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YUCATAN CLINCHES FIRST IN LMB SOUTH, THREE GAMES LEFT
Just three games remain in the Mexican League's 2019 regular season and the field for September's playoffs has mostly been determined, although the pairings have yet to be determined. Yucatan (38-19) had their five-game win streak snapped in Leon, 5-4, Sunday afternoon as the Bravos tagged Leones starter Yoanner Negrin for all five of their runs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Spring 2018 pennant winners had already locked up first place in the LMB's South Division and the eight playoff points that go with it. The 13 points Yucatan will have accrued are more than enough to clinch a postseason berth and perhaps enough for the top seed in the division.
Quintana Roo (33-22) fell to second after losing four of six games last week, although the Tigres did beat rival Mexico City, 4-2 in Cancun Sunday to salvage that series after losing the first two games to the Diablos Rojos. The Tigres also dropped two of three against Oaxaca last week en route to a 2-4 week, but they'll likely outpoint fast-fading Puebla for the fourth and final playoff berth in the LMB South. The Diablos (33-24) will finish the half in no worse than third place, which would mean 13 playoff points for the season and a tie with the Leones for top seed. First-half champ Oaxaca (28-28) has played better of late after a slow start to the second half and could end up tying Yucatan and perhaps Mexico City with 13 accrued points if they hold off Campeche for fourth. At any rate, the four playoff teams in the South have largely been determined.
Saltillo (36-20) is 1.5 games ahead of second-place Monclova (35-22) in the LMB North and will clinch the division title if they take two of three against Dos Laredos at home this week. That would give the Saraperos 12 total playoff points and while they'll finish behind both Tijuana (33-24) and Monterrey (29-26) in the overall points race, they'd have enough points to reach the postseason. The third-place Toros and fourth-place Sultanes both received 7.5 points after tying for the first-half title and neither will end the regular season with fewer than 12.5 points while Monclova will earn top seed with 14 points if they maintain their second-place status after their final three contests.
Dos Laredos (26-31) had an outside shot at the fourth playoff berth before struggled the past couple weeks while Aguascalientes (26-30) has won eight of their last ten to pass the Tecos into fifth place. Dos Laredos owner fired Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez as manager last Friday after the Tecos had dropped eight of nine games. Third base coach Rafael Rijo becomes the third manager of the border team this year. Much of Aguascalientes' recent surge can be credited to closer Anthony Carter, who has won two games and saved four the past two weeks. While he's not likely to beat out Dos Laredo's Roman Mendez or Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey for LMB Reliever of the Year, Carter has had a nice season with a 12-6 record and 14 saves out of the bullpen to lead the team in both categories with a 3.43 ERA that ranks well below any Aguascalientes starter.
Daniel Mayora of Durango has taken control of the batting race as Felix Pie's slide continues. The Leon outfielder was batting well over .400 with a healthy lead in the tables until August arrived. Pie is batting .294 for the month (with a .200 mark with two RBIs over his last ten games) to drop to third in the LMB at .382, trailing Mayora's .389 and the .384 average of Monclova's Francisco Peguero. The 34-year-old Mayora played in five Class A ar AA All-Star Games between 2007 and 2012 before coming to Durango in 2017. He hit .370 that season and fashioned a 35-game hitting streak for the Generales (one shy of the LMB single-season record), but was released in July during a salary dispute and quickly picked up by Monterrey, for whom the Venezuelan hit .386 over ten games. He has since bounced to Dos Laredos and finally back to Durango, where presumably the paychecks are clearing now under new owner Alfredo Aramburo.
