Monday, September 24, 2018


Does this picture really need a caption?
The Monterrey Sultanes stand one game away from a berth in the Serie del Rey (Series of Kings) after winning the first three games of their Mexican League North Division Championship Series over Monclova.  Monterrey is seeking their tenth LMB pennant since the team's 1939 inception while the Acereros are chasing Monclova's first Liga flag.  The two teams have met nine times in the playoffs, with Monterrey winning eight of them while Sutanes skipper Roberto Kelly is trying to outmanage his Monclova counterpart, Pedro Mere, for a LMB North title a second time this year (Mere was dugout boss in Tijuana in the Spring season).

Monterrey opened the series last Thursday with a 4-3 win in Monclova as Yadir Drake belted a tiebreaking solo homer in the top of the ninth and Sultanes closer Wirfin Obispo struck out Cade Gotta swinging in the bottom of the frame to close out the game and earn the save.  Setup man Nick Struck pitched a scoreless eighth to qualify for the win while Zack Segovia (who gave up the Drake longball) took the loss for the Acereros.  Monterrey leadoff hitter Julio Borbon had three hits, including a solo homer off Monclova starter Andre Rienzo.  Erick Aybar singled and socked a solo homer for the Acereros.

A two-run roundtripper by two-time LMB home run champion Felix Perez gave Monterrey a 5-3 lead in Game Two's third inning as the Sultanes went on to score twice more in the top of the fourth (courtesy of a two-run Borbon bomb) and sail to a 7-3 win Friday.  Monclova ace Josh Lowey had an uncharacteristic bad outing, giving up seven runs on as many hits (including homers by Perez, Borbon and Agustin Murillo on a solo blast in the top of the first) in four innings to earn the loss.  Darin Downs struck out four Acereros batsmen in 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the win.  The game took over five hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay), ending after 12:30 in the morning.

Returning home with a 2-0 advantage, the Sultanes added to Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides' misery by topping his Acereros again on Sunday, 8-6, as 15,758 watched at Estadio Monterrey (a total of 17,000 fans attended the first two games at 11,000-seat Estadio Monclova).  No late heroics required in this one either, as Monterrey built an 8-0 lead after three innings and coasted to the win.  Jose Amador and Ramiro Pena homered for the Sultanes while Drake sent his second ball to the streets in three games with a three-run dinger (Amador's also rang up three on the scoreboard).   Monterrey starter Edgar Gonzalez faded after a strong start but stayed ahead long enough for the win despite overall so-so numbers of four runs on eight hits in five innings as the Acereros fought back to within two runs by game's end.  Rienzo, who had a terrific regular season for Monclova but has struggled in two outings against Monterrey in this series, took the loss after allowing Amador's three-run longball in the first inning (the only one he would pitch, it turned out).  If the Acereros lose this series, what will Mere's job running the team with a volatile owner ike Benavides be worth?

Monterrey outlasted Tijuana in seven games to advance past the first round, with that series ended by a 4-3 win on the road last Tuesday as the Sultanes survived two Jorge Cantu homers and a late surge by the Toros in the form of a two-run bottom of the ninth off Obispo, who continued to struggle a bit before getting Jose Guadalupe Chavez on a swinging strikeout with tying run Dustin Martin standing on second to end the game (and Tijuana's season with the Toros' second consecutive LMB North finals loss in 2018).  Monclova had the LMB's best record in the fall season before eliminating Dos Laredos in the opening round to advance to the LMB North finals.

The Sultanes will try to close out the series at home Monday night (and will host Game Five as well, if needed, on Tuesday).


Yuniesky Betancourt saluting his fans in Yucatan
Yuniesky Betancourt went 4-for-6 with two homers and three RBIs as his Oaxaca Guerreros manhandled their "big brother" Mexico City Diablos, 13-3,  in Sunday's rain-delayed Game Two of the Mexican League South Division Championship Series afternoon in front of 5,425 at a packed Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital.  The win evened the series at one game apiece.

Betancourt, who brought attention to himself in less glorious fashion after a first-round game last week (more on that later), put the Guerreros ahead 1-0 in the top of the first with a two-out solo homer off Diablos' starter Patrick Johnson on Saturday.  The hosts fought back and carried a rain-delayed 3-1 lead into Sunday before Oaxaca regained the nod with four runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by Julian Ornelas' two-run single.  The Warriors never looked back and Betancourt's two-run homer in the ninth capped the scoring.  Irwin Delgado took the Game Two win after five innings in relief on Sunday, giving up three runs, while Gonzalo Sanudo absorbed the loss for Mexico City. 

The Diablos won the series opener Friday, 8-6, before 5,842 aficionados as Mexico City fans are finally coming out to support their 16-time champions, who drew an average gathering of 2,613 attendance per opening during the regular season (11th in the Liga).  Red Devils shortstop Juan Carlos Gamboa gave the home fans something to cheer about with a fourth-inning grand slam off Oaxaca starter Jose Medina, erasing a 4-0 Guerreros lead with one swing.  A Michael Choice double later in the same frame plated David Vidal with the go-ahead run, but the visitors reclaimed the advantage with two runs in the top of the fifth, including Henry Urrutia's leadoff homer against Diablos starter Octavio Acosta.  Mexico City took the lead back for good in the bottom of the fifth when Vidal singled Luis Jimenez in with the tying run and later scoring the eventual game-winner on an Emmanuel Avila groundout.  Arturo Lopez retired two batters in relief for the Diablos and was given the win for short work while Axel Rios took the loss for Oaxaca.

