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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

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            The president of the Mexican League has denied a media report that the loop is considering an option of playing a 30-game regular season schedule in August before heading into an eight-team playoff in September.  ESPN Deportes writer Jose Maria Garrido cited unnamed sources reportedly close to LMB affairs that the Liga was considering playing 30 games in as many days beginning August 1, followed by the usual three-tiered playoffs that would run from early September into mid-October.


            In an interview with the Septima Entrada website, LMB president Horacio de la Vega flatly denied Garrido's claim. “There are scenarios to be able to have an 84-game season, 64 games and possibly much shorter scenarios,” de la Vega stated. “Possibly we will have a single round. Instead of 102 games, we'd do half the season, which is 51 games.” De la Vega added the 51-game schedule would be a last option starting in August, a prospect that would potentially mean playing into November if the full playoff format is carried through.


            Such a schedule would undoubtedly create hardships for the winter Mexican Pacific League, whose regular season typically gets underway in mid-October. The LMP faced a similar situation in 2018 when the Mexican League played two separate 57-game seasons with full playoffs, the brainchild of former president Javier Salinas. The result was disastrous for both leagues, with tepid fan interest in an LMB Fall campaign that stretched to within three days of the season openers for the Mex Pac, where teams were forced to bring in more imports in the absence of domestic players who needed time to rest before playing out west.  Many Mexican players didn't join their LMP teams until the second half began in November.


            De la Vega, who says he has remained in contact with LMP leader Omar Canizales, may have seen an already difficult situation worsen. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week that schools and businesses may reopen on May 17 in 979 communities with no confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus while another 463 municipalities may see restrictions lifted on June 1. However, Dr. Hugo Lopes-Gatell, Mexico's Wuhan virus czar, also stated last week that Mexico City may not see similar restrictions lifted until June 25. The country's current physical distancing policy will continue through at least May 30.


            With a shorter season now a certainty, the Mexican League is exploring an abbreviated format during which teams only face opponents within their own division while adding more doubleheaders to the schedule to maximize the number of games played in a tighter timeframe.  However, de la Vega cautions, “we are working hard because we all want baseball to return, but first we have to be healthy for that to happen.”





            One of the many casualties to the 2020 baseball season due to the Wuhan virus outbreak was the Mexican Series in Mexico City, that would've pitted the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres in a two-game Major League Baseball regular season series at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, scheduled for last week. The set is to be rescheduled to be played in Phoenix if and when the MLB season begins.


            Mexico's capital city will miss out on its first opportunity to host big league games that count in the standings, although numerous exhibition contests have been held there in the past. The pandemic also put a halt to off-field efforts to bring the Mexico Series to Guadalajara in 2021. “The reality is that before the pandemic, we were very advanced in that negotiation,” Jalisco Charros co-owner Salvador Quirarte says. “Very advanced. But right now, I don't really know what's going to happen.”


            Quirarte was spearheading talks with MLB to play one of two planned Mexico Series for 2021 at Estadio Charros, but the virus has knocked the entire baseball world off its axis and MLB's uncertainty moving forward while readjusting its calendar casts future Mexico Series plans into doubt for the time being.


            “This year it was Mexico City's turn,” Quirarte notes, “and we were very strong in raising our hands for 2021, but this is going to totally change our plans.” Quirarte points to pending negotiations between MLB and its players union, whose current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire next year.


            Despite the bump in the road, the Charros team president says efforts will eventually continue to bring big league baseball to Mexico's second-largest city (and home to the country's largest population of American expats).  During a recent press conference introducing newly-acquired third baseman Christian Villanueva, Quirarte told the assembled media, “Be sure that we will continue working and fighting to bring important international events to Guadalajara, to the home of the Jalisco Charros.”


            Given past proactive efforts of both Quirarte and co-owner Armando Navarro, those are not idle words. Since a group of investors led by the twosome purchased the original Guasave Algodoneros in 2014 and moving the Mexican Pacific League team to Guadalajara (where the newly-christened Charros purchased and reconfigured a stadium built to host the 2011 Pan American Games), the city has hosted group play for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the 2018 Caribbean Series and Premier12 tournament first round games last November. It would be no surprise if Quirarte and Navarro had also placed a bid for the WBSC Under-23 Baseball World Cup scheduled later this year, although that tournament was eventually awarded to two other LMP cities, Obregon and Los Mochis.





            As baseball games have progressively gotten longer over the years, fans have exponentially increased the volume of their complaints regarding the time required to watch nine innings (although conce$$ionaire$ have remained $trangely $ilent).  Both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific leagues are responding by instituting rule changes for their respective upcoming seasons to hopefully speed things up a bit.


            The Mexican League announced in February that the 2020 season will see pitchers required to throw to at least three batters before they can be replaced on the mound, an attempt to end game stoppages by revolving-door relievers who face only one batsman before they're replaced by one of their bullpen mates. Exceptions will be granted if the umpire crew chief determines that a pitcher was injured prior to throwing to his third batter.


            Mound visits will be limited this season as well, with managers and coaches limited to six such trips from the dugout per nine innings that do not result in a pitcher being replaced on the hill. In the event a game goes into extra innings, teams will be allowed one mound visit per inning without a pitcher being replaced. Visits that DO result in a hurler being pulled will not count against their team's allowed total.


            Finally, batboys for LMB teams will be allowed on the field in foul territory during play, theoretically to expedite the collection of bats dropped near home plate by hitters who leave the batter's box down the first-base line after hitting the ball.


            Likewise, the Mex Pac is instituting rule changes meant to shave minutes off their games during the 2020-21 season.  One that's similar to LMB changes is a limit to the number of mound visits by managers and coaches, although the number of allowable trips has not been set.


            Intentional walks will no longer require four wide pitches in the LMP, but rather a signal from a team's manager that awards a batter first base without facing a ball.


            A pitch clock will be used for the first time in 2020-21, although the time allowed between pitches had not been determined when the rule changes were approved by the LMP Assembly of Presidents earlier this year.  Pitch clocks with 20-second countdowns have been used affiliated minor leagues in North America for a few years now, although it's unknown whether a ball has ever been awarded to a batter because time had expired between pitches. During Pacific Coast League games in Tacoma, for instance, it has become routine for the pitch clock to be turned off from the press box whenever it counts down to the five-second mark, thus making enforcement all but impossible even if it's desired.


            The one change that may get the most resistance from people in the stands at LMP games is the “sudden-death” rule, in which a baserunner will be placed on second base at the beginning of each half-inning once a game goes into the 12th inning.  It's a rule that has been used in amateur baseball and softball, mostly at youth league levels, and in some international competitions, but this will be the first time a professional league in Mexico tries it during the regular season (although the Mex Pac office says it will be discarded during the postseason).


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