Monday, January 14, 2019


Jalisco Charros catcher Gabriel Gutierrez
Usually when you're batting with two out in the top of the ninth inning and your team has yet to secure their first hit in the game, you're in survival mode, simply trying to break up the no-no and avoid being on the receiving end in the record book.  That's enough to worry about right there.

Jalisco's number nine batter, catcher Gabriel Gutierrez, faced such a situation last Tuesday in Culiacan, with the added pressure of his plate appearance coming late in a scoreless Game Six playoff contest.  With Stephen Cardullo standing on second after drawing a walk from Tomateros closer and LMP saves champion Casey Coleman and then stealing a base, Gutierrez lofted a Coleman delivery to right that Sebastian Elizalde couldn't reach and motored into second for the first Charros safety of the night, driving in Cardullo with the go-ahead run.  Sergio Romo then came in for Jalisco and retired the Culiacan side on eleven pitches to seal the 1-0 win for Chad Gaudin (who pitched a scoreless eighth) and send the Charros on to the Mexican Pacific League semifinals with the 4-games-to-2 series win.  On the other hand, the defending champion Tomateros face many questions heading into the offseason after entering this edition of the playoffs as the top seed and instead firing manager Robinson Cancel after falling behind, 3 games to 1, and failing to score a run in their final game after winning a 5-2 Sunday contest in interim skipper Ramon Orantes' debut. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Los Mochis third baseman Rodolfo Amador
Los Mochis also closed out their series with Hermosillo in six games by taking a 3-1 road win last Tuesday night as Rodolfo Amador's two-run homer off Naranjeros starter Dennis O'Grady in the top of the second to give the Caneros a lead they'd never relinquish.  Jaime Lugo and three relievers combined on a four-hitter to carry Los Mochis into the semis while Hermosillo packed their bags for the season.  The coup de grace to the surprising early playoff exits for Culiacan and Hermosillo (a combined 27 MexPac pennants) was delivered last Tuesday with Obregon's 6-5 win over Mazatlan, courtesy of Yaquis pinch-hitter Leo Heras' walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the ninth off Venados' closer Brandon Cunniff.  The Obregon triumph evened the series at three games apiece, assuring Wednesday's Game Seven loser a semifinal berth as the lucky loser by virtue of those three wins.  By the way, Mazatlan won Game Seven, 3-2, as Justin Greene's three-run homer in the top of the third gave Venados starter Irwin Delgado and four relievers enough cushion for a somewhat anticlimactic series win.

Diory Hernandez homered for Los Mochis Friday
The LMP Final Four opened Friday in Los Mochis, where the Caneros were hosting Obregon.  The home team overcame a 4-3 deficit with four runs in the bottom of the third frame with Diory Hernandez belting a two-run homer off Yaquis starter Arturo Lopez as Los Mochis went on to cop a 10-6 win.  Hernandez had blasted a three-run bomb off Lopez in the first to put the Caneros ahead 3-1 and he went on to lead off the fourth with a double before coming in on an Esteban Quiroz longball.  Los Mochis went up by two games by topping Obregon, 5-2, Saturday night. The Caneros broke an 0-0 tie in the fifth with four runs, two on Jonathan Jones' double and two on Josuan Hernandez' single, in support of Yoanis Quiala's (7 IP, 1 R, 2 H) third quality start of the postseason.  Quiala is now 2-0 with an 0.90 ERA in 20 innings after going an unremarkable 3-5 and 4.37 for the Caneros during the regular season.  The series will shift to Nuevo Estadio Yaquis in Obregon for Monday's Game Three.

Friday's Jalisco-Mazatlan series opened about a half-hour after the Caneros-Yaquis tilt, with the visiting Charros picking up single runs in the first, fourth and sixth innings to help Orlando Lara and the Jalisco bullpen shut out the home Venados, 3-0.  Manny Rodriguez went 3-for-4 for the Charros, socking a solo homer in the first off Mazatlan's Casey Harman to give Lara & company all the runs they'd need.  Saturday's game resulted in another Jalisco shutout, this time by a 2-0 count as the Venados scoreless streak reached 24 innings (including the final six entradas of last Wednesday's win in Obregon).  Once again it was Rodriguez providing the key blow as the Charros' MVP candidate's single in the top of the third scored Gabriel Gutierrez and Alonzo Harris with the game's only runs.  The two teams moved to Guadalajara for Monday's Game Three with Jalisco holding a 2-games-to-0 advantage.


