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YAQUIS WIN LMP FIRST HALF, EARN 10 PLAYOFF POINTS
Despite dropping the final two games of a midweek series in Culiacan to wrap up the first half of the schedule, the Obregon Yaquis were able to hold on to first place in the Mexican Pacific League at the midway point of the season and pick up the ten playoff points accompanying their finish. Obregon opened the set with a 4-3 win over the Tomateros last Tuesday as Carlos Sepulveda singled twice and drove in a pair of runs while starter Carlos De Leon allowed two runs on as many hits over five innings on the mound to go to 3-0 on the season. Although Culiacan came back to win on Wednesday and Thursday, the visiting Yaquis finished the stanza with a 22-13 record to outlast second-place Hermosillo (21-13) by a half-game while Jalisco ended a game back in third at 21-14.
With two new franchises in the MexPac this season, the loops playoff points system has changed from past seasons. Where first-place finishers used to earn eight points per half, now the top team is awarded ten points while the second-place club picks up nine points. Eight points now go to the third-place team as the old points system is applied to the rest of the teams, with last-place Navojoa (11-23) coming away with just 3.5 points. Points accrued over the two halves of the season determine seeding for January's LMP playoffs, which will now include the top eight teams (meaning the former "lucky loser" system, where the team with the most wins in a first-round loss still advanced to the semifinals, has been shelved).
Speaking of Navojoa, the Mayos have named longtime MexPac manager Lorenzo Bundy as their new skipper. Veteran catcher Adan Munoz was fired November 6 after leading the Mayos to a 6-14 record in his first season at the helm. Pitching coach Hector Heredia filled in for the rest of the first half and fared a little better, turning in a 5-6 mark before Bundy's arrival last Monday. Bundy is no stranger to Navojoa, having led the Mayos to their second (and most recent) LMP pennant in 1999-2000 when they swept Hermosillo in the title series. Navojoa was swept in Mazatlan to start off their new era under the 60-year-old Philadelphia native, who has managed seven teams in the MexPac over his career, but the Mayos recently activated Red Sox hurler Hector Velazquez (the MexPac's 2016-17 Pitcher of the Year) and outfielder Juan Perez, who hit .335 with 11 homers and 12 steals for Monclova and Aguascalientes in the Mexican League last summer, so Bundy will have two more tools at his disposal along with outfielder Alonzo Harris, third baseman Christian Zazueta and infielder Jovan Rosa. Harris, who had a banner summer with Quintana Roo, is expected to improve his current .242 batting average.
Los Mochis outfielder Noel Cuevas is leading the LMP in batting with a .371 average, twenty points ahead of Jalisco speedster Carlos Figueroa. Monterrey's Michael Choice has 10 homers to top the circuit, one more than Stephen Cardullo of Jalisco and Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde. Choice's 27 RBIs ties him for second with two other players behind the 28 of Jalisco's Dariel Alvarez. Rico Noel of Culiacan is 16-of-19 in stolen base attempts and leads the MexPac in swipes while teammate Elizalde is second with 12 steals.
Yoanys Quiala of Los Mochis is 6-1 for the Caneros (who have a 16-20 overall record) to lead the league in wins, two more than five pitchers with four victories apiece. Mexicali's Jon van Meter is only 1-2 after sevens starts for the Aguilas but his 1.86 ERA tops the loop ahead of the 1.91 of Navojoa's Raul Carrillo while Obregon's Arturo Lopez and Juan Pablo Oramas of Hermosillo are tied for the lead in strikeouts with 40 each. Hermosillo's Trey McNutt tops the table with ten saves and the holds leader is Monterrey reliever Nick Struck with 10.
MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE
Final 2019-20 First Half Standings
Obregon 22-13 (10.0 points), Hermosillo 21-13 (9.0), Jalisco (21-14 (8.0), Culiacan (19-16 (7.0), Monterrey (18-17 (6.0), Mazatlan 17-18 (5.5), Los Mochis 15-20 (5.0), Guasave 15-20 (4.5), Mexicali 15-20 (4.0), Navojoa 11-23 (3.5).
CASTRO TO MANAGE MEXICO IN 2020 OLYMPICS AT TOKYO
Sweeping Group A and then qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics by finishing third in this month's World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier12 tournament was enough for Mexico manager Juan Gabriel Castro to keep his job for the Olympics in Tokyo nest summer. It's been quite a month for the retired infielder, who spend 17 seasons playing in the majors. While managing the Verdes Grande in the Premier12, he was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies as a coach for the 2020 campaign under new manager Joe Girardi. Now it's on to Japan and managing Mexico's first Olympic baseball team, assuming the Phils allow him to leave the team for the Olympics, which will take place between July 24 and August 9 next year.