The Diablos advanced to the LMB South title set by eliminating Puebla in the first round, 4 games to 1, wrapping up the series last Sunday.  Defending champion Yucatan stretched Oaxaca to a seventh game before the Guerreros prevailed, 5-2, in extra innings last Thursday in Merida as Jay Austin capped a three-run top of the eleventh with a two-run homer.  After the game, Betancourt (who played for the Leones last year) waved to some of his former Yucatan fans but failed to raise his thumb and three of his remaining four fingers in the effort.  Maybe he was tired.

Game Three of the LMB South title set is slated for Tuesday at Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.  The current Diablos-Guerreros series has created some controversy simply from its makeup.  Billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu owns both teams, something allowed in Mexican baseball, and the relationship is somewhat similar to that of the New York Yankees and Kansas City A's in the late Fifties and early Sixties...if that relationship seemed almost incestuous, this one would bring a Child Protective Services caseworker rapping at the door with sheriff's deputy in tow.  Harp, who has reportedly been angered by the LMB rulings against his Diablos in both the Rookiegate scandal and the upholding of slugger Japhet Amador's suspension in Japan (see below), is in a can't-lose position since ONE of his teams will reach the Serie del Rey.  Even then, he loses because if Mexico City wins, they were SUPPOSED to while if the Guerreros advance, that means "suspended" (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjares loaded the wrong team.


DH Japhet Amador is expected back in Jalisco
Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball has ratified the six-month suspension handed to Mexican slugger Japhet Amador on August 9 after the Rakuten Golden Eagles designated hitter tested positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide, both banned substances that can serve as "masking agents" for performance-enhancing drugs.  The Eagles appealed the suspension on August 22, the last day an appeal could be filed before a deadline passed, and the NPB eventually ratified its initial decision.

Amador tested positive after giving a urine sample following a June 13 interleague game against the Chunichi Dragons at home in Sendai.  The 6'4" "El Gigante de Mulege" first offered testimony at a July 30 hearing, saying he'd never knowingly take a banned substance but declining to appeal the test results, and gave another explanation on September 4.  The NPB ratification was handed down Friday and marks the fifth time that Japanese baseball's governing body has suspended a player for doping since drug testing was introduced in 2007; Amador's suspension is the first since 2011.

The massive Amador was hitting .269 with 20 homers over 62 Pacific League games this summer when abdominal pain sidelined him on July 3, according to the Mainichi website in Tokyo, after a slow start that saw Amador shipped to the minors for a short spell.  In three seasons with the Eagles, he's batted .250 with 52 homers and 126 RBIs in 222 games.  Amador came to Japan following a banner year in Mexico, beginning with a Mexican League MVP season for Mexico City after hitting .346 with an LMB-leading 41 homers over 103 contests and culminating in a winterball season in Jalisco, where he hit .288 with another 14 homers over 58 games before signing with Rakuten and heading to Japan, missing the Mexican Pacific League playoffs.

The Mexican League chose to honor Amador's regular season ban, preventing him from playing for the Diablos Rojos this summer. Diego Alejandro Reos of says Amador is expected to report to the Guadalajara team for training camp this Thursday, as per Charros' GM Ray Padilla.  "It's very important to have him from the start," Padilla said, "and more because he'll come to take 20 days of training and that'll be great for us.  He'll surely get into a good rhythm and help us a lot from the first game."  Regarding Amador's NPB ban, Padilla offered this (translated) quote: "These are situations that are foreign to us, to our organization, so we cannot comment at this time.

"It is benefitting us instead of harming us.  If he made a mistake he will show his face, but in no way does it affect us."

Monday, September 17, 2018


Monclova and Mexico City have both reached their respective Mexican League division finals for the Fall 2018 playoffs by copping first round wins in five games over Dos Laredos and Puebla, respectively.  The two teams clinched their division semifinals Sunday with home wins.  Being a host team has not been a guarantee of success thus far in the playoffs:  Of the 20 games played through Sunday, ten were won by the visiting team.  The most extreme example has come in the Yucatan-Oaxaca series, during which the visiting team won the first four games before the Guerreros topped the defending champion Leones, 5-1, Sunday in Oaxaca's Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.


Monclova IF Danny Espinosa at bat
The Acereros won the first two games of the series at home before copping two of three games on the road at Estadio Nuevo Laredo to move on to the LMB North Championship Series.  Monclova opened last Monday by winning an 11-10 slugfest thriller in which the Acereros' Francisco Peguero launched a walkoff solo homer in the bottom of the tenth inning off Tecolotes reliever Tyson Perez.  Peguero, who finished seventh in the Liga's regular season batting derby with a .368 average, aided Monclova's cause earlier in the evening with a three-run double in the eighth.  The Acereros followed up last Tuesday by topping the Tecos, 7-4, as two-time MVP Jesse Castillo and former MLB infielder Danny Espinosa each belted two-run homers to pace Monclova's attack in Game Two.

The series shifted to the Mexico-Texas border for the next three games, with the Tecos winning Thursday's Game Three, 7-2, thanks in no small part to Josh Rodriguez' three-run homer in the second inning.  Former Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown (who cracked 27 homers for Philadelphia in 2013) aided the Dos Laredos cause by going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and another counter driven in.  Monclova came back Friday after trailing 4-2 through the fourth inning to score six unanswered runs in an 8-4 Game Five victory.  Castillo pounded a three-run longball in the fifth to put the Acereros ahead while Chad Gotta and Espinosa both added homers in the sixth and seventh frames respectively.  After Game Five in Nuevo Laredo was rained out Saturday, the Acereros closed out the series with a 3-1 triumph.  Ace Josh Lowey, who finished 6-3 in the regular season, held the Tecos to one run on four hits over 7.2 innings to earn the win as Espinosa capped a solid first round performance by going 2-for-3 with a double, run and RBI while Juan Perez socked a two-run homer.

The Acereros will next play the winner of the Tijuana-Monterrey series in the North finals, beginning later this week.


Monterrey IFs Agustin Murillo and Ramiro Pena
The teams split the first two games of the set in Tijuana, with the visiting Sultanes using four solo homers to beat the Toros, 7-4, last Monday.  Ex-Yankee infielder Ramiro Pena, a Monterrey native in his first LMB season, was joined by veterans Chris Roberson, Agustin Murillo and Jose Amador in going deep in the Sultanes' Game One win.  The Toros bounced back Tuesday with a 6-3 Game Two win behind Fernando Perez' three-run home run.  Shortstop Jose Guadalupe Chavez chipped in with a pair of hits, a run and an RBI  as TJ evened the series at a game apiece.

The two teams moved to Monterrey for the next three games.  Game Three on Thursday at Estadio Monterrey saw the Toros take the lead in the series with a second straight 6-3 triumph.  Longtime Cuban National Team star Frederich Cepeda and former MLB infielder Jorge Cantu each socked two run homers for the winners and Chavez added three hits.  The Sultanes knotted the series up at 2-2 by taking a 4-3 Game Four win Friday.  This one came down to the bottom of the ninth, when Murillo followed a Pena triple with a two-run walkoff homer off Toros closer Daniel Moskos to send 13,423 Monterrey fans home happy.  Sultanes starter Dallas Marinez, a Yankees minor leaguer who pitched in the All-Star Game between seasons while on loan to Leon before the cash-strapped Bravos shipped him north, had a strong outing by hurling 5.2 shutout innings and allowing just two hits.  The Sultanes took Saturday's Game Five by a 10-4 count in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated until the hosts put eight runs on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, keyed by a Roberson three-run homer.  Amador contributed three hits and two RBIs to the Monterrey attack.

After Sunday's travel day, Game Six is scheduled for Monday night in Tijuana.  Should the Toros win, the deciding contest is slated for Tuesday night.


Mexico City P Luis Mendoza
The Mexico City Diablos Rojos won the final two of three games in Puebla to finish their series with the Pericos and move on to the South Division Championship Series.  The first two contests were played at Estadio Fray Nano in the nation's capital, with the Diablos winning both, starting with last Tuesday's 8-4 Game One victory.  Newcomer Michael Choice, a former Rangers outfielder who joined Mexico City as a free agent on August 16, had a great night with a two-run homer, a pair of doubles and five RBIs for the winners.  Game Two also went the Diablos' way, 12-4, with Mexico City posting a nine-run seventh inning.  The Red Devils sent 15 men to the plate during that outburst, with speedster Carlos Figueroa singling, doubling, scoring twice and driving in two runs during the frame.

The series shifted to Puebla for the next three games, with the Pericos picking up their only win in Game Three, 7-6, last Friday.  Puebla benefitted from a Bernardo Heras solo homer during a three-run sixth inning during which the Parrots overcame a 6-4 deficit.  That would be the Pericos' last gasp of 2018 as the Diablos came back to win the next two contests at Estadio Hermanos Serdan.  Game Four began on Saturday before rain pushed its conclusion to Sunday, ending with a 7-3 Mexico City conquest.  Outfielder Yeison Asencio, who hit .386 in the regular season, contributed a single and double, scoring one run and adding two ribbies to negate Delmon Young of Puebla, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI.  Former MLB and NPB pitcher Luis Mendoza (who was MVP for the Pacific Coast League in 2011 and the Caribbean Series in 2013) got the win after allowing a single run in 6.2 innings while scattering seven hits while Diablos first baseman Luis Jimenez collected three of Mexico City's five hits, including a three-run homer off Puebla starter Josh Outman in the third.

The Diablos will await the winner of the Yucatan-Oaxaca series to learn who they'll be playing in the LMB South Championship Series later this week.


