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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, August 2, 2021

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            The Mexican Olympic baseball team lost to Israel by a 12-5 count Sunday in Yokohama to be eliminated from their first appearance in the Summer Games after losing all three contests they played. The Verdes Grande had dropped a 1-0 knucklebiter to the Dominican Republic and a 7-4 decision to host Japan last week to finish 0-2 in Group A.


            In Sunday's loss, Israel took a 6-0 lead and never looked back in winning their first Olympic game after turning in an 0-2 record in Group B. Mexico starter Manny Barreda gave up six runs on four hits and three walks over two-plus innings to take the loss. The ex-Yankees prospect was trailing 1-0 after two innings before the roof caved in top of the the third, when he walked Israel's first two batters before giving up a three-run homer to former MLBer Danny Valencia, who drilled a fastball ten rows deep into the Yokohama Baseball Stadium's left-field seats. Barreda allowed two more baserunners without recording an out before being yanked for reliever Sasagi Sanchez, who then gave up a two-run Nick Rickles single to make it a 6-0 game.


            To their credit, the Mexicans fought back to make it a one-run game by scoring four times in the bottom of the third. Braves farmhand Ryan Goins doubled to deep left to plate Jonathan Jones with Mexico's first run and then came in when Israel starter Jonathan Zeid uncorked a wild pitch during a walk to Isaac Rodriguez. Rodriguez scored on a Sebastian Elizalde double to left and then Elizalde crossed the plate when Joey Meneses singled to shallow left to narrow the deficit to 6-4. Adrian Gonzalez singled in Meneses in the bottom of the sixth to close to gap to 6-5, but a horrible top of the seventh put the game out of reach.


            In that fateful frame, Israel sent ten batters to the plate and scored six runs on as many hits, keyed by consecutive two-run singles from Mitch Glasser and Zach Penprase, a pair of longtime indyball players. Former MLB hurler Oliver Perez allowed all six runs, although the first two were charged to fellow Mexican reliever Fernando Salas. Israel allowed one Gonzalez double over the last three frames to cement the win.


            Mexico dropped their first game last Friday, 1-0, to the Dominican Republic. Starter Angel Sanchez (5 IP) and four relievers combined to limit the Mexicans to four singles and three walks while Mexican starter Teddy Stankiewicz battled admirably through 4.2 innings, striking out five Dominicans but allowing the game's lone run when ex-MLBer Melky Cabrera single in Charlie Valerio in the bottom of the fifth. Diamondbacks minor leaguer Luis Castillo turned in a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.


            The Verdes Grande's best chance came in the top of the sixth when Isaac Rodriguez laid down a bunt single, advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Valerio while Elizalde was up and then tried to score on a Meneses single to left but was cut down at the plate by a throw from Jose Bautista.


            Things were a little less dramatic one day later, when Japan bopped Mexico by a 7-4 score on Saturday. Mexico actually took a 1-0 lead against the host team in the bottom of the first when Meneses singled up the middle off Masato Morishita to score Rodriguez from second. Japan came back to tie it in the second and go ahead in the third with single runs against Mexican starter Juan Pablo Oramas. Eduardo Arredondo relieved Oramas in the fourth and gave up a pair of singles to set up a three-run homer by Tetsuto Yamada to bring Japan's lead up to 5-1.


            Mexico got a run back in the bottom of the fourth when Elizalde scored from third on a Gonzalez double-play grounder to second, but Japan scored singletons in the seventh and eighth to stretch their advantage to 7-2. Meneses crashed a two-run homer off reliever Kaima Taira in the bottom of the eighth, making it a 7-4 game, but Mexico could get no closer before running out of outs.


            All in all, it was a disappointing Olympic baseball debut for Mexico, who was outscored 20-9 over three games. Meneses turned in the top plate performance, going 6-for-12 with a homer and four RBIs, but Gonzalez (.273) was the only other hitter above .250 as the team combined for a .202 batting average. The pitching was little better, although Stankiewicz (1.93) and Oramas (3.00) did fairly well while relievers Sanchez, Carlos Bustamante, Daniel Duarte and Cesar Vargas allowed no earned runs but Barreda and three relievers all had ERAs at 13.50 or above as Mexico finished with a 6.23 team ERA.


            Mexico manager Benji Gil was circumspect in the aftermath of what most baseball observers in the country consider a disastrous performance. “Not even in my worst nightmare did I think this would be the result,” said the former MLB infielder, who was brought in after Juan Castro was unceremoniously fired despite having led the team to the country's-ever Olympic baseball appearance by qualifying in the 2019 Premier12 tournament. Gil pointed to a pitching collapse after allowing just one run against the Dominican Republic.


            Normally in all these competitions, Mexico always has tremendous pitching,” said Gil. “We compete with that and that is why we are known in baseball. In the last two games, we did battle...not all of them, but as a team we did battle. Allowing 19 runs in 18 innings is something that has never been seen for a Mexican team.”


            Now it has.





            With the Mexican League playoffs just days away, two teams have made decisions regarding the men managing them. The Tijuana Toros demoted Hall of Fame candidate Omar Vizquel for “personal reasons” last Monday after the team suffered a three-game weekend sweep to Monterrey at home. The Toros were 32-22 at the time and in second place in the LMB North with nine games left in the regular season. There is speculation that Vizquel stepped down due to pressure from Major League Baseball because of an unresolved domestic violence case filed by the wife of the former shortstop, but the team owners (the Uribe family) are rather capricious even by LMB standards and have cut loose a dozen managers despite six consecutive playoff appearances and a 2017 pennant.


            The Tijuana front office issued a statement claiming "the decision that resolves the labor agreement was generated by mutual agreement and is adopted from the highest responsibility between the board of directors and the Venezuelan helmsman." Vizquel will be reassigned to other duties with the Toros while longtime Mexican baseball figure Homar Rojas (who was fired earlier this year as Monterrey's helmsman) becomes the 13th manager in Tijuana since the Toros debuted in 2014 while Bronswell Patrick moves from pitching coach to bench coach. Tijuana won five of their first six games under Rojas, who is managing his sixth LMB team since 2005.


            In Merida, the Yucatan Leones announced a new skipper to replace Geronimo Gil, who was fired on June 22 with a 14-11 record. Salon de la Fama member Chico Rodriguez led Yucatan to a 13-14 mark as interim manager until the Leones named Luis Matos as dugout boss on July 21. Matos spent seven years as an MLB outfielder before playing for Yucatan between 2008 and 2012. He managed Caguas to two Venezuelan League pennants and Caribbean Series titles in 2017 and 2018 during a four-year stint with the Criollos. Matos split his first eight games at the helm of the Leones going into Sunday's contest with Campeche.


            The expansion Veracruz Aguilas still have Leo Rodriguez III as manager, but they brought in some experienced help last week by hiring former Mazatlan Venados leader Juan Jose Pacho as bench coach. Pacho was fired by the Mexican Pacific League team last winter, allegedly because he made public appearances supporting a political candidate opposed by Venados ownership. The Salon de la Fama shortstop's presence certainly hasn't harmed veteran slugger Jesus “Cacao” Valdez, who swatted a pair of three-run homers and drove in nine runs in an 18-6 blowout in Oaxaca last Thursday as Veracruz clinched a playoff berth.


            Just three games remain in the regular season and most playoff slots have been secured. In the LMB North, Guadalajara has clinched first place while Tijuana, Monclova and Saltillo have also punched their tickets. Aguascalientes is fifth after winning seven of ten games and close to reaching the postseason but Union Laguna, Dos Laredos and Monterrey are in a fairly tight battle for the sixth and final berth. Mexico City has clinched the top of the LMB South while Tabasco has won nine of ten outings to secure a playoff slot. Yucatan, Veracruz and Quintana Roo are also locks, meaning sixth-place Puebla needs one win or one Leon loss for the final postseason berth.