Although Mexico was defeated by Japan and South Korea in the Premier12 Super Round after winning all three of their Group A games in Guadalajara and topping Taiwan and Australia in the second stage, their win over the United States in the Bronze Medal game at the Tokyo Dome punched their ticket to the Olympics as the highest-placing team from the Americas in the Premier12. "Our thought in this tournament was to be champions," Castro told Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso. "We did not succeed and we are left with that little thorn, but I think that Mexico has the possibility of winning the gold medal in the Olympic Games. I'm proud to have been present, to be part of the history of the Mexican National Team in the Olympics...I hope it is a big step for the Mexican baseball team to continue growing, keep improving."
Castro told Pereyra that he regretted questions about members of the national team who have dual citizenship in Mexico and the United States, an issue he said generated annoyance not only among the player but their families as well. "I gave them a personal example," explained Castro, who was born in Los Mochis in 1952. "My children were born in the United States. They are American by birth, but they are also Mexican...My oldest son was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico bus I think he feels more Mexican than me. He even just had an Emiliano Zapata tattoo on his arm. I think that was a reason for the boys to feel more proud and give extra for the team, and I'm very proud of them." Castro stressed that he still down know what the process will be for putting together an Olympic team, noting that while he was able to carry 28 players for the Premier 12, he'll be limited to a 24-man roster in Tokyo.
Mexico is one of four teams to clinch a berth in the Olympic field, which will consist of just six nations in 2020. Japan automatically qualified as host team, South Korea earned their slot by reaching the Premier12 title game against the Baseball Samurai and Israel (like Mexico) will make their Olympic baseball debut after a surprise win in September's Europe/Asia qualifying tournament in Italy. Israel and The Netherlands tied for the lead in the round-robin tourney with identical 4-1 records and earned the nod by virtue of their 8-1 win over the Dutchmen on September 19 in Parma. The final two berths will be determined at an Americas qualifier in Arizona next March and a Final Qualifying Tournament in Taiwan next April. The Olympics will consist of a 16-game schedule with two round-robin pools followed by a rather convoluted double-elimination bracket.
CARIBBEAN SERIES SCHEDULE IN PUERTO RICO SET FOR 2020
The Caribbean Series will return to Puerto Rico next February and the schedule for the six-team field had been announced. Panama returns to the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball after being a surprise winner last winter as a late entry, meaning the event will feature five days of round-robin tripleheaders between February 1 and 5, followed by a pair of semifinal games on February 6 and the championship game on February 7. Colombia and Nicaragua were expected to join the competition this winter, bringing the number of nations involved to eight, but their entry will apparently be delayed at least one season.
Puerto Rico last hosted the Caribbean Series in 2015, when Cuba's first CS entry since 1960, the Pinar del Rio Vegueros, went 3-3 in the first round before winning the title. San Juan's 18,264-seat Hiram Bithorn Stadium (home of the defending Roberto Clemente League champion Santurce Cangrejeros) will host the event. The venue served as "home" field for the MLB Montreal Expos for 22 games in both 2003 and 2004 before the Expos were moved to Washington and renamed the Nationals in 2005 and has also hosted World Baseball Classic group play in 2006 and 2013. A number of Major League exhibition games have been played at the facility, which was opened in 1963 and received a major overhaul prior to the Expos' two-year stint there.
The Serie del Caribe will mark the first large-scale baseball event to be staged in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. The storm resulted in over three thousand fatalities and over US$90 billion in damages, from which the country is still recovering in many areas. The host Roberto Clemente League, which dates to 1938, was struggling financially for several years prior to Hurricane Maria, which exacerbated things to the point that the LBPRC was limited to a one-month schedule of daytime games in 2017-18 with only four teams. The adverse conditions did not prevent the Caguas Criollos from repeating as league and Caribbean Series champions that winter.
Tickets for the 2020 Serie del Caribe range in price from US$7.50 to US$56.00 and are on sale at the Ticketpop.com website.
2020 CARIBBEAN SERIES SCHEDULE
Saturday, February 1: Cuba vs. Venezuela (10:00AM), Mexico vs. Dominican Republic (2:30PM), Panama vs. Puerto Rico (8:00PM).
Sunday, February 2: Cuba vs. Panama (11:00AM), Puerto Rico vs. Mexico (3:30PM), Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela (8:30PM).
Monday, February 3: Panama vs. Mexico (10:00AM), Dominican Republic vs. Cuba (2:30PM), Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela (8:00PM).
Tuesday, February 4: Dominican Republic vs. Panama (10:00AM), Mexico vs. Venezuela (3:30P), Cuba vs. Puerto Rico (8:00PM).
Wednesday, February 5: Panama vs. Venezuela (8:00AM), Cuba vs. Mexico (2:30PM), Dominican Republic vs. Puerto Rico (8:00PM).
Thursday, February 6: Semifinal 1 (2:30PM), Semifinal 2 (8:00PM).
Friday, February 7: Championship Game (8:00PM).