Monday, January 21, 2019

YAQUIS TOP MOCHIS IN GAME 7, VS. JALISCO IN FINALS

After dropping the first two games of their Mexican Pacific League playoff semifinal series in Los Mochis, the Obregon Yaquis fought back and won the final two tilts of the set (also on the road) to beat the Caneros, 4 games to 3, reaching the championship series against Jalisco, who topped Mazatlan in five contests in the other semi matchup.  As might be deduced, however, the Yaquis didn't win the easy way.

Obregon Yaquis pitcher Francisco Rodriguez
Obregon was able to tie the series at two games apiece by winning last Monday and Tuesday.  In Game Three at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis, Jose Aguilar lined a single to center field off Andres Avila to score Yordanys Linares from second in the bottom of the tenth inning for a walkoff 4-3 win over the Caneros.  Obregon carried a 3-0 lead into the top of the ninth before Rudy Amador, Esteban Quiroz and Leandro Castro each socked solo homers off Yaquis closer Maikel Cleto to tie the game and set the stage for Aguilar's heroics in the next frame.  Obregon knotted the series one night later with a 2-0 shutout over the Caneros with Francisco Rodriguez and three relievers combining on a 3-hitter.  Rodriguez, who pitched for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010 and 2011, gave up two hits in 5.1 frames for the win as Victor Mendoza's two-run single in the bottom of the first against Mochis starter Danny Rodriguez provided all the scoring Obregon would need.  The Caneros regained the series lead on Wednesday with a whitewash of their own, a 4-0 triumph behind the pitching of Ariel Pena (who scattered three hits and struck out 10 over six innings) and three relievers.  Diory Hernandez' RBI double in the bottom of the fourth broke a scoreless tie and Saul Soto rapped a two-run single to give Los Mochis a 3-0 lead while Jonathan Jones added a leadoff homer one inning later for insurance.  Hernandez and Quiroz had three hits each for the winners while Dustin Martin had two of the Yaquis' five hits.

The series shifted to Los Mochis, where the Caneros needed just one win to punch their ticket to the finals.  They never got it, as Obregon won Friday's Game Six by a 4-3 count to tie the semis at three games each.  The Yaquis scored all four of their runs in the top of the first off Yoanis Quiala, who gave up a two-run double to Mendoza in a 32-pitch inning.  Los Mochis plated three scores of their own in the third off Yoanner Negrin with Quiroz providing the key blow with a two-run single.  Negrin settled down and eventually earned the win while Quiala absorbed the loss.  Santiago Gutierrez pitched six scoreless innings of one-hit relief in defeat for the Caneros after replacing Quiala in the second.  The Yaquis, who missed the postseason the previous two winters, advanced to the finals by winning Saturday's Game Seven, 6-2, as Rodriguez tossed 5.1 innings of two-run ball for his second win in five nights.  Obregon built an early 3-0 lead against Caneros starter Jaime Lugo, although the first two were unearned via a wild pitch and an error, and steadily pulled away.  Linares, Julio Valdez and Isaac Paredes combined for six hits, four runs and two RBIs to account for all the Yaquis' scoring as Obregon capped their series comeback with two consecutive wins away from home.

Jalisco Charros infielder Jose Amador
The Yaquis will face a well-rested opponent in the Jalisco Charros, who reached their first LMP title series in five winters after beating Mazatlan in five games.  After Jalisco won the first two games in Mazatlan, the Venados won a rain-delayed Game Three, 7-3, in Guadalajara.  The contest was tied at 2-2 Monday night before rain forced the game to be carried over to Tuesday, when Mazatlan posted four runs in the fifth as Ramon Rios and Asael Sanchez had run-scoring singles and Edson Garcia contributed a two-out, two-run single off Jalisco hurler Manuel Flores.  Rios finished with three hits (two of them doubles), two runs and two RBIs in what would be the Venados' lone win of the series.  The Charros' Japhet Amador powered a two-run homer off Irwin Delgado in the second. 

Jalisco then won the next two games at home, starting with Wednesday's 6-3 triumph thanks to a five-run bottom of the first (four scores coming with two out, two on an Agustin Murillo fly ball to right that was muffed by Edson Garcia, allowing Amador and Henry Urrutia to cross the plate.  Jalisco's Orlando Lara pitched six innings and allowed one run for his second win of the series while batterymate Gabriel Gutierrez socked a solo homer off Venados starter Konner Wade in support.  Sebastian Valle and Anthony Giansanti both went deep for Mazatlan.  The Charros closed out their semi in Thursday's Game Five, 10-6, as Jalisco overcame an early 2-0 deficit by scoring runs in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.  Jose Amador (no relation to Japhet) paced the 15-hit Horsemen attack by going 3-for-5 with a pair of two-run homers while Murillo also belted a longball for the winners.  Valle and Giansanto homered again for Mazatlan in defeat while Rios added three hits and two ribbies.

