvides' Acereros in the bargain.

That shoe finally fell last Tuesday, with the Sultanes delivering the coup de grace to Monclova's season with a 9-5 win at Estadio Monterrey with 18,202 onlookers in the stands.  This time the big inning belonged to the Sultanes, who were trailing 5-3 before plating five runs in the bottom of the seventh.  Yadir Drake's two-run homer keyed the outburst as Mere sent four pitchers to the mound that inning as Monterrey put six hits on the board.  Besides Drake's bomb, Felix Perez had a run-scoring double, Chris Roberson drove in a run with a single before coming in on Drake's longball and Ramon Rios doubled before scoring on an Ali Solis single as all nine batters in the Sultanes' order came to the plate.  Perez launched a solo homer off yet another Monclova reliever, veteran Mauricio Lara, in the eighth to put the game and series out of reach for the visitors.  Lara was the eighth hurler used by Mere in the contest, with the loss going to Arturo Barradas, who served up Drake's homer.  The win went to Sultanes reliever Nick Struck, who gave up two runs in two frames but had the good fortune of being on the hill for Monterrey before the Sultanes went on their five-run tear in the seventh.  Roberson and Agustin Murillo each had three of Monterrey's 15 hits on the night as the Sultanes batted .320 for the series.

And now the Sultanes move on in search of the franchise's sixth title since 1962 and Monterrey's tenth Mexican League pennant since 1943 (the first four won by the old Industriales under manager Lazaro Salazar, including three in a row between 1947 and 1949).

Monday, September 24, 2018

SULTANES ONE WIN FROM SERIE DEL REY, LMB SOUTH TIED AT 1-1

Does this picture really need a caption?
The Monterrey Sultanes stand one game away from a berth in the Serie del Rey (Series of Kings) after winning the first three games of their Mexican League North Division Championship Series over Monclova.  Monterrey is seeking their tenth LMB pennant since the team's 1939 inception while the Acereros are chasing Monclova's first Liga flag.  The two teams have met nine times in the playoffs, with Monterrey winning eight of them while Sutanes skipper Roberto Kelly is trying to outmanage his Monclova counterpart, Pedro Mere, for a LMB North title a second time this year (Mere was dugout boss in Tijuana in the Spring season).

Monterrey opened the series last Thursday with a 4-3 win in Monclova as Yadir Drake belted a tiebreaking solo homer in the top of the ninth and Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo struck out Cade Gotta swinging in the bottom of the frame to close out the game and earn the save.  Setup man Nick Struck pitched a scoreless eighth to qualify for the win while Zack Segovia (who gave up the Drake longball) took the loss for the Acereros.  Monterrey leadoff hitter Julio Borbon had three hits, including a solo homer off Monclova starter Andre Rienzo.  Erick Aybar singled and socked a solo homer for the Acereros.

A two-run roundtripper by two-time LMB home run champion Felix Perez gave Monterrey a 5-3 lead in Game Two's third inning as the Sultanes went on to score twice more in the top of the fourth (courtesy of a two-run Borbon bomb) and sail to a 7-3 win Friday.  Monclova ace Josh Lowey had an uncharacteristic bad outing, giving up seven runs on as many hits (including homers by Perez, Borbon and Agustin Murillo on a solo blast in the top of the first) in four innings to earn the loss.  Darin Downs struck out four Acereros batsmen in 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the win.  The game took over five hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay), ending after 12:30 in the morning.

Returning home with a 2-0 advantage, the Sultanes added to Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides' misery by topping his Acereros again on Sunday, 8-6, as 15,758 watched at Estadio Monterrey (a total of 17,000 fans attended the first two games at 11,000-seat Estadio Monclova).  No late heroics required in this one either, as Monterrey built an 8-0 lead after three innings and coasted to the win.  Jose Amador and Ramiro Pena homered for the Sultanes while Drake sent his second ball to the streets in three games with a three-run dinger (Amador's also rang up three on the scoreboard).   Monterrey starter Edgar Gonzalez faded after a strong start but stayed ahead long enough for the win despite overall so-so numbers of four runs on eight hits in five innings as the Acereros fought back to within two runs by game's end.  Rienzo, who had a terrific regular season for Monclova but has struggled in two outings against Monterrey in this series, took the loss after allowing Amador's three-run longball in the first inning (the only one he would pitch, it turned out).  If the Acereros lose this series, what will Mere's job running the team with a volatile owner ike Benavides be worth?

Monterrey outlasted Tijuana in seven games to advance past the first round, with that series ended by a 4-3 win on the road last Tuesday as the Sultanes survived two Jorge Cantu homers and a late surge by the Toros in the form of a two-run bottom of the ninth off Obispo, who continued to struggle a bit before getting Jose Guadalupe Chavez on a swinging strikeout with tying run Dustin Martin standing on second to end the game (and Tijuana's season with the Toros' second consecutive LMB North finals loss in 2018).  Monclova had the LMB's best record in the fall season before eliminating Dos Laredos in the opening round to advance to the LMB North finals.

The Sultanes will try to close out the series at home Monday night (and will host Game Five as well, if needed, on Tuesday).
 

GUERREROS BOP DIABLOS TO KNOT LMB SOUTH FINALS AT 1-1

Yuniesky Betancourt saluting his fans in Yucatan
Yuniesky Betancourt went 4-for-6 with two homers and three RBIs as his Oaxaca Guerreros manhandled their "big brother" Mexico City Diablos, 13-3,  in Sunday's rain-delayed Game Two of the Mexican League South Division Championship Series afternoon in front of 5,425 at a packed Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital.  The win evened the series at one game apiece.