Former Culiacan manager Robinson Cancel
It's not unusual in baseball for a team's offseason housecleaning after a disappointing season to begin with the firing of their manager.  It's quite another thing when the skipper is canned in the middle of a first-round playoff series while the season is still very much alive, if only for a couple more days.  The latter was the case when the defending Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan Tomateros jettisoned helmsman Robinson Cancel following an embarrassing 11-1 loss to Jalisco in Guadalajara on Saturday, January 5.  The win gave the Charros a 3-games-to-1 lead in a series they'd close out three nights later with a 1-0 Jalisco win to send over 19,000 disappointed Culiacan fans home until next October.

The 42-year-old Cancel was a Major League catcher for Milwaukee, the New York Mets and Houston over four callups in a 20-year professional career.  He spent his first eight summers in the Brewers system before moving on to stints in five other MLB organizations, two independent leagues and Mexican League stops in Monterrey and Minatitlan before his retirement in 2014 after a season of winterball with the Carolina Gigantes in his native Puerto Rico.  He began his managerial career in 2015 with the Gulf Coast League Braves, finishing 11th with a 27-33 record for Atlanta's Rookie league entry.  Cancel then led the Danville Braves to a fourth-place finish in the Appalachian League's East Division in 2016 with a 31-36 mark before spending 2017 coaching in the Rockies system.  Cancel returned to managing with the Asheville Tourists in the Class A South Atlantic League last summer, taking the team to a 64-73 record and fifth in the Southern Division.

Cancel raised the Tomateros' fortune after being hired November 3 to replace Lorenzo Bundy as manager.  Bundy's first term in Culiacan lasted eighteen games, during which the champions started 8-10 out the gate and struggled to find cohesion under the veteran skipper.  Culiacan went 13-4 the rest of the first half to finish first at 21-12, then posted a 12-11 record for fifth place in the second half to end the regular season with a 33-23 overall ledger, tied for best with Hermosillo.  The Tomateros picked up 12.5 playoff points, most in the LMP and good for a number one playoff seeding.  Culiacan won the opener of their first-round series with Jalisco, but then the Charros won the next three and that was all for Cancel.

His successor, former Mexican League star infielder Oscar Robles, managed the Tomateros to a 5-2 win over the Charros on January 6 in Guadalajara before dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker at home before a packed house in Estadio Tomateros to end the series and season.  Robles, who was fired as Obregon's manager in late October after only nine games, was subsequently hired on as a bench coach in Culiacan.  He manages the Tijuana Toros during the summer.

Xalapa Chileros shortstop Kristian Delgado

The Xalapa Chileros crushed defending champion Acayucan, 8-1, Sunday in the Veracruz Winter League championship series as a reported 3,000 fans at the Chileros' Parque Deportivo Colon looked on.  Shortstop Kristian Delgado led the victors with a two-run double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third en route to a four-RBI night.  The win gives the Chileros a 3-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-7 finals heading into Monday afternoon's Game Five in Xalapa.

Xalapa opened the title set with a pair of wins in Acayucan, starting with a 7-5 triumph on January 5 as Eduardo Arredondo and Yancarlo Angulo each had two hits and two RBIs for the Chileros.  Rogelio Noris homered for the Tobis in a losing cause.  The Chileros took another road win one day later, 8-6, as Angulo singled, homered and drove in three runs, although he did get caught stealing a base.  Angel Francisco Rivera led Acayucan with a pair of hits, including a late two-run homer, but Kevin Lamas' two-run longball in the top of the ninth broke a 6-6 tie and Xalapa held on for the win.

Acayucan fought back with an 11-5 win last Friday in Xalapa.  Luis Angel Santos' bases-loaded triple with two out in the top of the third gave the Tobis a 5-2 lead, but it took a five-run ninth to give the defending champions some breathing room in the end.  Veteran outfielder Eliseo Aldazaba's three-run homer opened up an 11-4 Acayucan lead and while the Chileros did score on Oscar Soto's leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth, Tobis closer Jose Wilfredo Ramirez retired the next three batters to close out the game and close the gap with Xalapa at 2-games-to-1.

The Chileros opened the gap by a game with Sunday's 8-1 win.  Besides Delgado's heroics at the plate, Kevin Flores (a longtime Yucatan Leones infielder during the summer) drove in Angulo with a first-inning single and doubled home Alan Garcia in the fifth.  Another longtime LMBer, Marco Quevedo, earned the win in relief for the Chileros, tossing five-and-two-third innings after coming in for starter Daniel Lobato with one out in the first and allowing one run on two hits, striking out six.  Acayucan reliever Jose Almarante raised an eyebrow or two in the seventh when, with two out, he hit three consecutive Xalapa batsmen to fill the bases.  Almarante not only avoided any charged mounds, he stayed in the game, retired Alan Espinoza on a fielder's choice grounder to escape unscored upon and then pitched a scoreless eighth (although he plunked a fourth Tobis batter).

If the Tobis win Monday's Game Five at Xalapa's Estadio Colon (and they did, 14-4, as Heber Gomez hit a grand slam for the winners), the series will shift to Acayucan for Game Six on Saturday afternoon at Estadio Luis Diaz Flores.  If needed, a Game Seven would be played Sunday afternoon at Estadio Emiliano Zapata.

Monday, January 7, 2019


After the first week of the Mexican Pacific League postseason, all three first-round series have teams one win away from clinching a berth in the semifinals with Culiacan, Los Mochis and Mazatlan each leading their respective sets, 3 games to 2, heading into Monday's travel day.  With that in mind, let's take a look at last week's action:

Jalisco leads Culiacan, 3 games to 2
Jalisco Charros closer Sergio Romo
Culiacan opened the series last Tuesday with a 3-2 home win in a 10-inning thriller as Luis Alfonso Cruz' infield dribbler to third off Charros reliever Sergio Romo brought Ali Solis in from third with the game-winning run. Cruz and Rico Noel each had three hits the the Tomateros while Manny Rodriguez homered off Manny Barreda in the top of the first for the Charros.  One night later, Alonzo Harris belted a grand slam off former Indians farmhand Jeff Johnson in the seventh as Jalisco went on to even the series with a 7-4 win. Romo struggled again in the ninth, allowing a run, but held on for the save. Stephen Cardullo had three hits and scored twice for the winners while Sebastian Elizalde paced the Tomateros by going 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

After a travel day, the teams congregated in Guadalajara Friday, when the Charros won again in ten frames, this time by a 5-4 score as Amadeo Zazueta led off with a walkoff homer against reliever Juan Noriega (ironically a Jalisco native).  Zazueta and Henry Urrutia each had three hits for the Charros while Japhet Amador socked a seventh inning homer off MLB free agent Oliver Perez.  Elizalde had another strong effort in a losing cause for Culiacan, going 4-for-5 with two runs and a ribbie while ex-Yankee Ramiro Pena went deep for the Tomateros.  Jalisco took a 3-games-to-1 lead Saturday by walloping the defending champs, 11-1, in a game that was tied at a run apiece until the Charros pushed seven runs across in the bottom of the fifth as Rodriguez, Cardullo and Agustin Murillo each homered (the latter a three-run bomb) to support Horsemen starter Marco Tovar, who gave up one run and struck out five in as many innings.  Dariel Alvarez chipped in with four hits while Murillo and Urrutia split four hits and six RBIs.  Pena had two hits and scored the lone Tomateros run on a Solis double in the top of the fifth.

The Tomateros avoided elimination Sunday by topping Jalisco, 5-2, as veteran lefty Danny Rodriguez tossed six innings and allowed one unearned run to earn the win.  Rodriguez, who turned 34 last month, did not pitch last summer for Saltillo in the Mexican League and was only 2-5 for the Tomateros during the regular season, but he's been a big-game pitcher in the past and looked the part Sunday.  Rainel Rosario's two-run triple keyed a four-run fifth inning for the Tomateros that broke up a scoreless tie and the defending champs never looked back.  Game Six is set for Tuesday night in Culiacan.

Los Mochis leads Hermosillo, 3 games to 2
Hermosillo first baseman Dustin Geiger
The first four games of this series featured blowouts bookending a pair of close contests.  Los Mochis drew first blood by bombing the Naranjeros, 12-1, last Tuesday as Saul Soto's homer highlighted a Caneros' six-run fourth inning that kicked off a three-frame stretch that netted eleven runs for the visitors. Cuban starter Yoanys Quiala earned the win with six strong innings while 10-year MLB vet Jaime Garcia absorbed the loss for Hermosillo, allowing five runs on four hits, two walks and a throwing error over his two-inning start.  The Naranjeros came back Wednesday with a 6-5 triumph over Los Mochis in ten innings on Dustin Geiger's walkoff single off former three-time MLB All-Star closer Jose Valverde that brought in Garabez Rosa from second.  Geiger and Rosa had two hits each for the winners while Rudy Amador went 4-for-5 with a homer for the Caneros.

The series shifted to Los Mochis for Friday's Game Three, which was won by the Caneros, 5-3.  Alejandro Pena had a solid start for Willie Romero's team, going six innings and allowing one run on just two hits, striking out nine Orangemen.  Valverde had better luck this time, pitching a scoreless ninth to earn the save.  Leandro Castro and Josuan Hernandez had two hits each for Los Mochis, driving in five runs between them.  Jose Samayoa took the loss for Hermosillo, who got two hits apiece from Jasson Atondo and Jose Cardona.  The Naranjeros evened the series at two games each Saturday with a 12-2 thrashing of the Caneros.  Hermosillo was up 2-0 before plating ten runs between the fifth and seventh entradas to salt the game away.  Geiger had a huge night for the victors with seven (!) RBIs on three singles and a double while Atondo went 3-for-4 and scored four tallies to support starter Luis Mendoza (6 IP, 1 R, 4H) in the win.  Diory Hernandez had two hits for the Caneros, including a homer off Mendoza.

There would be no similar offensive explosion by either team during Sunday's Game Five, as Hermosillo starter Juan Pablo Oramas and Caneros hurler Quiala (making his second start of the series) locked horns in a scoreless battle that carried into the top of the seventh.  Irving Lopez hit a two-out grounder to deep short off Quiala that Isaac Rodriguez wasn't able to make a play on for an infield single, after which Cardona lined a double to left field to score Lopez with the game's first run.  The Caneros tied the game back up in the bottom of the seventh when former Toronto farmhand Jonathan Jones cracked a two-out solo homer off reliever Jake Sanchez to even the score at 1-1. Los Mochis took the lead for good in the bottom of the eighth when Sanchez walked both Josuan and Diory Hernandez (no relation) before being replaced by Garcia, who walked Esteban Quiroz to load the bases.  Exit Garcia and enter Zack Jones, who gave up a two-run single to Amador to put the Caneros up 3-2.  Valverde entered the game in the ninth and three outs later, Los Mochis had both the comeback win and the series lead.  After Monday's off-day, Game Six will be played Tuesday in Hermosillo.

Mazatlan leads Obregon, 3 games to 2
Jeremias Pineda in a rare standstill moment
This series has favored the home team, with the team batting second winning all of the first four tilts. Game One was held last Tuesday in Obregon, where the Yaquis emerged as 3-2 winners as Jesus "Cacoa" Valdez smacked a ninth-inning walkoff homer off Mazatlan reliever Edgar Torres.  Yaquis starter Yoanner Negrin put in seven good innings, letting in two runs on six hits and striking out six, but closer Maikal Cleto had a 1-2-3 outing in the top of the ninth and was awarded the win via Valdez' homer.  The loss wasted a strong outing by starter Casey Harman (6 IP, 2 R, 4 H) for the Venados, who got three hits from Alex Liddi in defeat.  Obregon won again last Wednesday, this time by a 3-1 count.  Brazilian pitcher Andre Rienzo had a solid outing for the Yaquis with 7.1 innings of one-run ball to earn the win.  Victor Mendoza poleaxed a two-run homer off Mazatlan starter Konner Wade in the seventh to put the Tribe in the lead while Jefri Perez added an insurance run with an RBI double one inning later.  Jeremias Pineda homered off Rienzo in the top of the third for the Venados.