After Obregon and Jalisco closed out their Final Four wins, both took part in a reinforcement draft Saturday.  The Yaquis took a pair of second basemen in Los Mochis' Quiroz and Mazatlan's Rios while the Charros took starting pitchers Manny Barreda from Culiacan and Los Mochis' Quiala.  Quiroz is perhaps more versatile than Rios, with about as many games at third base and shortstop as at second, and he would give Yaquis manager Sergio Gastelum more options.  Barreda was not chosen in the previous two reinforcement drafts despite finishing second to Jalisco's Elian Leyva, the LMP Pitcher of the Year, with a 2.65 ERA.  He started one game for the Anzoategui Caribes in the Venezuelan League semifinals last week, getting rocked by the Caracas Leones for four runs on six hits in 1.1 innings, but returned to North America after the Caribes were eliminated.

The MexPac championship series will open Monday night in Guadalajara at 9:15 Eastern as the Charros host Obregon.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Championship Series
Game 1  Monday, January 21 (9:15PM) Obregon at Jalisco
Game 2  Tuesday, January 22 (9:15PM) Obregon at Jalisco
Game 3  Thursday, January 24 (9:10PM) Jalisco at Obregon
Game 4  Friday, January 25 (9:10PM) Jalisco at Obregon
Game 5  Saturday, January 26 (9:10PM) Jalisco at Obregon*
Game 6  Monday, January 28 (9:15PM) Obregon at Jalisco*
Game 7  Tuesday, January 29 (9:15PM) Obregon at Jalisco*
*-if necessary.  All times Eastern.


MANNY RODRIGUEZ REPEATS AS LMP MVP, LEYVA PITCHER OF YEAR

LMP Most Valuable Player Manny Rodriguez
Jalisco Charros second baseman Manny Rodriguez has been selected as the Mexican Pacific League's Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season and the third time in his winterball career.  The 36-year-old Guasave native earned 74 of 117 votes, or 63.25% of ballots cast by journalists covering the LMP.  Los Mochis outfielder Leandro Castro came in a distant second with 15 votes (12.82%), followed by league batting champ Francisco Peguero of Hermosillo with 13 votes (11.11%), Obregon slugger Jesus Valdez (11 votes, 9.40%) and Navojoa's LMP home run king Jovan Rosa (4 votes, 3.42%).

Rodriguez was eighth in the MexPac with a .313 batting average and led the loop with 52 RBIs, his 80 hits were one behind Hermosillo's Jasson Atondo, he tied Castro for third in the LMP with 13 homers and matched Los Mochis' Isaac Rodriguez with 41 runs scored (ten behind leader Alonzo Harris of Navojoa).  With his third MVP trophy, the Jalisco team captain now trails only the legendary Hector Espino, who won six such awards over his MexPac career.

LMP Pitcher of the Year Elian Leyva
The LMP league office has named other award-winners for the 2018-19 regular season, including Rodriguez' teammate Elian Leyva as Pitcher of the Year.  Although the Cuban-born Leyva did not receive a single MVP vote, the Charros' right-hander led or tied for the circuit lead in several pitching categories including wins (6), earned-run average (2.02), strikeouts (67) and WHIP (1.08).  He became only the fifth man in MexPac history to cop the Pitching Triple Crown and the last since Francisco Campos of Mazatlan turned the trick in 2003-04.  Leyva, who was called to rest last week by the Atlanta Braves before MLB spring training opens next month, easily outdistanced the POY field with 90.60% of votes cast on 106 of 117 ballots cast by cronistas, while Culiacan's Manny Barreda and Jaime Lugo of Navojoa each picked up four votes and another Mayos pitcher, Marco Carrillo, earned the final three.

LMP Reliever of the Year Casey Coleman
Culiacan closer Casey Coleman earned 99 of 117 votes (84.62%) to win Reliever of the Year honors after leading the LMP with 22 saves, breaking the Tomateros' old mark of 21 set by Jose Silva in 2007-08.  Coleman turned in a microscopic ERA of 1.24 while striking out 37 batters and walking only five over 36.1 innings pitched in 34 appearances.  The ex-Cubs pitcher, whose grandfather and father both pitched in MLB All-Star games during their respective careers, far outdistanced his nearest competitors; Mazatlan's Brandon Cunniff and Los Mochis's Jose Valverde (himself a former MLB All-Star) each picked up seven votes.

LMP Rookie of the Year Jasson Atondo
Continuing the trend of non-competitive awards balloting, Hermosillo second baseman Jasson Atondo received 92 of 117 votes (78.63%) to walk away as this winter's Rookie of the Year.  Besides leading the MexPac with 81 hits, Atondo finished second to teammate Francisco Peguero in batting with a .351 mark after topping the table for a number of weeks before a late-season fade.  Atondo also finished fifth in runs scored with 39.  Navojoa pitcher Jose Isidro Marquez, son of the Mexican League's all-time saves leader, finished second to Atondo with 10 votes (8.55%), followed by Los Mochis middle reliever Daniel Duarte's eight votes (6.84%) and seven votes (5.98%) for Obregon setup man Jesus Aguamea.

