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Three weeks into the 2019 Mexican League season, both Tijuana and Oaxaca have led their respective divisions most of the way in the early going and while perennial power Yucatan is still dead last in the LMB South, the Leones are beginning to stir to life.
The Toros swept a three-game weekend series against Union Laguna in Torreon to run their record to 16-5, giving the border team a one-game lead over second-place Monterrey. Tijuana was held scoreless for four innings Sunday by Algodoneros starter Frank Garces before Logan Watkins cracked a solo homer in the top of the fifth to give the visitors a 1-0 lead they built to 5-0 in the seventh before Laguna scored three times in the bottom of the frame to make it a two-run game. Ricky Alvarez hit his second homer of the game in the top of the eighth to give TJ a little breathing room and another solo blast by Xorge Carrillo two batters later added to the cushion as the Toros went on to a 12-3 victory.
Tijuana starter James Russell was sharp, shutting out the Cottoneers on four hits and a walk over the first six innings to go to 2-1 for the year. Alvarez finished the contest with a 3-for-5 day at the plate with two homers and a double, driving in five runs and scoring three times. Niuman Romero had three of Laguna's nine hits but the Algodoneros were unable to hold back Tijuana's potent offense after Watkins went deep.
Monterrey kept pace by scoring four late runs to pull away from Saltillo, 10-6, Sunday at home as 16,408 looked on at Estadio Monterrey. The game was knotted up at 6-6 before Ramiro Pena swatted a three-run homer off reliever Jorge Ibarra in the bottom of the seventh to break the contest open. Felipe Gonzalez was credited with the win for the Sultanes and closer Wirfin Obispo pitched a scoreless ninth as the defending champions wrapped up their fifth consecutive win to bring their ledger to 15-6 for 2019. Monclova also won Sunday, 10-4, at Durango to raise their mark to 14-7 and maintain a solid early hold on third place in the LMB North.
Meanwhile, Oaxaca parlayed a good pitching performance from Alex Delgado into a 6-3 road triumph over Tabasco in Villahermosa Sunday. Delgado took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning en route to his first win of the year in five starts. The lefty from Mexicali finished the game with three runs allowed in 7.1 innings of work, scattering seven hits and a walk along the way. Omar Meza, who took over second base for the Guerreros after Jaime Brena retired earlier in the month, singled twice and walked to drive in three runs from his ninth position in the batting order, helping Oaxaca lift their record to 14-7, two games up on Mexico City and Puebla, who are both 12-9 in the LMB South.
At the other end of the South standings, Yucatan is uncustomarily in last place at 7-14 after dropping a 6-2 decision to Puebla Sunday in Merida at Parque Kukulcan. Pericos starter Mauricio Lara picked up his first win against three losses by tossing six innings of one-hit, one-run ball. Luis Juarez' solo homer in the fifth was the only blemish on the scoreboard for the Hermosillo product, who celebrated his 40th birthday in early April. Antonio Lamas had three singles for Puebla, scoring one run and driving in another.
It's hard to put a finger on Yucatan's slow start. Their pitching has been less than its usual strong self with a team ERA of 5.02, but that figure ranks fifth in the Liga (which has been more hitter-friendly than usual with the new Franklin ball being used this year). The Leones rank 12th in the LMB with a .292 team batting average and their 19 homers are 14th in the 16-team circuit. It's hard to imagine Yucatan remaining in the cellar, but the nature of Mexican baseball is such that improvement will need to come soon or new manager Luis Rivera may become an ex-manager.
ACEREROS' LOWEY, SULTANES' GONZALEZ BOTH GO TO 4-0
Josh Lowey of Monclova and Edgar Gonzalez of Monterrey are considered two of the top pitchers in the Mexican League, so it should come as little surprise that both hurlers have won their fourth game of the young season to tie for the LMB lead in that category.
In particular, Lowey has been arguably the best pitcher in Mexico over the past four summers. After a decent 2014 debut with the Acereros in which he went 7-5 with a 4.11 ERA in 19 starts, the right-handed Floridian has gone 52-19 since 2015 while winning Pitcher of the Year honors in 2015 and 2018 while being selected to three All-Star Games; it likely would've been four had he not left Monclova for Korea just prior to the 2016 showcase event. He was 13-3 at the time and still won the league strikeout title.