Betancourt, who brought attention to himself in less glorious fashion after a first-round game last week (more on that later), put the Guerreros ahead 1-0 in the top of the first with a two-out solo homer off Diablos' starter Patrick Johnson on Saturday.  The hosts fought back and carried a rain-delayed 3-1 lead into Sunday before Oaxaca regained the nod with four runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by Julian Ornelas' two-run single.  The Warriors never looked back and Betancourt's two-run homer in the ninth capped the scoring.  Irwin Delgado took the Game Two win after five innings in relief on Sunday, giving up three runs, while Gonzalo Sanudo absorbed the loss for Mexico City. 

The Diablos won the series opener Friday, 8-6, before 5,842 aficionados as Mexico City fans are finally coming out to support their 16-time champions, who drew an average gathering of 2,613 attendance per opening during the regular season (11th in the Liga).  Red Devils shortstop Juan Carlos Gamboa gave the home fans something to cheer about with a fourth-inning grand slam off Oaxaca starter Jose Medina, erasing a 4-0 Guerreros lead with one swing.  A Michael Choice double later in the same frame plated David Vidal with the go-ahead run, but the visitors reclaimed the advantage with two runs in the top of the fifth, including Henry Urrutia's leadoff homer against Diablos starter Octavio Acosta.  Mexico City took the lead back for good in the bottom of the fifth when Vidal singled Luis Jimenez in with the tying run and later scoring the eventual game-winner on an Emmanuel Avila groundout.  Arturo Lopez retired two batters in relief for the Diablos and was given the win for short work while Axel Rios took the loss for Oaxaca.

The Diablos advanced to the LMB South title set by eliminating Puebla in the first round, 4 games to 1, wrapping up the series last Sunday.  Defending champion Yucatan stretched Oaxaca to a seventh game before the Guerreros prevailed, 5-2, in extra innings last Thursday in Merida as Jay Austin capped a three-run top of the eleventh with a two-run homer.  After the game, Betancourt (who played for the Leones last year) waved to some of his former Yucatan fans but failed to raise his thumb and three of his remaining four fingers in the effort.  Maybe he was tired.

Game Three of the LMB South title set is slated for Tuesday at Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.  The current Diablos-Guerreros series has created some controversy simply from its makeup.  Billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu owns both teams, something allowed in Mexican baseball, and the relationship is somewhat similar to that of the New York Yankees and Kansas City A's in the late Fifties and early Sixties...if that relationship seemed almost incestuous, this one would bring a Child Protective Services caseworker rapping at the door with sheriff's deputy in tow.  Harp, who has reportedly been angered by the LMB rulings against his Diablos in both the Rookiegate scandal and the upholding of slugger Japhet Amador's suspension in Japan (see below), is in a can't-lose position since ONE of his teams will reach the Serie del Rey.  Even then, he loses because if Mexico City wins, they were SUPPOSED to while if the Guerreros advance, that means "suspended" (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjares loaded the wrong team.


NPB RATIFIES AMADOR SUSPENSION, SIX-MONTH BAN UPHELD

DH Japhet Amador is expected back in Jalisco
Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball has ratified the six-month suspension handed to Mexican slugger Japhet Amador on August 9 after the Rakuten Golden Eagles designated hitter tested positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide, both banned substances that can serve as "masking agents" for performance-enhancing drugs.  The Eagles appealed the suspension on August 22, the last day an appeal could be filed before a deadline passed, and the NPB eventually ratified its initial decision.

Amador tested positive after giving a urine sample following a June 13 interleague game against the Chunichi Dragons at home in Sendai.  The 6'4" "El Gigante de Mulege" first offered testimony at a July 30 hearing, saying he'd never knowingly take a banned substance but declining to appeal the test results, and gave another explanation on September 4.  The NPB ratification was handed down Friday and marks the fifth time that Japanese baseball's governing body has suspended a player for doping since drug testing was introduced in 2007; Amador's suspension is the first since 2011.

The massive Amador was hitting .269 with 20 homers over 62 Pacific League games this summer when abdominal pain sidelined him on July 3, according to the Mainichi website in Tokyo, after a slow start that saw Amador shipped to the minors for a short spell.  In three seasons with the Eagles, he's batted .250 with 52 homers and 126 RBIs in 222 games.  Amador came to Japan following a banner year in Mexico, beginning with a Mexican League MVP season for Mexico City after hitting .346 with an LMB-leading 41 homers over 103 contests and culminating in a winterball season in Jalisco, where he hit .288 with another 14 homers over 58 games before signing with Rakuten and heading to Japan, missing the Mexican Pacific League playoffs.

The Mexican League chose to honor Amador's regular season ban, preventing him from playing for the Diablos Rojos this summer. Diego Alejandro Reos of Informador.mx says Amador is expected to report to the Guadalajara team for training camp this Thursday, as per Charros' GM Ray Padilla.  "It's very important to have him from the start," Padilla said, "and more because he'll come to take 20 days of training and that'll be great for us.  He'll surely get into a good rhythm and help us a lot from the first game."  Regarding Amador's NPB ban, Padilla offered this (translated) quote: "These are situations that are foreign to us, to our organization, so we cannot comment at this time.

"It is benefitting us instead of harming us.  If he made a mistake he will show his face, but in no way does it affect us."

