Monday, August 19, 2019

SULTANES WIN SIX IN ROW, TECOS FIGHT TO STAY ALIVE

Mexico City''s Japhet Amador is heating up
Defending champion Monterrey was in a fight for fourth place in the Mexican League North Division before a six-game win streak gave manager Roberto Kelly's Sultanes some breathing room over fading Dos Laredos with just three series remaining in the regular season.

Monterrey swept three-game home sets over Dos Laredos and Tijuana last week to go to 27-22 in the second half, trailing Saltillo (33-17), Monclova (31-20) and TJ (29-22) in the standings.  The Sultanes capped their broom job over the Toros Sunday with a 5-4 win as 9,136 fans braved 102 degree temperatures to watch at Estadio Monterrey. The Sultanes chased Tijuana starter Carlos Hernandez with four runs in the bottom of the second inning to go up 5-0, then had to hang on as the Bulls sent Edgar Gonzalez to the showers by scoring three in the sixth.  Juan Gamez combined with four other relievers to hold Tijuana to one more run over the final ten outs as Wirfin Obispo pitched a perfect ninth to register his 28th save.

While Monterrey, Monclova and Tijuana are virtual locks for the playoffs even if Dos Laredos passes the Sultanes in the next ten days, the Tecos need to move up in the standings to reach the postseason if Saltillo holds on to first place.  If the season ended today, the Saraperos would finish the two halves with 12 points while the Owls would only have 9 points to show for themselves. The Tecos salvaged a road series in Monclova Sunday with an 11-9 win powered by five Dos Laredos homers (including Balbino Fuenmayor's 30th longball of the season) to halt a five-game losing skid.  The Tecos are now 24-27 to trail Monterrey by four games and while they should hold off Aguascalientes (21-29), Durango (17-33) and Union Laguna (16-34), standing pat likely means being spectators when the playoffs open next month.

Things are no better defined in the LMB South, where Yucatan (33-18) leads Quintana Roo (32-18) by just half a game with Mexico City (30-21) creeping up on both teams by winning seven of their last ten games.  Should the Diablos remain in third place they would finish with 13 points and qualify for the playoffs even if Campeche (24-24) or Oaxaca (24-26) overtake them, but that's about the only certainty. Yucatan had only four points in the first half while the Tigres picked up just three while Oaxaca won the division and eight points while Puebla finished third and collected six points.

The Leones and Guerreros will probably join Mexico City in the playoffs next month, but the Pericos are plummeting after losing eight of their last ten games to fall to seventh at 19-28.  Quintana Roo will not fall below third, meaning they'll finish with at least nine points for the year. Puebla needs to overtake sixth-place Tabasco (21-28) to finish with nine points. The Pericos will host Yucatan and Tabasco this week before finishing the regular season next week with a series in Mexico City, so they've got their work cut out for them.  Puebla didn't help themselves by dropping two of three games against Tabasco in Villahermosa over the weekend, including an 8-4 Olmecas win Sunday as every Tabasco player in the lineup had at least one hit (Roel Santos had three) and eight scored a single run, with Jose Luna knocking out a solo homer in the second off Scott Harkin. Tabasco has been one of the Liga's problem franchises for years and only 1,847 were in the Parque Centenario de 27 Febrero on Sunday, but new owner Juan Carlos Manzur has reportedly brought the beleaguered franchise a sense of order and direction that was lacking when the Olmecas were owned by the Dagdug brothers.

LMB strikeouts leader Yasutomo Kubo of Leon
After batting over .400 most of the season, Leon outfielder Felix Pie's recent freefall continues as the ex-Oriole went 3-for-20 over his last six games to drop out of the LMB lead into third place in the batting derby with a .387 average, trailing new leader Francisco Peguero of Monclova (.389) and Durango's Daniel Mayora (.388).  Peguero is the defending Liga MVP after batting .368 with 13 homers and 60 RBI's over 52 games in the league's shortened Fall season. Acereros teammate Chris Carter's memorable campaign continues after the ex-Brewers slugger cracked three homers last week to bring his season total to 46, nine more than Puebla's Danny Perez and Alonzo Harris of Oaxaca.  Harris now has 43 stolen bases (second to fellow Guerrero outfielder Johnny Davis' 54) to go with his .336 average and needs three homers to become the first-ever 40/40 man in Mexican baseball history. He and Carter (who also leads with 114 RBIs) are dueling for the MVP trophy, although Mexico City's massive Japhet Amador has been heating up and shows .354/27/109 numbers despite missing ten days in June due to injury.  Amador is batting .436 with four homers and 13 ribbies over his last ten games.

The league office may as well have their Pitcher of the Year trophy engraved because there's little chance Yucatan's Cesar Valdez won't get it despite losing his second game of the season Sunday, 2-0, to Campeche despite allowing two runs and striking out five in seven innings.  The Piratas' Manuel Flores pitched his league-leading second shutout of the year, scattering three hits to go to 9-7. Valdez leads the league in wins (14-2 record), earned-run average (2.30) and WHIP (1.07) while standing fifth in strikeouts (115). Leon's Yasutomo Kubo has struck out 23 batsmen in 19 innings over his last three starts to take control in that category with a total of 144 whiffs.  Kubo also gave up 15 earned runs in that span to fall to 8-13 with a 5.97 ERA. He's allowed just 29 walks in 144.2 innings this year. Obispo's save Sunday over Tijuana put the Monterrey closer one save behind leader Roman Mendez, who has 29 for Dos Laredos. Mendez finally won a game outright Sunday in Monclova to go to 1-6 for the year.

Most series are taking on added importance these days, but few among the midweek sets are bigger than Oaxaca's trip to Cancun to face the Tigres in a series with playoff implications for both teams.  The same can be said when Yucatan visits Puebla and Saltillo travels to Tijuana. Next weekend's biggest series appears to also be in Cancun, when rival Mexico City visits Quintana Roo, although it'll matter when Tijuana hosts Monterrey in the LMB North.


FERNANDO VALENZUELA NAMED LMB COMMISSIONER

New LMB commissioner Fernando Valenzuela
No fireworks were reported from last Thursday's Mexican League owners meeting in Monterrey, but one surprising development has emerged: former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela has been named to fill the newly-created Commissioner position.  

According to Martha Cedillo of Milenio, a national newspaper owned by Monterrey Sultanes co-owners Grupo Multimedios, says the position of LMB Commissioner will be "even above its president, Javier Salinas."  Puro Beisbol was a bit more vague describing El Toro's new job, stating simply that "Valenzuela will address sports issues independent of the presidency of the circuit."

Whatever Valenzuela's role as Commissioner will be, the announcement from Monterrey was made by Monclova Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides, a Salinas ally and head of the Liga's Board of Presidents.  Cedillo reports that the next LMB league meeting will be held in September, during which Salinas' status as president will be discussed. Salinas was not at the Monterrey gathering.