Monclova's Chris Carter homered in three straight games last week to bring his season total to 48, most in organized ball this year. The ex-NL home run champ hit just .258 over his last ten games and while pitchers aren't giving him much to hit (10 walks), he still belted four roundtrippers and drove in 12 runs in that span. Carter also tops Liga batters in RBIs (118), slugging percentage (.719) and both walks (114) and strikeouts (152). Oaxaca's Johnny Davis has 48 stolen bases and the steals title is his to lose, but teammate Alonzo Harris is second with 44 swipes and belted his 38th homer Saturday in Campeche in his quest to become the Mexican League's first 40/40 man ever. Harris has three home games against the Piratas this week to hit two more homers. Harris is also batting .344 and considered a favorite for Most Valuable Player honors along with Carter and perhaps Yucatan pitcher Cesar Valdez.
Although hurlers rarely win the MVP trophy, Valdez is making a pretty good case for himself. He went to 15-2 last Thursday with a 5-3 win at Leon, allowing one earned run on five hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings to beat Bravos hurler Yasumoto Kubo (8-14), who leads the LMB with 154 strikeouts. That's one of the few major categories Valdez isn't leading the Liga in, as the Venezuelan tops the loop in wins (15), ERA (2.26) and WHIP (1.06). His ERA is nearly a full run lower than moundmate Negrin's 3.22 mark. The 13-6 Negrin was the 2016 Pitcher of the Year and Valdez will undoubtedly earn that award this season. Dos Laredos' Roman Mendez has only earned one save this month for the Tecos, but his closeout of last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Monclova gives him an even 30 for the season, two more than Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo. Tijuana All-Star (and former Phils farmhand) Jesus Pirela has been the LMB's premier setup man this year and his 29 holds are eight better than Oaxaca's Juan Sandoval at 21. Ironically, Pirela is 0-for-3 in save situations for the Toros.
With the playoff field pretty much set (if not the first round matchups), there's not a lot of drama in the final regular season series of 2019 starting Tuesday. One notable exception will be in Saltillo, where the Saraperos try to stave off Dos Laredos' desperate attempt for a sweep to force at least a wild card game for the fourth and final LMB North playoff berth. Likewise, Campeche desperately needs midweek wins in Oaxaca to keep their slight postseason hopes alive.
RUMOR MILL: COULD TIGRES BE RETURNING TO MEXICO CITY?
The warm reception fans accorded the Quintana Roo Tigres when they played a recent Mexican League series in Mexico City has only fueled speculation that the flagship franchise might move back to the city they called "home" from their 1955 formation through the 2002 season. Although the Tigres dropped two of three games to the Diablos Rojos in the August 16-18 set, a large percentage of the 37,745 fans who attended the three games at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu were in vocal support of the visiting team, perhaps remembering when the Diablos-Tigres rivalry was the hottest in Mexican baseball, a distinction that likely goes to the Tijuana Toros and Monterrey Sultanes for reasons that go far beyond the won-lost column.
Although the Tigres have won four pennants since leaving the nation's capital, the team's glory years were spent in Mexico City when they shared Parque de Seguro Social with the Diablos for 35 years before spending 2000 and 2001 in the Foro Sol, beating their bitter rivals in the Serie del Rey both years. The Tigres won a pennant in their first season after they were formed by entrepreneur Alejo Peralta in the wake of the LMB's disastrous 1954 campaign in which the Liga suffered such serious financial losses that the loop's existence was threatened.
Instead, new owners like Peralta were found and the Mexican League became a Class AA member of Minor League Baseball after years of operating outside the aegis of organized baseball. The moves saved the Mexican League (which became a AAA circuit in 1967) and the Tigres became one of the LMB's model operations while winning eight flags in Mexico City under Peralta and his son Carlos, who inherited the team after the elder Peralta died at age 80 in 1997. The Tigres won the flag that summer and two more before Carlos Peralta decided to move the team to Puebla prior to the 2003 campaign.
While they won a pennant in 2005 (with an All-Mexican roster to commemorate the team's 50th anniversary), the Tigres never really clicked in Puebla over four years as they shared both the colonial city and Estadio Hermanos Serdan with the Pericos so the younger Peralta moved them to Cancun in 2007, marking the first time in team history that they had a city all to themselves. That shift has never really worked out as well despite three more pennants to bring the franchise's overall total to twelve title, second only to the Diablos' 16. Unlike his father, Carlos Peralta was never a baseball fan and his team was heavily subsidized by the Quintana Roo state government up until he sold the Tigres to Fernando and Linda Valenzuela in February 2017.
The Valenzuelas have struggled to operate in the resort city while attendance has never been better than middle of the pack and their easternmost location adds cost to road trips. The enthusiasm for the team in Mexico City did not go unnoticed and a possible franchise shift will be discussed at the conclusion of the current season. An anonymous Tigres board member told Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros "moving is a real possibility...they are very attracted to Mexico City."
Recently-vacated Estadio Fray Nano, which served the Diablos for five summers before their current ballpark was completed, is being mentioned as a possible site for future Tigres home games. However, the 5,000-seat venue would be the smallest in the league and fans rarely bothered the ticket sellers when the Red Devils played at home as the team regularly finished near the bottom of the attendance tables.
MAZATLAN CHOSEN TO HOST 2021 CARIBBEAN SERIES
The Mexican Pacific League Mazatlan Venados have been selected to host the Caribbean Series in February 2021 at the renovated Estadio Teodoro Mariscal. Typically, the Serie del Caribe rotates between Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic during a four-year cycle and 2021 will be Mexico's next turn to host it. That rotation has been scuttled the past two years as political and socioeconomic turmoil in Venezuela led to the CS being moved from Barquisimeto in that country the past two winters, with Guadalajara taking over the event in 2018 a year after it was played in Culiacan while Panama City was the surprise last-minute emergency host this year. Panamanian champion Herrera was a surprise winner in that nation's first time playing for the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball since 1960.
This will mark the first time Mazatlan has hosted the Caribbean Series since 2005, when the LMP champion Venados won five of six games under manager Juan Jose Pacho while fielding a roster including major leaguers Vinny Castilla, Erubiel Durazo, Luis Ayala and Jonny Gomes as well as tournament MVP Francisco Campos, who led all pitchers in wins (2), strikeouts (23) and ERA (1.13). Pacho led the Venados to a second CS crown in 2016, winning all six games in Santo Domingo that February to cap a run of four titles for Mexican teams in a six-year span between 2011 and 2016.
The 2020 Caribbean Series is slated to be held in Puerto Rico at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Two more nations will join the field to make it an eight-team tournament for the first time ever as winterball champions from Colombia and Nicaragua are expected to join the other six title-winners (Cuba was added on a conditional basis in 2014 and Pinar del Rio from that nation won the CS crown one year later).
However, in recent years, plot complications have become a part of the Serie del Caribe fabric and 2020 may be no different. Last week, Major League Baseball ruled that no player in an MLB organization will be allowed to play in Venezuela this winter. MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem claims U.S. president Donald Trump dictated the ban due to support Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro's government gives the Liga Venezolana, which has heavily relied on MiLB players to fill their rosters in recent years. If the ban holds, LVBP teams will have to rely on players from American independent leagues and Latin American players not already playing winterball in other countries.
In other Mex Pac news, the new Guasave Algodoneros are now on their third manager even though the team has yet to play a game. Originally, Salon de la Fama second baseman and longtime Oakland A's minor league coach Juan Navarrete was announced as the Cottoneers manager. Then, Puro Beisbol writer Gilberto Ruiz Razo said in an August 18 piece that Guasave was going to hire former Mariners farmhand and LMB infielder Bobby Magallenes as dugout boss. Now, Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros says Magallenes (who is coaching with the Braves' AAA Gwinnett affiliate) turned down the Guasave job "to concentrate on family matters," stating that the new Algodoneros skipper will be ex-MLB pitcher Rigo Beltran. Beltran, who pitched for the Cardinals, Mets, Rockies and Expos between 1997 and 2004, is presently pitching coach for Columbus, the Indians' AAA farm team.
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