Monday, September 17, 2018

MONCLOVA, DIABLOS ADVANCE TO DIVISION FINALS

Monclova and Mexico City have both reached their respective Mexican League division finals for the Fall 2018 playoffs by copping first round wins in five games over Dos Laredos and Puebla, respectively.  The two teams clinched their division semifinals Sunday with home wins.  Being a host team has not been a guarantee of success thus far in the playoffs:  Of the 20 games played through Sunday, ten were won by the visiting team.  The most extreme example has come in the Yucatan-Oaxaca series, during which the visiting team won the first four games before the Guerreros topped the defending champion Leones, 5-1, Sunday in Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.


LMB NORTH SEMIS: MONCLOVA 4, DOS LAREDOS 1

Monclova IF Danny Espinosa at bat
The Acereros won the first two games of the series at home before copping two of three games on the road at Estadio Nuevo Laredo to move on to the LMB North Championship Series.  Monclova opened last Monday by winning an 11-10 slugfest thriller in which the Acereros' Francisco Peguero launched a walkoff solo homer in the bottom of the tenth inning off Tecolotes reliever Tyson Perez.  Peguero, who finished seventh in the Liga's regular season batting derby with a .368 average, aided Monclova's cause earlier in the evening with a three-run double in the eighth.  The Acereros followed up last Tuesday by topping the Tecos, 7-4, as two-time MVP Jesse Castillo and former MLB infielder Danny Espinosa each belted two-run homers to pace Monclova's attack in Game Two.

The series shifted to the Mexico-Texas border for the next three games, with the Tecos winning Thursday's Game Three, 7-2, thanks in no small part to Josh Rodriguez' three-run homer in the second inning.  Former Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown (who cracked 27 homers for Philadelphia in 2013) aided the Dos Laredos cause by going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and another counter driven in.  Monclova came back Friday after trailing 4-2 through the fourth inning to score six unanswered runs in an 8-4 Game Five victory.  Castillo pounded a three-run longball in the fifth to put the Acereros ahead while Chad Gotta and Espinosa both added homers in the sixth and seventh frames respectively.  After Game Five in Nuevo Laredo was rained out Saturday, the Acereros closed out the series with a 3-1 triumph.  Ace Josh Lowey, who finished 6-3 in the regular season, held the Tecos to one run on four hits over 7.2 innings to earn the win as Espinosa capped a solid first round performance by going 2-for-3 with a double, run and RBI while Juan Perez socked a two-run homer.

The Acereros will next play the winner of the Tijuana-Monterrey series in the North finals, beginning later this week.


LMB NORTH SEMIS: MONTERREY 3, TIJUANA 2

Monterrey IFs Agustin Murillo and Ramiro Pena
The teams split the first two games of the set in Tijuana, with the visiting Sultanes using four solo homers to beat the Toros, 7-4, last Monday.  Ex-Yankee infielder Ramiro Pena, a Monterrey native in his first LMB season, was joined by veterans Chris Roberson, Agustin Murillo and Jose Amador in going deep in the Sultanes' Game One win.  The Toros bounced back Tuesday with a 6-3 Game Two win behind Fernando Perez' three-run home run.  Shortstop Jose Guadalupe Chavez chipped in with a pair of hits, a run and an RBI  as TJ evened the series at a game apiece.

The two teams moved to Monterrey for the next three games.  Game Three on Thursday at Estadio Monterrey saw the Toros take the lead in the series with a second straight 6-3 triumph.  Longtime Cuban National Team star Frederich Cepeda and former MLB infielder Jorge Cantu each socked two run homers for the winners and Chavez added three hits.  The Sultanes knotted the series up at 2-2 by taking a 4-3 Game Four win Friday.  This one came down to the bottom of the ninth, when Murillo followed a Pena triple with a two-run walkoff homer off Toros closer Daniel Moskos to send 13,423 Monterrey fans home happy.  Sultanes starter Dallas Marinez, a Yankees minor leaguer who pitched in the All-Star Game between seasons while on loan to Leon before the cash-strapped Bravos shipped him north, had a strong outing by hurling 5.2 shutout innings and allowing just two hits.  The Sultanes took Saturday's Game Five by a 10-4 count in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated until the hosts put eight runs on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, keyed by a Roberson three-run homer.  Amador contributed three hits and two RBIs to the Monterrey attack.

After Sunday's travel day, Game Six is scheduled for Monday night in Tijuana.  Should the Toros win, the deciding contest is slated for Tuesday night.


LMB SOUTH SEMIS: MEXICO CITY 4, PUEBLA 1

Mexico City P Luis Mendoza
The Mexico City Diablos Rojos won the final two of three games in Puebla to finish their series with the Pericos and move on to the South Division Championship Series.  The first two contests were played at Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital, with the Diablos winning both, starting with last Tuesday's 8-4 Game One victory.  Newcomer Michael Choice, a former Rangers outfielder who joined Mexico City as a free agent on August 16, had a great night with a two-run homer, a pair of doubles and five RBIs for the winners.  Game Two also went the Diablos' way, 12-4, with Mexico City posting a nine-run seventh inning.  The Red Devils sent 15 men to the plate during that outburst, with speedster Carlos Figueroa singling, doubling, scoring twice and driving in two runs during the frame.