Valenzuela's two-year travails as owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres has been broached here numerous times so we'll avoid another at-length rehash of the difficulties he and wife Linda have encountered ever since they entered negotiations to buy the legacy franchise from Carlos Peralta in February 2017, but it's safe to say the couple does not feel they've received their pesos' worth since then.  There’ve been past rumors that the Valenzuelas were so fed up with their experience owning an LMB team, they were considering putting the franchise back on the market, but last month's league-wide retirement of Valenzuela's number 34 and accompanying pregame celebrations (Fernando took part in one at his home ballpark in Cancun) may have mollified them somewhat.

Valenzuela in his role as Dodgers broadcaster
As reported last week, there is a split among LMB team owners whether to retain Salinas as president and conjecture is that his opponents may break away from the league and form their own summer loop if Salinas stays on, and the one owner said to be on the fence was Valenzuela.  With divisions within the league as even as they are on this matter, it's not beyond the pale to speculate that the Commissioner position was created specifically for Valenzuela in an effort to swing his vote to the Salinas camp. It's not known whether his appointment will have any effect on his duties as a color commentator on Los Angeles Dodgers Spanish language broadcasts, a post he's held for 17 years. 

Also at last week's meeting, a new committee on league relations was formed with Valenzuela, Francisco Gonzalez (Monterrey), Erick Arellano (Yucatan) and Jose Miguel (Puebla), the latter three in the camp favoring the retention of Salinas.  The role and duties of that committee was not given in the Puro Beisbol writeup while the formation of the committee was not mentioned in Milenio.


DODGERS SIGN 18-YEAR-OLD LEFTY, TOP LMB PROSPECT

Octavio Becerra (c) signing with Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed an 18-year-old lefthanded pitcher considered by many to be the Mexican League's number one prospect.  Aguascalientes hurler Octavio Becerra came to terms with the defending two-time National League champions late last month. One of the sticking points within the Liga regarding their March agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of prospects controlled by LMB franchises is that the prospect is required to be on the Liga team roster for at least one year in order for the team to receive a portion of the player's signing bonus.  Since Becerra made his LMB debut on July 18, 2018, the Rieleros expect to receive 35 percent of his bonus.

A native of Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Becerra signed with Aguascalientes as a 16-year-old in February 2017 and was assigned to the LMB Academy near Monterrey.  He was brought up to the Rieleros during the Fall 2018 season and was less than overwhelming, turning in a 7.94 ERA over 11.1 innings in seven relief appearances.  Things had not gone any this season for the portsider before he signed with the Dodgers. In seven more relief outings, Becerra allowed ten earned runs, including six homers, in seven innings for an ERA of 12.86 (although he did strike out 11 batters in that span).  His last outing for Aguascalientes came on April 23 at home against Monclova, when he tossed one inning and gave up a roundtripper to 2017 LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez. He was subsequently sent back to the academy in El Carmen for more seasoning.

Becerra posing in his Aguascalientes uniform
Despite his lack of early success at the AAA level in a hitter's league or size (he stands 5'9" and weighs just 165 pounds), he was ranked the Academy's top prospect this year prior to signing with the Dodgers.  Rieleros team president Jose Eustacio Alvarez said at the contract ceremony, "We know that today is the first step to achieve the dream of reaching the big leagues. He is a player with discipline and a lot of work, so we are sure he will have a career full of successes."  Dodgers scout Juvenal Soto commented, "He was a pitcher who from the beginning, more than six months ago when we started to look more at him, he always caught our attention, not just because of the speed of his pitches.  He also has a very good selection of secondary pitches. All the evaluations we did were positive, so we did not hesitate to follow up until we got his signature."

Becerra is expected to be assigned to the Dodgers team in the Dominican Rookie League next month.

Monday, August 12, 2019

LMB PLAYOFF PICTURE BEGINNING TO GET CLEARER

Saltillo slugger Rainel Rosario connects
With 15 games remaining in the Mexican League's second-half schedule, the Saltillo Saraperos and Quintana Roo Tigres continue to lead their respective divisions as the September playoff picture begins to come into focus.

The Saraperos had Sunday off after sweeping a doubleheader over Union Laguna Saturday in Torreon, 15-6 and 7-5.  Rainel Rosario cracked two homers and drove in five runs in Saltillo's opening win, then he stroked two doubles and a single in the nightcap to finish the twinbill 5-for-6 at the plate with seven RBIs and four runs scored.  Saltillo is now 28-16 for the half, leading Tijuana and Monclova (both 26-18) by two games while 22-22 Dos Laredos and 21-21 Monterrey are tied for fourth, six games out of first. Aguascalientes (17-27), Durango (16-28) and Union Laguna (15-29) are all well behind and out of the playoff picture.

In the LMB South, Quintana Roo has the best record in the league at 30-14 but Yucatan is hot on the Tigres' tail with a 29-16 mark, 1.5 games out.  Mexico City won both ends of a doubleheader in Puebla Saturday for the Diablos' eighth win in ten outings, including their last four games, to go to 27-18 and trail the Tigres by 3.5 games.  Campeche is holding fourth with a 21-21 record, ahead of Oaxaca (20-24), Puebla (18-23), Tabasco (17-26) and Leon (16-28).

The Tigres won their fifth straight Sunday by crushing Tabasco, 8-0, in Cancun as Jorge Castillo tossed three-hit ball over the first six innings and striking out seven to go to 10-8 on the season. Although he's pitched in three All-Star Games and is a decent 73-60 over his LMB career, the 37-year-old Castillo reached double figures in wins for the first time since debuting in 2003.  It was a 1-0 game until Quintana Roo exploded for six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, highlighted by Manuel Orduna's three-run homer off reliever Antonio Guzman.

Although the Mexican League is using points to determine playoff seedings, a la the Mexican Pacific League, the numbering system is different, with 8.0 points for first (like the LMP) but awarding one less point per standings placement down to 1.0 point for eighth place.  Monclova, Monterrey and Tijuana are all but assured three of the four LMB North postseason berths but the final slot will be a battle between Saltillo and Dos Laredos. The Saraperos got 4.0 points in the first half, one fewer than the Tecos' 5.0, so it's imperative to manager Roberto Vizcarra's team to finish two places above Dos Laredos for that last slot in September.

While the LMB North is fairly clear-cut, it's a little more muddled in the LMB South. Oaxaca got 8.0 points for finishing on top in the first half and while the Guerreros are struggling in fifth place for the second half, the 4.0 they'd receive should be enough to punch a playoff ticket.  Quintana Roo, on the other hand, got only 3.0 first-half points after finishing sixth so the Tigres really need those 8.0 points they'd get for winning the second half. Likewise, Yucatan got just 4.0 points in the first half so finishing second and picking up 7.0 points might not be enough.  Mexico City is in a position to burnish their 7.0 first-half points with another 6.0 if they don't move up or down and that would be enough for the top division seed. If the season ended today, Puebla would be the fourth seed, following a 6.0 first half with a sixth-place finish and 3.0 points for a total of 9.0.

