Monday, August 27, 2018


Aguascalientes pitcher Nestor Molina

Monclova ace Josh Lowey pitched six innings of good baseball but Aguascalientes hurler Nestor Molina was the ultimate beneficiary of one Lowey mistake as the Rieleros beat the Acereros, 3-1, in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader to end Monclova's ten-game Mexican League winning streak.  Lowey allowed just two hits with six strikeouts, but it was a two-run homer by Aguascalientes catcher Carlos Rodriguez (batting eighth in the Railroaders' order) with two out in the top of the second that made the difference. Molina, who came to Aguascalientes with Ricky Alvarez and Francisco Lugo from Monterrey in a trade earlier this month after being dealt to the Sultanes by Dos Laredos in July, scattered eight hits over his five frames to go to 3-2 for the season. Anthony Carter retired the home team in the bottom of the seventh for his seventh save.  Lowey tool the loss to drop to 5-2.

The Acereros bounced back to win both Saturday's nightcap and Sunday's getaway game to raise their Fall season record to 37-10, by far the Liga's best ledger, and their commanding LMB North lead over second-place Monterrey (30-18) by seven-and-a-half games.  For their part, the Sultanes had their own eight-game winning skein before dropping a 5-2 home game to Durango on Saturday night. Tijuana has won five in a row to pull half a game behind the Sultanes at 29-18 while Dos Laredos sits in fourth place at 28-20. With nine games left in the regular season, all four teams seem likely to advance to the playoffs as fifth-place Aguascalientes are four-and-a-half games behind the Tecolotes at 22-25.  Saltillo and Durango barely have mathematical chances to catch up to Dos Laredos but Union Laguna (14-34) has been out of contention for some time now.

Things are much closer in the LMB South, where only a half-game separates division leader Yucatan (27-21) from Mexico City and Puebla, who are tied for second at 26-21 apiece.  Leon (23-23) is holding fourth but financial problems may be proving the Bravos undoing as one fan in Guanajuato tells us he's heard the team missed a recent payroll, not the way to keep your clubhouse happy and motivated.  
If that's the case, Leon is hardly the only team experiencing such difficulties.  Puro Beisbol columnist Rodrigo Us May authored a recent piece chronicling the woes of the eternally-woebegone Tabasco Olmecas, who he says recently missed meeting their two-week payroll twice in a row and that owner-brothers Juan Luis and Carlos Dagdug have lost interest in the Olmecas and stopped investing in the team.  Fans in Villahermosa appear to have reached similar conclusions. After the Olmecas showed relatively good attendance figures for the Spring season by finishing fifth in the LMB with 102,970 fans clicking the turnstiles for 30 games, a home game Sunday against defending champion Yucatan at Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero drew just 429 souls to bring the total attendance for the three-game set to 2,609.  Things may be even worse in Campeche, where the Piratas had just 602 people in the stands Sunday for a home game with Quintana Roo to cap a series in which only 1,980 fans came out for three contests against the Tigres, one of the Liga's legacy teams. Attendance has dropped across the Mexican League from the Spring season, with Tijuana (9,534) the only team averaging above 7,700 and nine clubs drawing fewer than 3,000 per opening (Campeche brings up the rear at 882).  Conversely, three teams averaged over 10,000 during the Spring campaign and only five teams were under 3,000 per game, at least implying that the two-season approach for 2018 isn't selling to fans.

Campeche (20-28), Quintana Roo (19-29) and Tabasco (18-28) are all trailing Oaxaca (20-27) among the LMB South also-rans, with the Guerreros trailing fourth-place Leon by three-and-a-half games after the weekend.  The Tigres helped themselves with a three-game sweep in Campeche and have won six of their last ten games, but two of their final three series will come Pagainst division-leading Yucatan so catching up with the Bravos will be a tall order for Fernando Valenzuela's squad.  Campeche may have the best shot of at least forcing a single play-in game with Leon because none of the Piratas' final nine games are against winning teams, but the clock is ticking on everyone.


Monclova's Andre Rienzo during his White Sox days
While there are any number of reasons the Monclova Acereros have been dominating the Mexican League's second season and have to be considered the postseason favorite to win the city's first LMB pennant, there's no question that pitcher Andre Rienzo has to be near the top of the list.  The 6'2" righthander became the first Brazilian-born pitcher to reach the majors when he debuted for the Chicago White Sox against Cleveland on June 30, 2013 (allowing three runs and striking out six Tribe batsmen in a seven-inning start) and while he went on to go 6-9 over 42 outings for the Chisox and Miami between 2013 and 2015, expectations were low for the Sao Paolo native heading into the Fall campaign after he'd been out of organized baseball since electing free agency following a 2017 season during which he was 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA for the Padres' AAA affiliate in El Paso.

