|Culiacan DH Joey Meneses|
Although it took the “lucky loser” rule for the Culiacan Tomateros to avert elimination from the Mexican Pacific League playoffs, luck had nothing to do with the Culichis’ sweep of defending champion Mexicali in the semifinals to punch their ticket to the LMP championship series.
The Tomateros began last week with a 7-4 Game Seven loss at home to Jalisco as Agustin Murillo had three hits (including a two-run homer) and three RBIs to give the Charros the deciding victory in their first round set. However, Culiacan’s three wins in the series was enough to give them a berth in the second stage due to Mazatlan winning two games in their loss to Mexicali and Hermosillo earning just one triumph in their defeat to Navojoa.
Given that reprieve via LMP rules, the Tomateros then took on a Mexicali team that ran away with the second-half title and dismantled them easily, starting with a 6-2 win in the border city last Wednesday behind starter Edgar Gonzalez’ six innings of two-run pitching and Rico Noel’s single and double with two RBIs and one run scored. Manager Benji Gil’s squad then took Thursday’s Game Two in Estadio B’Air, 5-4, with Joey Meneses’ ninth-inning single driving in LMP batting champ Sebastian Elizalde with what proved to be the game-winning run as Culiacan closer Chad Gaudin came turned in a 1-2-3 inning for the save.
After a travel day, the series shifted to Estadio Tomateros for Game Three on Saturday, with the hosts shutting out the Aguilas, 6-0, as Anthony Vazquez went all the way with a four-hitter for Culiacan, aided and abetted by Ali Solis’ three-run homer in the seventh. The Tomateros put a wrap on the series and Mexicali’s season with a 6-4 win Sunday, with Issmael Salas’ sixth-inning bunt single driving in Ronnier Mustelier from third to break a 4-all tie. The Tomateros picked up 38 hits over the four games while Mexicali’s defense broke down with ten errors, four of them coming in Sunday’s series-ending contest.
While the Aguilas will call it a winter, with players and manager Pedro Mere left to wonder how they so grandly missed a second trip to the Caribbean Series, the Tomateros will await the outcome of the Navojoa-Jalisco series to learn who they’ll face next in their attempt to bring an eleventh MexPac pennant to Culiacan.
Mayos one win away from LMP championship series berth
|Navojoa (and Boston) RHP Hector Velazquez|
The Navojoa Mayos are poised to move into the Mexican Pacific League championship series in their quest for the team’s first pennant since 2002-03 after taking a 3-games-to-1 lead over Jalisco in their LMP semifinal series. Navojoa is not one of the LMP’s traditional powers, with just three titles in their 63-year franchise history, and the team is seeking its second trip to the finals since 1997-98.
The Mayos topped the Charros, 9-4, Sunday night in Guadalajara after jumping on Jalisco starter David Reyes for four runs on four hits, including a two-out single up the middle by Fernando Flores that scored Jesse Castillo and Jovan Rosa. Willie Romero’s charges went on to take a 7-1 lead into the sixth inning and cruised to the win. Designated hitter Max Ramirez had a big night for the visitors, belting two homers and driving in three runs while leadoff hitter Angel Gonzalez contributed three singles and a double, scoring once. Eddie Gamboa earned the win after allowing two runs in five frames for his third postseason victory. Reyes was tagged with the loss.
Navojoa opened the series at home last Wednesday and beat the Charros, 4-1, behind a decent five-inning outing from starting pitcher Hector Velazquez. The Red Sox hurler allowed eight hits but only let in one run as Cardinals farmhand Randy Arozarena socked a solo homer in the bottom of the first to give Velazquez and the Mayos a lead they’d build on and hold the entire game. Game Two on Thursday ended with Jalisco prevailing 4-3 in their lone win of the series thus far. The Charros opened with two runs in the top of the first inning, including a game-opening homer from Yordanys Linares, and added two more in the second on a Linares triple. Starter Tyler Alexander carried a shutout into the fifth and pitched through the sixth for the win, giving up five hits and two walks, striking out six Mayos batters as Jalisco erased Navojoa’s home-field advantage.
