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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
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            The Mexican League's final four field was set after Mexico City eliminated Veracruz last Monday night and Guadalajara knocked out surprising Aguascalientes one night later, setting up both Division Championship Series. In the LMB North, the top-seed Mariachis are facing second-place Tijuana while the regular season champion Diablos Rojos take on third-seed Yucatan in the LMB South Championship Series.


            The following is a wrap of the first two games of both LCS, in which both underdogs took a pair of road games over the weekend, as well as the clinching games for the respective division semifinals plus the firing of the defending champion's manager:




            The LMB North Championship Series began last Friday, when visiting Tijuana held off Guadalajara, 4-3. The Mariachis were nursing a 2-1 leading going into the top of the sixth inning, when Tijuana pushed three runs across the plate as Xavier Carrillo's two-run single provided the go-ahead run and Leandro Castro added an RBI single. LMB batting champion Leo Heras clubbed a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth to narrow the Toros' lead to 4-3 but ex-MLBers Oliver Perez, Michael Tonkin and Fernando Rodney pitched shutout ball over the final three innings. Rodney struck out three batters in the ninth for the save as the Mariachis ended the game batting 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Veteran Luis Alfonso Cruz' two singles for Tijuana made him the only player on either side with more than one hit.


            Tijuana made it two wins away from home on Saturday with an 11-9 triumph at Estadio Panamericano. The game was a scoreless tie until Guadalajara scored five runs in the bottom of the third (with Heras contributing a two-run single) and the Mariachis held an 8-5 lead through six innings. The roof caved in for the home team in the top of the seventh, when the Toros scored five runs on four hits (including a two-run single from Efren Navarro) plus four walks to take a 10-8 lead. Each team scored once the rest of the way but Rodney earned his second save in as many nights by pitching the final 1.1 innings, allowing one walk. Ricky Alvarez went 2-for-5 with a two-run homer for the Toros while Heras and Anthony Garcia went deep for the Mariachis. After Sunday's travel day, Game Three is tonight in Tijuana.


            The Mariachis advanced to the division finals last Tuesday by bopping Aguascalientes, 10-3, at home to clich the series, 4 games to 2. Guadalajara scored five times in the bottom of the second (sending 11 batters to the plate in a half-inning that saw four hits, two walks, an error, a hit bastman and a wild pitch) to chase Rieleros starter Ernesto Zaragosa after Carlos Mendivil's two-run single.




            Yucatan is traditionally not a high-scoring team, but they put 13 runs on the scoreboard while winning the first two games of the LMB South title seres in Mexico City. Friday's opener at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu was a 7-6 Leones win, as the visitors scored six third-inning runs to reverse a 3-1 deficit into a 7-3 lead and then held on the rest of the way. Luis Juarez stroked a three-run double in the top of the third as Yucatan starter Yoanner Negrin overcame a shaky first in which he let in three Diablos Rojos runs to toss shutout ball until he was pulled with two out in the sixth.  Diablos starter J.C. Ramirez was sent to the showers after failing to record an out in the Leones' third-inning outburst. Alex Liddi hit a solo homer for the winners while Mexico City's Emmanuel Avila wnt 2-for-4 with three RBIs.


            Saturday's Game Two saw the team from Merida pull out another win, this time by a 6-4 count. The contest was tied a 1-1 going into the top of the fifth, when Juarez punched a two-out double off Mexico City reliever Arquimedes Caminero  to score Yadir Drake and give the Leones a 2-1 advantage. Walter Ibarra's two-run single in the sixth made it a 4-1 Yucatan lead and the visitors never looked back, although the Diablos did score three more runs the rest of the way. Leones starter Rhadames Liz earned the win by allowing two runs on two hits over 6.2 innings of work, striking out five Diablos. Juarez went 5-for-5 with two ribbies for the night. Avila sliced a pair of doubles for Mexico City, scoring once. Game Three is scheduled for Monday night in Merida's Parque Kukulkan.


            The Diablos punched their ticket to the division championships last Monday by taking a 5-2 win in Veracruz to close their second round series, 4 games to 1. The Aguilas led, 1-0, until Jesus Fabela's two-run single in the top of the fourth gave Mexico City a 2-1 advantage. Juan Carlos Gamboa later hit a solo homer and Luis Sardinas added a two-run homer for the winners as Red Devils starter Hector Hernandez allowed one earned run on three hits over five innings for the win.


            Meanwhile, Pat Listach has been fired as manager of the Monclova Acereros on the heels of their second round playoff loss to Tijuana in five games following a fourth-place regular season finish in the LMB North with a 35-31 record. Listach had led Monclova to the city's lone Mexican League pennant in 2019, posting a Liga-best 75-45 season record before copping the flag by winning three postseason series that all required a seventh game to decide. The Acereros made the standard-issue announcement “thanking” Listach for his “professionalism” and “wishing him the best in his future projects,” comments that accompany every fired Mexican baseball manager on his way to the unemployment line.