Now 34, Lowey has been getting plenty of rest between starts, all four of which have been wins including an 11-8 triumph at Aguascalientes last Thursday. Despite the high score, Lowey pitched reasonably well in allowing three runs on eight hits in five innings while striking out eight Rieleros. Against an Aguascalientes team that has batted well so far this year, that's not a bad outing and it was good enough for Lowey to go to 4-0 with a 3.75 ERA (also not a bad number given the rapacious hitting LMB pitchers have faced this season). His next start will likely be this Wednesday at home against Tabasco.
Monclova's (and Lowey's) top rival the last few years has perhaps been Monterrey, where last year the Sultanes won a Liga pennant that has thus far eluded the Acereros in their 44-year history, a fact that grates Steelers' owner Gerardo Benavides. Monterrey is off to another good start in 2019 and pitcher Edgar Gonzalez has been both a reason and beneficiary for that 15-6 record. A righty, like Lowey, the 36-year-old Gonzalez is in his fifth year pitching for his hometown team after spending all or part of ten seasons in MLB between 2003 and 2012, going 17-27 with a 5.92 ERA in 121 appearances (including 47 starts).
After a rocky 2015 campaign for Monterrey, with just a 4-12 and 4.90 ERA, Gonzalez has gone 29-8 for the Sultanes, including his 4-0 mark thus far in 2019. His most recent start came last Friday at home against Saltillo, when he beat the Saraperos by a 9-1 count while tossing six innings of four-hit ball for manager Roberto Kelly and lowering his ERA to 3.74 (.01 better than Lowey's). Gonzalez' next start is likely to come this Thursday in Torreon against Union Laguna.
CUARTO BAT'S YASSER TRUJILLO'S TOP 6 MEXICAN BALLPARKS (PART 1)
A writer for Mexican baseball website Cuarto Bat, Yasser Trujillo, wrote earlier this month about his picks for the top six ballparks in the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues. Here is the first part of a series we'll use to bring you a loosely translated version. Sadly, the CuartoBat.com site has apparently been suspended, according to a Google search, but the hope here is that it resurfaces soon. Along with Puro Beisbol and Hitzo, Cuarto Bat had quickly become a favorite site here at BBM.
After almost half a year of waiting, the 2019 season of the Mexican Baseball League has begun. And with it, a new tenant has arrived: the Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium, the brand new new home of the Red Devils of Mexico. After its inauguration, the AHH has unleashed many conflicting opinions. But it has also awakened the eternal debate about which is the best stadium in Mexican baseball.
It should be noted that I have not visited all the Mexican baseball properties (they are so many that I think it would never end). However, I have been in all new and modern. Based on this experience as an fan, I have put together a short list in this category to find the best Mexican baseball stadium.
I have looked for the balance between facilities, environment, food offer, amenities, comfort, technology. But also a very important point that is rarely taken into account: the treatment of the visitor.
It should be noted that although several of these parks are approved by Major League Baseball in the initial MLB contract to bring official games to our country, only cities with airport, hotel, tourist and infrastructure capacity were considered to host a huge amount of visitors. So, for the time being, and in the first years of this contract, only Monterrey, Mexico City and maybe Guadalajara are candidates. A pity, because we have awesome scenarios!
So, without further ado, let's start looking for the best Mexican baseball stadium.
6. Estadio Monterrey (Sultan Palace)
The honorable mention of the ranking is for the largest baseball stadium in Mexico, the Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey. It is also the protagonist of one of the most spectacular and ambitious renovations in the sports venues of this country. Built at the end of the 80s, this building is the only stadium in Mexican territory that has hosted official major league series.
Despite the remodeling, the Sultans of Monterrey have an old stadium in their fortress. Its old structure can no longer compete with new places. And it lacks external design; it's just a large mass of concrete. There is no internal corridor, since you must leave the stands to go to the food or bathroom area. And also the tour is not free.
However, despite the above, its spectacular giant screens, the new seats that were placed in its entirety and its outfield area make it look better than ever. It is an iconic enclosure, a classic park which for the next generations could be a simile in Mexico of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park for its mysticism and classic design. Ahead of its time, for a couple of decades, the Sultan Palace was the best stadium in Mexican baseball.
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