The series shifted to Puebla for the next three games, with the Pericos picking up their only win in Game Three, 7-6, last Friday.  Puebla benefitted from a Bernardo Heras solo homer during a three-run sixth inning during which the Parrots overcame a 6-4 deficit.  That would be the Pericos' last gasp of 2018 as the Diablos came back to win the next two contests at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.  Game Four began on Saturday before rain pushed its conclusion to Sunday, ending with a 7-3 Mexico City conquest.  Outfielder Yeison Asencio, who hit .386 in the regular season, contributed a single and double, scoring one run and adding two ribbies to negate Delmon Young of Puebla, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI.  Former MLB and NPB pitcher Luis Mendoza (who was MVP for the Pacific Coast League in 2011 and the Caribbean Series in 2013) got the win after allowing a single run in 6.2 innings while scattering seven hits while Diablos first baseman Luis Jimenez collected three of Mexico City's five hits, including a three-run homer off Puebla starter Josh Outman in the third.

The Diablos will await the winner of the Yucatan-Oaxaca series to learn who they'll be playing in the LMB South Championship Series later this week.


LMB SOUTH SEMIS: OAXACA 3, YUCATAN 2

Oaxaca P Alex Delgado
Of the four first round playoff series in the Mexican League's second season, this one has been the most surprising.  The Oaxaca Guerreros have won one LMB pennant (in 1998, two years after their inaugural season) and are rarely a factor in the rare times they advance to the postseason.  Thus expectations were low after the Warriors beat a reeling Leon team in a one-game wild card contest after a 26-30 regular season to qualify for a first-round series with defending LMB champion Yucatan.  Instead, new manager Sergio Gastelum has taken the Guerreros to within a game of meeting Mexico City in the division finals. 

Oaxaca won the first two games of the series in Merida, starting last Monday with a 4-1 Game One triumph behind the solid work of Guerreros starter Alex Delgado.  A Mexicali native in his seventh Liga season at the tender age of 23, Delgado limited the Leones to one run in three hits in seven innings of work, striking out nine and walking none.  Older brother Irwin Delgado followed Alex to the mound one night later in Oaxaca's 6-3 Game Two win at Parque Kukulcan, tossing six frames of one-run ball with seven whiffs before serving up a leadoff homer to Eric Aguilera in the bottom of the seventh.  Ex-Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was second in the LMB with a .406 batting average during the regular season, had a pair of singles for the Guerreros and drove in two runs.

The series then shifted to Oaxaca, where Yucatan won twice to give the road team victories for the first four games of the set.  After a Thursday rainout, the Leones took Game Three, 3-1, Friday as starter Cesar Valdez went seven innings and scattered six hits in a one-run outing.  Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle, a big-game player, contributed a run-scoring double while shortstop Walter Ibarra added an RBI single.  The Leones evened the series at two games each on Saturday by doubling up the Guerreros, 10-5, in Game Four.  Oaxaca was leading 5-4 after six innings before Yucatan scored two runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames to pull away.  Ibarra and Leo Heras powered homers for the Leones and Humberto Sosa had three hits with as many RBIs as a combined 17 pitchers took the hill in the marathon contest, which took 4 hours, 21 minutes to complete nine innings.  The Guerreros took their last home game of the series Sunday with a 5-1 Game Five victory.  Once again, Alex Delgado was sterling on the mound for the winners by allowing one run on three hits in six innings, striking out eight.  Henry Urrutia knocked out a two-run homer in the first inning as the Guerreros were up 5-0 after two entradas and coasted to the win.

The series moves back to Yucatan for Game Six Tuesday night at Parque Kukulcan, where Game Seven (if needed) would be played to determine who'll face Mexico City for the LMB South title.

Monday, September 10, 2018

OAXACA WINS PLAY-IN GAME; PLAYOFFS OPEN MONDAY

Oaxaca OF Yordanys Linares returns to dugout
The playoff matchups for the Mexican League's fall season have been set after the Oaxaca Guerreros took a 26-30 record and a fifth-place South Division finish to Leon for a wild-card came (necessitated by the Guerreros finishing one game behind the Bravos in the standings) and beat the 26-28 Bravos by a 7-6 score to slip into the Liga's final remaining postseason berth.

It was a disappointing finish to the year for the Bravos, who had led the LMB South in recent weeks despite a makeshift infield and seemed in position to continue playing after the regular season ended.  Instead, Leon will be sitting out the playoffs while Oaxaca celebrates their first postseason appearance since 2015.  It almost didn't turn out that way for the Guerreros, who fell behind 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning Saturday after the Bravos' Marco Jaime singled in Felix Pie and Michael Bernal off Oaxaca starter Jose Carlos Medina.

The Guerreros fought back with three runs in the top of the fourth when Jay Austin stroked a leadoff double and scored on a Dustin Geiger single, after which Henry Urrutia belted a homer to right against Leon opener Guillermo Moscoso to give the visitors a 3-2 advantage.  Moscoso settled down to retire the side and post two more scoreless frames before his Bravos teammates came back in the bottom of the sixth.  A Pie solo homer to tie the contest was followed by Medina's exit from the mound in favor of reliever Carlos Felix.  Bernal then greeted Felix with a double, moved to third on a Geiger fielding error of a Brandon Macia grounder, then came in to put Leon ahead, 4-3, on Israel Nunez' infield single.

Leon manager Luis Rivera sent former Oaxaca All-Star Alejandro Soto to the mound for the top of the seventh, a move that immediately backfired when Soto served up a leadoff homer to Julian Ornelas that knotted the game back up.  The score stood at 4-4 until the top of the ninth, when the Guerreros put three runs on the scoreboard off Bravos closer Joe Colon.  Yordanys Linares put Oaxaca ahead for good by whacking a two-run double off Colon with two out and then plated the Guerreros' final run on an Austin single.

