Monday, July 16, 2018

OAXACA PULLS INTO LMB SOUTH LEAD

Oaxaca catcher Erick Rodriguez with Alfredo Harp Helu
While the Monclova Acereros continue to dominate the Mexican League North Division, the Oaxaca Guerreros have ascended to the rare air of first place in the LMB South after sweeping a three-game weekend series at home over Saltillo.

The Guerreros have traditionally been one of the Liga's weak sisters, winning just one pennant (in 1998) since their 1996 inception.  Oaxaca rarely qualifies for a playoff berth and when they have, it's usually led to an early exit as the Warriors have only advanced from the first round once since 2005.  The team finished last in the LMB South with a 22-35 record for the Spring 2018 season and little was expected going into the current Fall schedule under new manager Joe Alvarez, who replaced Jose Luis Sandoval at the helm during the break between seasons.

Instead, Alvarez has led the Guerreros to an 8-4 record two weeks into the Fall season, giving Oaxaca a one-game lead over defending champion Yucatan and Campeche (both are 7-5) and a three-game bulge over Tabasco, Puebla and Leon, who are tied for fourth at 5-6.  The Guerreros capped their sweep of Saltillo with an 8-3 win Sunday after trailing 2-0 in the second inning.  The Guerreros reached Saraperos starting pitcher Arnold Leon for six runs on nine hits before Leon was yanked three batters into the fourth without retiring a batsman.  Jaime Brena had two singles, driving in a pair of runs and scoring once to lead Oaxaca's 14-hit attack as every Guerreros starter recorded at least one hit.  Angel Castro got the win after allowing three Saltillo runs in six frames as 2,885 watched at Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.

Oaxaca has shown well early with decent work in both hitting (a team .295 average, sixth in the LMB) and pitching (a 3.91 ERA, good for seventh in the circuit).  The batting order has been led by 38-year-old catcher Erick Rodriguez, a six-time All-Star who was MVP of the 2015 game.  Now in his 18th season of wearing a Guerreros jersey, Rodriguez is hitting a robust .438 over 10 games to trail only Campeche outfielder Azael Sanchez (.500) and Yucatan shortstop Everth Cabrera (.460) in the early stages of the batting race.  Another longtime LMB vet, first baseman Adan Munoz, is batting .356 while former Cubs infielder Arismendy Alcantara is third on the Guerreros with a .314 mark.  Among pitchers, Irwin Delgado is 2-0 after three starts with a 1.59 that ranks eighth in the MXL and Castro's Sunday win over Saltillo gives him a 2-0 record, although his ERA rose to 2.37.  Closer Josh Judy (3.60), who came to Oaxaca from Tabasco last winter, has three saves in five outings.  While it would be unlikely to see the Guerreros remain at the top of the South standings, Alvarez has his players believing for now and fans in Mexico can at least hope to see someone new in the playoffs when the postseason arrives in September.

As mentioned, Monclova is pulling away in the LMB North with an 11-1 record.  The Acereros finally lost a game after winning their first seven, a 6-4 home defeat to Leon last Wednesday despite back-to-back fourth inning homers from Francisco Peguero and Cesar Tapia and a fifth inning solo shot by Jose Flores off Bravos starter Dustin Crenshaw.  The Steelers bounced back to win the rubber match with Leon before sweeping a three-game weekend set against Mexico City at home.   Peguero and teammate Rudy Amador are tied for fourth in the MXL bat derby with identical .432 averages and top pitcher Josh Lowey tops the loop in wins with a 3-0 record, although Lowey's 4.00 ERA is a bit high (for him) and his 17 strikeouts in 18 innings only ranks fifth.  New manager Carlos Garcia, who was brought in after Dan Firova was canned last month, has to be in the good graces of Acereros management for the time being, but volatile owner Gerardo Benavides has pretty much shown that nothing short of a pennant for his hometown team will satisfy him.  We'll check on Garcia's status when the playoffs are done.

While Campeche's Sanchez sits atop the batting table (that .500 average is likely to drop at some time), Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez has swatted six homers in nine games to take the lead in that category after going deep in all three games at Yucatan over the weekend as the Leones won twice.  Aguascalientes first baseman Felix Perez is tops in RBIs with 19 after 12 games.  A former Reds farmhand, Perez hit 40 homers in three seasons for Monterrey before being sent to the Rieleros prior to the Spring 2018 campaign, during which he hit 15 longballs to lead the MXL.  Another Aguascalientes newcomer, former Cubs outfielder Tony Campana, leads in stolen bases with nine swipes in ten attempts.

Among pitchers, Monclova's Lowey's three wins tops the MXL, one more than ten other hurlers with two wins each.  Tabasco's Adrian Garza has yet to allow a run after two starts and 11 innings while Andre Rienzo of Monclova has an 0.59 ERA in three starts and 15.1 frames.  Oaxaca's Castro and Enrique Oquendo of Puebla are tied for the lead in strikeouts with 22 apiece.  The early saves leader is former Mariners closer Tom "The Bartender" Wilhelmsen, now toiling for Tijuana.  The Tucson native, who pitched last summer for the Diamondbacks before sitting out the 2018 season until signing with the Toros for the Fall schedule, has five saves in eight trips from the bullpen.

