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CULIACAN WINS FIRST-HALF TITLE, 8 PLAYOFF POINTS
Although defending Mexican Pacific League champion Culiacan lost their final game of the first half, 5-3, at Hermosillo last Thursday, the Tomateros had already clinched first place and the accompanying eight playoff points by then. The defeat gave Culiacan a final record of 21-14 for the half, three games ahead of Hermosillo, Mazatlan and Obregon (who all finished 18-17) while Mexicali and Navojoa tied for fifth at 17-17. Los Mochis and Jalisco were tied for seventh with 15-20 marks to round out the standings.
The first-half crown marked a turnaround of sorts for the Tomateros, who were 8-10 when first-year manager Lorenzo Bundy was fired on November 3. Bundy, a Philadelphia native whose long winterball career has seen him manage almost every MexPac franchise (including a long stint in Hermosillo prior to this season), never really got into a groove with his new team and was replaced by former MLB catcher Robinson Cancel, who led Culiacan to a 13-4 record the rest of the way. Cancel was joined in the dugout by one-time Padres infielder Oscar Robles, who was jettisoned as Obregon skipper on October 24 and later hired by the Tomateros as a coach.
Even though the first six weeks of their season was certainly a success, the Tomateros haven't been resting on their laurels. The late-ending Mexican League season led to the LMP expanding the number of foreign players allowed per team to 12, but that number has dropped to 8 for the second half as domestic talent has begun filtering west after receiving postseason rests after their Liga seasons concluded. Culiacan has added first baseman Joey Meneses (the International League MVP who signed with Japan's Orix Buffaloes for next year), outfielder Sebastian Elizalde, ex-Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena and pitcher Romario Gil, the Mexican League's Rookie of the Year since November started. In fact, the MexPac's second half is expected to be as hard-fought as the first as all eight teams are loading up on Mexican talent while picking and choosing which imports best fit their plans for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
Hermosillo third baseman Jasson Atondo has hit .415 over his past ten games to take over the LMP batting race with a .377 average. The 23-year-old Atondo has played sparingly for the Naranjeros the past three winters while serving as a backup infielder for the Campeche Piratas since 2015. He was expected to fill a similar role again for the Orangemen until former Padres infielder Ryan Schimpf left the team in October after just two games. Schimpf, outfielder Bryce Brentz and pitcher Reed Garrett were reportedly sent packing October 24 after failing to show up for a road trip to Culiacan that week. While Atondo adds little power to manager Bronswell Patrick's lineup (36 of his 40 hits have been singles), he's been consistent at getting on base while committing just one error in 18 games at the hot corner.
Another third baseman, Navojoa's Jovan Rosa, socked a homer against Mazatlan last Thursday to take the LMP lead with eight roundtrippers, one more than Jalisco's Manny Rodriguez (whose 29 RBIs rank tops in the circuit). Rosa's Mayos teammate, Alonzo Harris, has a commanding lead in stolen bases with 17 in 20 attempts, leading Culiacan's Rico Noel by four swipes. Mazatlan pitcher Konner Wade was finally knocked from the unbeaten ranks when he took a 3-0 loss in Navojoa last Tuesday, but his 5-1 record still gives him the MexPac lead in wins among pitchers (eleven pitchers are tied for second with three victories) while Wade's 2.43 ERA ties him for second with Hermosillo's Arturo Reyes and Jamie Lugo of Navojoa, behind the 2.11 mark of Jalisco hurler Elian Leyva. Mexicali veteran Javier Solano struck out four Jalisco batsmen last Friday in a no-decision to bring his season total to 39 whiffs in 47.1 innings pitched. Culiacan closer Casey Coleman earned three saves last week, giving him 14 for the winter (two more than Navojoa's Jesus Pirela).
FINAL LMP FIRST HALF STANDINGS: Culiacan 21-14 (8.0 points), Mazatlan 18-17 (7.0), Hermosillo 18-17 (6.0), Obregon 18-17 (5.0), Mexicali 17-17 (4.5), Navojoa 17-17 (4.0), Jalisco 15-20 (3.5), Los Mochis 15-20 (3.0).
