Monday, January 28, 2019

UPDATE: CARIBBEAN SERIES MOVED TO PANAMA

After a week of speculation concerning whether the Caribbean Series would be played in Barquisimeto, Venezuela as planned, the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation (CBPC) announced Monday that the annual tournament has been moved from the strife-ridden nation to Panama City, where it will be held between February 4-10 at Rod Carew National Stadium, a 27,000-seat ballpark completed in 1999.  The event is being pushed back two days from its original February 2 start to allow organizers more time to put things together while completing the tournament in enough time for Major League Baseball minor leaguers to report on time to spring training camps in Arizona or Florida.

For the first time, six national champions will be represented at the Serie del Caribe, including the new host Herrera Toros, who are presently playing in Veracruz at the Latin American Series as titlists from the Panamanian Professional Baseball League, aka Probeis.  Other teams set to converge next week in Panama are the Santurce Cangrejeros (Puerto Rico), Orientales Estrellas (Dominican Republic), Lara Cardinales (Venezuela), Las Tunas Lenadores (Cuba) and either the Jalisco Charros or Obregon Yaquis, who are in the middle of the Mexican Pacific League championship series.

Rod Carew National Baseball Stadium, Panama
Although Panama is a last-minute Caribbean Series entry, the country is no stranger to the crown jewel of Latin baseball.  The Central American nation was one of four charter participants in the 1949 Serie del Caribe along with Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.  The Carta Vieja Yankees won the 1950 CS under manager Wayne Blackburn as Panama took part in the first twelve tournaments and hosted it three times before new dictator (and former pitcher) Fidel Castro pulled Cuba out after the 1960 event, which was ironically held in Panama City.  That move led to the CS shutting down for nine winters before starting back up in 1970 with Mexico and the Dominican Republic replacing Cuba and Panama in the four-team lineup.  Cuba returned to the fold on a temporary basis in 2014 while Panama is one of the countries in the mix for future Caribbean Series when the six-nation Latin American Series becomes a qualifying tournament for the CS next year.

Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros cited sources as saying both Guadalajara and Santo Domingo also expressed interest in filling in as host.

CHARROS NEARING FIRST FLAG; UNREST THREATENS CS

The Jalisco Charros shut out the Obregon Yaquis, 7-0, Saturday night in Obregon to take a 3-games-to-2 lead in the Mexican Pacific League championship series, putting the Guadalajara team one win away from capturing their first LMP pennant since joining the league five years ago.  The winner of the series will represent Mexico in the upcoming Caribbean Series...IF the CS is played after recent political events created even more chaos in Venezuela that likely necessitates the Serie del Caribe being moved from that country a second year in a row.  More on that in a few paragraphs.

Obregon Yaquis first baseman Victor Mendoza
The LMP title series started with last Monday's 8-3 win for Obregon in Guadalajara.  The Charros built a tenuous 2-0 lead going into the top of the fifth inning, when the Yaquis posted four runs to take what proved to be an insurmountable lead.  Yordanys Linares cracked a one-out solo homer off Jalisco starter Orlando Lara to put Obregon on the board but the real damage occured when Victor Mendoza stroked a two-run double off Lara and reliever Felipe Gonzalez walked both Anderson Hernandez and Carlos Sepulveda on 11 pitches to force in Isaac Paredes with the Yaquis' fourth run of the frame.  Paredes later cracked a three-run homer for the visitors as Arturo Lopez (5 IP, 2 R) got the win and Lara (4.2 IP, 4 R) took the loss.  Dariel Alvarez and Japhet Amador belted solo homers in defeat for Jalisco.

The Charros evened the series with a 6-4 win on Tuesday as Alvarez' three-run longball off a Carlos De Leon delivery keyed a four-run first inning for Jalisco.  Amadeo Zazueta punched a pair of doubles and scored twice for Jalisco while Gabriel Gutierrez singled twice and drove in two runs for the winners. Mendoza went 3-for-3 for Obregon, scoring one run and driving in another, but the Yaquis never recovered from the Charros' four-run first.  Jose Oyervides got the win for Jalisco with two innings of one-run relief while De Leon absorbed the loss.

