Monday, February 11, 2019

CHARROS FINISH 2-2, JUST MISS CARIBBEAN TITLE GAME

Jalisco's CS Dream Team 1B Victor Mendoza
The Jalisco Charros won two of their four double round-robin games at the Caribbean Series in Panama City last week, but the Guadalajara team lost out on a berth in the final game against Panama's Herrera Toros via mathematics.  Jalisco, Cuba's Las Tunas Lenadores and Venezuela's Lara Cardenales all finished Group A competition with identical 2-2 records but Jalisco barely missed qualifying despite a 9-4 win over Lara last Friday due to a tiebreaker.  One more run over their four games would've made the difference for the Mexican Pacific League champions.

The Charros scored only two runs over their first two games at Rod Carew National Stadium, beginning with last Monday's 5-1 defeat at the hands of Lara.  Cardenales starter Nestor Molina allowed one Jalisco run in the top of the fifth when Stephen Cardullo singled in Agustin Murillo to take the win.  A familiar face to Mexican League fans as the 2017 Pitcher of the Year with Veracruz and an All-Star Game selection last summer with Dos Laredos, Molina scattered four hits and struck out four over his five frames of work.  Carlos Rivero, who spent part of 2018 with Tijuana, belted a two-run homer off Francisco Moreno in the sixth for Lara but a two-run fourth for the Cardenales gave Molina and mates all the scoring they'd need for the night.  Orlando Lara (3.2 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 2 BB) took the loss for Jalisco, who went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

One night later, the Charros fell, 3-1, to Las Tunas as the Lenadores' Lazaro Blanco, a 32-year-old veteran of international competition, blanked Jalisco on three hits over seven innings to take the victory.  Another longtime figure for the Cuban National Team, Alfredo Despaigne, hit three singles in four at-bats to drive in three Las Tunas runs.  Despaigne spent parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with Campeche in the LMB before moving to Japan, where he has become one of NPB's premier power hitters with 118 homers since mid-2014 for the Chiba Lotte Marines and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  Jesus Valdez' two-out single brought in Amadeo Zazueta with Jalisco's lone run in the bottom of the ninth, but Murillo ended the contest by flying out to right on the first pitch he faced from Raidel Martinez as the Mexicans dug themselves an 0-2 hole midway through the round.

Mexican baseball fans representing in Panama
After a day off Wednesday, Jalisco came back Thursday with a revenge win over Las Tunas, a 3-2 knucklebiter that wasn't settled until the eleventh inning.  At the top of that entrada, Ramon Rios drilled a Livan Moinelo pitch up the middle for a two-out single that drove in Dariel Alvarez from second with the go-ahead run.  Ramirez actually whiffed Alvarez for the second out but the third strike sailed past Lenadores catcher Yosvani Alarcon, allowing the former Orioles minor leaguer to reach first safely.  Sergio Romo came in with one out in the ninth and went on to pitch 2.2 scoreless innings for the win, including a 1-2-3 eleventh for Jalisco.  Leadoff hitter Alonzo Harris had three singles and a walk, scoring twice for manager Roberto Vizcarra's Charros.

The Charros' offense finally woke from their torpor on Friday by recording 15 hits during their 9-4 win over Lara.  Jalisco took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Victor Mendoza singled in Harris for one run and a Japhet Amador sacrifice fly scored Amadeo Zazueta from third for another.  A Gabriel Gutierrez RBI single made it a 3-0 Mexican lead in the fourth and while the Cardenales went on to plate four runs over the next two innings, there was no denying the Horsemen a win in this one.  Mendoza wrapped up a productive Caribbean Series by going 4-for-5 with two runs and four RBIs, including a three-run homer off Elvis Araujo in the sixth, while Zazueta singled twice and scored a part of tallies.  Starter Marco Tovar left the game with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, but it was Rafael Martin (from among seven relievers sent in by Vizcarra) who got the win by tossing 2.1 scoreless innings.