The top upcoming midweek series appears to be in Monterrey, where the defending LMB North champs take a 6-6 record into a home series against 8-4 Oaxaca starting Tuesday.  The marquee weekend matchup will see the Guerreros' road trip take them to Tijuana, where they'll face a Toros team opening the week with an 8-4 ledger.  The six games will go a lot towards establishing whether Oaxaca is a genuine playoff contender or a pretender.  After the job manager Alvarez did with Durango last year, when the Generales played .500 ball for a month on the road before their first home game, one shouldn't count out the Guerreros just yet.


MEXICAN NATIONALS TOP COLOMBIA IN PRE-GAMES TUNEUP

Mexican Nationals celebrate Saturday win over Colombia
The Mexican National Team scored four runs in both the third and sixth innings Sunday and went on to beat Colombia, 8-3, at Estadio Monterrey in the second of a two-game tuneup series prior to the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games, set to open later this week in Barranquilla, Colombia.  Mexico also won Saturday's opener in Monterrey, 8-7.

The Colombians led the second game early when a solo homer by Edwin Pomare gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage in the second inning.  However, Mexican starter Javier Solano settled down after that in an outing in which he earned the win by going four frames and allowing the lone run while scattering six hits and striking out three.  A Ricky Alvarez groundout in the bottom of the third brought in Amadeo Zazueta from third with the tying run and manager Enrique "Che" Reyes' squad plated three more tallies before being retired to take a lead they'd never relinquish.

Saturday's opener between the two countries ended up being much closer by the end as Colombia roughed up Mexico reliever Juan Noriega for five runs in the eighth inning, with Gerson Jimenez socking a grand slam and Pomare contributed a solo shot, but the host's lead proved insurmountable to the visitors as Raul Barron hurled a scoreless ninth for the save.  Mexican starter Jose Samayoa went four innings for the win, giving up no runs on three hits with three strikeouts.  Amadeo Zazueta and Christian Zazueta each drove in a pair of runs for the victors, with Christian Zazueta belting a fifth-inning homer (the only roundtripper for Mexico in the two games).

Following Sunday's contest, Reyes told the press, "After these two games, I see that the Mexican team is ready for the Central American Games.  We just have to fine-tune some details and be prepared."  Mexico's opening game is slated for Thursday when they face Cuba, with Solano penciled in by Reyes as his starter.  Mexico will reportedly be the only country in the baseball competition to bring professional players to Barranquilla.


ENSENADA SEEKS TOP LNM PLAYOFF SEED, REPEAT PENNANT

Ensenada Marineros infielder Edgar Duran
The Ensenada Marineros have a 26-13 record to top the Northern Mexico League second standings with nine games remaining in the regular season, hoping to make a clean sweep of both halves for the defending Liga Norte champions and the top seed for the upcoming playoffs.  Managed by former MLB catcher Geronimo Gil, the Marineros have a comfortable five-game lead over San Quintin and Caborca, who are 21-18, heading into a three-game home series against Puerto Penasco opening Tuesday night.  Ensenada will close out the schedule with road series at Tecate (July 20-22) and Puerto Penasco (July 24-26) before the playoffs open.  The Marineros won the LNM's first half title and the accompanying eight points by finishing 26-20.

Ensenada is led offensively by infielder Edgar Duran, whose .353 average is third in the LNM behind Caborca's Edgard Enrique Munoz (.363) and Josuan Hernandez (.359) of San Luis.  Among offensive leaders in the Liga Norte is longtime minor league infielder Jermy Acey of Puerto Penasco, who has 14 homers to lead Osniel Maderas of San Quintin by two.  Acey spent three years in the Blue Jays system between 2003 and 2005 before embarking on a 13-year odyssey that's taken him to independent leagues across the globe along with Mexican League stints in Minatitlan, Tabasco and Veracruz as well as an 11-game run with Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League last winter, hitting .175 for the Yaquis.  Caborca's Munoz tops the Liga Norte with 82 runs scored and a remarkable 19 triples (his nearest competitors have five three-baggers) and San Quintin's Maderas is first with 77 RBIs. 

Santiago Valdez of San Quintin has a 10-2 record to lead Liga Norte pitchers in wins despite a 4.24 ERA that won't impress many.  That's a category led by Caborca's Misael Silverio, whose 1.71 ERA augments his 8-2 record after 17 starts.  Silverio's Rojos moundmate, Jorge Luis Castillo, has the most strikeouts with a dominant 123 whiffs over just 96 innings, or 12.7 K's per nine innings.  Castillo is 6-1 in 14 starts.  Among LNM closers, San Quintin's Luis Castillo tops the table with 19 saves, two more than Ensenada's Luis Ramirez.

The Northern Mexico League consists of six teams with players and coaches supplied by two Mexican League teams apiece, and is considered the top Class AA league within the country's baseball system.  The current incarnation of the LNM was formed in 2012 after a split amongst teams from the states of Sonora and Baja California.  Ensenada won the pennant last year (its first since 2012) by defeating the San Luis Algodoneros in seven games in the league championship series.  The Marineros are co-affiliated with the LMB's Mexico City Diablos and Oaxaca Guerreros, who themselves are both owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu.