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UNSWORTH SIGNS WITH TAIWANESE TEAM; LIVELY RELEASED
As Mexican League teams continue to tweak their rosters with just none games remaining in the 2021 regular season, a pair of transactions made across the Pacific Ocean may have an effect on how two LMB teams fare during the postseason.
Veracruz pitcher Dylan Unsworth has been place on the Aguilas' reserve list, allowing him to sign a contract with the Fubon Guardians of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan. The 28-year-old South African had announced his presence with authority during his first Liga season with the expansion Aguilas, tossing the loop's only no-hitter of current campaign (dominating the powerful Mexico City Diablos Rojos on May 28 with a 75-pitch performance in an 8-0 win) en route to a 4-0 record over eight starts during which he walked just four batsmen over 42 innings while striking out 27. His 2.57 ERA was leading the LMB after his last start earlier this month.
The former Mariners farmhand had signed to pitch for Puebla in 2020 but never saw a regular season inning after the campaign was canceled due to the pandemic. Unsworth joins the Taipei-based Guardians following the releases of former MLB pitchers Manny Banuelos and J.C. Ramirez earlier this month. Banuelos is on the Mexican roster at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo while Ramirez (who was let go for “personal reasons”) has joined Mexico City. The loss of Unsworth will no doubt harm a Veracruz pitching staff whose ERA was 5.27 even with the righty on the team. The top starter for the Aguilas, who are in a five-way battle for second place in the LMB South and will likely secure a playoff berth this week, is now likely Jorge Martinez, a 36-year-old Cuban with a 3-2 record and 5.06 ERA over ten starts.
Meanwhile, former LMB hurler Mitch Lively has been let go by his CPBL team, the ChinaTrust Brothers of Taichung. The well-traveled 6'5” right-hander arrived in Taiwan during the 2018 season and had some good moments for the Brothers his first three seasons, going 23-20 between 2018 and 2020 with a 3.66 ERA in 68 games (55 of them starts). This year, however, the 35-year-old Californian had an 8.35 ERA with a 1.88 WHIP over 36.2 innings at the time of his release.
After making his pro debut in 2007 with the Rockies' Casper Rookie affiliate, Lively spent seven years in the Giants system (including 2012-14 at AAA Fresno) and one-plus year in the Nationals organization before becoming a baseball globetrotter. He pitched for Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters in 2015 and played for three Mexican League teams between 2016-17 (going 9-4 with a 2.26 ERA for Laguna, Reynosa and Leon) before heading to Taiwan. Lively also pitched five seasons of winterball in Venezuela from 2012-17 and for Mazatlan of the Mexican Pacific League between 2017 and 2020, going 18-4 for the Venados with a sub-3.00 ERA all three years and winning Pitcher of the Year honors in 2018-19. Lively's LMB rights appear to still belong to Leon, which means he could land with the Bravos intramural parent club in Monterrey if he chooses to seek work in Mexico, since the Sultanes are only a half-game out of a playoff berth.
Guadalajara (39-15) holds a solid six-game lead over 34-22 Tijuana in the LMB North, with Monclova (33-24) and Saltillo (32-25) both within striking distance of the Toros. With six teams per division qualifying for the postseason this year, a spirited battle for the final two berths has developed among Union Laguna (25-30), Aguascalientes (23-28) and the aforementioned Monterrey (24-30). Durango (18-38) is basically out of contention.
The LMB South regular season title is Mexico City's (36-19) to lose. Hard-charging Tabasco (20-27) has won five in a row to move into second, seven games behind the Diablos and one game ahead of Puebla (27-26), Yucatan (28-27) and Veracruz (29-28). Sixth-place Quintana Roo (28-28) is only a half-game out of third and 1.5 games behind Tabasco, which shows how tight things are in the jockeying for playoff seeding. Leon (24-33), Campeche (22-32) and Oaxaca (20-36) will all need a late win streak to get back into it.
Leo Heras of Guadalajara is listed as the LMB batting leader with a .412 average despite missing 15 of the Mariachis' 54 games while Tito Polo of Durango (37 of 56 games) ranks second at .407. Satillo teammates Rainel Rosario and Kennys Vargas are tied with Leon's Xavier Batista for the LMB lead with 17 homers each while Leandro Castro of Tijuana has 58 RBIs to top the circuit. Quintana Roo's Reynaldo Rodriguez has 20 steals, good enough to lead Tabasco's Herlis Rodriguez and Tijuana's Isaac Rodriguez (no relation among any of them) in that category.
