Monday, August 27, 2018

MONCLOVA'S 10-GAME WINNING STREAK SNAPPED

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.


RIENZO HAVING BIG SEASON FOR MONCLOVA, ERA UNDER 1.00

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.


MONTERREY TO HOST THREE MLB SERIES IN 2019

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