Monday, January 8, 2018

Mayos first to reach LMP semis; Hermosillo, Mazatlan out

Navojoa Mayos knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa
The Navojoa Mayos were the first team to qualify for the Mexican Pacific League playoff semifinals after bouncing first-half champion Hermosillo in five games, capping the set with a Friday win.  The Mayos pitching staff was the story of this series, holding the Naranjeros to a miniscule .153 batting average.  Outfielder Cedric Hunter contributed a .313 mark, including the lone homer for the Orangemen, but Hermosillo hitters were putty in the hands of Navojoa hurlers Hector Velazquez, Jaime Lugo and especially veteran knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who won both his starts and limited the Naranjeros to two unearned runs on five hits in 12.1 innings.  Hermosillo was shut out twice and held to one run once before being eliminated, 4-3, on Friday night to send home 13,195 disappointed fans at Estadio Sonora.  Mexican League MVP Jesse Castillo topped the Mayos offense by going 7-of-18 (.389) with five RBIs, including two ribbies in a three-hit Game Five.  Randy Arozarena had four hits and scored twice in Friday's clincher.

While the Mayos move on in the hope of securing Navojoa's first LMP pennant since 1999-2000, ironically under current Hermosillo manager Lorenzo Bundy, the Naranjeros were the first team to exit the MexPac playoffs and face a long offseason with plenty of questions about what went wrong.  Bundy's job status after several winters with the team is in more doubt than ever.

A Philadelphia native who lives in Tucson between seasons, Bundy won't have long to lick his wounds.  He was hired last week to replace former MLB infielder Tim Johnson as manager of the Mexican League's Puebla Pericos for the 2018 season.  Johnson took over the defending champion Pericos from Von Hayes in early June and led the team to an unexpected return to the LMB championship series after owner Gerardo Benavides transferred most of the Parrots' roster to his other Liga team in Monclova.  Bundy coached under Don Mattingly in Miami last summer.

Navojoa defeated Hermosillo, 4 games to 1
Jan. 1  NAVOJOA 5-9-0, Hermosillo 0-1-1 (Eddie Gamboa tosses 7 innings of 1-hit shutout ball)
Jan. 2  NAVOJOA 3-5-1, Hermosillo 0-5-2 (Hector Velazquez blanks Naranjeros over 5.1 innings)
Jan. 4  HERMOSILLO 4-6-0, Navojoa 3-10-1 (Cedric Hunter homer in 7th breaks 3-3 tie)
Jan. 5  Navojoa 5-7-1, HERMOSILLO 1-3-2 (Jovan Rosa hits 2-run HR, Jesse Castillo has 2 RBIs)
Jan. 6  Navojoa 4-10-2, Hermosillo 3-8-1 (Jesse Castillo 3 RBIs on 3 hits, Randy Arozarena 4 hits)


Aguilas crush Mazatlan, 10-1, Sunday to qualify for second round
C.J. Retherford had 3 game-winning hits for Mexicali
Defending champion Mexicali was stretched a little farther in their opening round series, requiring six games to eliminate Mazatlan.  The Aguilas punched their way to a resounding 10-1 win Sunday at home, banging out 20 hits to the delight of the Estadio Gasmart crowd.  The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Eagles plated three runs on four hits, including an RBI double by C.J. Retherford, and never looked back.  Chris Roberson, Walter Ibara and Luis Juarez had three hits apiece while Xorge Carrillo belted a two-run homer in a four-run Mexicali sixth.  Aguilas starter Sergio Mitre was the beneficiary of his mates' hitting outburst and earned the win after tossing six frames of one-hit shutout ball.

Up until Sunday's win, C.J. Retherford had a week he'll tell his grandsons about by personally delivering the game-winning hit in Mexicali's first three victories.  The former White Sox minor league infielder was irate about being left off the Aguilas roster for the Caribbean Series last winter under then-manager Roberto Vizcarra and has returned to the postseason with a vengeance.  Retherford's RBI double in the bottom of the ninth ended the Aguilas' 2-1 win in Game One last Monday, followed by a walkoff solo homer in the eleventh one night later as the borderites triumphed, 3-2.  After one day off and a Mazatlan win Thursday behind Brian Hernandez' 3-run blast, Retherford was at it again Friday, when his solo homer in the top of the ninth accounted for the game's lone run in the Aguilas' 1-0 win at Mazatlan as Mexicali starter Justin De Fratus and Venados' Dustin Crenshaw swapped zeros until reliever Nick Stuck gave up Retherford's dinger.

 After a sketchy first half under Vizcarra, who was fired less than a year after leading the Aguilas to last winter's pennant, Mexicali has responded under Mere (who piloted Tijuana to the LMB title this summer) by running away with the second-half title.  The Eagles are hoping for a second straight trip to the Serie del Caribe and Retherford wants to make sure he's not forgotten if they make it to Guadalajara.  Mazatlan is done for the season after manager Daniel Fernandez' squad won just two first-round games.  Jalisco's win at Culiacan Sunday night ensured both those teams will advance no matter who wins Game Seven of that series Monday.

Mexicali defeated Mazatlan, 4 games to 2
Jan. 1  MEXICALI 2-4-0, Mazatlan 1-7-0 (C.J. Retherford hits walkoff RBI double in 9th for win)
Jan. 2  MEXICALI 3-10-0, Mazatlan 2-6-0 <11> (C.J. Retherford belts walkoff solo HR in 11th)
Jan. 4  MAZATLAN 3-8-0, Mexicali 0-2-1 (Alejandro Soto, two relievers combine on 2-hitter)
Jan. 5  Mexicali 1-6-0, MAZATLAN 0-3-0 (C.J. Retherford's 1B in 9th drives in game's lone run)
Jan. 6  MAZATLAN 5-10-1, Mexicali 3-9-2 (Brian Hernandez 3-run HR in 7th keys comeback win)
Jan. 7  MEXICALI 10-20-1, Mazatlan 1-4-0 (Xorge Carrillo had 3-run HR as Aguilas had 20 hits)


Charros blank Culiacan, 2-0, to force Game Seven on Monday
Jalisco slugger Japhet Amador has 4 homers in 6 games
In what has turned out to be the best of the MexPac's three opening-round playoff series, the Culiacan Tomateros have traded victories with the Jalisco Charros throughout the first six games of their set, including a Jalisco win Sunday night in Culiacan to tie things up at three games apiece and force a Game Seven on Monday at Estadio Tomateros.  Regardless of who cops the series, both teams will advance to the LMP semifinals because the club that comes up short will have won three games in a losing effort.  That'll be enough to punch a ticket to the semis as the first round's "lucky loser" by nudging out Mazatlan (two wins) and Hermosillo (one win) for most wins in a series loss.

David Reyes was joined by four Jalisco relievers, including MLB free agent Sergio Romo, in tossing a combined three-hit 2-0 shutout Sunday as 15,148 onlookers watched in Culiacan.  Reyes tossed five innings of hitless ball with four strikeouts before being replaced after 78 pitches with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Japhet Amador's leadoff homer in the fourth (the Mulege Giant's fourth roundtripper of the series after failing to go deep in his final nine games of the regular season). Manuel Flores, who replaced Reyes, lost the no-hit bid by allowing singles to Rico Noel and Joey Meneses in the sixth but those were the only safeties the Tomateros would pick up all night.  Jabari Blash, who was dealt from San Diego to the Yankees in last month's trade that sent Chase Headley back to the Padres, hit a solo insurance homer for the Charros in the ninth as Romo worked the last two frames for his second save.

Culiacan opened the series last Monday with a 2-1 win in Guadalajara and the two combatants have gone back and forth since.  If Game Seven holds to form, the Tomateros would win the series but Mazatlan's loss in Mexicali Sunday takes the pressure off both squads.  While there've been some strong performances in this matchup of two longtime rivals (and hosts of the 2017 and 2018 Caribbean Series), Amador has stood out by socking homers in each of the past three contests.  Three of his dingers in the series have been solo shots as the Rakuten Golden Eagles DH has a .333 average over six playoff contests.  The massive slugger will spend his third summer in Japan later this year.

Starters have been announced for Monday night's deciding game.  Former Yankees prospect Will Oliver (who's spent the past four years pitching independent ball) will be on the hill for Jalisco after a no-decision last Thursday, when he allowed two runs on seven hits in 5.1 innings in a 3-2 loss.  He went 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in the regular season.  Salvador Valdez will be handed the ball by Tomateros helmsman Benji Gil.  Valdez gave up two runs on four hits over six innings in last Tuesday's 4-2 home loss to Jalisco.  The Culiacan-born righty was 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts for the Tomateros.
 
Culiacan and Jalisco are tied, 3 games to 3
Jan. 1  CULIACAN 2-1-2, Jalisco 1-6-1 (Two runs score on Ronnier Mustelier ground-out in 4th)
Jan. 2  Jalisco 4-8-1, CULIACAN 2-8-0 (Gabriel Gutierrez singles and homers with 2 RBIs)
Jan. 4  Culiacan 3-8-0, JALISCO 2-7-0 (D'Arby Myers singles twice, walks, scores, drives in run)
Jan. 5  JALISCO 7-17-1, Culiacan 6-10-0 <12> (Agustin Murillo doubles, scores winner in 12th)
Jan. 6  Culiacan 5-7-0, JALISCO 4-8-0 (Ali Solis 3-run HR in 4th for Tomateros holds up)
Jan. 7  Jalisco 2-5-2, CULIACAN 0-3-0 (Japhet Amador hits 4th playoff HR in road shutout)