MONCLOVA'S PEGUERO NAMED LMB FALL 2018 MVP
Monclova Acereros outfielder Francisco Peguero has been named Most Valuable Player for the Mexican League's Fall 2018 season. Since making his pro debut at 18 in 2006 with the Giants' Domincan Summer League affiliate, Peguero had fashioned a decent minor league career as a .300-level hitter with good speed and some gap power and had a couple short stints with San Francisco in 2012 and 2013 before making his LMB debut with Quintana Roo in 2015, when he hit .294 with 16 homers in 98 games. He went to Monclova in 2016 and had a .311 season at the plate with 15 more homers but was released the following February.
Peguero then went to Japan, playing with the Toyama Thunderbirds of the independent Challenge League in 2017 and doing well enough to sign a deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League, but was released on June 29 after playing 50 games for the Marines' minor league team. The 30-year-old Dominican signed the same day with Monclova and went on to post a strong Fall season with a .368 average augmented by 13 homers and 60 RBIs for the Acereros in 52 games and playing errorless ball defensively in left field. Although the Steelers once again failed to win a pennant after a stellar regular season, Peguero's performance was good enough to garner MVP honors. Teammate Jesse Castillo won the Spring MVP crown after a .376/13/57 campaign over 57 contests.
Yet another Acereros performer, Josh Lowey, was named Pitcher of the Year for all of 2018. Arguably the best pitcher in the Mexican League the past five years, Lowey posted a combined 14-5 record with a 3.12 ERA and 133 strikeouts over 144 innings for Monclova. Nicknamed El Alcalde (or "The Mayor") by Monclova fans, the soon-to-turn-34 Floridian pitched independent ball for six seasons before coming to the Liga in 2014, where he's compiled a 55-24 overall record with a 2.97 ERA in the hitter-friendly LMB, striking out 655 batters in 640.1 innings. Lowey is currently pitching for Escogido of the Dominican League, where he has a 4-2 mark and 2.78 ERA in six starts for the Leones.
Three other pitchers garnered 2018 LMB honors. Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo was selected Relier of the Year after going a combined 5-3 with 24 saves in 52 appearances for Fall champion Monterrey. Obispo had a sub-3.00 ERA both seasons for the Sultanes (2.54 overall) and now has 74 saves over three years with the team after splitting the previous ten summers with mostly AAA teams for four MLB organizations with a couple stints in Japan thrown in.
Left-hander Romario Gil was chosen Rookie of the Year after the Culican native (who turned 24 in September) went a combined 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA in 17 starts for Puebla in 2018. Although Gil cooled down with a 2-2 Fall mark for the Pericos after going 4-0 and 2.47 in the Spring season, he's expected to be one of the first players chosen in next month's dispersal draft when players from the former Puebla, Aguascalientes, Union Laguna and Leon teams are made available to the remaining 12 Liga teams for 2019.
Dos Laredos hurler Jose Oyervides is the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year. A former Padres and Astros farmhand who made his Mexican League debut with Reynosa in 2009, the 36-year-old Oyervides has pitched in five LMB All-Star Games since 2010 for Nuevo Laredo, Laguna and Monclova. A Laredo product, the 5'11" righty came out of a short retirement this year but was released by the Acereros after only winning one game with an 11.25 ERA in the Spring season. He then went 4-1 and 3.29 in 12 starts for his hometown Tecolotes in the Fall after being assigned to Dos Laredos the same day he was released by the Steelers.
First-year Monterrey pilot Roberto Kelly was named Manager of the Year after leading the Sultanes to the Fall pennant, their first since 2007. Taking the reins from former big league shortstop Felix Fermin last winter, the former Yankees outfielder rebuilt the underachieving Sultanes (who routinely played well in the regular season but fell short in the playoffs) into a team that relied as much on pitching, defense and aggressive baserunning as hitting prowess. Kelly replaced players he didn't think fit the image he wanted and brought in the ones who did. While Monterrey stayed true to form by finishing first in the LMB North last Spring with a 37-20 record but losing to Tijuana in the division finals, they went 34-23 in the Fall to come in third before topping Tijuana, Monclova and Oaxaca in the postseason to win the city's tenth Mexican League championship.
The LMB also named their Dream Team for both 2018 seasons. One notable omission was Jesse Castillo, the Monclova third baseman who was the Spring MVP before a creditable Fall en route to a combined .351/17/100 in 108 contests. Instead, the Liga gave the nod to Monterrey veteran Agustin Murillo, who went a combined .317/16/70 for the Sultanes and played well in the clutch during the fall playoffs.