The Bravos battled gamely in the bottom of the ninth.  Jaime singled in Antonio Ruiz after Ruiz had been waved to second on a balk called against Oaxaca pitcher Scott Shuman, a call that brought Shuman down from the mound and Guerreros manager Sergio Gastelum out of the dugout for a calm discussion with the umpires that led to Shuman and Gastelum both being elected (Jaime's single came off Ozzie Mendez).  Eduardo Arredondo then hit a fielder's choice grounder to first that got Jaime called out at second for the first out of the inning.  Arredondo was replaced by pinch-runner Luis Medina, who advanced to third on a Quincy Latimore single and scored on a Cedric Hunter sacrifice fly to center to bring Leon to within a run, but the game (and season) ended when Erick Casillas was brought in from the bullpen to replace Mendez and struck out Niko Vasquez swinging to send the Bravos and 3,489 in the stands at Parque Domingo Santana home wondering what might have been.

The wild finish climaxed a fall schedule in which the placement of teams in the LMB South remained in doubt until the final days.  Defending champion Yucatan (32-24) slipped into first place on the final day of the regular season Thursday when the Leones took a 7-4 win at Quintana Roo while Leon outlasted Mexico City (31-24) by a 9-8 count on Latimore's RBI single in the bottom of the tenth.  Puebla slipped down the stretch by dropping all three games of a series at Oaxaca to come in third at 29-27, two games ahead of Leon and three up on Oaxaca.

The LMB North playoff field had already been determined heading into last week's final series, but three more games were required for seeding purposes.  While Monclova (42-14) easily won the division, Tijuana (35-21) had to win seven of their last ten games to come in second by a game-and-a-half over Monterrey (34-23) while Dos Laredos (33-24) ended up in fourth after losing 10-5 in Monclova Thursday while the Sultanes prevailed in a 10-9 slugfest that took 12 innings to complete in Tijuana to break a deadlock with the Tecos for third.  Unlike Oaxaca in the South, fifth-place Aguascalientes (25-30) was too far behind Dos Laredos to force a wild-card game.

With the regular season in the taillights, the playoffs will open with four games Monday night.  Puebla will be at Mexico City for one LMB South semifinal while Oaxaca visits Yucatan to open the other.  Monterrey hosts Tijuana in a North semi series and Monclova will open at home against Dos Laredos.  All playoff series will be best-of-7 affairs throughout the postseason.


CAMPECHE'S ROSARIO OVERTAKES BETANCOURT FOR BAT CROWN
Fall bat champion Olmo Rosario of Campeche

It's been a tough couple years for Campeche Piratas outfielder Olmo Rosario.  The 38-year-old Dominican received a 50-game suspension prior to the 2017 season after testing for amphetamines during the previous year, leading to his release from the Tijuana Toros.  Rosario eventually signed with Leon in late May 2017 but was released by the Bravos three weeks later after batting just .174 over 13 games.  He was picked up by Campeche almost another three weeks and went on to hit .378 with five homers in 30 games, good enough to be brought back for another year in the Walled City.

Rosario turned in a good Spring season for the Piratas, hitting .319 with nine homers in 56 games, but he really stepped things up in the Fall campaign to win the Mexican League batting championship with a .408 average.  Rosario finished the season with a 14-game hitting streak (including a .600 average over his final ten games) to bring his season average up 48 points from .360 on August 19 to sneak past Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt's .406.  Betancourt was hitting .417 on September 1 but collected just six hits over his final five games to drop into second in the batting race.  Yelson Asencio of Mexico City came in a distant third at .386.

Felix Perez of Monclova belted two homers last Thursday in the Acereros' final game against Tijuana to finish with 19 longballs over 55 games to win his second consecutive home run title after sending 15 balls to the street in Spring to lead the LMB.  Perez finished ahead of Oaxaca's Dustin Geiger (15) and Leandro Castro of Saltillo (14).  Both Perez and Geiger were traded in the Fall midseason while Castro was signed by the Saraperos as a free agent in May a month after being released by Dos Laredos.  Perez tied with teammate Francisco Peguero for the Liga RBI title with 60 apiece (Puebla's Delmon Young was third with 56 ribbies) while Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis stole 28 bases in 34 attempts to beat out Monclova's Cade Gotta (25) and Tony Campana (24) of Aguascalientes in that category.

Brazilian Andre Rienzo pitched one scoreless inning in relief for Monclova last Tuesday against Dos Laredos to finish the season with a 0.76 ERA, easily the lowest among qualifiers in the loop.  Acereros manager Pedro Mere only brought Rienzo out of the bullpen twice since his last start on August 26 against Aguascalientes to rest the 30-year-old righty for the playoffs.  Terance Marin of Dos Laredos finished second to Rienzo with a 2.12 ERA while Aguascalientes' Francisco Del Rosario was third at 2.24.

Marin returned to organized baseball after pitching in Taiwan in 2017 and finished the LMB's Fall season on a high note by winning five of his last six starts to tie with Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez and Patrick Johnson for most wins with seven each.  Gonzalez will be well-rested for the playoffs after not having pitched since a September 4 victory at Durango while Johnson has been held out since a September 2 loss at Puebla.  Seven more pitchers finished with six wins.