Guadalajara's Masaru Nakamura got a win last week to run his record to a perfect 8-0, topping the Liga in wins while Miguel Pena (Saltillo), Edgar Torres (Mexico City) and Anthony Vizcaya (Aguascalientes) are tied for second with seven wins apiece. Logan Ondrusek of Yucatan is listed as the ERA leader at 2.38 over 45.1 innings with Tabasco's Luis Escobar (2.60 in 62.1 IP) in second. Puebla's Jose Valdez (6-0, 3.94) heads the strikeouts list with 63 in 64 innings, ahead of Dos Laredo's Jackson Stephens at 60. Fernando Rodney of Tijuana picked up another save last week to raise his Liga-leading total to 14, augmenting his 1.73 ERA. Carlos Bustamante (Monclova) and Fernando Cruz (Guadalajara) are tied for second with 13 each, although Bustamante will lose ground while pitching for Mexico in the Olympics.
All remaining series take on added significance with two playoff races underway and only nine games left to play. The biggest upcoming midweek series may be when Tijuana visits Monterrey with the Sultanes trying to move up from seventh while next weekend's most important series will likely be in Aguascalientes, where the Rieleros host Dos Laredos in a matchup of two teams battling for their postseason lives.
MEXICAN OLYMPIANS IN FLAP OVER UNIFORM PHOTO VIOLATION
After being a constant companion for years with Mexican Olympic baseball team manager Benji Gil, it wouldn't be a major surprise if one of the 24 roster spots had been assigned to Controversy. As it is, Controversy made the trip to Tokyo along with the players and coaches anyway and appeared in a team photo last week. Sort of.
Eleven of the players on the Mexican roster play under Gil for the Culiacan Tomateros of the Mexican Pacific League during the winter, so the skipper of the two-time defending LMP champions thought it would be fun to post an online photo of those players (along with staff members) wearing Culiacan jerseys inside the Olympic Village beneath the five-ring Olympic logo. It's a nice picture but there's a problem: It's also against Olympic protocols.
Rule 50 in the International Olympic Committee charter states that wearing of unsanctioned clothing or uniforms, including manufacturer logos, is prohibited. The photo, which showed those posing without masks (another protocol violation) was initially posted on Tomateros social network accounts before threats of sanctions and an outraged response by the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee was enough to have it pulled off the internet, but not before the scene was memorialized by screen grabs.
“This is an insult to the delegation and to Olympism,” Mexican Olympic Committee president Carlos Padilla was quoted as saying in Reforma. “In this case, it's more than ignorance because they signed the letter of commitment in which they are obliged to wear only the authorized uniform.
“I think this goes further and implies other types of agreements with a team with which they will act, with the corresponding legal actions. It is not a coincidence that they think they are in Disneyland,” added Padilla.
Gil originally defended on Twitter the decision to pose his eleven Tomateros players in Culiacan jerseys as well as Mexico caps, but later deleted the posts. Hours later, the entire team posed in the same place with the official uniform. Mexico is participating in Olympic Games baseball for the first time in its history after qualifying with a third-place finish in the World Baseball Softball Confederation's Premier12 tournament in November 2019. The Summer Olympics are now underway in Tokyo following a year-long delay due to the Wuhan virus.
Mexico is one of three nations in Group A along with host Japan and the Dominican Republic while three others comprise Group B: South Korea, Israel and the United States. The Verdes Grande play their first game against the Dominicans on Friday at 12:00 local time, after which they'll take on Japan Saturday at noon local time (with both games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium). Group play consists of one game against each member for seeding purposes in next week's Knockout Round, a convoluted eight-game format to determine the four combatants in the Bronze and Gold medal games on Saturday, August 7.
WBSC U-23 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS SET FOR HERMOSILLO, OBREGON
After a yearlong delay due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic, the World Baseball Softball Confederation has rescheduled its Under-23 World Baseball Championship Tournament for September and October in Hermosillo and Obregon. Twelve nations will be competing with mostly minor league players for the U-23 crown, which was last played for in 2018, with Mexico copping the title in Colombia. Mexican outfielder Norberto Obeso was named to the tournament's Dream Team after finishing second among batters with a .500 average.
A six-team Group A field will congregate in Obregon at Estadio Yaquis while six Group B contestants will converge on Estadio Sonora in Hermosillo for the round-robin first stage of the competition, with the opening games scheduled for September 23.
After the first round dust settles, the top three teams from each Group will gather in Hermosillo for the Super Round, featuring crossover games against nations advancing from the opposite group added to previous results to determine seedings for the Bronze and Gold medal games on Saturday, October 2. The bottom three from each group will convene in Obregon for the Consolation Round using a similar format to determine placings from seventh through twelfth place.
For the 2021 edition, the WBSC approved that 24-year-old players can participate due to the pandemic causing the postponement of a year of the event. Thus, players born from 1997 to 2003 may be chosen to the rosters of their respective national teams.
Group A (Obregon)
Group B (Hermosillo)
A schedule of games for the WBSC U-23 World Championships has not been released yet.