In the end, the tiebreaking formula did in Jalisco.  Despite outscoring both Las Tunas and Lara during group play, a slice of arcana called "Total Quality Balance" required the LMP kingpins to outscore the Cardenales by six runs Friday to have a chance of advancing to the finals.  As a result, even though the Cubans beat the Venezuelans, 3-0, Saturday to put all three Group A teams at 2-2, the Charros were done.

In Sunday's title game, Las Tunas met surprising host Herrera, who went 3-1 in Group B after winning only two of six games the previous week at the Latin American Series in Veracruz.  The Panamanians completed their Cinderella performance Sunday with a 3-1 win over Las Tunas, an amazing feat for a team whose country hadn't played in the Caribbean Series since 1960 and were only added to the field as tournament host after political turmoil forced organizers to move the event from Barquisimeto, Venezuela for the second year in a row.

The Charros can console themselves knowing they'd earned some redemption after losing their first two games, came in second among the six combatants with a .261 average and pitched reasonably well with a 2.92 team ERA, although that figure only ranked fifth among the teams as hurlers ruled the week (Las Tunas' team ERA was a paltry 1.40, yet the Cubans only won two of five contests).  Gutierrez led Jalisco with a .385 average over four games while Mendoza and Zazueta each batted .375.  Mendoza, who hit Mexico's only homer of the week, was named as first baseman on the CS Dream Team for his work.  Martin and Romo combined to allow no earned runs in nine innings out of the bullpen, with Romo collecting six strikeouts and letting up just one hit in his 4.2 frames of work.


LIGA ANNOUNCES 2019 SCHEDULE, LAGUNA FRANCHISE SOLD

Mexican League president Javier Salinas
The Mexican League held an Assembly of Presidents meeting last week in Mexico City, where they announced they have finalized the 2019 season schedule (although it has not yet been released to the public), confirmed their June All-Star Game and approved the sale of one of its franchises.

The regular season will open Thursday, April 4 in Monterrey when the defending Fall champion Sultanes will host the Yucatan Leones, who defeated Monterrey in last year's Spring title series.  One day later, the rest of the Liga's 16 teams will play their inaugural games.  The Mexico City Diablos Rojos are set to open their new Estado Alfredo Harp Helu on April 5 against longtime rival Quintana Roo, who shared the nation's capital with the Diablos for 46 years before moving to Puebla in 2002 and eventually landing in Cancun five years later.  The Diablos and Tigres have 28 Mexican League pennants between them, with Mexico City winning 16 titles.

The LMB will play a 120-game schedule this year, divided into two 60-game halves.  The first half will conclude just before All-Star Weekend commences on Saturday, June 15, a day which will feature both the traditional Home Run Derby and the Double Play Derby, a competition among top keystone combinations from around the league that debuted at last year's All-Star Weekend in Merida.  The host Yucatan Leones got the sweep as Luis "Cacao" Valdez beat Monterrey's Ricky Alvarez in the final round to win the Home Run Derby while Everth Cabrera and Diego Madero teamed up to beat out four other duos and cop the Double Play Derby last June 28.  One day later, the South crushed the North, 10-2, with veteran Mexico City outfielder Ivan Terrazas winning MVP honors at Parque Kukulcan.

The second half of the Liga season will open Friday, June 21 and run through Thursday, August 29.  If a single elimination game is required should the fourth- and fifth-place teams in either division finish within three games of each other, it would be played Saturday, August 31 at the fourth-place team's ballpark.  The full playoffs will begin September 3 with the division semifinals and conclude with the Serie del Rey between September 24 and October 2 (if a Game Seven is required).

Union Laguna players after 2018 win in Durango
Also at the Assembly meeting, owners approved the sale of the Union Laguna franchise by brothers Jose Juan and Erick Arellano to a group of businessmen headed by Francisco Orozco, the executive director of the Solucionika telecommunications company.  Orozco also owns his hometown Saltillo Dinos franchise in Mexico's League of American Football (LFA), a semipro circuit which will open its third season later this month.  Terms of the sale were not disclosed but the Arellanos made no secret of the fact that they wanted to take the Torreon-based team off their hands so they could focus all their time and resources on the Yucatan Leones, which they also own.

