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RIELEROS, LAGUNA WIN LAST LMB NORTH SLOTS; PLAYOFFS OPEN
After Aguascalientes and Union Laguna emerged from a four-way dogfight for the final two playoff berths in the Mexican League's North Division while Puebla and Quintana Roo pulled away from Leon for the last two slots in the LMB South last week, the 2021 postseason got underway over the weekend.
With six teams in each division qualifying for the playoffs this year and Guadalajara (46-17) and Mexico City (41-23) winning their divisions in commanding fashion, most of the drama was reserved for the lower seedings in the LMB North. Aguascalientes won seven of their last ten games to finish in fifth place at 30-31, a half-game game ahead of 31-33 Union Laguna. Monterrey had been in eighth most of the season prior to a late charge that made it close before closing in seventh with a 30-33 mark, a half-game behind the Algodoneros to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Dos Laredos had been in the hunt before losing six of their last ten to drop below the Sultanes into eighth at 30-36.
Things weren't as tight in the LMB South, where Leon had a puncher's chance to reach the playoffs entering the final three games of the regular season. The Bravos had to win all three of their games while Puebla had to lose all three of theirs to force a one-game play-in. Leon's 8-1 home loss to Aguascalientes and a Puebla doubleheader sweep of Oaxaca last Wednesday served to knock the Bravos (29-37) out of contention. In fact, the Pericos won all three of their games over the Guerreros to finish at 33-33, leapfrogging in to fifth place ahead of 32-33 Quintana Roo (who lost all three to Veracruz to end the regular season).
With the regular season in the rearview mirror, the playoffs got underway Saturday with six games. In the LMB North, Guadalajara thumped Laguna, 13-4, as Adrian Gonzalez socked a two-run homer and scored three times for the Mariachis. Aguascalientes surprised Tijuana, 6-1, at El Nido behind Henry Rodriguez' two homers and seven innings of one-run pitching by Rieleros' starter Erick Leal. Monclova held on to take a 5-4 victory in Saltillo as Addison Russell's two-run homer and RBI double helped overcome a shaky Bartolo Colon start (5IP/3R/9H/2E).
In Saturday's LMB South first round games, visiting Quintana Roo walloped Mexico City, 12-2, as all nine Tigres batters had at least one hit, including Alex Robles' two-run double during QRoo's 10-run second inning. Yucatan's uncharacteristic power display (five homers, two by Luis Juarez) keyed a 15-2 swamping of Veracruz in Merida. Puebla's Miguel Guzman scored from third on an eighth-inning Derrick Loop wild pitch to give the Pericos an eventual 2-1 win over Tabasco.
Sunday's action saw five of the six series tied up at one game each as the previous night's losers came back with wins. Guadalajara topped Laguna again, 7-3, as Christian Ibarra and Johnny Davis belted sixth-inning homers off Cottoneers starter Rafael Pineda. Venerable slugger Luis Alfonso Cruz had three hits (including a homer and double) and scored three runs as Tijuana bounced back with an 8-4 win over Aguascalientes. Saltillo knotted things with Monclova with a 4-2 win with Henry Urrutia's two-run bomb in the eighth breaking a 2-all tie. Yasiel Puig's two-run homer capped a four-run first as Veracruz went on to cop an 8-3 win in Puebla. Mexico City rebounded with a 7-5 triumph over Quintana Roo, thanks in part to Julian Leon's two-run roundtripper. Juan Pablo Oramas tossed six innings of one-run ball as Tabasco beat Puebla, 3-1, to level their set.
Monday will be a travel day for all series with six Game Threes scheduled for Tuesday night at ballparks for the lower seeds.