            Guadalajara's Leo Heras is batting .415 after 43 games, good enough to top the batting race on the LMB website, ahead of Saltillo's Henry Urrutia (.391) and Tito Polo (.390) of Durango. Leon's Xavier Batista has pulled ahead of Rainel Rosario of Saltillo in the home run derby, 19 to 18, while Tijuana's Leandro Castro's 68 RBIs will likely be enough to hold off Japhet Amador's 57 for Mexico City to take that crown. In stolen bases, Quintana Roo's Reynaldo Rodriguez has 21 while Herlis Rodriguez of Tabasco is one behind at 20.


            Among pitchers, Masaru Nakamura of Guadalajara still has a perfect 8-0 record to lead the Liga in wins, one ahead of five other hurlers. Former Pirates righty Luis Escobar heads the ERA list as the Colombian shows a 2.60 mark after 11 starts, comfortably ahead of Laguna's Rafael Pineda (3.21). There's a battle for strikeout supremacy between Aguascalientes' Erik Leal (66), Puebla's Jose Valdez (66) and Mexico City's Hector Hernandez (65) while another three pitchers have 60-plus K's. Fernando Rodney of Tijuana is tops in saves with 15, one more than Guadalajara's Fernando Cruz.


            Just nine midweek series remain before the regular season closes. The most important may be a crossover set when Aguascalientes visits Leon, with the Rieleros trying to fight off three teams for one of two unsettled LMB North berth and the Bravos needed to win all three games to even have a chance to qualify in the LMB South.





            Now in his 90's, Juan Vene has covered Mexican baseball for years and his column “En la Pelota” is carried by 37 newspapers and websites. In a recent column, the Florida-based Vene states that a sale of the Mexican Pacific League's Jalisco Charros to the owners of the Guadalajara Mariachis is pending, as is a change of the team nickname. Puro Beisbol reports that sources from the State of Jalisco confirm the transaction and that the LMP will approve the deal.


            The following is a lightly-edited Google translation of Vene's column:


            The Jalisco Charros, whose name is owned by Armando Navarro, are about to end. The next team for the Guadalajara winters would be called the Jalisco Caballos and owned by José Luis González Íńigo and Carlos Valenzuela Gómez, who also own the Mexican League's Guadalajara franchise.


            "Both González and Valenzuela, co-owners of the Mariachis, are very good people," said a fellow journalist from Guadalajara.


            Navarro had contributed the name of Charros to be a partner of Salvador Quirarte, who invested the necessary money. The two got into a fight under accusations of mismanagement of the team's money. And there is no way to reconcile them.


            Quirarte does not respond to calls and Navarro's cell phone number always get the “beep-beep-beep” busy signal.


            Meanwhile, the Zapopan stadium, in the beautiful metropolitan area of Guadalajara, is owned by the Government of the State of Jalisco. And the governor, Enrique Alfaro Ramírez, is a Guadalajara leader who only wants peace and good baseball.


            Alfaro Ramírez likes the name “Jalisco Caballos” and is willing to provide all the necessary support to those who dedicate themselves to organizing the best show for Jalisco and not to fight for two or three pesos of old paper.


            Navarro has accused Quirarte of mishandling the team's money, so I try to contact him to see if he informs me how his partner did something wrong. But I already told you it's a case of “beep-beep-beep” every time I call him.


            Beautiful Guadalajara and its surroundings are home to hundreds of thousands of frenzied baseball fans, who have always supported it.


            However, there is a kind of gypsy curse on the ball in that sector of the world. The original Charros played in an uncomfortable stadium, built for student baseball and located on the outskirts of the city.


            It was not comfortable to go there. The Charros had to disappear in 1995.


            They returned in 2014, with great enthusiasm to a full stadium in the modern house of Zapopan, until peace ended in 2021. That is why, possibly, the 2021-2022 season will be that of the burial of the Charros and the birth of the Caballos.


            The figure of the caballos (or “horses”) is emblematic in Jalisco, especially for what these beautiful animals mean in the life of the charros.


            It will be a new life for baseball in Jalisco, absolutely better than Navarro and Quirarte pulling their hair out for two or three pesos of old paper.


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