The action moved to Mazatlan for Friday's Game Three, won by the Venados, 6-1.  Deer starter Irwin Delgado allowed 11 hits over 5.1 innings and somehow let in just one run as Obregon went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left ten men stranded on base for the night.  Pineda was 3-for-4 with a double, triple, a run and two RBIs for Mazatlan.  The Yaquis' 6th and 7th batters (Isaac Paredes and Juan Carlos Gamboa) each had three hits but neither scored nor drove in a run.  The Venados tied the series on Saturday with a 5-2 win over the visitors.  Sebastian Valle swatted a homer in the third but Mazatlan won by pushing three runs across the plate in the eighth, when a Cleto wild pitch to Brian Hernandez with the bases loaded brought in Valle with the go-ahead run and a Hernandez sacrifice fly to center sent Pineda in from third.  A Ramon Rios RBI single brought in Justin Greene with an insurance run and it was left to former Atlanta reliever Brandon Cunniff to post a 1-2-3 ninth the end the game and earn the save for the Venados.

As was the case in the Game Five tilt between Los Mochis and Hermosillo on the same evening, the Venados and Yaquis contest featured a pitcher's duel to wrap up the Mazatlan leg of the series Sunday.  Starters Negrin of Obregon and Harman of the Venados swapped zeroes until Mazatlan broke through with two out in the bottom of the fifth, when Negrin uncorked a wild pitch to Pineda that sailed past veteran catcher Iker Franco, allowing the 6'4" Liddi to rumble down from third with the game's first score.  The Venados' slim 1-0 lead was maintained precariously the rest of the way, as Cunniff came on in the ninth and held Obregon scoreless for his second save in as many night.  The series now moves back to Obregon for Tuesday night's Game Six.


The Acayucan Tobis and Xalapa Chileros were both extended to a full five games, but each won their Veracruz Winter League semifinal playoff series last week and are meeting in the LIV championship series.

The defending champion Tobis, who cruised to the regular season title with an 18-3 record, were expected to make short work of the Jaltex Astros, who finished at 8-13 and barely squeezed past the Veracruz Rojos for the fourth and final playoff berth.  Instead, after dropping a wild 13-11 series opener December 22 in Acayucan on Cuban Yadil Mujica's walkoff grand slam , the Astros won the second and third games of their best-of-5 series to stand one victory away from the league finals.  The Tobis bounced back to tie the set with a 2-0 Game Four shutout December 29 in Jaltex to set up Game Five in Acayucan on December 30.

Although the Astros took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first frame of that contest, the Tobis plated four runs in the second (with Ramon Ramirez contributing a three-run homer) and went on to post a 10-2 laugher, punching their ticket to the LIV finals. The Mexican League's 2017 batting champion, Yadir Drake, added a two-run bomb while Rigoberto Armenta's three singles paced a 15-hit attack from manager Edgar Castro's squad.

Cordoba went 14-6 in the regular season to finish in second place, a game ahead of 13-7 Xalapa.  The Cafeteleros took Game One of their semifinal at home, 7-6, on December 22 before the Chileros won Games Two and Three to pull ahead in the series, which (like the other semi) alternated venues from game to game.  Cordoba won Game Four, 6-5, on December 29 to bring the series home the following day for Game Five.

Although Xalapa would prevail in the rubber match on December 30, the Chileros' 8-3 triumph required a six-run sixth inning to put the visitors ahead for good.  Trailing 3-2 heading into the frame, Xalapa sent twelve men to the plate and while they scored six times, it was due more to a Cordoba implosion than a Chileros outburst at the plate as Xalapa registered just two hits in the inning, including a single by Alan Garcia that drove in Eduardo Arredondo with the tying run and Kevin Flores with the go-ahead tally.  The inning also featured five walks (one intentional), an error, a stolen base and a wild pitch before Cafeteleros reliever Jahir Perez got Garcia to fly out in his second plate appearance of the inning to mercifully end the entrada.  Winner Marco Quevedo, Jesus Garcia and Alexis Lara blanked Cordoba over the final three innings on one hit to seal the victory and send the Chileros to the best-of-7 finals, where they won two games in Acayucan over the weekend (next Monday's BBM will include an update of the LIV championship series).