After Wednesday's travel day, the series resumed with three games in Obregon.  Thursday's contest ended with a 10-9 Yaquis victory in a game when Jalisco pitchers gave up ten walks and twelve hits (with Charros starter Manny Barreda allowing five free passes in four innings).  Yaquis pinch-hitter Moises Gutierrez marked his first appearance in the finals with a grand slam in the fifth off Jalisco reliever Linder Castro as Obregon sent ten batsmen to the plate, but the game-deciding run was scored in the bottom of the eighth when pinch-runner Leo Heras scored from third on an Iker Franco sacrifice fly pop-up to Niko Vasquez at second base.  Paredes had three hits and scored twice for the winners while Agustin Murillo and Henry Urrutia hit solo homers for the Charros.  The win went to Yaqis closer Maikal Cleto and Jalisco reliever Chad Gaudin took the loss but with 19 runs between the two combatants, this was not a game distinguished by pitching.

Jalisco Charros pitcher Orlando Lara
Trailing two games to one, the Charros roared back with road wins both Friday and Saturday.  Friday's contest was a 5-3 Jalisco win, thanks in no small part to solo homers by Zazueta (first inning), Stephen Cardullo (fifth) and Alonzo Harris (ninth) in support of starter William Oliver, who allowed two runs on four hits before being pulled in favor of Gaudin with one out in the seventh.  Obregon opener Francisco Rodriguez, who'd turned in two standout performances in the Yaquis' semifinal win over Los Mochis, turned in a stinker on Friday by coughing up four runs on seven hits and two walks in 3.1 innings of work.  Even so, it was a one-run game until Harris poleaxed Cleto's first pitch of the ninth for a homer to left to provide more cushion for Charros reliever Sergio Romo, who retired the side to save the win for Oliver.  Zazueta paced Jalisco's 11-hit attack with three of his own (including his first-inning bomb off Rodriguez) while Paredes had two hits for the Yaquis.

Jalisco then took the series lead Saturday with a 7-0 shutout over the home team as the Yaquis only managed a Mendoza double and an Anderson Hernandez single off Charros starter Lara over eight innings.  Rafael Martin tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the Jalisco victory as 16,714 disappointed Obregon fans filed out of Estadio Nuevo Yaquis, many leaving before the game ended.  The Charros picked up 13 hits off Obregon starter Lopez and four relievers as Harris finished with three hits on the night and Zazueta, Murillo and Cardullo each chipped in two safeties apiece.

The two teams took Sunday off prior to Monday night's Game Six in Guadalajara, which will begin at 9:15PM Eastern Time, with a Game Seven scheduled for Tuesday if needed.  Jalisco is seeking its first MexPac pennant since entering the league in 2014, although an earlier version of the Charros won Mexican League titles in the summers of 1967 and 1971 over the course of 21 summer seasons.  If Obregon comes back with two road wins, they'll win their eighth LMP championship (and the first since winning three in a row between 2010-11 and 2012-13).

2019 Caribbean Series: Will they or won't they?
The winner of the LMP title automatically advances to the Caribbean Series, but the status of that event was thrown into doubt last week by the ongoing political and economic unrest in Venezuela, which was due to host the CS in Barquisimeto, home of the Lara Cardinales (who conveniently won the Venezuelan League title in five games over the Caracas Leones, clinching the crown with a 9-2 win at Caracas on Sunday afternoon).  However, discontent over the rule of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro appears to be reaching critical mass, with protests last week turning fatal and opposition leader Juan Guaido claiming the presidency despite Maduro winning his disputed reelection bid last year in an election boycotted by Guaido's party.  Barquisimeto was slated to host the Caribbean Series last year before the country's instability led event organizers to move it to Guadalajara, where it was held before large crowds and without incident.

Those same organizers, led by Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation president Juan Francisco Puello, rescheduled this year's CS for Barquisimeto in the hopes that things would settle down by the time play was scheduled to begin Saturday, February 2.  Instead, things have gone from bad to worse and Major League Baseball has gone so far as to tell minor leaguers playing winterball to NOT travel to Venezuela, but it took the CBPC until last week to consider either moving the CS out of Venezuela again or cancelling the five-team tournament entirely, since it's becoming apparent Barquisimeto will not be hosting it.  Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales said last week that his league would NOT fill in as emergency host for a second year in a row, but has reportedly backtracked on that statement by holding an LMP-wide conference call Friday to discuss whether any league cities could step in on such short notice (both Guadalajara and Obregon are said to be the two potential sites).  The CBPC office said Sunday that a formal announcement would be forthcoming, but that they will, in fact, pull out of Venezuela.  An official decision will hopefully be made public Monday as to where the event will be moved to and BBM will post a special update if/when word comes down.