HERAS (.401) AWARDED BAT TITLE; 8-0 NAKAMURA COPS WINS CROWN
Baja California product Leo Heras finished 2021with a .401 average to become the 16th native son to be awarded a Mexican League batting championship. The Guadalajara outfielder went 63-for-157 to become the first Mexican to cop a batting title since Tijuana's Isaac Rodriguez in the Spring 2018 season. Heras played 46 of the Mariachis' 65 games, or 70.8 percent. Mariachis teammate Niko Vasquez, a Californian played 59 games and finished second at .387 while Cuban Henry Urrutia of Saltillo came in third at .385 over 56 contests.
Saltillo slugger Rainel Rosario won his second home run title by crashing 20 to edge out Leon's Xavier Batista's 19. Rosario, a Dominican who led the LMB in 2017 with 26 HRs, becomes the second Sarapero batsman to win more than one homer crown (Andres Mora did it three times). Rosario also led the league with 41 extra-base hits and 174 total bases.
Another Dominican, Leandro Castro, finished with 72 runs batted in over 64 contests for Tijuana to lead in that category. Batista and Mexico City's massive Japhet Amador tied for second with 57 RBIs, well behind Castro (who had a great season in batting .378 for the Toros while leading the loop with 93 hits, including 20 doubles and 14 homers.
Quintana Roo's Reynaldo Rodriguez stole 21 bases to finish first in that category, just beating out the 20 of Tabasco outfielder Herlis Rodriguez. A first baseman from Colombia, Rodriguez beat his previous personal best of 14 swipes to become the first Tigres player to lead the Liga in steals since Luis Polonia's 48 in 1997.
Other LMB batting leaders included Guadalajara's Beau Amaral with 65 runs, Veracruz' Jesus Valdez stroked 30 doubles, Durango outfielder Tito Polo legged out 7 triples, Mexico City's Jon Singleton had a .503 on-base percentage and 1.196 OPS over 46 games and Puebla rookie David Olmedo-Barrera's .694 slugging percentage ranked first.
Japanese import Masaru Nakamura capped a great Mexican League debut by finishing with an 8-0 record over nine starts, good enough to lead the LMB in both wins and won-lost percentage. Nakamura also finished fourth with a 3.25 ERA, striking out 46 batters on 52.2 innings of work after compiling a 15-17 ledger over all or part of nine NPB seasons.
Tabasco starter Luis Escobar joins fellow Cartagena product Reynaldo Rodriguez of the Tigres in leading the LMB in an individual category. Escobar's 2.54 mark makes him the fifth Olmecas hurler to win an ERA title, joining former Red Sox pitcher Mike Nagy (1978) and becoming the first Tabasco player to do so since Jean Jesus Alvarez in 1999.
Two pitchers tied for the strikeouts championship with 69 apiece, with Dos Laredos' Jackson Stephens and Puebla's Jose Valdez sharing the award. Stephens (a former Cincinnati Reds starter) got his K's in 65 innings while walking just 16 while Valdez needed 72 innings, walking 32 opponents in the process.
Former MLB All-Star Fernando Rodney capped a successful first year in Mexico by winning the saves title, securing 16 salvados in 19 chances. Rodney won all three of his decisions and had a 1.80 ERA in 28 appearances. Tabasco' Fernando Salas finally allowed his first earned run in 21 outings to finish with an 0.42 ERA, going 12-for-12 in saves.
Other LMB pitching leaders included Yucatan's Jake Thompson with a 1.07 WHIP, fellow Leones hurler Radhames Liz had two complete games, Veracruz' Dylan Unsworth and and Aguilas moundmate David Reyes tossed the year's only two shutouts (Unsworth's was a no-hitter), Rafael Pineda of Laguna was tops with 77 innings pitched, Monterrey middleman Norman Elenes led with 38 games pitched and Derrick Loop of Tabasco had 12 holds.
MANY RESPONSIBLE FOR OLYMPIC COLLAPSE
While many Mexican baseball fans have been vocal with their outrage and disgust over their country's 0-for-3 performance at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, it appears that few journalists and broadcasters have joined the chorus. Not so with syndicated columnist David Braverman, whose “Out 27” is one of the most widely read commentaries in Mexico.