Orlando Lara of Campeche (who himself hasn't pitched since September 1) took his first strikeout title with 64 in 61.1 innings to record the most ponchadas among Liga hurlers, with Monterrey's Jose De Paula (61) finishing second while Leon's Guillermo Moscoso and Enrique Oquendo (58) tied for third.  Wirfin Obispo on Monterrey only pitched once in relief last week and even though he didn't record a save, the Sultanes closer ended the calendar with 14, enough to lead the LMB.  Joe Colon (Leon), Chad Gausin (Yucatan) and Josh Lueke (Monclova) each had eleven saves to tie for second.

The Tijuana Toros led the Mexican League attendance with 252,668 fans attending 27 home games for an average of 9,358, which was higher than any full-season Class AAA team north of the border (Charlotte of the International League was next at 8,980).  Monterrey was second in the LMB with an average of 7,616 while Yucatan came in third at 6,985 but the Fall schedule was not kind to most Liga teams at the turnstiles.  Seven of the LMB's 16 teams drew fewer than 3,000 people per opening, with Campeche's 855 average bringing up the rear and Tabasco not a lot better at 1,151 per night.


LMB TO DROP TWO-SEASON FORMAT, TUESDAY GAMES IN 2019

Although a press release from the Mexican League last week has termed their two-seasons-in-one-year experiment a "success," apparently it wasn't successful enough as a format to keep around for a second year.  The LMB announced it will abandon this year's approach of two separate 57-game regular seasons with full playoffs starting in late March and finishing in October to return to a single-season format.  However, as often seems the case with the Liga, it won't come without complications.

On the surface, the move seems a wise one.  The LMB will play two halves for a total of 120 games per team for the regular season.  Similar to other leagues in Mexico, teams will be awarded points on the basis of where they finish in the standings each half, with the accrued totals determining playoff seeding. The number of games will be most since the Mexican League played a 120-game schedule in 2001 but since Minor League Baseball's two other Class AAA leagues had 140-game schedules this year, the six-game increase is not a big deal (especially with a month's worth of playoff games being eliminated).  However, the LMB Assembly of Presidents' decision to drop Tuesday as a game day south of the border is going to have far-reaching consequences.

Mondays have been travel days for years in Mexican baseball and that will not change.  However, the Liga has decided to create a second consecutive off-day each week before teams play between Wednesdays and Sundays, starting with a two-game series and concluding with a three-game set.  The result will be tighter travel schedules, more days during the season when ballparks are closed and a schedule stretching from March into November, which is when the playoffs will conclude.  Even the playoff format will be expanded from the current eight teams to twelve participants, with the top two finishers in each division getting a first-round bye while the next four teams battle it out to advance to the division semifinals (effectively adding another layer to the playoff format to make it a four-tiered process to win a pennant).

The moves appear to be a shot across the bow of the winter Mexican Pacific League, whose season traditionally begins in mid-October.  The LMP has already had to scramble for players to begin their upcoming 2018-19 season because the current Mexican League playoff system stretches into October, with the MexPac increasing the number of foreign players allowed per team from six to 12 this winter.  Next year's Mexican League playoff format would stretch about a full month into the LMP's season, severely curtailing the availability of domestic talent for the winter circuit.  Some observers believe the extended Mexican League season in 2019 is in response to the MexPac seeking to expand into current LMB markets, such as Monterrey and Tijuana.  The latter has had winterball teams in the past, but none were long-lasting.  In fact, the former Tijuana Potros hold a rather unenviable distinction of twice winning pennants (1987-88 and 1990-91) but not being allowed to compete the following winter due to what was termed "unfair competitive practices."  Following their second DQ, Tijuana joined the financially-troubled Guaymas Ostioneros and left the MexPac, leaving the league with an eight-team lineup ever since.

As always, the most affected people with the Liga's reformatting may be the players, who have never unionized and enjoy few rights in Mexican baseball.  In a country where the per capita income is generally between US$10,000-14,000 per year (depending on your source), many players perform year round because jobs that can bring in US$3,000-5,000 per month are very far and few between.  The new LBM format could seriously curtail a player's availability to continue earning money between November and February, especially if Liga teams (who own a player's rights in Mexico) decide to make a player unavailable for winterball because of "exhaustion," something often used by Major League Baseball organizations for their minor league players.

No official response has come out of the Mexican Pacific League's new offices in Guadalajara but it's hard to imagine LMP president Omar Canizales doing nothing.  We shall see.

Monday, September 3, 2018

MONCLOVA CLINCHES LMB NORTH, SOUTH A TOSS-UP

Monclova Acereros P Jason Gurka
To the surprise of nobody, the Monclova Acereros have clinched first place in the Mexican League North Division and will sail into the Fall season playoffs with the best record in the circuit.  The Steelers have led the LMB North practically since the second season opened in July and even the surprising midseason replacement of first-year manager Carlos Garcia with ex-Tijuana skipper Pedro Mere did nothing to halt the team's bid to become Monclova's first Liga pennant winners.  The Acereros will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Acereros ran their season record to 41-12 Sunday by clobbering Dos Laredos, 16-2, in front of 5,058 fans at Estadio Monclova as starter Jason Gurka (a former Rockies and Angels pitcher) tossed five innings of one-run ball to extend his ledger to 6-0 on the campaign.  Gurka had a 1-2 record with a 3.18 ERA in relief appearances for the Orioles' AAA Norfolk affiliate this year before coming to Monclova just as the Fall schedule opened.  After only one start since 2014, the 30-year-old lefty from Texas was inserted into Monclova's rotation August 3 and has won five times in six starts.  Gurka was given a lead Sunday when Cade Gotta smacked a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning off Tecolotes starter Alex Sanabia to launch a five-run opening entrada.  Reigning MVP Jesse Castillo went 4-for-6 with a double, three runs scored and another two driven in while Erick Aybar and former Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa each had three hits.  Espinosa, who had four RBIs, is with his fifth organization in 2018 after suiting up for Yankees, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Phillies teams since spring training.  He arrived in Monclova in mid-August after being released from the Phils' AAA Lehigh Valley affiliate.

