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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 opening round of the Mexican Pacific League playoffs is in the history books, with all four quarterfinal series being decided in their respective Game Sixes last Saturday. The winners all move on to the semifinals, which open Tuesday night.


            Ryan Verdugo pitched seven shutout innings and allowed just three hits to pace top seed Hermosillo to a 1-0 home whitewashing of Mazatlan Saturday to punch the Naranjeros' ticket to the LMP Final Four. The lone run of the game came in the bottom of the second when Luis Alfonso Cruz and Jose Cardona both singled and advanced one base on Alex Flores' sacrifice fly before Julian Leon's slow roller to first allowed Cruz to come in from third for the tally. The Venados had the bases full with two out in the top of the eighth, but reliever Robinson Leyer (who pitched six games for Boston last summer) struck out Anthony Giansanti to end the last threat Mazatlan would pose, then pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save of the series.


            Second seed Obregon send Jalisco packing Saturday with a convincing 8-1 win. The Yaquis took a 2-0 lead in the second and gradually built a 6-0 advantage before the Charros scored their only run of the night in the seventh when Dariel Alvarez came in from third on a passed ball by Sebastian Valle. Jonathan Aranda belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh for insurance runs as Obregon pitchers combined to silence to potent Jalisco attack. Yaquis starter Dallas Martinez tossed 4.2 shutout innings while allowing one hit as the Obregon mound staff combined to hold the visitors from Guadalajara to three hits in the tilt.


            Number four seed Monterrey closed out their set with Mexicali by topping the Aguilas, 7-2, at home Saturday. The Sultanes took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third when Brazilian Paulo Orlando pounded a two-run homer to right. Luis Juarez' RBI single in the fifth brought Mexicali to within a run before a four-run Monterrey explosion in the sixth essentially put the game in their hip pockets as Roberto Valenzuela slashed a two-run single while Antonio Lamas and Gilberto Galaviz added run-scoring singles. Sultanes starter Luis Gamez had a nice outing, going 4.1 innings and allowing one run on four hits while six relievers held the Aguilas to one more run (on another Juarez single) the rest of the way.


            Culiacan was the only lower seed to get past the first round as the sixth-ranked Tomateros showed why they're the defending champion by eliminating third seed Guasave, 4-3, on the road at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon. The Tomateros were trailing, 1-0, before posting a three-run fifth inning keyed by Yoelkis Guibert's two-run single to go up by two runs. Alejandro Ortiz tied the game up for the Algodoneros with a two-run double to right in the bottom of the seventh, but the visitors regained the lead for good in the top of the eighth. Ramiro Pena singled, moved to third on another safety by Sebastian Elizalde and then came in on an infield single by Michael Wing. Culiacan reliever Sasagi Sanchez got one out in the bottom of the eighth before closer Alberto Baldonado came in and retired the final five Cottoneer batters (two on strikeouts) for the save. Tomateros starter Manny Barreda gave up one run on one hit over six innings for the winners.


            Mexicali shortstop Daniel Castro's .500 average (11-of-22) led all Mex Pac batsmen in the opening round. Monterrey's Paulino Orlando, Joey Meneses of Culiacan and Obregon's Alonzo Harris each had two homers in the quarterfinals while Luis Juarez easily led in RBIs with nine. Harris and Mazatlan's Jorge Flores each stole four bases. Flores' performance was somewhat remarkable in that he only had one hit and drew four walks during the Venados' entire series with Hermosillo. Surprisingly, neither Castro nor Juarez were picked in Sunday's reinforcement draft.


            Among pitchers, two starters (Jalisco's Orlando Lara and Ryan Verdugo of Hermosillo) and two relievers (Monterrey's Francisco Moreno and Obregon's Miguel Aguilar) each had two wins, with Lara earning both Charros' quarterfinal triumphs. Among eleven hurlers with ten innings pitched or more, Verdugo's was the lowest at 0.64. Two Culiacan starters, Manny Barreda and J.C. Ramirez, each had 12 strikeouts. Monterrey's Jeff Johnson led all closers with three saves.


            Sunday's reinforcement draft was held among the four survivors had each team picking one player from the rosters of eliminated squads. After a draw, Monterrey got the first choice and added Mazatlan first baseman Carlos Munoz. With the second pick, Hermosillo added LMP batting champion Isaac Paredes, also from the Venados. Obregon selected Jalisco outfielder Dariel Alvarez with the third pick while Culiacan closed out the draft by taking Guasave's veteran third baseman Jesse Castillo.


            The selection of Munoz with the top pick by Monterrey was somewhat surprising. While the 26-year-old former Pirates farmhand has become a fixture in the Venados lineup over seven winters, he's not generally regarded as one the Mex Pac's top players and lacks the kind of power usually associated with first basemen. On the other hand, Munoz (who hit .286 in Mazatlan's loss to Hermosillo) drew ten walks in six games for a standout on-base percentage and figures to replace struggling DH Jose Amador (.154) or RF Courtney Hawkins (.143) in the Sultanes batting order.


            The semifinals open with a pair of games on Tuesday night. Culiacan will visit Obregon for Game One at 6:00PM while Hermosillo hosts Monterrey at 7:00PM. All LMP playoff series use a best-of-7 format.





