Sunday, January 29, 2023

THUNDER STRUCK: CANEROS WIN MEX PAC PENNANT

Los Mochis RHP Nick Struck
    A superb performance by pitchers Nick Struck and Fabian Cota and a bases-loaded double by Most Valuable Player Yasmany Tomas on Saturday keyed a 5-0 Los Mochis win at home over Guasave to give the Caneros a 4-games-to-2 Mexican Pacific League championship series win, the fourth pennant since the city's entry into winterball in 1947 and the first since 2002-03. In winning the flag, the Caneros will represent Mexico at the 2023 Caribbean Series beginning Thursday in Venezuela.

    The 33-year-old Struck began the winterball season in the Dominican Republic before joining the Caneros in December for five starts, going 1-2 but turning in a sparkling 1.64 ERA. A two-time Cubs organizational All-Star as a farmhand, the Oregon native native is now 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in five postseason starts after limiting the Algodoneros to a first-inning single by Jesse Castillo over seven innings of work, striking out four and throwing 61 strikes in 93 pitches. Cota, who represented Oaxaca in last summer's Mexican League All-Star Game, took over in the eighth and held Guasave scoreless on one hit over the last two frames to close out the title-winning game.

    Tomas gave the Caneros all the runs they'd need with a two-out, three-run double off Cottoneers starter Jeff Kinley in the bottom of the third to send the sellout crowd of 11,770 at Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada into a paroxysm of joy one day after chaos erupted outside the ballpark when fans stampeded the team office to buy tickets for Game Six. Los Mochis added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth when Isaac Rodriguez scored on Rudy Amador's sacrifice fly and a Fernando Villegas single plated Roberto “Tito” Valenzuela. Kinley took the loss and was charged for all five Caneros runs on eight hits before being yanked following Valenzuela's one-out single in the fifth.

    Juan Uriarte was named MVP of the championship series after batting .410 (10-for-21) with a homer, six RBIs and three runs scored for first-year manager Jose Moreno's Caneros. Thousands of Los Mochis fans celebrated the team's championship after the game and a parade through the streets of downtown was scheduled for Monday at 3:00PM local time.

    The team will travel to Caracas, Venezuela in preparation for their first Caribbean Series game against Dominican champion Licey at noon Thursday in the first-ever game at Estadio La Rinconada, a new 36,500-ballpark being inaugurated during the Serie del Caribe. The facility will be hostile to right-handed power hitters, given its dimensions of 442 feet to the center field wall and 351 feet to left, although the right-field foul line is a more approachable 338 feet away from home plate. Estadio La Rinconada has taken ten years for construction, indicative of Venezuela's unsteady economy.

    Los Mochis held off Guasave in the series opener, 9-6, on Saturday, January 21 behind Uriarte's three hits and four RBIs (including a three-run homer); then won a Game Two thriller the following night by a 3-2 count as Amador launched a two-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Caneros a 2-games-to-0 lead before the two teams traveled to Guasave for three midweek games.

    The Algodoneros bounced back with a 10-0 home thrashing over Los Mochis at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon on Tuesday, January 24. Guasave starter Matt Poberyko dominated the visitors over six innings as the LMP strikeout king allowed just one Uriarte single and one walk while striking out nine, including Justin Dean for his final out in the sixth.

Los Mochis fans celebrating LMP title
    
Conversely, the Cottoneers sent Pitcher of the Year Luis Miranda to the showers with one out in the third after the Caneros opener let in five runs on seven hits and two walks. Guasave scored in each of the first four innings to enter the fifth with a 5-0 advantage and continued pulling away thereafter. Jesse Castillo had a triple and homer, scoring twice and driving in two runs for the winners while Alejandro Ortiz singled and tripled in two at-bats to score two times and drive in two more counters.

    Los Mochis bounced back with a 4-1 Game Four win Wednesday, January 24 to take a 3-games-to-1 lead in the series. The Caneros took a 2-0 lead right out the gate in the top of the first on RBI singles from Valenzuela and Uriarte, but Guasave cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fourth when Joey Terdoslavich singled in Castillo. That would be all the scoring that night for the Algodoneros, however, as an RBI one-bagger by Amador in the top of the fifth gave Los Mochis their two-run lead back and Edgar Robles' solo homer to right off Cottoneers starter Geno Encino on a full count one inning later gave the Caneros their final margin of victory.

    Starting pitcher Darel Torres took the win for the visitors by tossing five innings of one-run ball and scattering three hits. Reliever Cota, who was awarded the Game One win out of the bullpen, followed Torres and contributed 3.1 frames of two-hit scoreless pitching. Encina was saddled with the loss after being touched for four runs (three earned) over 5.2 entradas before being pulled following Robles' roundtripper in the sixth.

    Game Five on Thursday, January 26 in Guasave began as a pitcher's duel between Los Mochis' Manny Barreda and Nico Tellache of the Algodoneros. The two teams traded zeros through four innings until a two-out Amador single up the middle off Tellache plated Valenzuela with the game's first run to give the Caneros a 1-0 lead. Guasave's Castillo erased that edge with one swing in the bottom of the sixth, launching a 2-1 Barreda over the right field wall for a solo homer to tie the tilt at one run apiece. The score remained knotted at 1-1 as Tellache was replaced after six innings by reliever Rafael Cordova and Barreda was lifted for 40-year-old veteran Tomas Solis two outs into the bottom of the seventh.

