Monday, January 1, 2018

LMP regular season ends, playoffs to begin Monday

Culiacan OF Sebastian Elizalde homering
The Mexican Pacific League has concluded its 2017-18 regular season, with the Culiacan Tomateros parlaying a third-place finish in the second half into a top seed berth for the January playoffs.  Mexicali ran away with the second-half title by turning in a 26-7 record under manager Pedro Mere to finish six games ahead of 20-13 Navojoa, collecting eight points toward the postseason in the bargain.  However, the Aguilas' 16-19 showing in the first half netted the borderites just four points while the defending champs' sixth-place finish cost former skipper Roberto Vizcarra his job.

In the end, however, it was Culiacan's steady performance throughout both halves that gave them home-field advantage for the pending postseason.  Although some breaths were held when the Tomateros brought back the volatile Benji Gil as manager in the offseason, fans were rewarded with a 20-15 record for second place and 7.0 points in the first half followed by a 19-16 mark in the second stanza, good enough for third place and the 6.0 points that come with it for a total of 13.0 points, one point ahead of Mexicali and 1.5 points up on Navojoa.  Mexicali had the best overall record at 42-26 while Culiacan went a combined 39-29 and Navojoa was 38-30.  All three teams will move on to the playoffs, as will Hermosillo (33-34/11.5), Mazatlan (37-31/11.0) and Jalisco (35-32/9.5).  Obregon (27-41/7.0) was never a factor in either half and Los Mochis (20-48/6.5) finished their season in disastrous fashion by losing their last 17 games under interim helmsman Ramon Orantes, at least implying that fired manager Luis Sojo wasn't the problem with the Caneros.

Culiacan outfielder Sebastian Elizalde won the batting title with a .380 average, nine points ahead of Jalisco second baseman Manny Rodriguez.  A Reds farmhand, Elizalde also led the loop with a .446 on-base percentage, tied Rodriguez for the MexPac lead with 95 hits apiece and finished a distant second to Mazatlan speedster Jeremias Pineda (who'll miss the playoffs after going home shortly before Christmas to play for the Dominican League's Cibao Gigantes) with 16 stolen bases.

Elizalde is in the conversation for MVP honors, but it'll be hard to beat out Rodriguez, whose .371 average was augmented by 25 doubles, 58 RBIs, 50 runs scored, 150 total bases, a .568 slugging percentage and a 1.009 OPS (all best in the loop) while his 10 homers were good enough to tie for fourth with teammate Agustin Murillo.  The 35-year-old Guasave native posted his seventh straight .300+ Mexican League season last summer for Monclova and even stealing 19 bases, showing little sign of slowing down.  Navojoa's Randy Arozarena led the LMP with 14 homers in another down year for roundtrippers while tying Rodriguez for the doubles lead at 25 two-baggers.  The Cardinals minor leaguer by way of Cuba may get some MVP mention, too, but it appears to be Manny's award to lose at this point.

Any debate for Pitcher of the Year will likely include just two candidates: Mazatlan's Mitch Lively and Rolando Valdez of Mexicali.  Lively, who made the best of a bad situation in Leon during the summer, had some dominant moments during the MexPac calendar and finished with a 9-2 record to lead the league in wins, tossed the only complete game shutout of the season, posted the best WHIP (0.96) and finished with 63 strikeouts to come in second to Jalisco's Tyler Alexander (66) over 12 starts.  Lively, whose 2.50 ERA was second to Valdez, hasn't pitched for the Venados since December 17 (when he was rocked by Mexicali for four runs on 10 hits in 6.2 innings), but Tweeted Saturday that he was returning to Mazatlan for the playoffs after some time off, presumably at home in California.  He'll help form a potentially lethal playoff rotation with Roy Merritt, Dustin Crenshaw and Alejandro Soto for manager Daniel Fernandez' Deer.  Obregon closer Manny Acosta, who was picked by Navojoa in Saturday's reinforcement draft, led the MexPac with 16 saves

Valdez will receive some MVP votes on the basis of his league-leading 1.74 earned-run average, finishing a remarkable .76 ahead of Lively en route to a 5-2 record.  If there's a Comeback of the Year award in the LMP, the 32-year-old Nuevo Laredo product is a shoo-in after a 2016-17 winter in Obregon in which he was 1-8 with a 5.03 ERA for the Yaquis.  Valdez was dealt to Mexicali along with shortstop Daniel Castro in the offseason in exchange for pitcher Marco Duarte and third baseman Emmanuel Avila, a trade that (like the season itself) was a disaster for the Yaquis.  While Valdez and Castro (.329 with 27 runs in 47 games before the Colorado Rockies shut him down for the winter on December 8) both had standout years for the Aguilas, Duarte (0-6/5.75) and Avila (.243/2/17) both suffered through miserable seasons in Obregon.