LMP Manager of the Year Sergio Gastelum
The voting was much closer for Manager of the Year, which was eventually won by Obregon's first-year skipper Sergio Gastelum, who received 40 of 107 votes to come in at 37.04%.  Gastelum led Oaxaca to a surprise appearance in the Mexican League's Serie del Rey last fall in his managerial debut before the Guerreros fell to Monterrey in the title set and his work with the Yaquis implies that his initial success as a dugout boss with the Guerreros was no fluke.  Gastelum replaced Oscar Robles early in the 2018-19 season with the Yaquis at 3-6 and went on to lead Obregon to a 34-23 record over the 57 games he managed as the Tribe posted the best overall record in the LMP regular season and qualified for the postseason for the first time in three years.  Hermosillo skipper Bronswell Patrick came in second to Gastelum with 29 votes (26.85%), Jalisco manager Roberto Vizcarra was third with 18 votes (16.67%) and Culiacan's now-former manager Robinson Cancel was fourth by picking up 12 votes (11.11%).  Los Mochis helmsman Victor Bojorquez, who has done some great work for the Caneros himself, placed fifth with nine votes (8.33%).


ACAYUCAN TOPS XALAPA FOR LIV CROWN; BOTH QUALIFY FOR L.A.S.

Acayucan Tobis outfielder Yadir Drake
The Acayucan Tobis defeated the Xalapa Chileros, 7-2, Sunday afternoon at Estadio Emiliano Zapata in Oluta (an Acayuca suburb) in the seventh and deciding game of the Veracruz Winter League championship series.  No details of the game were available at BBM's post time. 

The victory gives the Tobis their second consecutive winterball league title and third in the past four seasons.  Acayucan won the Veracruz State Baseball League pennant last year in that circuit's second and final campaign under the guidance of former Brewers pitcher Narciso Elvira, who founded the loop in 2016 after the original LIV shut down operations due to financial difficulties.  Elvira's LVEB also struggled to make ends meet before the reconstituted LIV returned this winter under the leadership of sisters Regina and Fabiola Vazquez Saut.  Many baseball veterans played in the league this winter after Elvira's circuit relied almost entirely on younger (and less-expensive) players for two years, although the LIV retained the LVEB's practice of scheduling games only on weekends.

The Tobis and manager Felix Tejeda, a former Dodgers farmhand and Campeche Piratas reliever, found themselves in a tough spot right off the bat by dropping the first two games of the series at home, losing a 7-5 contest to Xalapa on January 5 and allowing two runs in a heartbreaking 8-6 loss on January 6.  Acayucan fought back the following weekend by scoring five runs in the top of the ninth inning in a 11-5 road victory over the Chileros on January 11 but found themselves on the brink of elimination one day later after absorbing an 8-1 defeat.  The Tobis stayed alive and sent the series back to Acayucan by plating five runs in the first inning en route to a resounding 14-4 win in Xalapa as Heber Gomez blasted a grand slam while Yadil Mujica, Rogelio Noris and Eliseo Aldazaba combined for nine hits, five runs and three RBIs to narrow Xalapa's advantage in the best-of-7 set to one game.

The Tobis tied the series at three game apiece Saturday with a 4-1 Game Six win in Acayucan's Estadio Luis Diaz Flores.  The Mexican League's 2017 batting champion, Yadir Drake, had a big night for the Tobis by driving in fellow Cuban Yadil Mujica with the game's first run with a sacrifice fly in the first inning, doubling in another run in the bottom of the third and launching a solo homer to left in the seventh.  Eleven-year LMB veteran Yancarlo Angulo produced Xalapa's lone run of the game in the top of the ninth by  Tobis starter Jorge Quinones got the win by pitching 5.1 shutout innings while holding the Chileros to two hits.  Rookie Daniel Lobata took the loss for Xalapa.

According to the Latin American Series website, both the Tobis and Chileros will move on to co-host the event's eighth edition.  The six-team, 18-game tournament is scheduled to be played in four ballparks in the state of Veracruz.  The LAS is considered one tier below the Caribbean Series among international winterball events.  The Tobis and Chileros will play league champions from Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama and first-time entrant Argentina.  Curacao, which sent their top team last year, is sitting out this winter's tournament, hence the invite to the LIV runners-up.

Three games will be played on opening day Saturday: Xalapa vs. Panama at Beisborama 72 in Cordoba (a former LMB ballpark) at 1PM local as well as a 2PM doubleheader at Veracruz' Beto Avila Park with Colombia vs. Nicaragua followed by Acayucan vs. Argentina.  The title game is scheduled for February 1, most likely at Beto Avila Park, another former Liga venue with the largest capacity of the four facilities at 7,782 seats. and the site of the first Serie Latinoamericana in 2013.  The 27-year-old stadium served as home this winter for the LIV's Veracruz Rojos, who narrowly missed the postseason.

Monday, January 14, 2019

JALISCO KAYOS DEFENDING CHAMPS WITH ONE BLOW

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.


TOMATEROS FIRE MANAGER CANCEL DURING PLAYOFF SERIES


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 ONE WIN AWAY FROM VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE FLAG
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

ALL THREE LMP FIRST ROUND SETS GO TO GAME SIX

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.


TOBIS, CHILEROS ADVANCE TO LIV TITLE SERIES

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.

VERACRUZ WINTER LEAGUE
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.


LEON SIGNS JAPANESE PITCHER, FORMER ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

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.