MONTERREY, GUASAVE TO JOIN LMP NEXT SEASON

AMLO announces baseball's return to Guasave
In a move that will surprise no followers of Mexican baseball, the Mexican Pacific League will be bringing back the Guasave Algodoneros for the 2019-20 season, fulfilling a campaign promise made by new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (an avid baseball fan who told voters in Guasave that baseball would return to their city if he was elected).  Lopez Obrador himself made the announcement Sunday at a rally held in Guasave's 8,000-seat Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon, where the new Cottoneers will call home.

Billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu, who owns Mexican League teams in both Mexico City and Oaxaca and is bankrolling the new Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in Monterrey (slated to open this spring) will operate the Guasave franchise.  The Algodoneros' ballpark, which was built in 1970, would be the LMP's smallest facility and join Navojoa's Estadio Manuel "Ciclon" Echeverria (also opened in 1970) as one of two in need of upgrades to keep up with amenities offered at the circuit's eight other ballparks.  It's expected that renovations will take place in Guasave over the spring and summer to ready it in time for next October's season opener.

If there is any surprise, it's that the MexPac also approved a new franchise in Monterrey that will begin play in 2019 and be operated by the Mexican League champion Sultanes.  This will be Monterrey's first foray into the LMP, although the city has been eyed by MexPac president Omar Canizales for some time now.  The team, which will apparently carry the Sultanes name into winterball, will play in 22,000-seat Estadio Monterrey, the country's largest baseball stadium even after last winter's renovations shaved capacity by five thousand seats.

Guasave originally joined the Mexican Pacific League in 1970-71 and played through the 2013-14 season before the Algodoneros were sold to investors led by Armando Navarro, moved to Guadalajara and renamed the Jalisco Charros for the following season.  The original Algodoneros were perennial MexPac also-rans, securing just one pennant in 44 seasons by copping the title in 1971-72 under manager Vinicio Garcia.  Guasave appeared in three other final series between 2006 and 2012 before the Cottoneers moved east.

Next winter marks the first time the LMP will play with ten teams since the 1990-91 season, after which both the Guaymas Ostioneros and Tijuana Potros were contracted (Guaymas for financial reasons, Tijuana for what Wikipedia calls "unfair competition").


LATIN AMERICAN SERIES OPENS IN VERACRUZ


Latin American Series ceremony in Veracruz
The seventh Latin American Series opened play Saturday in Veracruz, with a rather shocking upset to conclude the first day of action at Parque Beto Avila in the state capital.  After the Veracruz Winter League runners-up Xalapa Chileros topped the Panamanian champion Herrera Toros, 6-4, and Nicaragua's Leon Leones took a 5-0 victory over the Barranquilla Caimanes of Colombia, the LIV champion Acayucan Tobis were blanked by Argentina's Cordoba Condores, 1-0, over ten innings in the final game of Day One.

But it was the nightcap result that raised the most eyebrows when Acayucan fell to Cordoba, 1-0.  The Tobis went 18-3 in the regular season before winning two playoff series for their consecutive second league title (they were runners-up at last year's LAS), but Acayucan batters were shut down by Condores pitchers Yoimer Camacho and Victor Larez, who combined to give up just four hits over ten innings.  Acayucan pitchers Marco Quevedo, Rodolfo Aguirre and Esmerling De La Rosa were just as sharp in allowing only three hits to Cordoba, Argentina's first-ever representative in this winterball tournament.  Unfortunately for the Tobis, one of those hits was a Gonzalo Cabanillas single off De La Rosa to lead off the top of the tenth.  Cabanillas then stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored the eventual game-winner on a Leandro Juarez sacrifice fly.  Larez then came in to retire the Acayucan side in order to secure the win for the Condores as 7,000 fans looked on at Parque Beto Avila.

The Tobis rebounded Sunday with a 6-1 win over Barranquilla as Angel Francisco Rivera's two-run homer supported the two-hit, one-run pitching over five innings by starter Jorge Quinones (the Caimanes' lone run came on a first inning homer off Quinones by Angel Reyes).  After Acayucan evened their LAS record at 1-1, the Xalapa Chileros saw theirs fall to .500 after dropping a 6-5 game to the Leon Leones Sunday night.  No details were available at post time.  Acayucan and Xalapa will square off Monday night in the third game of Day Three.

The five national winterball champions and Xalapa (granted a berth after Curacao's league decided not to send their top team to Veracruz this year) will continue in round-robin play through Wednesday, followed by semifinals on Thursday and the Serie Latinoamericana championship game on Friday.  The two-time defending champion Chinandega Tigres of Nicaragua lost their league title series to Leon, 4 games to 1.