    Solis got the final out and after a scoreless top of the eighth for the Caneros, Los Mochis skipper Jose Moreno brought Daniel Duarte (who made his MLB debut for the Reds last summer) in from the bullpen. Duarte got the first two outs but his 1-1 delivery to Julian Ornelas was sent sailing over the right field wall for a homer to put Guasave up 2-1. Algodoneros closer Brandon Koch, who gave up two ninth-inning homers in their Game Two loss to the Caneros, came in and held the visitors scoreless on 13 pitches to end the game, cutting Los Mochis' series lead to 3-games-to-2 and bringing Guasave within a game of tying up the finals, which moved to Los Mochis for Saturday's Game Six.


FIELD NEARLY SET FOR 65th SERIE DEL CARIBE

Caracas' new Estadio La Rinconada
    The competition has almost been set for the start of this week's Caribbean Series as eight winterball national champions will converge on the greater Caracas, Venezuela region, where four games will be played for seven days at two ballparks, followed by two semifinal contests on Thursday, February 9 and the championship game Friday, February 10. Seven of the pennant-winners had been determined by the end of the weekend, with only the title series between Caracas and La Guaira for the host Venezuelan League title still in doubt. The Leones lead by a 3-games-to-2 margin.

    Curacao will send a team for the first time while Cuba is back after a two-year ban to join holdovers Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Panama, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Colombia's Barranquilla Caimanes won last year's title in Santo Domingo after teams from that nation had been winless over the two previous Caribbean Series, their first after entering the competition in 2020.

    The Caimanes topped Dominican champions Cibao, 4-1, in the title game as this season's Reliever of the Year in the Mexican Pacific League for Mazatlan, Elkin Alcala, earned the victory. Surprisingly, only one Colombia, player, first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez (who spent this winter in Mexicali), was named to the CS Dream Team along with Barranquilla manager Jose Mosquera. The lone player from Mex Pac champion Jalisco to make the team was outfielder Felix Perez, who was a teammate of Alcala's in Mazatlan in 2022-23.

    Here is a list of the eight national champions who will be battling for Serie del Caribe supremacy this year:

COLOMBIA – Monteria Vaqueros
(Won second LPB title since 2019 formation; went 0-5 in 2020 Caribbean Series in San Juan, including 5-4 loss to eventual champ Este Toros)
CUBA – Bayamo Agricultores (Combined team of Las Tunas and Granma players from Cuban National Series, now a summer league, won first Elite League championship)
CURACAO – Willemstad Wildcats KJ74 (Have won last three Curacao National Championship AA League pennants and 17 overall since 1975; Dutch League affiliate)
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Licey Tigres (Debuted in 1907; 23 LiDom pennants and 10 Caribbean Series; alumni include Bob Gibson, Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez)
MEXICO – Los Mochis Caneros (First pennant in 20 years, seeking initial CS title; past Caneros include Aurelio Rodriguez, Jose Valverde and Andres Mora)
PANAMA – Chiriqui Federales (Went 16-4, beat Bocas Atlanticos in playoff to win flag; won twice at 2021 Serie del Caribe in Mazatlan despite canceled regular season)
PUERTO RICO – Mayaguez Indios (19 pennants, 2 Caribbean Series crowns; Denny McLain, Lance Parrish, Luke Easter and Dave McNally played for Mayaguez)
VENEZUELA – TBD (Caracas Leones beat LaGuaira Tiburones, 7-2, Saturday to take a 3-games-to-2 lead in LVBP championship series; Game 6 set for Monday in Caracas)



MEXICO FALLS TO NUMBER 5 IN WBSC RANKINGS

    The World Baseball and Softball Confederation has revealed the end-of-the-year World Rankings for men's baseball with Japan leading' the way (a position it has held since 2014) with 4,179 points to top a list of 81 baseball programs worldwide. Mexico fell one slot from fourth to fifth place after the United States jumped two places into third in the rankings, which measure National Team performances from U-12 to the top level in WBSC-sanctioned international competitions over a four-year period. The end-of-the-year rankings reflect the expiration of all points earned in 2018.

    Japan and Taiwan (3,819 points) retained the top two positions in the rankings while the United States became the baseball program which improved the most among the top 10 thanks to its title triumphs at the WBSC's U-12, U-15 and U-18 Baseball World Cups last year to move from fifth to third position with 3,449 points.

    South Korea and Mexico both dropped a position and rank now fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Venezuela, the Netherlands and Cuba. The latter three programs each gained one place. With their 7th place ranking, the Netherlands lead the European programs. The Dominican Republic lost three positions and is now in ninth while Australia remained stable in rounding out the Top Ten.

    Positions from 11 to 20 are split between American and European programs. Puerto Rico is now at number 13, gaining three places to became the most improved of the baseball programs in the Top 20. Canada (14th) and Nicaragua (17th) both lost two positions. Seven of the nations with winter champions competing at next month's Caribbean Series in Venezuela finished among the top 13 in the rankings. The eighth participant, Curacao (playing in their first Serie del Caribe) ranks 33rd in the world, representing a leap of eleven slots from the last rankings released.

    Nicaragua has sought to send its winterball champion to the tournament for the past few years and is ranked 16 places higher than Curacao but has never been invited by the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, led since 1991 by Dominican commissioner Juan Francisco Puello. A communist government headed by Daniel Ortega has been cited as the reason for Nicaragua's exclusion by Puello, who has been more forgiving of Cuba and its own one-party communist rule since 1959 as initial Elite League champions Bayamo are expected to be in Caracas later this week.