Oaxaca P Alex Delgado
Of the four first round playoff series in the Mexican League's second season, this one has been the most surprising.  The Oaxaca Guerreros have won one LMB pennant (in 1998, two years after their inaugural season) and are rarely a factor in the rare times they advance to the postseason.  Thus expectations were low after the Warriors beat a reeling Leon team in a one-game wild card contest after a 26-30 regular season to qualify for a first-round series with defending LMB champion Yucatan.  Instead, new manager Sergio Gastelum has taken the Guerreros to within a game of meeting Mexico City in the division finals. 

Oaxaca won the first two games of the series in Merida, starting last Monday with a 4-1 Game One triumph behind the solid work of Guerreros starter Alex Delgado.  A Mexicali native in his seventh Liga season at the tender age of 23, Delgado limited the Leones to one run in three hits in seven innings of work, striking out nine and walking none.  Older brother Irwin Delgado followed Alex to the mound one night later in Oaxaca's 6-3 Game Two win at Parque Kukulcan, tossing six frames of one-run ball with seven whiffs before serving up a leadoff homer to Eric Aguilera in the bottom of the seventh.  Ex-Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was second in the LMB with a .406 batting average during the regular season, had a pair of singles for the Guerreros and drove in two runs.

The series then shifted to Oaxaca, where Yucatan won twice to give the road team victories for the first four games of the set.  After a Thursday rainout, the Leones took Game Three, 3-1, Friday as starter Cesar Valdez went seven innings and scattered six hits in a one-run outing.  Yucatan catcher Sebastian Valle, a big-game player, contributed a run-scoring double while shortstop Walter Ibarra added an RBI single.  The Leones evened the series at two games each on Saturday by doubling up the Guerreros, 10-5, in Game Four.  Oaxaca was leading 5-4 after six innings before Yucatan scored two runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth frames to pull away.  Ibarra and Leo Heras powered homers for the Leones and Humberto Sosa had three hits with as many RBIs as a combined 17 pitchers took the hill in the marathon contest, which took 4 hours, 21 minutes to complete nine innings.  The Guerreros took their last home game of the series Sunday with a 5-1 Game Five victory.  Once again, Alex Delgado was sterling on the mound for the winners by allowing one run on three hits in six innings, striking out eight.  Henry Urrutia knocked out a two-run homer in the first inning as the Guerreros were up 5-0 after two entradas and coasted to the win.

The series moves back to Yucatan for Game Six Tuesday night at Parque Kukulcan, where Game Seven (if needed) would be played to determine who'll face Mexico City for the LMB South title.

Monday, September 10, 2018


Oaxaca OF Yordanys Linares returns to dugout
The playoff matchups for the Mexican League's fall season have been set after the Oaxaca Guerreros took a 26-30 record and a fifth-place South Division finish to Leon for a wild-card came (necessitated by the Guerreros finishing one game behind the Bravos in the standings) and beat the 26-28 Bravos by a 7-6 score to slip into the Liga's final remaining postseason berth.

It was a disappointing finish to the year for the Bravos, who had led the LMB South in recent weeks despite a makeshift infield and seemed in position to continue playing after the regular season ended.  Instead, Leon will be sitting out the playoffs while Oaxaca celebrates their first postseason appearance since 2015.  It almost didn't turn out that way for the Guerreros, who fell behind 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning Saturday after the Bravos' Marco Jaime singled in Felix Pie and Michael Bernal off Oaxaca starter Jose Carlos Medina.

The Guerreros fought back with three runs in the top of the fourth when Jay Austin stroked a leadoff double and scored on a Dustin Geiger single, after which Henry Urrutia belted a homer to right against Leon opener Guillermo Moscoso to give the visitors a 3-2 advantage.  Moscoso settled down to retire the side and post two more scoreless frames before his Bravos teammates came back in the bottom of the sixth.  A Pie solo homer to tie the contest was followed by Medina's exit from the mound in favor of reliever Carlos Felix.  Bernal then greeted Felix with a double, moved to third on a Geiger fielding error of a Brandon Macia grounder, then came in to put Leon ahead, 4-3, on Israel Nunez' infield single.

Leon manager Luis Rivera sent former Oaxaca All-Star Alejandro Soto to the mound for the top of the seventh, a move that immediately backfired when Soto served up a leadoff homer to Julian Ornelas that knotted the game back up.  The score stood at 4-4 until the top of the ninth, when the Guerreros put three runs on the scoreboard off Bravos closer Joe Colon.  Yordanys Linares put Oaxaca ahead for good by whacking a two-run double off Colon with two out and then plated the Guerreros' final run on an Austin single.

The Bravos battled gamely in the bottom of the ninth.  Jaime singled in Antonio Ruiz after Ruiz had been waved to second on a balk called against Oaxaca pitcher Scott Shuman, a call that brought Shuman down from the mound and Guerreros manager Sergio Gastelum out of the dugout for a calm discussion with the umpires that led to Shuman and Gastelum both being elected (Jaime's single came off Ozzie Mendez).  Eduardo Arredondo then hit a fielder's choice grounder to first that got Jaime called out at second for the first out of the inning.  Arredondo was replaced by pinch-runner Luis Medina, who advanced to third on a Quincy Latimore single and scored on a Cedric Hunter sacrifice fly to center to bring Leon to within a run, but the game (and season) ended when Erick Casillas was brought in from the bullpen to replace Mendez and struck out Niko Vasquez swinging to send the Bravos and 3,489 in the stands at Parque Domingo Santana home wondering what might have been.