Thus, what has happened with the 30-year-old righty since signing with Monclova just as the Fall 2018 season was getting underway in early July has been nothing short of remarkable.  Rienzo's record of 4-0 isn't all that eye-opening (although it's worth noting he hasn't lost a game since May 6, 2016 when he was pitching for AAA New Orleans), but his 0.79 ERA has turned a few heads.  In nine starts, Rienzo has held Acereros opponents scoreless seven times and if you take away one August 14 outing against Durango (three earned runs allowed in five innings in his only start between August 2 and 21), his ERA would be a mere 0.22.  Rienzo had two starts against Aguascalientes last week and held the Rieleros scoreless both times over twelve innings, including a no-decision in Sunday's 2-1 Monclova eleven-inning win.

What all that means is that Rienzo is well ahead the competition for the Liga's ERA crown, with fellow Steelers pitcher Wilmer Rios second on the table at 1.97 Jose Oyervides of Dos Laredos third with a 2.25 figure.  Small wonder that Monclova's 37-10 record has been largely built on a 2.83 team ERA, making them the only LMB club with an ERA below 4.00 (Monterrey's is 4.14) while half are over 5.00. In a hitter's circuit like the Mexican League, you're going to win some games with pitching like that.  Mexico City's Patrick Johnson finally lost a game after dropping a 10-4 decision at Oaxaca last Wednesday but his seven wins still lead the league, one more than Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez, who allowed one run in six frames in a win at Union Laguna on the same night Johnson lost. Enrique Oquendo of Puebla still leads the loop with 57 strikeouts after striking out three Mexico City batters in as many innings Sunday in a 9-4 loss to the Diablos Rojos), but he has plenty of company near the top.  Campeche's Orlando Lara is one whiff behind at 56, Jose De Paula of Monterrey has 55 K's and Leon's Guillermo Moscoso is three behind Oquendo at 54. In case you're wondering, three-time strikeouts champion Josh Lowey of Monclova is tied for seventh with 43 ponchadas. Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo had two saves last week to bring his fall total to 13, one more than Josh Lueke of Monclova.

Among hitters, Yucatan centerfielder Leo Heras has cooled down a bit since he had his batting average at .453 on August 16, but the five-time All-Star from Tijuana's .414 still leads the Liga by seven points over Oaxaca infielder Yuniesky Betancourt while Mexico City outfielder Yeison Asencio is one point behind Betancourt at .406.  Although Felix Perez' home run production has slowed a bit since his August 7 trade from Aguascalientes to Monterrey (10 dingers in 28 games for the Rieleros, 4 homers in 18 games for the Sultanes), the Cuban first baseman's 14 roundtrippers are enough to lead the LMB, one more than Saltillo's Leandro Castro, Francisco Cordoba of Quintana Roo and Oaxaca's Dustin Geiger.  Geiger has belted four homers in eight game for the Guerreros since being shipped from Durango on August 16 after representing the Generales in last month's All-Star Game. Delmon Young of Puebla leads with 54 RBIs in 47 games, two more than Monclova's Francisco Peguero, and Dos Laredos outfielder Johnny Davis stole four bases against Saltillo last Saturday to bring his season total to 22, two more than Tony Campana of Aguascalientes.  Campana has stolen one base in his last twelve games since August 11.


Estadio Monterrey, site of three 2019 MLB series
Major League Baseball will return to Monterrey, Mexico in 2019 with three different events, including spring training and regular-season games. According to the Ballpark Digest website, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks will play a pair of Spring Training games on March 9th-10th, the Cincinnati Reds will host the St. Louis Cardinals for a two-game regular season set on April 13-14, and the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros will play a two-game series on May 4-5.

All games will be played at Estadio Monterrey, home of the Sultanes. Ballpark Digest reports that the spring training games in Monterrey will be the first of the 2019 international campaign, which will also include games in Tokyo, Japan and London, England. Next season’s spanning of the globe marks the latest example of the continued collaboration between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association to promote baseball around the world.

The Rockies, who last appeared in Mexico for a Spring Training contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 in Hermosillo, will be making their third trip south of the border. Colorado also competed against the San Diego Padres on Opening Day in 1999 in Monterrey and again in Culiacan in 2001 during Spring Training.

The Diamondbacks will return to Mexico after appearing in ten exhibition games from 1998-2015, all played in Hermosillo. Arizona played the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998 and 1999, the Angels in 2000, the Oakland Athletics in 2001, the Padres in 2002, the Kansas City Royals in 2003, the White Sox in 2008, Team Mexico in 2009 in advance of the WBC and the Rockies in 2010 and 2015. The Diamondbacks previously participated in MLB’s 2014 Opening Series in Australia against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Reds and Cardinals will be making their first trips to Mexico for the April regular season series. Cincinnati previously played an international three-game set in 2003 against the Montreal Expos in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Angels will head south of the border for the first time since they hosted the D-backs in Hermosillo for an exhibition game in 2000. The Angels have previously played internationally in Puerto Rico for a three-game series against the Expos in 2003.

The reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros will make their third trip to Mexico and their first to the City of Monterrey. Houston previously played two exhibition series in Mexico City, one in 2004 against the Florida Marlins and a second against the Padres in 2016. The Astros also played internationally in 2000 with a two-game exhibition series in the Dominican Republic against the Boston Red Sox and in 2001 with a two-game exhibition set against the Cleveland Indians in Valencia, Venezuela.

From May 4-6, 2018, the Dodgers and the Padres played three games in Monterrey, drawing a total of 65,116 fans.  Story originally posted August 24 by Ballpark Digest

Monday, August 20, 2018


Japhet Amador during happier times in Mexico City
The Mexican League will recognize hulking slugger Japhet Amador's suspension from Japanese baseball by not allowing Amador to play over the remainder of the Liga's regular season and throughout the Fall playoffs.  Earlier this month, the Mulege Giant was ruled ineligible for six months from Nippon Professional Baseball after testing positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide, both banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).  Amador has said he plans to appeal the ruling.

There was speculation that the LMB would allow Amador to suit up for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, a flagship franchise who presently holds third place in the South Division with a 22-19 record and a likely postseason qualifier.  The Red Devils own Amador's Mexican League rights and billionaire majordomo Alfredo Harp Helu is the Liga's richest owner and a power among his peers.  However, last Thursday the LMB office in the nation's capital issued this Google-translated statement (with corrections for grammar only):

The Mexican Baseball League informs that it does not accept the movement by which the Meixco City Diablos Rojos sought the incorporation of Japhet Amador to their roster.  This is in support of the Japanese Baseball League (sic), which determined to suspend for six months after finding an adverse result in an anti-doping test for prohibited substances while playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles team.

Amador tested positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide, according to a report by the Japanese League, chemical substances that are considered prohibited because they conceal the existence in the human body of other substances that improve physical performance.

The LMB promotes fair play and ethics on and off the field. Based on this premise, this decision was made. The league is still waiting for the investigation to end in the case of Japhet Amador.

The last time Amador played in Mexico City was in 2015, when he won MVP honors after batting .346 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games. He'd certainly have provided a large boost to the Diablos, who beat Yucatan, 6-5, Sunday night at home on Daniel Jimenez' walkoff single that drove Jesus Fabela in from second with the winner.

The loss dropped Yucatan into second place at 24-18, a half-game behind 24-17 Puebla. The Pericos broke a tie with the Leones at the top of the standings by splitting a doubleheader in Campeche Sunday, losing the opener by a 3-2 count before winning the 4-1 nightcap thanks to Bernardo Heras' three-run homer in the top of the ninth. Leon has lost their last four games and seven of their last ten to fall from the LMB South lead into fourth place at 20-20, three games ahead of 18-24 Campeche in fifth.

The Monclova Acereros have won seven in a row to go to 32-9, best in the Liga and six-and-a-half games ahead of Dos Laredos. The 26-16 Tecolotes are a game up on Monterrey (25-17) while Tijuana (24-17) is right behind in fourth. Aguascalientes is three games out of playoff certainty with a 21-20 mark while Durango, Saltillo and Union Laguna all may as well be looking ahead to 2019.

While none of the upcoming midweek series are particularly compelling (Monclova at Aguascalientes looks the best), a potential dandy next weekend will be when Puebla visits Mexico City for three. The Pericos currently are two games ahead of the Diablos with fifteen games remaining in the regular season.

Yucatan's Leo Heras leads the LMB with a .429 average, 22 points ahead of Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt's .407. Felix Perez of Monterrey is tops with 13 homers, and Puebla's Delmon Young continues to head the RBI list with 48. Tony Campana of Aguascalientes is still best with 19 stolen bases but Dos Laredo's Johnny Brown and Cade Gotta of Monclova are closing the gap with 17 swipes each.

Although the Mexican League is upholding its reputation as a hitter's circuit, five starters have ERA's of 2.03 or lower, four of them under 2.00. Monclova's Andre Rienzo (3-0) continues to head the list at 1.08, well below the 1.67 of veteran Jose Oyervides (also 3-0), who signed as a free agent with Dos Laredos for the Fall season after being released by Monclova following the Spring campaign. Mexico City's Patrick Johnson leads in wins with a perfect 7-0 record, Enrique Oquendo of Puebla's 54 strikeouts over 46 innings leads all pitchers while Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo and Josh Lueke of Monclova have 11 saves apiece.