One of the conditions of the transaction was that the team, which may change its nickname from Algodoneros, will stay in the Torreon-Gomez Palacio area.  Last year, Union Laguna went 41-73 overall and missed the playoffs both seasons while playing in front of 176,931 fans in 55 openings at Estadio Revolucion, an 86-year-old ballpark seating 9,500.  One of the first items on the new ownership group's docket was to find a new manager and they did so with the selection of Jonathan Aceves, a former catcher who spent nine years in the White Sox system and one with the Marlins organization before playing another twelve summers in the Mexican League (all but one game with Saltillo).  He retired in the offseason.  Last year's Laguna skipper, Ramon Orantes, has taken the reins in Tabasco for 2019.

An added note from LMB president Javier Salinas was that while Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently promised the return of the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila to the port city, that will not happen before 2020 at the earliest and that the Liga is expected to play with the same 16 teams it ended last year with.

However, the jockeying may not be over yet.  Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso says that AMLO is determined to fulfill his promise to bring the LMB back to Veracruz this year, and that the Jalisco Charros of the Mexican Pacific League are being lobbied to field a summer team to bring the number of Mexican League teams up to 18.  The Monterrey Sultanes recently agreed to create an LMP team to play winterball with the reconstituted Guasave Algodoneros, the latter fulfilling another Lopez  Obrador promise.  An admitted baseball fanatic, AMLO seems to be remaking the sport in Mexico in a way not seen since the days of Jorge Pasquel.


LMB ENDS AGREEMENT WITH LIGA NORTE, LA PAZ ADDED TO LNM



In a move that sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community in northwest Mexico, the Mexican League has decided to not renew an agreement with the Northern Mexico League for the 2019 season.  The decision, which was announced by LMB president Javier Salinas late last month, means the Class AA Liga Norte will not receive financial assistance from the Class AAA Liga this year.  Teams in the LNM have served as affiliates for LMB franchises over the past several summers, which Salinas said may continue on an individual team-by-team basis despite the lack of a signed interleague agreement.

The move comes as a blow to the Liga Norte, which has relied on the Mexican League to help cover operating expenses for the six-team loop.  In his announcement, Salinas referred to a debt of 240,000 pesos (about US$12,585) that he would like to have paid to the LMB.  The LNM held a meeting in Tijuana last week that was attended by former major league infielder Edgar Gonzalez, who has been tabbed by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to oversee the development and promotion of baseball on a nationwide basis.  Liga Norte president Francisco Ochoa Montano and others appear to be hoping their league, which is considered by some to be the top player development circuit in Mexico, can receive assistance from the federal government in lieu of lost support from the LMB league offices.

Estadio Arturo C. Nahl in La Paz
Earlier this year, the Liga Norte announced a new franchise, the La Paz Delfines, who will begin play in the Baja California Sur city this spring.  There has been past interest among officials from La Paz in securing a Mexican Pacific League franchise in the future, but the city of 244,000 will instead receive an LNM team to replace Tecate after the Indios requested a year off.  The Delfines will represent the first Liga Norte franchise to ever play outside the states of Sonora and Sinaloa in the loop's seven-year history.  Baja California Sur governor Carlos Mendoza Davis said, "We are proud of the announcement of the LNM and of the entrance of La Paz to this professional baseball circuit, fulfilling a wish of the fans who will be able to enjoy the games at Estadio Arturo C. Nahl, which will be completely rehabilitated."  The ballpark is expected to seat 3,800 spectators when league play opens April 12.

The Ensenada Marineros have won the last two LNM pennants.  They'll be joined in 2019 by La Paz, the Caborca Rojos, Puerto Penasco Tiburones, San Luis Algodoneros and San Quintin Freseros.  San Luis will play one more season at Estadio Andres Mena Montijo before moving into a new 7,500-seat in 2020, a year in which both Tecate and the Mexicali Sentinales are expected to return, making the Liga Norte an eight-team association.