Braverman's column last Friday outlined what he believes were the causes of Mexico's collapse during their first foray into Olympic baseball. In this edited Google Translate version of that column, titled “The Ostrich of Baseball,” he shares his observations:
With the great Olympic failure of the Mexican baseball team still fresh in the minds of the fans and the protagonists back with their different teams in the LMB and other leagues, a very small sector of the Mexican baseball press continues to question what the hell happened but even more so, what the main responsible parties will face.
Give opinions, point out, criticize, always with arguments: that is the true work of the journalist who boasts of being one. The rest is the least and Mexican baseball is full of characters who call themselves journalists or reporters, but whose criteria do not go beyond "looking good" with whom they agree. The same thing happens with narrators and commentators. I deeply respect their admirable work and there are very good ones, but their work will never be journalistic and much less critical when they put on the shirt of the team for which they work. They are part of the promotion and, I repeat, very respectable.
The poor results in Tokyo were simply the chronicle of a death foretold. Removing those who achieved the Olympic qualification, paying attention to tantrums and stubbornness of those who feel like owners of the bats and balls because they were major leaguers or simply allowing that ridiculous occurrence of publishing a photo of several selectees with the uniform of their winter team are clear samples that it was never understood that they were going to an Olympic Games and the importance of what that represented.
Of course, everyone involved is to blame. The players disappointed Mexico and only a couple responded on the diamond. The majority created a fiasco ending as the worst offense of the tournament and one of the two worst pitching staffs. In baseball, the statistics don't lie. Managers and coaches never studied their rivals and thought they were going to face poor teams like the Oaxaca Guerreros or the Durango Generales. They were very wrong.
But for that failure to occur on the field of play there were those who orchestrated it and not just now, but long ago. It was during the management of Javier Salinas, the worst president that the Mexican League has had in its history, when the FEMEBE that Enrique Mayorga inherited after the death of Lieutenant Alonso Pérez handed him the management of the Mexican team.
Salinas, an illiterate baseball player but a good seller of mirrors, stuck his nose in until he reached the president of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation, Riccardo Fraccari, with that unsuccessful attempt by the hesitant called Baseball 5 and other “business”. From then on, there were characters in the LMB who played the tambourine of the relationship with Fraccari at their convenience as well as the management of the team. You can not forget that "Chabelo Tour" of 2019 for two games in Japan and Salinas taking his entire entourage for a walk, of course, in exchange for loyalty.
The subject had been inherited since his arrival by the current president of the summer circuit, Horacio de la Vega, a chess expert with total ignorance of baseball and a former Olympian who knows the strict doping controls in the event that brings together more than 200 countries every four years. It was precisely the doping that presented problems in assembling the team, especially if we take into account that currently in the LMB the controls are hesitant and the positive tests are paid with financial fines, not with punishments to the player. So imagine the result of the mixture that gives us a total ignorance of baseball with the risk that the players will test positive for Olympic doping.
With the endorsement of the inoperative baseball federation and the hidden but direct supervision of Edgar González's PROBEIS, the LMB (through its president and sports director Gabriel Medina) removed the manager who had obtained the Olympic berth, Juan Gabriel Castro, to bring in Benjamín Gil and from there form the team fulfilling the whims such as Adrián González, who clearly agreed to play in Mariachis with the condition of going to the Olympic Games. The result? Tremendous disappointment.
Those responsible for the worst failure of Mexican baseball internationally have names and from my point of view, they have been clearly named in this column, which ends with the following questions:
Why do some of the members of the Mexican team find it so hard to call failure to failure?
Finishing in last place being a country with professional baseball all year...isn't that failure?
Who orders and who executes decisions for the Mexican baseball team?
Will LMB, FEMEBE and PROBEIS sleep soundly?
Will those responsible stand up and resign?
Knowing Mexican baseball for decades and its current reality, the answer to the last question is a resounding NO. It will be the fable of The Ostrich of Baseball.