Leon's Felix Pie still leads the batting race but the ex-Oriole has dropped to .399, falling below the .400 mark since May 12.  Pie also has 22 homers and 78 RBIs. Chris Carter of Monclova continues his monster season, leading the LMB with 43 homers and 104 RBIs.  Carter is redefining "risk/reward" by leading the Liga with 137 strikeouts but trailing only Pie (.483) in on-base percentage at .460. Johnny Davis continues to lead the loop with 53 stolen bases, but the Compton Comet is doing it for Oaxaca now after the Guerreros received him on loan from Dos Laredos on July 29.  It's a hard move to figure out because the Tecos are fighting for the playoffs without many outfielders, but the Guerreros ARE owned by Alfredo Harp Helu and Tecos owner Jose Antonio Mansur can ALWAYS use any cash considerations a loan might bring.

Dos Laredos lefty Luke Heimlich shows form
At this point, the Pitcher of the Year award is Cesar Valdez' to lose.  The Yucatan righty has won five of his seven starts after losing at Durango on June 28 to go to 14-1 with a 2.42 ERA on the campaign and now leads the LMB in wins, ERA and WHIP (1.09).  In 126.2 innings, Valdez has walked just 14 batters while striking out 104. He stand sixth among Liga pitchers in whiffs, where Leon's Yasutomo Kubo is now tied for the lead with Juan Pablo Oramas of Tabasco at 138 each. Roman Mendoza continues to lead the league in saves with 29 (in 31 opportunities).  Mendoza has lost three games in his last ten trips from the bullpen to fall to 0-6 on the season, but the Dominican is a big reason the Tecos are in the playoff picture. Another is rookie Luke Heimlich, the former NCAA Pitcher of the Year from Oregon State who is 8-7 for Dos Laredos and ranks fifth in strikeouts with 109 over 118 innings pitched.  Heimlich's season ERA is an unimposing 4.58, but that's still just outside the top ten in that category and he gave up just one run over 19.2 combined innings in three of his last four starts.

The biggest upcoming midweek series will be a crossover matchup when Tijuana visits Mexico City while the most important weekend set may be when Dos Laredos travels to Monclova hoping to keep their postseason hopes stoked with Saltillo heavily favored in a home set against Union Laguna.


IS SALINAS ON HIS LAST LEGS AS MEXICAN LEAGUE PRESIDENT?

Javier Salinas (r) with Plinio Escalante
After serving several months as a de facto leader-in-waiting, Javier Salinas took the reins from Plinio Escalante as Mexican League president after the 2017 season on the heels of a schism among team owners that had threatened to split the LMB into two separate eight-team loops or cancel the 2017 schedule altogether.  Although neither fate came to pass, Salinas (a former marketing executive for Mexico's popular top-tier Liga MX soccer league) inherited a mess and events of the past two-plus years have not made his job any easier. Now Salinas is staring down the barrel of another in-house insurrection that may cost him his job. Although Salinas has had his difficulties, he's also had successes to point to.

Under his watch, the LMB has been more proactive about putting its product on the internet, with games streamed nightly during the regular season and playoffs.  Also, the popular Quien es Quien annual yearbook with statistics and records (think of something The Sporting News might've published during its heyday) has been digitized the past two years and made available free online under Salinas' watch.  Although many of the Liga's 16 teams have been financial basket cases, Salinas has been able to find new owners to keep the teams alive on the field, if not necessarily at the ticket office. Even after new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rescinded the decision last winter to have four of those LMB franchises take 2019 off, Salinas managed to find investors (for better or worse) for all the teams to continue this season.  He even managed to pull off a league-wide tribute to pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela that the former Dodgers star took part in this summer, two years after a number of Quintana Roo prospects were surreptitiously transferred to the Mexico City Diablos Rojos roster while Valenzuela and his wife were in the process of buying the Tigres franchise, a move that embittered the most popular figure in modern Mexican baseball history.

However, there've been some low points during Salinas' two-year reign, too.  He pushed through last year's two-season schedule, which turned out to be a disaster (especially at the gate in the Fall season).  His league’s Monterrey franchise now owns a team in the rival Mexican Pacific League while Mexico City owner Alfredo Harp Helu is paying for ballpark renovations in Guasave, the Mex Pac's other new team (conveniently owned by Durango's LMB owner Alfredo Aramburo.  Among several franchise shifts and sales since 2017, only last winter's resurrection of the Puebla Pericos appear to be working out artistically and financially and while attendance has risen from the Fall 2018 season, nine of the Liga's 16 teams are drawing fewer than 4,000 fans per opening (with four of them below the 3,000 mark).  However, the deal Salinas signed that broke a Major League Baseball ban on signing Mexican prospects may be the final straw.

After some shady player sales between LMB and MLB teams over the years, things came to a head when it was discovered that the Pittsburgh Pirates, Latin American scouting director, Rene Gayo, received illegal payments from more than one Mexican League team as part of player sales involving players whose rights were owned by LMB teams. Gayo was subsequently fired, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred placed a signing ban on Mexican prospects in June of last year.  While the new deal brokered in part by Salinas and signed in March meant the ban was lifted, it came at a price that was not discovered until after the fine print was looked at closer.

While Mexican League teams can indeed recoup 35 percent of the bonus one of their players is given, as was touted when the new agreement was announced, the player has to have been on an LMB roster for one season, a condition that does not apply to prospects developing at the numerous baseball academies in the country.  Since the ban was lifted, none of the players signed by MLB teams has reportedly had to give up any of their bonus money. That latter point is what may get Salinas fired, since the sale of prospects in the past has meant the difference between a profit or loss for the year with LMB teams.

Monclova Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides
A league meeting has been scheduled for this Thursday that will likely bring things into the open, although Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros believes Salinas will not be let go at that meeting.  Still, there are deep divisions that nearly split the Liga down the middle. According to Ballesteros, seven team owners seek to either replace Salinas or form their own league: Mexico City, Monterrey, Oaxaca, Puebla, Leon, Union Laguna and Durango. Eight of the remaining nine LMB teams do not seek to fire Salinas while, perhaps surprisingly, the Tigres are somewhat on the fence.  Ballesteros says that while the Valenzuelas are not against letting their embattled league president walk, they do not want to break up the league if Salinas survives.

It should be noted that Ballesteros is admittedly not a Salinas fan (and considers Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides the puppet-master), but he's also one of Mexico's best-sourced baseball scribes and, as such, should be taken seriously.


SAN LUIS TOPS CABORCA IN FIVE GAMES FOR LIGA NORTE PENNANT

2019 LNM champion San Luis Algodoneros
The San Luis Algodoneros defeated Caborca, 8-3, on July 28 to top the Rojos in five games to win the Northern Mexico League championship series, four games to one.  The pennant is the third for the Cottoneers in the present-day Liga Norte's 12-year history and their first since 2014. Ensenada won consecutive flags in 2017 and 2018 but the Marineros were eliminated in this year's playoff first round by Caborca.  San Luis, whose players are supplied by Monterrey and Leon of the Mexican League, knocked out San Quintin in the opening round after going a combined 33-27 over two halves during the regular season.