The wild finish climaxed a fall schedule in which the placement of teams in the LMB South remained in doubt until the final days.  Defending champion Yucatan (32-24) slipped into first place on the final day of the regular season Thursday when the Leones took a 7-4 win at Quintana Roo while Leon outlasted Mexico City (31-24) by a 9-8 count on Latimore's RBI single in the bottom of the tenth.  Puebla slipped down the stretch by dropping all three games of a series at Oaxaca to come in third at 29-27, two games ahead of Leon and three up on Oaxaca.

The LMB North playoff field had already been determined heading into last week's final series, but three more games were required for seeding purposes.  While Monclova (42-14) easily won the division, Tijuana (35-21) had to win seven of their last ten games to come in second by a game-and-a-half over Monterrey (34-23) while Dos Laredos (33-24) ended up in fourth after losing 10-5 in Monclova Thursday while the Sultanes prevailed in a 10-9 slugfest that took 12 innings to complete in Tijuana to break a deadlock with the Tecos for third.  Unlike Oaxaca in the South, fifth-place Aguascalientes (25-30) was too far behind Dos Laredos to force a wild-card game.

With the regular season in the taillights, the playoffs will open with four games Monday night.  Puebla will be at Mexico City for one LMB South semifinal while Oaxaca visits Yucatan to open the other.  Monterrey hosts Tijuana in a North semi series and Monclova will open at home against Dos Laredos.  All playoff series will be best-of-7 affairs throughout the postseason.

Fall bat champion Olmo Rosario of Campeche

It's been a tough couple years for Campeche Piratas outfielder Olmo Rosario.  The 38-year-old Dominican received a 50-game suspension prior to the 2017 season after testing for amphetamines during the previous year, leading to his release from the Tijuana Toros.  Rosario eventually signed with Leon in late May 2017 but was released by the Bravos three weeks later after batting just .174 over 13 games.  He was picked up by Campeche almost another three weeks and went on to hit .378 with five homers in 30 games, good enough to be brought back for another year in the Walled City.

Rosario turned in a good Spring season for the Piratas, hitting .319 with nine homers in 56 games, but he really stepped things up in the Fall campaign to win the Mexican League batting championship with a .408 average.  Rosario finished the season with a 14-game hitting streak (including a .600 average over his final ten games) to bring his season average up 48 points from .360 on August 19 to sneak past Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt's .406.  Betancourt was hitting .417 on September 1 but collected just six hits over his final five games to drop into second in the batting race.  Yelson Asencio of Mexico City came in a distant third at .386.

Felix Perez of Monclova belted two homers last Thursday in the Acereros' final game against Tijuana to finish with 19 longballs over 55 games to win his second consecutive home run title after sending 15 balls to the street in Spring to lead the LMB.  Perez finished ahead of Oaxaca's Dustin Geiger (15) and Leandro Castro of Saltillo (14).  Both Perez and Geiger were traded in the Fall midseason while Castro was signed by the Saraperos as a free agent in May a month after being released by Dos Laredos.  Perez tied with teammate Francisco Peguero for the Liga RBI title with 60 apiece (Puebla's Delmon Young was third with 56 ribbies) while Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis stole 28 bases in 34 attempts to beat out Monclova's Cade Gotta (25) and Tony Campana (24) of Aguascalientes in that category.

Brazilian Andre Rienzo pitched one scoreless inning in relief for Monclova last Tuesday against Dos Laredos to finish the season with a 0.76 ERA, easily the lowest among qualifiers in the loop.  Acereros manager Pedro Mere only brought Rienzo out of the bullpen twice since his last start on August 26 against Aguascalientes to rest the 30-year-old righty for the playoffs.  Terance Marin of Dos Laredos finished second to Rienzo with a 2.12 ERA while Aguascalientes' Francisco Del Rosario was third at 2.24.

Marin returned to organized baseball after pitching in Taiwan in 2017 and finished the LMB's Fall season on a high note by winning five of his last six starts to tie with Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez and Patrick Johnson for most wins with seven each.  Gonzalez will be well-rested for the playoffs after not having pitched since a September 4 victory at Durango while Johnson has been held out since a September 2 loss at Puebla.  Seven more pitchers finished with six wins.

Orlando Lara of Campeche (who himself hasn't pitched since September 1) took his first strikeout title with 64 in 61.1 innings to record the most ponchadas among Liga hurlers, with Monterrey's Jose De Paula (61) finishing second while Leon's Guillermo Moscoso and Enrique Oquendo (58) tied for third.  Wirfin Obispo on Monterrey only pitched once in relief last week and even though he didn't record a save, the Sultanes closer ended the calendar with 14, enough to lead the LMB.  Joe Colon (Leon), Chad Gausin (Yucatan) and Josh Lueke (Monclova) each had eleven saves to tie for second.