With Sunday's blowout, the Acereros have won seven of their past ten game and enter their final three-game series of the regular season at home against Dos Laredos with a seven-game lead over Tijuana (34-19), who has won nine of their last ten contest to go two-and-a-half games ahead of third-place Monterrey (32-22).  The Toros need to win just once in their final home set with the Sultanes at Estadio Gasmart to clinch homefield advantage in the first playoff round against either Monterrey or Dos Laredos, who enters the week with a 31-23 mark.  Fifth-place Aguascalientes (24-29) was knocked out of mathematical contention Sunday by losing 8-7 to Saltillo when the Saraperos' Christian Zazueta scored the tiebreaking run on an Anthony Carter wild pitch in the top of the ninth.  Both teams, along with Durango and Union Laguna, will be done playing after Thursday night's season-ending games.

While the LMB North playoff participants (if not the seedings) have been determined, things are much hazier in the South.  Yucatan's 4-2 home win over Tabasco vaulted the defending champion Leones (30-23) past Mexico City (29-23) into first place by a half-game.  The Lions got a good start from Jose Samayoa (6 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 5 SO) while sending Olmecas opener Thomas Melgarejo to the showers with a three-run fifth inning.  Mexico City dropped out of first after the Diablos Rojos dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker at Puebla Sunday as the Pericos' Sergio Perez singled off Patrick Johnson to bring in Daniel Sanchez from third with the game's only run in the bottom of the third.  Puebla stater Josh Outman blanked the Diablos on two hits over seven innings for the win as the Parrots raised their record to 29-24, one game out of first.

Below the leaders, fourth-place Leon has faded over the past few weeks and the Bravos are now 25-26 after holding off Oaxaca, 8-7, Sunday.  Leon took an 8-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth before Dustin Geiger socked a leadoff homer off Bravos closer Joe Colon and Jaime Brena and Samar Leyva stroked run-scoring singles before Colon struck out Yuniesky Betancourt with the bases loaded to end the contest.   Leon is three games ahead of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo and while neither the Guerreros nor Tigres are likely to catch up the Bravos with only three games left, one of them might force a single play-in game with the Guanajuato club (who would serve as host).  Both Campeche and Tabasco are out of the running.

Needless to say, there are a few important midweek series starting Tuesday on the docket.  In the LMB North, Monterrey visits Tijuana to determine the second playoff seed in that division in a matchup of likely first-round opponents.  In the South, Yucatan will make the short hop from Merida to Cancun for three games with the Tigres, who have played well of late but are only 9-18 at home for the Fall season.  Mexico City visits Leon for three games and Oaxaca welcomes Puebla.  If a play-in game is required, it'll take place next Saturday with first round series set to begin Tuesday, September 10.


BETANCOURT HITTING .406, TAKES BAT RACE LEAD

Oaxaca Guerreros IF Yuniesky Betancourt
Former MLB shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has taken advantage of a late performance dip by Yucatan centerfielder Leo Heras to gain the lead in the Mexican League batting derby.  Betancourt, who hit .367 with 11 homers in 56 games for Oaxaca during the Spring season, went 3-for-3 against Leon Friday to raise his current average to .417, was 1-for-8 the rest of the weekend to drop to .406, still good enough to lead the LMB by five points over Mexico City outfielder Yeison Asencio, a three-time postseason All-Star while playing in the Padres minor league system.  Heras has gone 7-for-35 over his last ten games to see his average plummet from .449 to .385 and now ranks fifth in the Liga, with Yucatan teammate Everth Cabrera just ahead in fourth at .386.

Monterrey first baseman Felix Perez homered against Tijuana last Tuesday and went deep Sunday in Durango to bring his season total to 16, two longballs ahead of Saltillo's Leandro Castro and Dustin Geiger of Oaxaca.  A native of Cuba, like the aforementioned Betancourt, the 33-year-old Perez spent five seasons in the Red Sox system (and was a 2014 International League midseason All-Star for Louisville) before coming to Monterrey one year later.  After only playing 28 games for the Sultanes in 2017, Perez was let go and signed by Aguascalientes in the offseason and immediately rewarded the Rieleros by leading the LMB with 15 homers in the Spring season.  After knocking out another 10 roundtrippers in 28 games for Aguascalientes this Fall, he was dealt back to Monterrey early last month in a five-player deal that send first baseman Ricky Alvarez and pitcher Nestor Molina to the Railroaders.

Perez' 52 RBIs rank third in the LMB behind Monclova's Francisco Peguero's 57 and the 54 of Puebla outfielder Delmon Young, who led in ribbies most of the season but drove in just one run over the Pericos' three-game weekend series at Mexico City.  After it looked like Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana might have an easy run to the stolen bases title much of the season, the former Cub has been surpassed by both Johnny Davis of Dos Laredos and Monclova outfielder Cade Gotta.  A Southern League postseason All-Star last year while in the Brewers organization, the 28-year-old Davis (who stole 52 bases for Biloxi in 2017) swiped four bases against Monclova last weekend, including three steals in Saturday's game, to lift his season total to 26 in 31 attempts.  Gotta, who won a Southern League Player of the Week award earlier this year with the Marlins' AA Jacksonville affiliate, stole six bases against the Tecos in the same series and now has 24 for the Fall.  Campana pilfered two bases against Saltillo over the weekend but now stands third behind Davis and Gotta in steals with 23.