In the deciding Game Five, held in Caborca, San Luis left-hander Alsis Herrera tossed the first five innings and gave up three Rojos runs while striking out six before the Algodoneros bullpen held Caborca scoreless over the final four innings.  Herrera, who earned the win, was named the Finals MVP. Bryan Sosa went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for San Luis in Game Five while Caborca's Jorge Sesma led both teams with three hits in four at-bats.

The Algodoneros were led offensively this season by Danry Vasquez, who led the team in all three Triple Crown categories by batting .380 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 53 games.  Vasquez was an Astros farmhand until he was caught on video assaulting his then-girlfriend while playing for Corpus Christi in the AA Texas League, leading to his 2016 release. Vasquez is now batting .340 with three homers after 11 games for Aguascalientes in the Mexican League.  Longtime indyball figure Jermy Acey hit .324 with five homers and 35 RBIs in 30 contests after signing with San Luis in midseason. The 38-year-old Acey played three years (2003-05) in the Jays organization and spent parts of three seasons in the Mexican League between 2010 and 2014 with Minatitlan, Tabasco and Veracruz and hit .295 and belted seven homers in 53 total games.

Jermy Acey with Acayucan in 2014
Although Herrera was named Finals MVP, he was not San Luis' most effective pitcher this season.  That distinction goes to Gabriel Arias, who went 6-1 in seven starts with a 1.71 ERA. Arias, who spent ten years in MiLB (including seven years in the Phillies system), struck out 49 batters in 42 innings for Cottoneers manager Hector Garcia.  His summer in San Luis Rio Colorado was bookended by stints with Yucatan and Puebla in the LMB, where he's gone 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in eight appearances since the Pericos picked him up in late June.

The Algodoneros' playoff pennant run capped a most interesting season in the Liga Norte, considered a AA loop in the country's pro baseball structure.   The LNM welcomed an expansion team in La Paz to mark pro baseball's debut in Baja California Sur but also was marked by the loss of formal affiliation and subsidies with the Mexican League (although Liga teams were able to cobble their own deals with LNM franchises) after losing existing teams Tecate and Puerto Penasco due to financial problems.

Monday, July 29, 2019

STREAKING SARAPEROS TAKE FIRST IN LMB NORTH

Saltillo infielder Juan Perez

The Saltillo Saraperos have put together a nine-game winning streak to vault into a race with Tijuana and Monclova for the Mexican League’s North Division second-half championship.  Saltillo began their skein with a July 19 win at Aguascalientes and went on to sweep the Rieleros, cop three wins in a midweek home series against Durango and then topped Aguascalientes in a trio of home games to run their second-half record to 21-10.

As 6,275 looked on at Estadio Francisco I. Madero, Manny Rodriguez’ grand slam in the bottom of the eighth broke open Sunday’s contest with the Saraperos clutching a 4-3 lead.  Rodriguez, now 37, has had a very quiet year with only six homers and a .249 average after 89 games, the first 25 with Quintana Roo before the Tigres loaned the four-time LMB All-Star to Saltillo on May 7 after he’d hit just .202 for the Tigres, who retain his rights.

The Saraperos were just 28-32 in the first half, finishing fifth in the LMB North and collecting just 4.5 playoff points.  Beyond Rodriguez, they’re not a star-studded team. Former Reds minor league infielder Juan Perez is batting .335 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs, outfielder Rainel Rosario has a .319 average with 19 homers and 61 ribbies and veteran first baseman Jorge “Chato” Vazquez homered four times in six games last week to reach 17 for the year. He’s hitting .313 with 56 RBIs in 60 games as the injury-prone, 37-year-old slugger shows he can contribute when healthy.

Tijuana won two of three weekend games at Dos Laredos to stay two games behind Saltillo at 20-12.  The Tecolotes won Sunday’s game, 9-5, at Laredo’s Uni-Trade Stadium as catcher Arturo Rodriguez had a solo homer and three RBIs on three hits.  Monclova (19-13) is in third after beating Monterrey, 6-3, at home Sunday as Chris Carter belted his 41st homer and Alex Mejia, Francisco Peguero and Ricky Rodriguez each singled, doubled and drove in a run.  Monterrey and Dos Laredos are virtually tied for fourth: The Acereros are 16-16 while the Tecos are 15-15.

While Saltillo, Tijuana and Monclova duke it out for LMB North supremacy, Durango and Aguascalientes are in freefall at the bottom of the division.  The Generales (11-16) have been swept in four straight series for 12 losses in a row, changing managers and apparently being put up for sale in the process (more below) to fall to 11-21 and out of playoff contention for all intent and purposes.  Durango and Union Laguna (11-16) are fighting to stay out of last place but while the Generales haven’t won for two weeks, the Algodoneros have helped themselves by winning four in a row and eight of their last ten under new manager Jonathan Aceves.  For their part, the Rieleros (9-23) have the worst record in the league while turning into a train wreck, so to speak.  

The perpetually cash-strapped team’s trading of star third baseman Jose Vargas to Monclova removed one of their larger salaries and likely netted then some money in return, but at the cost of goodwill with remaining Aguascalientes players and fans.  Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros writes that he received an email from several Rieleros claiming owner Armando Medina threatened to “freeze” them if they didn’t sign for what he was offering, called sports manager Leo Clayton an “agent” and accused team president Eustacio Alvarez of corruption.  Ballesteros says sources tell him the franchise is for sale and that businessmen in San Luis Potosi have shown interest. Other than that, everything’s fine in Aguascalientes.

Quintana Roo pitcher Wilfredo Boscan
Meanwhile, in the LMB South, Quintana Roo and Yucatan have separated themselves from the pack to make it a two-team race for first place.  The Tigres pounded Tabasco, 11-0, Sunday night in Villahermosa to bring their record to 23-9, giving them a one-game lead over idle Yucatan in the battle for those eight playoff points.  In Sunday’s rout, Eric Aguilera went 2-for-5 for Quintana Roo with a run scored and three RBIs while Brian Hernandez had three hits to score once and drive in two more. Ex-Pittsburgh pitcher Wilfredo Boscan tossed seven shutout innings for the Tigres, allowing five hits and striking out eight to lift his season record to 6-3.  Like Saltillo, the Tigres are a surprise team in the second half after they went 25-35 in the first half to finish sixth in the LMB South with 4.0 playoff points.

Yucatan is right behind the Tigres at 22-10 and carried a five-game winning streak into Monday’s travel day.  The Leones swept a midweek road series in Tabasco and won the first two games of their weekend set in Campeche before Sunday’s tilt was rained out.  Cesar Valdez won his LMB-leading 13th game Saturday in a 6-2 Yucatan victory. Mexico City is third at 18-15 and Tabasco holds forth with a 15-16 mark in a decent second-half showing.  Oaxaca (15-17), Campeche (13-16) and Puebla (13-17) are all less than two games behind the fourth-place Olmecas. Last-place Leon (10-21) won in Oaxaca Sunday, 7-2, as Felix Pie went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs for the Bravos.

Pie still leads the batting race with a .406 average but Mexico City teammates Emmanuel Avila (.388) and Jesus Fabela (.384) have closed the gap a bit.  Chris Carter of Monclova leads in both homers and RBIs. Carter homered off Tijuana’s Orlando Lara last Tuesday to become the first player in pro ball to reach 40 roundtrippers this season.  Carter is in the discussion for MVP honors along with Oaxaca’s Alonzo Harris. The former Mets and Cards farmhand is second in homers (33), RBI’s (89), runs scored (100) and stolen bases (38), trailing only Dos Laredos’ Johnny Davis’ 48 in that category to augment a .339 average.  Prior to coming to Mexico, Harris was the Atlantic League’s 2017 Player of the Year playing for York.

Yucatan moundmates Cesar Valdez and Yoanner Negrin are the only two legitimate candidates for Pitcher of the Year.  Valdez’ win in Campeche Saturday gives him a 13-1 mark and league leadership in wins (13), earned-run average (2.38) and WHIP (1.12), microscopic numbers during a season where only five starters qualifying for the ERA title are at less than 5.00.  Negrin (11-3) is second to Valdez in wins (11), ERA (2.85) and WHIP (1.19). Leon’s Yasutomo Kubo leads the Liga with 119 strikeouts. Ramon Mendez is 0-5 for Dos Laredos and the Tecos must accept it as a trade-off for his LMB-best 26 saves in 27 opportunities and 3.47 ERA.  All-Star middleman Jesus Pirela still leads with 24 holds. Pirela also has a 4-3 record and three saves for the Toros.  

Important midweek series opening Tuesday night include Monclova visiting Tijuana and Mexico City hosting Oaxaca.  Yucatan will welcome Quintana Roo Friday for a huge LMB South weekend series while Tijuana heads to Saltillo for three against Roberto Vizcarra’s surprising Saraperos.


PACHO NAMED THIRD DURANGO MANAGER SINCE MAY

Juan Jose Pacho managing in Mazatlan
The Durango Generales made their second managerial change in a two-month span when the Mexican League team fired Efren Espinoza last Monday and brought in longtime Mazatlan Venados skipper Juan Jose Pacho as dugout boss.  Pacho becomes the third manager in Durango this season.  

The Generales began the 2019 campaign with veteran helmsman Lorenzo Bundy running the team, but Bundy was fired May 22 following an 18-9 home loss to Leon and Espinoza, a 14-year LMB outfielder with no prior managerial experience, was named interim manager with Durango holding a 16-25 record.  Espinoza led the Generales to a 21-24 mark but the club had lost six games in a row when the change was made. A Salon de la Fama shortstop who has guided Mazatlan to three Mex Pac pennants and two Caribbean Series titles, Pacho made his Durango debuted last Tuesday with an 8-4 loss in Saltillo.

One day after Durango installed Pacho as manager, the Leon Bravos severed ties with manager Tony Aguilera, making him the ninth skipper fired this season in the LMB.  In comparison, no Major League Baseball manager has been handed his walking papers this year. The firings have happened in two bursts, with five skippers getting pink-slipped between May 9 and 21 while the other four were shown the door between July 1 and 23.  Here is a current list of 2019 managerial changes in the Liga:

May 9:    Quintana Roo fired Jesus Sommers, replaced by Adan Munoz
May 12:  Campeche fired Tim Johnson, replaced by Jesus Sommers
May 18:  Dos Laredos fired Felix Fermin, replaced by Houston Jimenez
May 21:  Aguascalientes fired Joe Alvarez, replaced by Feliz Fermin
May 22:  Durango fired Lorenzo Bundy, replaced by Efren Espinoza
July 1:     Monclova fired Pedro Mere, replaced by Pat Listach
July 20:   Yucatan fired Luis Carlos Rivera, replaced by Geronimo Gil
July 22:   Durango fired Efren Espinoza, replaced by Juan Jose Pacho
July 23:   Leon fired Tony Aguilera, replaced by Luis Carlos Rivera

Monclova manager Pat Listach
All, of course, publicly received thanks from the teams firing them for their hard work and professionalism along with best wishes in future endeavors. 

In case you didn’t notice, Sommers found work in Campeche three days after being fired in Quintana Roo, Fermin landed in Aguascalientes three days after losing his job in Dos Laredos and Rivera was hired in Leon three days after Yucatan jettisoned him.  Bundy caught on in Monclova as Listach’s bench coach but as a longtime figure in Mexican baseball, mostly in the Mex Pac, he may be considered a hot property among other LMB owners looking to make a chance. Mere, who was reassigned to another position within the Acereros organization, would be another while Johnson and Alvarez are potential candidates to manage teams for owners with itchy trigger fingers.




GENERALES OWNER ARAMBURO IS NEW OWNER IN GUASAVE

Durango, Guasave owner Alfredo Aramburo
The Guasave Algodoneros have been scrambling to put together a team in time for next winter’s Mexican Pacific League season after joining the loop earlier this year along with Monterrey as the LMP’s two new expansion franchises.  Along with players, coaches, ticket takers and popcorn sellers, the Algodoneros have spent their short existence looking for a team owner after billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu made it clear that while he would foot the bill for renovations at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon, he has no desire to be the primary owner in the Mex Pac’s smallest market.

The search for an owner of the Cottoneers ended last week when Mazatlan businessman Alfredo Aramburo was introduced at a press conference in Guasave as the man who will sign the paychecks.  At the press conference, Aramburo thanked LMP president Omar Canizales, other team owners and Algodoneros general director Sebastian Sandoval for their support, adding that “we come with great enthusiasm, with a lot of seriousness and a lot of professionalism.”

That latter point might be disputed by fans in Durango, where Aramburo is also the owner of the Mexican League Generales.  Shortly after the press conference in Guasave, the Generales fired their second manager in two months, the team is sliding out of playoff contention, attendance ranks in the lower half of the league and Aramburo himself is rumored to want out of Durango, according to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros.

Guasave's Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon
With the Mexican League about to enter into another schism among owners over the agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of domestic prospects making it nearly impossible for LMB teams to recoup the cost of developing them, Aramburo may simply prefer operating in the less-fractured Mex Pac, although he told Durango’s El Siglio newspaper  in June that rumors the league is seeking a new owner for the franchise is speculation.

Although Aramburo is a Mazatleco, he is friends with Venados owner Jose Antonio Toledo, who encouraged him to purchase the Algodoneros and was at the press conference, during which Canizales said, “The philosophy is that the franchise stays here for a long time, but it is clear to us that we cannot force anyone if the city does not respond” with support.