The Tijuana Toros led the Mexican League attendance with 252,668 fans attending 27 home games for an average of 9,358, which was higher than any full-season Class AAA team north of the border (Charlotte of the International League was next at 8,980).  Monterrey was second in the LMB with an average of 7,616 while Yucatan came in third at 6,985 but the Fall schedule was not kind to most Liga teams at the turnstiles.  Seven of the LMB's 16 teams drew fewer than 3,000 people per opening, with Campeche's 855 average bringing up the rear and Tabasco not a lot better at 1,151 per night.


Although a press release from the Mexican League last week has termed their two-seasons-in-one-year experiment a "success," apparently it wasn't successful enough as a format to keep around for a second year.  The LMB announced it will abandon this year's approach of two separate 57-game regular seasons with full playoffs starting in late March and finishing in October to return to a single-season format.  However, as often seems the case with the Liga, it won't come without complications.

On the surface, the move seems a wise one.  The LMB will play two halves for a total of 120 games per team for the regular season.  Similar to other leagues in Mexico, teams will be awarded points on the basis of where they finish in the standings each half, with the accrued totals determining playoff seeding. The number of games will be most since the Mexican League played a 120-game schedule in 2001 but since Minor League Baseball's two other Class AAA leagues had 140-game schedules this year, the six-game increase is not a big deal (especially with a month's worth of playoff games being eliminated).  However, the LMB Assembly of Presidents' decision to drop Tuesday as a game day south of the border is going to have far-reaching consequences.

Mondays have been travel days for years in Mexican baseball and that will not change.  However, the Liga has decided to create a second consecutive off-day each week before teams play between Wednesdays and Sundays, starting with a two-game series and concluding with a three-game set.  The result will be tighter travel schedules, more days during the season when ballparks are closed and a schedule stretching from March into November, which is when the playoffs will conclude.  Even the playoff format will be expanded from the current eight teams to twelve participants, with the top two finishers in each division getting a first-round bye while the next four teams battle it out to advance to the division semifinals (effectively adding another layer to the playoff format to make it a four-tiered process to win a pennant).

The moves appear to be a shot across the bow of the winter Mexican Pacific League, whose season traditionally begins in mid-October.  The LMP has already had to scramble for players to begin their upcoming 2018-19 season because the current Mexican League playoff system stretches into October, with the MexPac increasing the number of foreign players allowed per team from six to 12 this winter.  Next year's Mexican League playoff format would stretch about a full month into the LMP's season, severely curtailing the availability of domestic talent for the winter circuit.  Some observers believe the extended Mexican League season in 2019 is in response to the MexPac seeking to expand into current LMB markets, such as Monterrey and Tijuana.  The latter has had winterball teams in the past, but none were long-lasting.  In fact, the former Tijuana Potros hold a rather unenviable distinction of twice winning pennants (1987-88 and 1990-91) but not being allowed to compete the following winter due to what was termed "unfair competitive practices."  Following their second DQ, Tijuana joined the financially-troubled Guaymas Ostioneros and left the MexPac, leaving the league with an eight-team lineup ever since.

As always, the most affected people with the Liga's reformatting may be the players, who have never unionized and enjoy few rights in Mexican baseball.  In a country where the per capita income is generally between US$10,000-14,000 per year (depending on your source), many players perform year round because jobs that can bring in US$3,000-5,000 per month are very far and few between.  The new LBM format could seriously curtail a player's availability to continue earning money between November and February, especially if Liga teams (who own a player's rights in Mexico) decide to make a player unavailable for winterball because of "exhaustion," something often used by Major League Baseball organizations for their minor league players.

No official response has come out of the Mexican Pacific League's new offices in Guadalajara but it's hard to imagine LMP president Omar Canizales doing nothing.  We shall see.

Monday, September 3, 2018


Monclova Acereros P Jason Gurka
To the surprise of nobody, the Monclova Acereros have clinched first place in the Mexican League North Division and will sail into the Fall season playoffs with the best record in the circuit.  The Steelers have led the LMB North practically since the second season opened in July and even the surprising midseason replacement of first-year manager Carlos Garcia with ex-Tijuana skipper Pedro Mere did nothing to halt the team's bid to become Monclova's first Liga pennant winners.  The Acereros will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Acereros ran their season record to 41-12 Sunday by clobbering Dos Laredos, 16-2, in front of 5,058 fans at Estadio Monclova as starter Jason Gurka (a former Rockies and Angels pitcher) tossed five innings of one-run ball to extend his ledger to 6-0 on the campaign.  Gurka had a 1-2 record with a 3.18 ERA in relief appearances for the Orioles' AAA Norfolk affiliate this year before coming to Monclova just as the Fall schedule opened.  After only one start since 2014, the 30-year-old lefty from Texas was inserted into Monclova's rotation August 3 and has won five times in six starts.  Gurka was given a lead Sunday when Cade Gotta smacked a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning off Tecolotes starter Alex Sanabia to launch a five-run opening entrada.  Reigning MVP Jesse Castillo went 4-for-6 with a double, three runs scored and another two driven in while Erick Aybar and former Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa each had three hits.  Espinosa, who had four RBIs, is with his fifth organization in 2018 after suiting up for Yankees, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Phillies teams since spring training.  He arrived in Monclova in mid-August after being released from the Phils' AAA Lehigh Valley affiliate.