Monterrey Sultanes P Edgar Gonzalez
One-time Diamondbacks starter Edgar Gonzalez gave up two runs in 5.1 innings to earn the win for is hometown Monterrey Sultanes in Sunday's 11-4 triumph in Durango to bring his season record to 7-2.  The 35-year-old Gonzalez is now tied with Mexico City's Patrick Johnson for the Liga lead in pitching wins.  Since picking up the W against Puebla on August 16, Johnson has lost two of his last three starts, including a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Pericos on Sunday in which he allowed the game's only run and scattered six hits while striking out seven over six innings.  Six pitchers are tied for third with six wins apiece.

Monclova's Andre Rienzo pitched a scoreless inning in relief against Dos Laredos Sunday after tossing six shutout innings in his last start on August 26 against Aguascalientes to bring his league-leading ERA down further to 0.78, nearly a full run per nine innings fewer than teammate Wilmer Rios, who is second in the LMB at 1.76.  While he's been obscured on his own pitching staff by Rienzo and Josh Lowey, the 24-year-old Rios (son of Salon de la Fama member Jesus "Chito" Rios, who won 21 games for the Tigres in 1989) has cobbled together a breakout campaign with the Acereros by going 6-0 and leading the Liga with an 0.87 WHIP.  Rios has allowed just six walks in 56.1 innings pitched.

Campeche veteran Orlando Lara struck out eight Quintana Roo batters Saturday in six innings of a Piratas' 6-4 loss to the Tigres, running his season strikeout total to 64 over 61.1 frames and taking over leadership of the LMB in that category.  The 33-year-old Lara, who whiffed 12 Leon batsmen in seven innings on August 9, was one of three pitchers to overtake former strikeouts leader Enrique Oquendo of Puebla last week.  Oquendo hasn't pitched since August 26, when he struck out three Mexico City hitters in three innings to bring his season total to 57.  Jose De Paula of Monterrey (61) and Leon's Guillermo Moscoso (59) are second and third, respectively.  Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo earned a save at Durango Saturday, giving him 14 in 15 opportunities this Fall.  That's two more saves than Leon's Joe Colon and Josh Lueke of Monclova.  Three other pitchers, including 2017 Reliever of the Year Chad Gaudin (who now pitches for Yucatan after being released earlier this year by Monclova) have 11 saves each.


THREE's (MORE) COMPANY: CARIBBEAN SERIES FIELD GROWS TO 8

Serie del Caribe is scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico.  The Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, aka COPABE, made the announcement after holding their general convention last week in Miami.
Beginning in 2020, the Caribbean Series will expand from its current five-nation format to eight with the additions of Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua to the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball.  The three new entrants will join the fun when the

Panama sent teams to the original Caribbean Series for twelve years prior to its discontinuation in 1960 after Cuba dropped out following their revolution and the ascension of Fidel Castro, a former pitcher who pulled his countrymen out of all pro baseball competition after taking power.  Panama hosted the CS three times (1952, 1956 and 1960) and won the event in 1950 with American manager Way Blackburn leading the Carta Viejo Yankees to a 5-1 record in that tournament.  When the Serie del Caribe resumed play in 1970, Panama was dropped from the competition and the Mexican Pacific League champion added as a replacement.  Last year, Panama was tentatively added by COPABE to the CS as a "guest" country for the February 2019 tournament planned for Barquisimeto, Venezuela.

Nicaragua and Colombia, who have competed along with Panama and Mexico in the Latin American Series, have never played in the Caribbean Series.  Mexico sends its champion from the winter league operating in the state of Veracruz to the LAS, which was played last January in Managua, Nicaragua and won by the host Chinandega Tigres (who were managed by current Saltillo Saraperos skipper Len Picota).  The Acayucan Tobis, champions of the Veracruz State League, were second.

COPABE president Juan Francisco Puello Herrera was quoted as saying the organization will meet in September to determine how the newcomers will be integrated into the Caribbean Series.  Speculation is that the champions from the three winter leagues would play each other in a preliminary competition to determine which one would join the existing five teams at the full CS.  When Cuba returned in 2014, it was on a conditional basis and that island nation's full membership has not been granted and nor have they been added to the rotation of host sites.  The future of the Latin American Series may be cast into doubt if three of its four participating national winterball leagues move up to the Caribbean Series.

The Caribbean Series has long been a centerpiece of Latin baseball but the event has struggled both artistically and financially the past few years.  The talent level of teams has dropped exponentially with fewer prospects being sent south of the border by Major League Baseball organizations, who instead have shown a preference for the more antiseptic and controlled atmosphere of the Arizona Fall League or even the lesser-quality Australian Baseball League.  As well, the combination of power attendance and political turmoil in some countries has made the CS less viable in those locations.  Barquisimeto had to drop out from hosting the event last February, with Guadalajara stepping in to fill the void, and while there's been much brave talk about Barquisimeto's readiness to host the upcoming Serie del Caribe, Venezuela's economy has not improved and continued political unrest there have people wondering if there will be another move.  Word for months has been that Mazatlan and its refurbished Estadio Teodoro Mariscal are preparing to welcome teams and fans should plans in Venezuela fall through again.