The series shifting to Guadalajara, however, has done the Charros no favors. The Mayos won both weekend encounters, including a 6-3 Saturday tilt in which both Ramirez and Gonzalez lofted two-run homers in support of opener Barry Enright. The former Diamondbacks starter went 7.1 strong innings for the win, scattering five hits and two runs while whiffing four. Sunday’s win put the Charros in must-win mode for Monday’s Game Five at home. Velazquez will seek his third playoff win for the Mayos while Jalisco skipper Roberto Vizcarra will send out Octavio Acosta, who’s followed up a standout summer with Mexico City (14-1, 2.99) with a solid winter for the Charros (7-3, 3.94). Acosta has been rocked for an 8.59 ERA and a loss in two postseason starts, however.
Four LMB teams still without managers as training camps approach
|Houston Jimenez with Tabasco in 2015|
With training camp for the Mexican League’s two 2018 seasons about a month away, four LMB franchises are still shopping for a manager. The Tabasco Olmecas are searching for a new leader to replace Vicente Palacios, the Saltillo Saraperos still have a vacancy after Marco Antonio Romero was not rehired and the Monterrey Sultanes have gone back to the drawing board after Miguel Ojeda spurned an offer to take a similar job in Durango (although the Generales’ unsettled ownership situation makes that a tentative commitment).
While the term “managerial job security” is an oxymoron in Mexican baseball, Tabasco may stand out even by the status quo south of the border. The franchise as run by the Dagdug brothers is a perpetual also-ran on the field (one pennant in 53 years) and a fiasco off of it, with ongoing electrical problems at 53-year-old Parque Centenario 27 de Febrero serving as a symbol of sorts for the poorly-supported Olmecas, who averaged an LMB-worst 1,437 fans per game last summer. While Villahermosa is not a preferred destination for men on the Mexican managerial merry-go-round, rumor has Alfonso “Houston” Jimenez returning for his second tour of duty with the Olmecas, including a 2015 season during which the ex-Twins shortstop marked his 800th career win as a Mexican League helmsman. Jimenez was fired during the 2017 season as skipper from his tenth managerial job last summer in Oaxaca.
Then you have the once-proud Saltillo Saraperos, who less than a decade ago won two consecutive Mexican League pennants and led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance under the ownership of deep-pocketed Juan Manuel Ley, whose family continues to own the Culiacan Tomateros in the wake of his death. However, the Saraperos have fallen upon hard times since the Leys sold the franchise in 2013 after fourteen seasons in the Coahuila city, missing the playoffs in 2017 under managers Orlando Sanchez (fired after failing to recapture the glory days of 2008-10 under his watch) and Romero, once one of Mexico’s top sluggers. With Romero gone, some observers expected Lino Rivera to be named Saltillo’s new skipper until the team board of directors publicly ruled that out, shifting attention to Panamanian Lenin Picota as a potential dugout boss.
Next we come to the Monterrey Sultanes, who’ve had an interesting year after owner Jose “Pepe” Maiz sold half the team to Grupo Multimedios last February. While the Sultanes, under new general manager Guillermo “Willie” Gonzalez (who replaced fixture Roberto Magdaleno in the front office after the sale) were able to induce enough people out to Estadio Monterrey to lead MiLB with an average attendance of 11,575 per game, the team fell to Tijuana in the LMB North championship series for the second year in a row, leading to the decision to not bring back Felix Fermin as skipper (although Fermin remains on the roster as a third-base coach). A deal between the Sultanes and Ojeda, who led Mexico City to the Liga pennant in 2014, was believed to have been worked out until the former big league catcher backed out to manage in Durango instead. Since then, nobody’s name has surfaced as front-runner in Monterrey.
Finally, let’s talk about Durango. The Generales’ difficulties in their first year have been exhausted here (you can check the archives in BBM’s right-hand column to review the carnage), but the underfinanced team drew well in the state capital even after their season went south following a surprisingly respectable showing during a month-long road trip to open 2017 as renovations to Estadio Francisco Villa were hurriedly being done. Cuban skipper Joe Alvarez went from too-early “Manager of the Year” talk to unemployed after embattled owner Virgilio Ruiz fired Alvarez after the season. While Ojeda has been named as the new skipper in Durango, Ruiz is said to be trying to sell his virtually-insolvent franchise that the league had to take over down the stretch and any new owners would not necessarily be obliged to honor a deal that Ruiz made with Ojeda.