Greene to Culiacan in first LMP reinforcement draft

Obregon (now Culiacan) OF Justin Greene
With the selection of Obregon centerfielder Justin Greene, the Culiacan Tomateros led off two rounds of Saturday's Mexican Pacific League Reinforcement Draft, an exercise that takes place three times following the end of the regular season in which each remaining playoff team is allowed to pick two players from other clubs that have been eliminated from postseason contention.  Similar drafts will be held at the end of the first round and semifinals of the MexPac playoffs before the pennant-winner loads up prior to February's Caribbean Series in Guadalajara.

The reinforcement drafts are an often-controversial procedure that can cause hard feelings among players who are placed on a team's reserve list after new players are brought in at each stage.  One notable example is Mexicali third baseman C.J. Retherford, who had batted .296 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 66 games for the Aguilas during the regular season last winter but was dropped just prior to the team's trip to Culiacan for last February's Serie del Caribe.  The former Arizona State star and White Sox prospect, with at least some justification, did not hide his displeasure over the move.  As if to tempt fate again, Mexicali picked Los Mochis third baseman Rudy Amador in the second round of Saturday's draft.  Still, it's the way things have been done for some time in the LMP and fans have grown used to seeing teams playing in the CS that only vaguely resemble the outfit that represented the champions at the onset of the postseason.

Greene will arrive in Culiacan on the heels of a decent campaign for Obregon, where he hit .288 with 14 stolen bases for the Yaquis over 36 games after arriving in midseason.  The 32-year-old South Carolinian had a good summer in the Mexican League, batting a combined .354 with 13 homers and a LMB-best 51 steals in 96 games for Saltillo and Monterrey, landing with the Sultanes in a late-season salary dump by the Saraperos.  His numbers didn't translate to similar success this winter, but the situation in Obregon steadily approached critical mass as the season progressed, culminating with beloved mascot Chacho being fired late in the schedule after joining with fans in chants against team owner Rene Rodriguez during a game (See why I find MLB so boring these days?)  As for Culiacan, Greene adds more speed to a team that led the MexPac with 73 stolen bases and should patrol the outfield with batting champ Sebastian Elizalde and vet D'Arby Myers, who hit .309 for the Guindas.  Another speedy outfielder, Rico Noel, went 13-for-14 on steals in 25 games for the Tomateros, where he appeared to peacefully co-exist with manager Benji Gil (which hasn't always been the case) while Cuban Ronnier Mustelier (.301) and second-round pickup Dustin Martin (.297 in 10 games for Obregon) are yet further options for the number one seed.

LMP Reinforcement Draft 1 (Saturday, December 30, 2017)
FIRST ROUND
1. Culiacan, OF Justin Greene (Obregon)
2. Mexicali, OF Olmo Rosario (Los Mochis)
3. Mazatlan, P Santiago Gutierrez (Los Mochis)
4. Jalisco, P David Reyes (Obregon)
5. Hermosillo, P Luis Perez (Los Mochis)
6. Navojoa, OF Leo Heras (Obregon)
SECOND ROUND
1.  Navojoa, P Manny Acosta (Obregon)
2. Hermosillo, P D.J. Johnson (Los Mochis)
3. Jalisco, P Irwin Delgado (Obregon)
4. Mazatlan, OF Moises Gutierrez (Obregon)
5. Mexicali, 3B Rodolfo Amador (Los Mochis)
6. Culiacan, OF Dustin Martin (Obregon)


2017-18 LMP First Round Playoff Schedule
MON, Jan. 1:   Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
TUE, Jan. 2:    Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
THU, Jan. 4:    Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
FRI, Jan. 5:      Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
SAT, Jan 6*:    Culiacan at Jalisco, Navojoa at Hermosillo, Mexicali at Mazatlan
SUN, Jan. 7*:  Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
MON, Jan. 8*: Jalisco at Culiacan, Hermosillo at Navojoa, Mazatlan at Mexicali
*-If needed