Monday, July 22, 2019

TIGRES IN FIRST, WIN STREAK SNAPPED AT EIGHT GAMES

Quintana Roo 1B Reynaldo Rodriguez
Even though the Quintana Roo Tigres saw their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a 3-2 loss at home to the Tabasco Olmecas, the Tigres have gotten off to a hot start in the second half of the Mexican League schedule and now sit alone in first place in the South Division standings with a 20-7 record.  As 3,975 fans looked on at Estadio Beto Avila in Cancun, Tabasco's Daniel Carbonell lofted a sacrifice fly to Quintana Roo centerfielder Yordanys Linares to bring Roel Santos from third to break a 2-2 tie with the game-winning run.  Despite the loss, the Tigres have a three-game lead over 17-10 Yucatan, who topped Campeche, 9-4, Sunday in Merida as Leones starter Yoanner Negrin got the win to go to 10-3 on the season.

It's been an unexpected rise for the Tigres after a tepid first half in which they finished sixth in the LMB South at 25-35 (13-17 at home) and Salon de la Fama member Jesus Sommers was fired as manager 28 games into the season.  New skipper Adan Munoz has seen an entirely different Tigres team since coming back from the All-Star Break for the second half of the season. Quintana Roo has won 10 of 15 home games and gone 10-2 on the road en route to the best record in the LMB in the second half. 

One revelation for Munoz has been Colombian first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez, a former Yankees and Red Sox minor leaguer who joined the team in late May and has since hit .366 with 14 homers in 40 games.  Third baseman Brian Hernandez is batting .333 with nine homers and 53 RBIs and catcher Francisco Cordoba has 14 homers and 48 homers but the Tigres are not a team that will batter opponents into submission.  The pitching is little better so it remains to be seen how long the team will remain atop the table, but no doubt they're enjoying the ride.

Even though they're in second, things have not been so sanguine in Yucatan, where the defending LMB South champions fired manager Luis Carlos Rivera Friday following a 5-3 home loss to Campeche.  The Leones finished fifth in the division for the first half with an uninspiring 26-32 mark but the Merida squad began the second half by winning eight of their first nine games and was second in the standings at 16-9 when the axe fell for Rivera.  Geronimo Gil, who was hired as a bench coach during the All-Star Break at Rivera's request, was named interim manager. 

While the Tigres and Yucatan are 1-2 in the South (surprising Tabasco and Mexico City are virtually tied for third at five games behind Quintana Roo, things are a bit murkier in the LMB North, where two games separate the top four teams and two more sides are less than four games out of fourth.  Tijuana is in first at 17-10 but another surprise team, Saltillo, is hot on the Toros' heels at 16-10 after sweeping a weekend road series in Aguascalientes.  It was a good weekend for road teams in the North as Monclova (16-11) took all three big games at defending champion Monterrey (12-13) while Dos Laredos (15-12) won two of three at Tijuana to pass the Sultanes into fourth place.   Even moribund Union Laguna staggered into Durango with a 3-20 ledger and managed to post 35 runs in three wins over the Generales.

Oaxaca's Alonzo Harris (r) joins the 30-30 Club
Leon's Felix Pie went 4-for-28 over his last ten games before going on the 7-day injured list July 9 (he still hasn't reappeared), but still leads the Mexican League in batting with a .410 average.  Mexico City's Emmanuel Avila is second at .388.  Chris Carter of Monclova has socked five homers in nine games to bring his season total to 39, eight more than the 31 of Oacaxa's Alonzo Harris, who also has 36 stolen bases over 86 games in what is becoming an MVP-style season.  He has become the third member in the LMB's 30-30 Club, joining James Steels (1991) and Luis Terrero (2011).  Harris is second in steals, trailing only Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis, who has 48 swipes.

Yucatan's Cesar Valdez has won three games since suffering his lone loss of the season June 28 at Durango, bringing his season record to 12-1.  Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan and Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez (both 10-3) are tied for second in wins.  Valdez also leads the LMB with a 2.32 ERA.  Yasutomo Kubo of Leon's 116 strikeouts top the whiff list and Dos Laredos closer Ramon Mendez' 25 leads the league after the Dominican converted his last eight save opportunities beginning July 4.

Among the more important midweek series opening Tuesday night will be when Monterrey visits Dos Laredos while Oaxaca hosts Mexico City in a big LMB South matchup.  Next weekend will see Monclova at home for three against the Sultanes and Tijuana on the road at Dos Laredos.


DIABLOS SIGN BRANDON PHILLIPS, VARGAS TRADED TO MONCLOVA

Brandon Phillips playing for another Rojos team
A pair of recent major players transactions have strengthened two Mexicna League teams battling for playoff seeding within their respective divisions.  The Mexico City Diablos Rojos signed three-time MLB All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips as a free agent on July 15 while the Monclova Acereros traded with Aguascalientes for All-Star third baseman Jose Vargas three days later.

Now 38, Philiips was drafted by Montreal in 1999 and played in the Expos system before he was traded to Cleveland in June 2002 as part of a six-man swap that also sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  After limited success with the Tribe, with a .206 average in 135 MLB games over four seasons mostly spent in AAA, Cleveland traded Phillips to Cincinnati in April 2006 for a player to be named later (pitcher Jeff Stevens).  The Reds gave the Stone Mountain, Georgia product their starting job at second base and Phillips' fortunes turned.

Over the next eleven years, Phillips would be awarded four Gold Gloves and play in the 2010, 2011 and 2013 All-Star Games, garnering MVP votes in 2007 and 2012 (ironically, neither were All-Star seasons).  Between 2006 and 2016, he played 1,616 games for Cincinnati and batted .279 with 191 homers and 194 stolen bases while leading National League second sackers in fielding percentage three times. 

However, the Reds traded Phillips to Atlanta prior to the 2017 season.  He hit .291 for the Braves in 120 games before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, for whom he batted .255 the rest of the season. Phillips was released that November.  Boston picked him up last year and he played nine games in September for the Red Sox, batting .130, but was left off the eventual World Series champion's postseason roster and granted free agency after the season.  In his first four games with Mexico City, Phillips was 2-for-15 with a double while handling 19 chances flawlessly at second.

New Oaxaca DH/1B/3B/RF Jose Vargas
Vargas was in the middle of an MVP-worthy season for Aguascalientes before the financially-strapped Rieleros shipped him to Monclova for pitcher Juan Carlos Perez and two players to be named later on July 18.  A 2008 White Sox 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura (CA) College, Vargas hit .255 with 25 homers over three years in the Chisox system, then spent six years with Traverse City in the independent Frontier League (belting 29 homers with 110 RBIs in 2012) before coming to Aguascalientes in 2017. 