The winner of the title set will represent both the Veracruz Winter League and Mexico in the Latin American Series at Estadio Beisbol de Roberto Avila in the city of Veracruz.  The Serie Latinoamericana brings together champions from six winter leagues in a competition ranked one level below the Caribbean Series.  Nicaragua's Chinandega Tigres are the defending LAS champions.

Championship Series Schedule
Game 1: Xalapa 7, Acayucan 5
Game 2: Xalapa 8, Acayucan 6
Game 3: Acayucan at Xalapa, Friday, January 11 (TBA)
Game 4: Acayucan at Xalapa, Saturday, January 12 (TBA)
Game 5: Acayucan at Xalapa, Sunday, January 13 (TBA)*
Game 6: Xalapa at Acayucan, Saturday, January 19 (4PM)*
Game 7: Xalapa at Acayucan, Sunday, January 20 (1PM)*
*-If necessary.  All times local.


New Leon Bravos pitcher Yasutomo Kobo
The Leon Bravos have signed veteran pitcher Yasutomo Kobo for the upcoming season.  The 38-year-old right-hander spent 13 seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball, toiling mostly as a starter for the Chiba Lotte Marines, Hanshin Tigers and Yokohama BayStars before a stint last year in the United States in two independent leagues.

Kobo debuted with the Marines in 2005 and went 10-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 18 starts, tossing five complete games (three of them shutouts) for manager Bobby Valentine.  That effort earned the 5'11" 185-pounder the Pacific League Rookie of the Year award in a season where future MLBer Nori Aoki was accorded similar honors in the Central League while playing outfield for the Yakult Swallows.

After that, Kobo's fortunes were mixed as he fell to a 7-13 record and a 4.55 ERA for the Marines in 22 starts in 2006.  He ended up going 30-31 over four summers in Chiba before ending up with the Central League Hanshin Tigers in 2009.  After a 9-8 campaign, Kobo turned in his best NPB season for the Tigers, posting a 14-5 mark with a 3.25 ERA and making his lone All-Star Game appearance as the Tigers finished in a virtual tie for second with with the Yomiuri Giants with a 78-63 record, one game behind the Chunichi Dragons.  Kobo would spend three more years in Nishinomiya and while he didn't pitch badly for Hanshin, he never had the success he'd seen in 2010.  He was dealt to the Yokohama BayStars following a 2013 campaign in which he pitched out of the bullpen, going 3-4 with six saves in 44 relief appearances.

As in his previous two stops, Kobo had one double-figure season in wins in Yokohama, registering a 12-6 ledger for the BayStars in 2014 to augment a 3.33 ERA.  After that, however, he only went 17-17 over the next three seasons in 43 starts as injuries began to pop up.  His last season in NPB was the 2017 campaign, when he was 4-2 with a 5.35 ERA in seven starts over 62.2 innings prior to his release.  During his 13-year career in Japanese baseball, Kobo was a combined 97-86 with a 3.70 earned-run average, including eight shutouts and those six saves with the Tigers in 2013.

Kobo then crossed the Pacific to pitch in 2018, first for the SouthShore RailCats of Gary, Indiana in the independent American Association.  He spent less than two weeks with the RailCats in late June and early July, starting twice and relieving once and earning no decisions while turning in a 4.05 ERA.  He was let go on July 7 but was picked up nine days later by the Atlantic League's Sugar Land Skeeters, managed by ex-Rangers outfielder Pete Incaviglia and featuring teammates familiar to Mexican baseball fans like Konner Wade, Casey Coleman and Welington Dotel.  Kobo enjoyed a measure of success pitching in the Houston suburb, joining the Skeeters' rotation and going 5-2 in ten starts for the eventual ALPB champions, but only having a 5.14 ERA to show for 56 innings.

And now it's on to Leon as Kobo pitches in his third country in as many summers.  The Bravos are hoping the addition of the former NPB Rookie of the Year will spur interest among the estimated 5,200 Japanese nationals living in the region while working for such corporations as Honda, Mazda and Toyota.  New owners Grupo Multimedios is using the same mindset with the defending LMB champion Monterrey Sultanes, who they also co-own.  The Sultanes recently signed Korean pitcher Hyun-Jun Park, a 32-year-old right-hander who spent time in the KBO and won 13 games for the LG Twins in 2011, in part to appeal to the estimated ten thousand Asians living in the Monterrey area.