Former Culiacan manager Benji Gil in a quieter moment
Former big league infielder Benji Gil has unexpectedly resigned as manager of the defending Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan Tomateros.  Longtime LMP skipper Lorenzo Bundy, presently managing Puebla in the Mexican League, was tabbed as Gil's successor in the Tomateros dugout.

The 45-year-old Gil was born in Tijuana and was the first Mexican to be picked in the first round of the MLB draft by Texas.  He went on to play all or part of eight Major League seasons between 1993 and 2003 with the Rangers and Angels, batting .237 with 32 homers over 604 games.  He was a member of Anaheim's 2002 World Series champions, going 4-for-5 with a double and scoring one run in the Halos' seven-game triumph over San Francisco.  Gil spent another eight years playing in the Mexican League for Tijuana, Monterrey and Chihuahua before retiring after spending a partial season with Oaxaca in 2011.

Gil also played 13 winters with Culiacan during his 19-year MexPac career during which he hit .263 with 64 homers in 669 games while winning four pennants and two Caribbean Series with the Tomateros.  He first became manager in Culiacan for the 2014-15 season and led the Tomateros to the LMP pennant before getting fired a year later after the club failed to reach the playoffs.  Gil was brought back to the Sinaloa city last fall and piloted the Tomateros to another pennant.  Although his ability to manage has been largely proven, Gil has also proven to be a volatile sort not averse to challenging his own players in the dugout or making obscene gestures after clinching a title on the road, but his departure from the Tomateros managership is for familial, not temperamental, reasons,  His son Mateo was chosen in the third round by St. Louis in the June draft and Benji said during a press conference that he wants to concentrate on Mateo's playing career in the Cardinals organization.  The elder Gil will take a consultant position in the Culiacan organization but his resignation two months before the LMP season begins drew consternation among Tomateros fans, who rank among Mexico's most devoted aficianados, as to who would replace him.

Enter Lorenzo Bundy.  The Philadelphia native was named as Culiacan's manager within days of Gil's resignation last week.  Bundy is no stranger to the MexPac.  He was let go in Hermosillo earlier this year after five seasons in his second stint managing the Naranjeros.  This winter will be Bundy's 25th season managing an LMP team after playing six years in the loop.  He's won pennants in Navojoa, Mazatlan and Hermosillo and won his 700th regular season game last winter, second only to Francisco "Paquin" Estrada's record 856 victories over 27 campaigns.  Bundy is currently in his first year managing the Mexican League's Puebla Pericos and has the Parrots leading the LMB South with a 24-17 record.  He's also coached in MLB with Colorado, Arizona, Miami and the Los Angeles Dodgers.


LNM Finals MVP Yousamot Cota of Ensenada
A single by Ensenada's Yousamot Cota in the fifth inning drove in Luis Diego Rodriguez with the go-ahead run as the Marineros went on to beat San Quintin, 3-1, last Tuesday night at Ensenada's Antonio Palacios Sports Stadium.  The win gave the Mariners a 4-games-to-2 triumph over the Freseros in the Northern Mexico League championship series and a repeat pennant for the Liga Norte AA affiliate of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros, both owned by Alfredo Harp Helu.  Former MLB and Diablos catcher Geronimo Gil collected the title as Ensenada's first-year manager after replacing another former Mexico City star, Victor Bojorquez, in the dugout.

San Quintin took an early 1-0 lead in Game Six when Mario Cabrera scored on Fernando Inzunza's second-inning single but the Marineros knotted the score at a run apiece two frames later after Ramon Sesteaga's sacrifice fly to center field brought in Uriak Marquez from third.  Cota's RBI safety put Ensenada ahead for good in the fifth and a bases-loaded walk to Marquez in a later inning pushed Rodriguez across with an insurance run for the eventual winners.  Marineros starter Jesus Yave Estrada pitched one-run ball over five innings to earn the win while Luis Ramirez got the save.  Irving Machuca, who gave up the Cota single, was tagged with the loss for San Quintin.  Cota, a native of Hermosillo, was named the LNM Finals MVP after going 3-for-4 for Ensenada in Game Six while Italo Mota paced the Freseros attack with a pair of hits. 

The pennant is Ensenada's third in the Liga Norte, with the Sailors joining San Luis as the only two teams to never miss the postseason in the circuit's seven season.  The Marineros also won the LNM title after the loop was formed in 2012 following a split among teams in the Northern Sonora League, which dated back to 1944.  The LNS lasted another three seasons before going on hiatus after the 2014 campaign, a break that stretched into its fourth year in 2018.  Current LNM teams in Puerto Penasco and Caborca shifted to the Liga Norte following the LNS shutdown.

Monday, August 13, 2018


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.