In 59 games with the Rieleros prior to last Thursday's trade, Vargas hit .366 with 29 homers and 70 RBIs before being shelved in late June with a broken hand.  While Vargas is naturally a third baseman, the Acereros have perhaps the best defensive third sacker in the LMB with Rodolfo Amador holding down the position.  First base? Well, there's Chris Carter (who has 38 homers and 90 RBIs, both tops in the Liga) and veteran Jose Amador and ex-LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez, so opportunities are limited there.  Since Vargas has played just 46 games in the outfield during his 12 pro seasons, that's not a likely option but also not out of the question. The Californian's bat has been too hot to keep out of the lineup, so expect Vargas to mostly be in the designated hitter's slot for new Monclova manager Pat Listach, who replaced Pedro Mere at the helm July 1, but he'll also likely fill in at the infield corners and perhaps even right field.


NEW MEXICAN PROSPECTS LEAGUE OPENS PLAY IN JALISCO

Edgar Gonzalez (l) and LMP prez Omar Canizales
Mexico's Office of the President for Development and Promotion of Baseball, aka ProBeis, has created a new league for promising players age 14 through 17. The Mexican Prospects League opened play earlier this month in Guadalajara, Jalisco and will continue through August 22.

"It will be eight intense weeks," said ProBeis commissioner Edgar Gonzalez, "with daily workouts and two games daily at 4 and 7 from Thursday through Sunday.  Four teams will be formed with 28 players each plus reserves."  Each team is carrying the name of former Mexican major league players while jerseys will contain elements of the MLB team to which each player belonged. 

LPM players will be evaluated over the course of the short season to determine their ability to land pro contracts or college scholarships.  "We are very happy to start this great project that will be one of the pillars of the new way to promote Mexican youth talent of excellence, "Gonzalez explained, adding that this marks the first time in history that there will be a showcase of international stature with the scope and support of the Mexican government.  "The key to this project is inclusion, in which we have invited young people from all over the country with diverse backgrounds and histories. It's the jewel in the crown of ProBeis." Players were recruited in part via invitations to different professional and semipro leagues, private academies, and both MLB and local scouts.

Gonzalez thanked the Mexican Pacific League and Jalisco Charros owner Salvador Quirarte for their support, including the use of Estadio Charros for games and training. He also cited the Mexican League's role in coordinating the nascent league, which is an outgrowth of new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's desire to raise the profile of his favorite sport.  Gonzalez is a former MLB and NPB second baseman who more recently managed LMP teams in Mexicali and Jalisco before being tabbed by AMLO to oversee the development and growth of baseball on a national level.  The longterm goal inludes the creation of several government-subsidized academies throughout the country.

Mexican Prospect League doubleheaders began July 10 and will continue four times per week until the 32-game season concludes on August 22.

Monday, July 8, 2019

FERNANDO'S NUMBER 34 RETIRED BY MEXICAN LEAGUE

Fernando with family, Salinas and Chacho
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela's jersey number was retired by all 16 Mexican League franchises on Sunday.  Valenzuela's 34 becomes the second number retired on a leaguewide basis by the LMB, joining legendary slugger Hector Espino's 21 as digits that will never again be worn on a Liga diamond.  Currently owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres along with wife Linda Burgos, Valenzuela was feted in a pregame ceremony Sunday in Cancun's Estadio Beto Avila, with league president Javier Salinas on hand while similar festivities took place in seven other LMB ballparks, all showing highlights of the laft-handed hurler's storied career on their respective scoreboards.

Prior to bursting on the big league scene with the Dodgers, Valenzuela signed a contract at age 16 with his hometown Navojoa Mayos of the Mexican Pacific League in 1977.  He eventually reached the Mexican League with Yucatan in 1979, going 10-12 with a 2.79 ERA in 26 starts for the Leones, good numbers for a 19-year-old in a AAA circuit notorious as a hitter's league.  LA scout Mike Brito attended a Leones game that summer to scout an opposing shortstop but after Fernando whiffed the shortstop on three straight pitches after falling behind 3-0 in the count, Brito's focus shifted and the Dodgers bought Valenzuela's contract from Yucatan for $125,000.  He finished the year with Class A Lodi of the California League, going 1-2 with a 1.12 ERA.  During training camp the following spring, Dodgers pitcher Bobby Castillo taught Valenzuela how to throw a screwball.

Fernando Valenzuela at 19
After looking good in a late-season call-up that year, Valenzuela's meteoric rise to stardom in 1981 begat an All-Star game start, an MLB strikeout title, Rookie of the Year honors, a Silver Slugger award, the NL Cy Young Award and a World Series title.  Attending all this was Fernandomania, during which he captivated baseball fans much as Mark Fidrych of Detroit had five years earlier.  Unlike the tragic Fidrych (whose arm went bad his second year and lost his pitching mojo), Valenzuela went on to pitch in five more All-Star Games and toss a no-hitter in 1990 during a 17-year big league career in which he went 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA and 2,074 strikeouts.  While those numbers won't get him into Cooperstown (he was inducted in Mexico's Salon de la Fama), they also don't reflect what a cultural phenomenon he became, especially among millions of Mexicans on both sides of the border.

Valenzuela had two more one-year stints in the Mexican League in the 1990's, both with the Jalisco Charros.  He went 10-9 with a 3.86 ERA over 22 starts in 1992; after spending time in Baltimore the following year, El Toro was back in Guadalajara in 1994, going 10-3 and 2.67 in 17 starts for the Charros.  He retired from baseball three years later, although Valenzuela would continue to work sporadically in the Mexican Pacific League before tossing his final pitch for Mexicali on December 20, 2006 at the age of 46.

After his playing days ended, Valenzuela coached at several levels, serving the Mexican National Team in four World Baseball Classics, before buying the Tigres with wife Linda in early 2017 and installing son Fernando Jr. as general manager.  El Toro's time in the front office has not been accompanied by the same glory that surrounded him on the mound.  The Tigres have found the sledding tough since the Valenzuelas bought them, both on the field (141-149 overall record through Sunday, no division titles) and at the gate (an average attendance of 3,266) while being at the center of the Rookiegate scandal, in which five Tigres prospects were transferred to Mexico City while the couple was buying the franchise from former owner Carlos Peralta.  Fernando was said to be mad enough about Rookiegate at one time to think about selling the team.

Although everyone made nice over the weekend, it's not known whether the Diablos ever gave the Tigres the more than two million dollars the former received for subsequently selling two of the prospects to the Texas Rangers, money the Valenzuelas could use to cover the Tigres' operating expenses.  Having your number retired on a leaguewide basis is a wonderful gesture but it doesn't help you meet payroll.


MEXICO CITY BALLPARK CONTRACTOR SUES HELU GROUP

Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City
Proceso.com's Raul Ochoa reports that a contractor involved with building the Mexico City Diabos Rojos' new ballpark has filed a lawsuit against the franchise.   Dünn Arquitectura Ligera is suing the Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center organization for breach of contract in connection with costs of construction and installation of the futuristic roof above the main grandstand at 20-564-seat Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, which sits within Mexico City's Magdalena Mixuca Sports City complex.