With Sunday's blowout, the Acereros have won seven of their past ten game and enter their final three-game series of the regular season at home against Dos Laredos with a seven-game lead over Tijuana (34-19), who has won nine of their last ten contest to go two-and-a-half games ahead of third-place Monterrey (32-22).  The Toros need to win just once in their final home set with the Sultanes at Estadio Gasmart to clinch homefield advantage in the first playoff round against either Monterrey or Dos Laredos, who enters the week with a 31-23 mark.  Fifth-place Aguascalientes (24-29) was knocked out of mathematical contention Sunday by losing 8-7 to Saltillo when the Saraperos' Christian Zazueta scored the tiebreaking run on an Anthony Carter wild pitch in the top of the ninth.  Both teams, along with Durango and Union Laguna, will be done playing after Thursday night's season-ending games.

While the LMB North playoff participants (if not the seedings) have been determined, things are much hazier in the South.  Yucatan's 4-2 home win over Tabasco vaulted the defending champion Leones (30-23) past Mexico City (29-23) into first place by a half-game.  The Lions got a good start from Jose Samayoa (6 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 5 SO) while sending Olmecas opener Thomas Melgarejo to the showers with a three-run fifth inning.  Mexico City dropped out of first after the Diablos Rojos dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker at Puebla Sunday as the Pericos' Sergio Perez singled off Patrick Johnson to bring in Daniel Sanchez from third with the game's only run in the bottom of the third.  Puebla stater Josh Outman blanked the Diablos on two hits over seven innings for the win as the Parrots raised their record to 29-24, one game out of first.

Below the leaders, fourth-place Leon has faded over the past few weeks and the Bravos are now 25-26 after holding off Oaxaca, 8-7, Sunday.  Leon took an 8-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth before Dustin Geiger socked a leadoff homer off Bravos closer Joe Colon and Jaime Brena and Samar Leyva stroked run-scoring singles before Colon struck out Yuniesky Betancourt with the bases loaded to end the contest.   Leon is three games ahead of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo and while neither the Guerreros nor Tigres are likely to catch up the Bravos with only three games left, one of them might force a single play-in game with the Guanajuato club (who would serve as host).  Both Campeche and Tabasco are out of the running.

Needless to say, there are a few important midweek series starting Tuesday on the docket.  In the LMB North, Monterrey visits Tijuana to determine the second playoff seed in that division in a matchup of likely first-round opponents.  In the South, Yucatan will make the short hop from Merida to Cancun for three games with the Tigres, who have played well of late but are only 9-18 at home for the Fall season.  Mexico City visits Leon for three games and Oaxaca welcomes Puebla.  If a play-in game is required, it'll take place next Saturday with first round series set to begin Tuesday, September 10.


Oaxaca Guerreros IF Yuniesky Betancourt
Former MLB shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has taken advantage of a late performance dip by Yucatan centerfielder Leo Heras to gain the lead in the Mexican League batting derby.  Betancourt, who hit .367 with 11 homers in 56 games for Oaxaca during the Spring season, went 3-for-3 against Leon Friday to raise his current average to .417, was 1-for-8 the rest of the weekend to drop to .406, still good enough to lead the LMB by five points over Mexico City outfielder Yeison Asencio, a three-time postseason All-Star while playing in the Padres minor league system.  Heras has gone 7-for-35 over his last ten games to see his average plummet from .449 to .385 and now ranks fifth in the Liga, with Yucatan teammate Everth Cabrera just ahead in fourth at .386.

Monterrey first baseman Felix Perez homered against Tijuana last Tuesday and went deep Sunday in Durango to bring his season total to 16, two longballs ahead of Saltillo's Leandro Castro and Dustin Geiger of Oaxaca.  A native of Cuba, like the aforementioned Betancourt, the 33-year-old Perez spent five seasons in the Red Sox system (and was a 2014 International League midseason All-Star for Louisville) before coming to Monterrey one year later.  After only playing 28 games for the Sultanes in 2017, Perez was let go and signed by Aguascalientes in the offseason and immediately rewarded the Rieleros by leading the LMB with 15 homers in the Spring season.  After knocking out another 10 roundtrippers in 28 games for Aguascalientes this Fall, he was dealt back to Monterrey early last month in a five-player deal that send first baseman Ricky Alvarez and pitcher Nestor Molina to the Railroaders.

Perez' 52 RBIs rank third in the LMB behind Monclova's Francisco Peguero's 57 and the 54 of Puebla outfielder Delmon Young, who led in ribbies most of the season but drove in just one run over the Pericos' three-game weekend series at Mexico City.  After it looked like Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana might have an easy run to the stolen bases title much of the season, the former Cub has been surpassed by both Johnny Davis of Dos Laredos and Monclova outfielder Cade Gotta.  A Southern League postseason All-Star last year while in the Brewers organization, the 28-year-old Davis (who stole 52 bases for Biloxi in 2017) swiped four bases against Monclova last weekend, including three steals in Saturday's game, to lift his season total to 26 in 31 attempts.  Gotta, who won a Southern League Player of the Week award earlier this year with the Marlins' AA Jacksonville affiliate, stole six bases against the Tecos in the same series and now has 24 for the Fall.  Campana pilfered two bases against Saltillo over the weekend but now stands third behind Davis and Gotta in steals with 23.