            Guasave pitcher Luis Miranda has been named the Mexican Pacific League's Rookie of the Year for 2020-21 after tying Hermosillo's Juan Pablo Oramas for the league lead with eight wins. Former MLB hurler Fernando Salas, now with the Naranjeros, was chosen Reliever of the Year as the LMP's postseason awards have begun trickling out.


            The 26-year-old Miranda, an Hermosillo native, finished the regular season with an 8-2 record over 11 starts. He fanned 36 batters and walked 21 over 49 innings of work on the mound. A 5'11” righty, Miranda had a decent outing in his lone postseason start for the Algodoneros in their six-game quarterfinal loss to Culiacan, tossing 4.2 innings of one-run, three-hit ball and striking out eight in a 6-1 loss to the defending champions in the series opener last Tuesday in a game that was tied at one run apiece when Miranda was pulled by manager Ramon Orates in the fifth frame.


            While this was Miranda's first full season in the Mex Pac, he is a veteran of six minor league seasons, including three as a reliever in the Atlanta system between 2013 and 2015. He was 7-7 with a 4.87 ERA in 22 games (17 of them starts) for Quintana Roo of the Mexican League in 2016 but has seen limited action since. Miranda received 58 percent of votes by what the LMP calls a “specialized press,” far outdistancing the four other ROY nominees.


            Salas was also a landslide winner as Reliever of the Year after leading the Mex Pac with 17 saves in 19 opportunities and was an important part of a Hermosillo team that is the top seed for the postseason. He had a 2-1 record and turned in a microscopic 0.74 ERA in 25 appearances, striking out 22 batters in 24.1 innings. Salas pitched in two opening round contests in the Naranjeros' six-game win over Mazatlan, tossing three scoreless entradas and striking out five but recording no saves.


            The 25-year-old righthander from Huatabampo debuted with Saltillo of the Mexican League in 2005 and spent parts of three seasons with the Saraperos before signing with St. Louis in 2007. Salas worked his way through the Cardinals organization before reaching the majors in 2010. He served as closer during the regular season for St. Louis' 2011 world champions, saving 24 games and turning in a 2.28 ERA over 68 trips from the bullpen before pitching in four World Series contests against Texas. Salas went on to pitch all or part of ten MLB seasons for four teams between 2010 and 2019, mostly as a middleman, and had a career 25-28 record with 30 saves and a 3.91 ERA.


            Salas came away with 74 percent of the “specialized press” vote while runner-up Jeff Ibarra of Guasave was far behind with 11 percent. The league had announced that fans would determine postseason award winners for 2020-21, but neither mentioned fans nor defined what a “specialized press” in either of last week's announcements.





            Funding has been a major concern for the organization created to foster growth of baseball in Mexico ever since its foundation in 2019. According to Proceso writer Beatriz Pereyra, however, future allocations to Probeis will come in part by being diverted from the country's race walking and boxing commissions. Here is a cleaned-up Google translation of Pereyra's report for Proceso:


            MEXICO CITY - On the instructions of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 264 million pesos that the Chamber of Deputies allocated for the operation of the race walking, boxing and baseball commissions will be used only in the Office of the Presidency to the Promotion and Development of Baseball in Mexico (Probeis).


            In this way, the race walking commission headed by Olympic medalist Bernardo Segura disappears. Segura resigned last October after accusing officials of the Ministry of Public Education (SEP) as "bureaucrats" because they did not assign a budget to him during 2020. Segura had not finished verifying the money they gave him to operate in 2019.


            Meanwhile, the boxing commission led by Miguel Torruco will continue in force, but without a federal budget. During 2019 and 2020, for this project in the Federation Expenditure Budget (PEF), 15% of the federal resources for the item called Physical Education of Excellence that operates within the SEP was allocated.


            According to López Obrador's request, the 264 million pesos from the aforementioned items will be used to finish building the baseball schools that are the governing axis of the Probeis. According to the project, which has already been modified countless times, five schools of the so-called T1, that is, those with dormitories, will be located in Campeche, Texcoco, Veracruz, Hermosillo and Obregón. For the last two mentioned, the federal government paid more than one billion pesos to the government of Sonora to acquire the old stadiums, Héctor Espino and Tomás Oroz Gaytán, respectively. The plan indicates that these five will begin operating in August 2021.


            Likewise, another four located in Guanajuato, Mexicali, Lagos de Moreno and Cancun that do not have bedrooms  (known as T3) will start between next February and April.


            Beyond the allocation of resources, there is still no clear outline of how these schools will operate. The federal government has not determined who will hire and pay both the instructors who will teach classes at the high school and the baseball coaches. The sports equipment that they will use has not been acquired either.


            It remains uncertain what will happen to the 69 boxing schools (12 of which are operated by the Ministry of National Defense) that the commission launched during 2019 and 2020, where more than 2,000 children train for free with 257 receiving monthly scholarships of 3,500 pesos. The salary earned by the trainers who in different states of the country serve the boxers who are part of this program come from the money allocated to the Physical Education of Excellence item.


            In 2019 and 2020, the boxing commission received, per year, 75 million pesos, but in neither of the two fiscal years were those amounts spent. In 2020, Miguel Torruco's commission spent around 40 million pesos. So far there is no certainty of how much Probeis spent that same year, since the SEP transferred money to two states during the month of December but in both cases it was returned because there was no longer time to spend it.


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