            The sale of one Mexican League team was approved at an Assembly of Presidents meeting earlier this month while a rumor has surfaced that a pair of current LMB owners are interested in buying another club and moving it to their hometown on the Pacific coast.


            The sale of the Durango Generales by Juan Carlos Martinez to Venezuelan-born entrepreneur Carlos Lazo was given the owners' stamp of approval at a meeting headed by LMB president Horacio de la Vega and board of directors head Gerardo Benavides, owner of the Monclova Acereros.


            Lazo was born in Venezuela in 1971 but the 49-year-old has lived in Mexico the past 13 years and currently resides in Guadalajara. Holder of a college degree in Economics, Lazo is founder and CEO of 17 different companies, 16 in Mexico and one in Panama. This is not his first venture in sports. Four months ago, Lazo purchased 50 percent of the Queretaro Libertadores of Mexico's National Professional Basketball League (after having sponsored the Jalisco Astros of Guadalajara) and his Upick Sports company became the NHL's first Mexican team sponsor with the Vegas Golden Knights. He is purchasing 100 percent of the Generales franchise.


            Out 27 columnist David Braverman notes that this will be the third time the Generales have changed hands since Virgilio Ruiz moved the team from Carmen following the 2016 season. The Ruiz era in Durango was dogged with financial and operational problems almost from the outset and after two years, the Generales were one of four Liga franchises granted a year off in 2019 to get their house in order. However, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the LMB to restore the quartet to active status and the team played on. By then, a group headed by former MLB catcher and current Mexico City manager Miguel Ojeda had bought the team from Ruiz and operated it for the 2018 season before selling out to businessman Alfredo Aramburo.


            The Generales turned in a 46-72 record and drew 180,250 fans (or 3,000 per game) to Estadio Domingo Santana in 2019 while Aramburo had nothing but trouble with his fellow owners and then-LMB president Javier Salinas, who never fully ratified him as owner. Once he had a chance to own a Mexican Pacific League expansion team in Guasave (as mandated by political ally Lopez Obrador), Aramburo sold his Durango team to Martinez. Despite a first season being canceled due to the pandemic and a 2021 campaign that ended with a last-place finish at 20-45 and home attendance dipping to 836 per game, The El Siglio newspaper says Martinez (who will run for governor of Durango) gave assurances that incoming owner Lazo will keep the Generales in the state capital. Braverman says that “according to reliable sources,” Martinez had not paid Aramburo the full amount of his purchase price for the team.


            Braverman adds that the Aguascalientes Rieleros may be getting ready for a sale. The Railroaders are owned by the Aguascalientes state government and operated by team president Eustacio Alvarez, a former mayoral candidate for Ciudad Aguascalientes who the columnist says is not a baseball fan but is mainly fulfilling an appointment by former governor Armado Medina. The Railroaders have been for sale several years, but Braverman says he's been told that the current owners of the Yucatan Leones (brothers Erick and Juan Jose Arellano) have presented an offer to buy the team, which they would then move to their hometown of Mazatlan and rename the Marineros.


            Braverman is well-connected in the Mexican baseball community, but this is something that was also rumored when the Arellanos owned the Laguna Vaqueros for the 2016 and 2017 seasons down to the Mazatlan Marineros name. Instead, the team was sold prior to the 2018 campaign. Aguascalientes is no more stable than Laguna was, raising the question of why the brothers would go through a similar set of frustrations a second time?





            According to the El Fildeo website, Major League Baseball and the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation have agreed on the terms for the new agreement for the 2021-2022 winter league season.


            According to a report by Enrique Rojas of ESPN, MLB and the CBPC have agreed on the parameters of a new "Winter Leagues Agreement," but the agreement will not be finalized until Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, approves it.


            The winterball agreement is a document that regulates relations between organized baseball in the United States and the various independent Caribbean circuits. The last one expired almost two years ago but was renewed by the parties to cover the 2020-21 season, as they negotiated amid the coranavirus pandemic.


            The winter seasons for leagues in Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela will be played between October and January and the champions of each circuit will face each other in the 64th edition of the Caribbean Series between January 28 and February 5 next year, scheduled to be held at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.


            However, leagues in both Panama and Colombia, which have participated in recent Caribbean Series as special guests, are not part of the agreement between MLB and the CBPC, although an August 27 story in Santo Domingo's El Diario Nuevo mentioned the two nations as expected entries along with regulars Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and host Dominican Republic.


            Panama was enlisted as emergency host of the 2019 Serie del Caribe on late notice and ended up being the surprise winner after the planned tournament in Venezuela was scrubbed weeks before it was to be held due to political and economic unrest. Colombia was invited late to the 2020 event after Cuba declined to play due to stated visa concerns traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico that year.


            Cuba was subsequently suspended from participating in the Caribbean Series indefinitely by CBPB president Juan Francisco Puello, who cited a desire to see human rights improvements in the communist nation, which returned to the event (which they co-founded in 1949) on a conditional basis in 2014 after an absence of 53 years.


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