The facility was financed by team owner Harp, who had originally expected to spend 800 million pesos (or about US$42 million) for the stadium.  Instead, project delays and cost overruns more than quadrupled the cost of Mexico's newest ballpark to 3.5 billion pesos (US$184 million).  Harp and the Diablos have since balked at paying for many of the cost overruns, causing the architectural firm to seek payment in court.

Dünn lawyer Luis Villasenor told Proceso that the cost went up because Harp's company was making modifications that affected where and how the ballpark's columns and roof were installed, and that the resultant price increase was caused by Harp and associates, whose property administrator countered that the prices were raised by Dünn.  In January, Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center prevented Dünn from continuing their ongoing work readying the ballpark for its late March opening, arguing the costs had risen well above the agreed amount.  In response, Dünn filed a complaint before a Mexico City civil court demanding to be allowed to complete the work and payment of related wages.

Harp's company claimed that Dünn had abandoned the project three years after signing the contract.  A document provided by Dünn to Proceso countered that the entire project was ill-defined by the team from the outset, the numerous design changes submitted by Harp's group kept altering design calculations and that there is now concern about the roof's stability.  The civil court judge awarded Harp and the team a so-called counter guarantee, which was then earmarked to a new contractor for taking over the project from Dünn and completing the work (which Dünn says was 95 to 97 percent complete) in less than three weeks prior to the venue's March 23 opener.

The Dünn suit is, among other things, calling for expert appraisals to be carried out to determine whether the structural design calculations "are correct and, where appropriate, establish the measures that must be adopted to guarantee the security operation of the same before the well-founded fear that this structure collapses."
Diablos Rojos owner Alfredo Harp Helu

Writer Ochoa describes a tour of the ballpark involving a number of Diablos officials, including executive president Othon Diaz, found cracks to the finish of the main hall of the stadium, an auxiliary power system that had been operating the facility for over a month because official approval for standard electricity had not yet been approved by the Secretary of Energy, a lack of direct drinking water for patrons and an inadequate water pump system in the basement of the Sports City.  In addition, workers were spotted a week after the ballpark's inauguration doing some welding on lower and upper parts of columns.

Another issue brought up has been the quality of soil the structure was built on.  When asked about whether there were concerns about building atop a clay-laden surface in which a true "bottom" was never found on which to set a foundation, stadium operations director Alicia Andonegui replied, "Never. If you hire experts who know about the subject, you can build whatever you want in the area you consider it."

Stadium administrator Jose Ortiz defended the quality of the work.  "There is no problem, we assure you," Ortiz said.  "The property is operating perfectly and in excellent condition."  However, Mexico City Head of Government (similar to a mayor) Claudia Scheinbaum, who took office in December and accompanied president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu's March 23 opener, now says it was a "mistake" to build it in the Sports City.


CABORCA SEEKS TO CLINCH LIGA NORTE SECOND HALF TITLE

Caborca Rojos celebrating a win at home
With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Caborca Rojos are hoping to hang to their two-game lead over the San Luis Algodoneros in their battle for the Mexican Northern League second half crown and the eight playoff points that accompany first place in each half.  Caborca finished the first half with a 13-17 record and fourth place in the five-team circuit, but they went in to last weekend's series in San Quintin with a 17-8 mark.  The Freseros entered the set with a 12-13 record, five games behind the Reds and three games behind 16-11 San Luis.

The Rojos have represented Caborca in Mexican Class AA baseball since 1948, winning Northern Sonora League pennants in 1966, 1975 and 2004 and a Liga Norte flag in 2011, playing their home games in 5,000-seat Estadio Heroes de Caborca.  While there have been other strong Red nines over the years, Caborca has not been one of the traditional powers in the regional loops of northwest Mexican states (and baseball hotbeds) of Sonora, Sinaloa and now Baja California Sur.

Caborca's current season was chugging along as usual in the middle of the short-circuit pack until two things conspired to happen simultaneously: The Rojos got hot in the second half while first half winners (and defending champion) Ensenada stumbled out the game and have yet to recover.  The Marineros took the crown with an 18-12 record to edge San Luis by a game in the first half but stand fourth at 11-16 under first-year manager Ramon Esquer while expansion team La Paz, who surprised many with a third-place finish in the opening half at 15-15, are in fifth and last with an 8-16 mark.

 The Rojos, who receive players from working agreements with Yucatan and Union Laguna of the Mexican League, have led the Liga Norte in batting under manager Gilberto Sotomayor with a .295 average while their pitching staff's ERA of 4.14 also tops the LNM.  Caborca has four batsmen among the league's top seven hitters: Juan Manuel Kirk is third with a .366 average, Brayan Quintero is fourth at .351, Yadil Mujica ranks fifth with a .340 mark and Adan Velazquez (.333) is seventh.  Osniel Madera of San Quintin leads with a .381 average.  The versatile Velazquez, who can play either second or third base as well as the outfield, topss the LNM with 50 RBIs and is tied with La Paz' Maikel Serrano for fourth in homers with seven, four behind Serrano's Delfines teammate Rene Reyes' 11.  Caborca pitcher Misael Silverio Meza leads the Liga Norte with eight wins and is third in ERA at 2.83, trailing San Quintin moundmates Porfirio Lopez (2.20) and Alejandro Arteaga (2.75).  Lopez leads Meza in the strikeouts race, 90 to 87.

Sunset at La Paz' Estadio Arturo C. Nahl
The LNM was formed in 2008 and has served as the Mexican League's top feeder loop, but it's been a turbulent year for the Liga Norte.  First, the Tecate Indios requested (and received) a year off after a poor financial showing in 2018.  They were replaced by the new La Paz Delfines, marking the debut of professional baseball in Baja California Sur after interests in the peninsular city had first explored entry in the winter Mexican Pacific League.  La Paz' entry kept the LNM at six teams until the Puerto Penasco Tiburones followed Tecate's suit and dropped out shortly before the April 2019 opener over money issues.  The league has since muddled its way with a five-team lineup, ensuring at least one idle team every night of the campaign.

Another blow was dealt in the offseason when the Mexican League withdrew its formal support and the pesos that came with it after LMB president Javier Salinas cited financial irregularities, although he delined to elaborate.  The move meant a cutoff of needed cash from the AAA Liga, with LNM president Francisco Ochoa talking with Mexico's national baseball coordinator, Edgar Gonzalez, to seek restoration of funding via pro-baseball president Andres Manuel Lopez (who took a very hands-on approach to his favorite sport shortly after assuming office in December, but has quieted down somewhat since).

Salinas did say that while the LMB was withdrawing structural and financial support, individual Liga teams were free to cobble together their own affiliation agreements with Liga Norte clubs and now all five teams in the latter have at least two Liga affiliates (San Quintin has set ties with Tijuana and Campeche but the Freseros roster also contains many Saltillo AA players).

The LNM regular season will conclude when Caborca visits Ensenada in a series of top teams from each half and La Paz hosts San Quentin in a three-game midweek set.  San Luis will be the bye team.  The four-team playoffs will open next weekend.