Monterrey Sultanes P Edgar Gonzalez
One-time Diamondbacks starter Edgar Gonzalez gave up two runs in 5.1 innings to earn the win for is hometown Monterrey Sultanes in Sunday's 11-4 triumph in Durango to bring his season record to 7-2.  The 35-year-old Gonzalez is now tied with Mexico City's Patrick Johnson for the Liga lead in pitching wins.  Since picking up the W against Puebla on August 16, Johnson has lost two of his last three starts, including a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Pericos on Sunday in which he allowed the game's only run and scattered six hits while striking out seven over six innings.  Six pitchers are tied for third with six wins apiece.

Monclova's Andre Rienzo pitched a scoreless inning in relief against Dos Laredos Sunday after tossing six shutout innings in his last start on August 26 against Aguascalientes to bring his league-leading ERA down further to 0.78, nearly a full run per nine innings fewer than teammate Wilmer Rios, who is second in the LMB at 1.76.  While he's been obscured on his own pitching staff by Rienzo and Josh Lowey, the 24-year-old Rios (son of Salon de la Fama member Jesus "Chito" Rios, who won 21 games for the Tigres in 1989) has cobbled together a breakout campaign with the Acereros by going 6-0 and leading the Liga with an 0.87 WHIP.  Rios has allowed just six walks in 56.1 innings pitched.

Campeche veteran Orlando Lara struck out eight Quintana Roo batters Saturday in six innings of a Piratas' 6-4 loss to the Tigres, running his season strikeout total to 64 over 61.1 frames and taking over leadership of the LMB in that category.  The 33-year-old Lara, who whiffed 12 Leon batsmen in seven innings on August 9, was one of three pitchers to overtake former strikeouts leader Enrique Oquendo of Puebla last week.  Oquendo hasn't pitched since August 26, when he struck out three Mexico City hitters in three innings to bring his season total to 57.  Jose De Paula of Monterrey (61) and Leon's Guillermo Moscoso (59) are second and third, respectively.  Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo earned a save at Durango Saturday, giving him 14 in 15 opportunities this Fall.  That's two more saves than Leon's Joe Colon and Josh Lueke of Monclova.  Three other pitchers, including 2017 Reliever of the Year Chad Gaudin (who now pitches for Yucatan after being released earlier this year by Monclova) have 11 saves each.


Serie del Caribe is scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico.  The Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, aka COPABE, made the announcement after holding their general convention last week in Miami.
Beginning in 2020, the Caribbean Series will expand from its current five-nation format to eight with the additions of Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua to the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball.  The three new entrants will join the fun when the

Panama sent teams to the original Caribbean Series for twelve years prior to its discontinuation in 1960 after Cuba dropped out following their revolution and the ascension of Fidel Castro, a former pitcher who pulled his countrymen out of all pro baseball competition after taking power.  Panama hosted the CS three times (1952, 1956 and 1960) and won the event in 1950 with American manager Way Blackburn leading the Carta Viejo Yankees to a 5-1 record in that tournament.  When the Serie del Caribe resumed play in 1970, Panama was dropped from the competition and the Mexican Pacific League champion added as a replacement.  Last year, Panama was tentatively added by COPABE to the CS as a "guest" country for the February 2019 tournament planned for Barquisimeto, Venezuela.

Nicaragua and Colombia, who have competed along with Panama and Mexico in the Latin American Series, have never played in the Caribbean Series.  Mexico sends its champion from the winter league operating in the state of Veracruz to the LAS, which was played last January in Managua, Nicaragua and won by the host Chinandega Tigres (who were managed by current Saltillo Saraperos skipper Len Picota).  The Acayucan Tobis, champions of the Veracruz State League, were second.

COPABE president Juan Francisco Puello Herrera was quoted as saying the organization will meet in September to determine how the newcomers will be integrated into the Caribbean Series.  Speculation is that the champions from the three winter leagues would play each other in a preliminary competition to determine which one would join the existing five teams at the full CS.  When Cuba returned in 2014, it was on a conditional basis and that island nation's full membership has not been granted and nor have they been added to the rotation of host sites.  The future of the Latin American Series may be cast into doubt if three of its four participating national winterball leagues move up to the Caribbean Series.

The Caribbean Series has long been a centerpiece of Latin baseball but the event has struggled both artistically and financially the past few years.  The talent level of teams has dropped exponentially with fewer prospects being sent south of the border by Major League Baseball organizations, who instead have shown a preference for the more antiseptic and controlled atmosphere of the Arizona Fall League or even the lesser-quality Australian Baseball League.  As well, the combination of power attendance and political turmoil in some countries has made the CS less viable in those locations.  Barquisimeto had to drop out from hosting the event last February, with Guadalajara stepping in to fill the void, and while there's been much brave talk about Barquisimeto's readiness to host the upcoming Serie del Caribe, Venezuela's economy has not improved and continued political unrest there have people wondering if there will be another move.  Word for months has been that Mazatlan and its refurbished Estadio Teodoro Mariscal are preparing to welcome teams and fans should plans in Venezuela fall through again.