2018 MEXICAN LEAGUE DREAM TEAM
CHANGES IN DURANGO: OJEDA, CARRILLO GONE
In a surprising development, the Mexican League's Durango Generales have parted ways with both team co-owner Miguel Ojeda and manager Matias Carrillo. While the second-year franchise missed the playoffs twice in 2018, attendance at Generales home games averaged over 3,000 per game to rank in the top half for both mini-seasons and it was believed that the presence of both Ojeda in the front office and Carrillo in the dugout gave the team a stability that was lacking during their chaotic first season in 2017.
Ojeda signed as a free agent with Pittsburgh in 1993 and went on to play in Major League Baseball as a catcher between 2003 and 2006, including three seasons with San Diego, hitting .224 with 15 homers in 212 games. His best year was in 2004, when he batted .256 with eight homers in 62 games for the Padres. The Guaymas product wound up spending 20 seasons in pro ball before retiring after a 2012 season in which he hit .256 with Quintana Roo over 99 games. He then went into managing and led the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (for whom he played from 1995 to 2003) to the 2014 LMB pennant, turning in a 70-42 regular season record before winning 12 of 14 games over three playoff series.
Ojeda was one of a group of investors to buy the financially-plagued Generales last February, serving as team president along with a seat on the team's board of directors. Ojeda has sold his shares in the team to the remaining ownership group and will reportedly return to Mexico City to serve as the Diablos' general manager in 2019.
The man Ojeda brought to manage Durango when Joe Alvarez was let go after taking the club to a 24-33 record in the Spring 2018 season, Matias Carrillo, will not be back in the Generales dugout next year. Team GM Francisco Lizarraga was quoted in Durango's El Siglio earlier this month that Carrillo does not enter into their plans for 2019. "We have not talked to him," said Lizarraga. "Today he is still our manager because we have not yet decided who we are going to bring in, but it is more likely that we will change our manager." The Generales have already signed Ricardo Osuna as pitching coach next year and are looking over candidates to take over for Carrillo as helmsman.
Like Ojeda, Carrillo had a short major league playing career, batting .251 without a homer in 107 games for Milwaukee and Florida between 1991 and 1994. His Mexican League career was far more successful as "El Coyote" spent 20 his 28 professional seasons with the Mexican League's Tigres franchise in Mexico City, Puebla and Quintana Roo after spending 1982 and 1983 with Poza Rica. Carrillo hit .335 with 2,484 hits in his 22-year Liga career, belting 325 homers and driving in 1,526 runs and was a member of five LMB championship teams as a player before retiring as a player following the 2009 season. He later managed Quintana Roo to the 2011 Serie del Rey title by sweeping their longtime rival Mexico City Diablos in four straight games.
Since then, however, Carrillo's career has taken the twists and turns typically seen south of the border, although some remain inexplicable. After another LMB South title in 2012, he was fired by Tigres owner Carlos Peralta for "poor performance" with two weeks left in the 2013 regular season and the Cancun club holding a 55-43 record. He was quickly hired by Yucatan and led the Leones for the final 12 games of the regular season but felt the axe one month into the 2014 campaign after winning just 8 of Yucatan's first 26 games. Carrillo's next job was another pit stop, this time joining Tijuana shortly after his ouster in Merida. Taking over a Toros team that was 18-23, Carrillo led the borderites to a 37-35 record the rest of the way but was sent packing after Tijuana failed to reach the postseason.
Carrillo's strangest firing may have come in Puebla, where he was hired during the 2015 season and managed the Pericos to a 38-38 record, getting the okay from owner Gerardo Benavides for the following year. However, after leading Puebla to an LMB-best 38-15 record going into the 2016 All-Star Break, he was canned in favor of ex-MLB infielder Cory Snyder, who went on to take the squad to the pennant. His winterball managerial resume has been no less nomadic, as he's led four different teams, mostly successfully. Carrillo was the Mexican Pacific League Manager of the Year with Guasave in 2010-11, took Hermosillo to a Caribbean Series title in 2014 and won another Manager of the Year award with Navojoa in 2016-17, three months before being sent packing by Mayos owner Victor Cuevas.
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