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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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Caneros celebrate            It took a 1-0 win on the last day of the regular season and a little mathematics, but Los Mochis emerged as the champion for the second half of the Mexican Pacific League's 2022-23 season. Despite having an identical record as the Caneros over the final half, Hermosillo was awarded second place because in head-to-head competition, Los Mochis had a better record than the Naranjeros.


            The Caneros sealed the second half title by holding off archrival Guasave, 1-0, on Thursday night in front of 7,923 fans at the Algodoneros' Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon. The game was a scoreless tie going into the top of the fifth when Los Mochis' Alejandro Urias hit a one-out single, advanced to third on a Justin Dean single and then came in to score on an Ivan Izaguirre wild pitch to Rudy Amador. Omar Araujo pitched three innings of scoreless relief to earn the win as seven Caneros hurlers combined on the four-hit shutout. Izaquirre took the loss for Guasave, who likewise brought seven pitchers to the mound including starter Jesus Broca, who'd tossed three scoreless frames with four strikeouts. With the win, Los Mochis finished the second half with a 22-11 record.


            Hermosillo likewise ended the half at 22-11 after blanking visiting Mexicali, 2-0, while 16,065 spectators looked on at a packed Estadio Sonora. Although this one was another pitcher's duel, it was decided on one swing of the bat when Alejandr Mejia launched a two-run homer (only his second of the season) to score Angel Camacho in the bottom of the third of Aguilas starter Onelki Garcia, a former Dodgers and Royals pitcher who otherwise had an exemplary outing over five innings but fell to 0-3 with the loss. Although Naranjeros starter Jose Samayoa pitched two perfect innings, it was reliever Anibal Cervantes who got the win after tossing three scoreless entradas himself and allowing no hits and one walk.


            Even though the Caneros won the second half on a tiebreaker to collect the 10.0 playoff points that go with their first-place finish, don't feel too sorry for Hermosillo. The Orangemen did pick up 9.0 points of their own for finishing in the runners-up position and their season playoff points total of 19.0 (on an LMP-best 43-25 record) were enough to ensure the number one seed in the playoffs. Los Mochis finished with a 41-27 overall record and 17.0 points to snag the second seed. Tiebreakers were applied to three other ties in the final standings.


            Here is a look at the second-half standings and points, followed by the overall standings and points for the ten teams, both determined by points:



Los Mochis 22-11 (10.0), Hermosillo 22-11 (9.0), Obregon 19-14 (8.0), Monterrey 16-17 (7.0), Guasave 16-17 (6.0), Mexicali 15-18 (5.5), Navojoa 15-18 (5.0), Jalisco 14-19 (4.5), Mazatlan 14-19 (4.0), Culiacan 12-21 (3.5).



Hermosillo 43-25 (19.0), Los Mochis 41-27 (17.0), Obregon 38-30 (16.0), Guasave 36-32 (15.0), Monterrey 32-36 (11.5), Mexicali 31-37 (10.5), Navojoa 31-37 (10.5), Mazatlan 33-35 (10.0), Jalisco 29-39 (8.5), Culiacan 26-42 (7.0).


            With defending champion Jalisco and defending runners-up Culiacan both on the outside looking in, the four first round playoff series got underway Sunday night:

            #1 Hermosillo held off #8 Mazatlan, 2-1, as a Luis Alfonso Cruz double tied the score in the bottom of the seventh and a sacrifice fly by the next batter, Irving Lopez, pushed Angel Ramirez in with the go-ahead run.

            A throwing error by reliever Edwyn Valle in the top of the eleventh allowed Brayan Mendoza to score the game-winner from third as #2 Los Mochis snuck past #7 Navojoa, 2-1.

            #3 Obregon scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth as Carlos Sepulveda stroked a three-run double en route to a 9-4 win over #6 Mexicali.

            Francisco Hernandez singled in Joey Terdoslavich in the bottom of the tenth to hand #4 Guasave a 2-1 win over #5 Monterrey. All four series are set for their respective Game Twos on Monday at the home ballparks of the higher seeds.


            As expected, Monterrey's Roberto Valenzuela won the batting title with a .365 average, well in front of Justin Dean of Los Mochis (.343) and Jalisco's Francisco Villegas (.337). The home run derby ended in a three-way tie with 10 apiece for Yasmany Tomas (Los Mochis), Anthony Giansanti (Mexicali) and Jese Castillo (Guasave) as none of the trio went deep over the final two weeks of the regular season. Tomas won the RBI crown with 57, ahead of Victor Mendoza of Obregon's 50 and the 42 apiece for three players: Fernando Perez (Monterrey), Christian Villanueva (Jalisco) and Yadir Drake (Obregon). Jose Cardona of Hermosillo won the stolen base race with 29, three up on Mazatlan's Randy Romero (26) while Dean finished with 16 swipes for the Caneros.


            Wilmer Rios of Hermosillo won his final start of the regular season to finish with a 9-2 record and the wins title while three pitchers (Obregon's Faustino Carrera, Hermosillo's Elian Leyva and Mazatlan's Juan Tellez) recorded seven wins each. Luis Miranda of Los Mochis closed out his season-long dominance in the ERA race with a 1.07 mark, trailed by Mazatlan's Braulio Torres-Perez (1.49) and Rios' 1.84. The strikeout battle was entertaining and when the smoke cleared, Guasave's Matt Pobereyko (73) had beaten out Manny Barreda of Culiacan (71) for the title while Javier Solano of Jalisco (67) placed third. There was another close races for the saves leadership, with Mazatlan's Elkin Alcala (20) nudging Brandon Koch of Guasave (19) for the title while Monterrey's Joe Riley finished third with 15.





            At the conclusion of the Mexican Pacific League regular season, the first annual Reinforcement Draft was held via teleconference during which the eight LMP playoff qualifiers were allowed to select up to two players each off the rosters of the two non-postseason teams, Culiacan and Jalisco.


            While the teams still playing will add both players they chose to their respective rosters (LMP rights to those selected remain with the clubs they were picked from), only one can be added to an active roster at each stage of the postseason. A similar draft will be held each stage of the playoffs.


            The first Reinforcement Draft was carried out Friday among the presidents of the qualified teams and chaired by Mex Pac president Carlos Manrique and LMP sports director Christian Veliz. The picks were said to be taken in order of team positions in the general standings, although the draft order would suggest other considerations were taken, since overall leader Hermosillo had the sixth pick in the first round.



Manny Barreda            The Yaquis chose first and took Culiacan starting pitcher Manny Barreda, who was second in the LMP in strikeouts with 71, finishing with a 3-6 record and a 2.93 ERA. Barreda, who made his first MLB start with Baltimore in 2021 after 15 years in the minors, is a much better pitcher than his record would suggest and he'll solidy the Obregon rotation.

            The second pick of the Yaquis was Tomateros left-handed reliever Óliver Pérez, a cagey 41-year-old middleman with 20 years of MLB experience.



            The Venados chose Jalisco infielder Christian Villanueva, who tied for third in RBIs with 42 to augment a .288 average with 6 home runs and a .794 OPS number. Villanueva hit 20 homers for San Diego as a rookie in 2019 and also spent two seasons in Japan. The 31-year-old will likely split between first base and designated hitter for Mazatlan.

            In the second round, the Deer took reliever Luis Iván Rodríguez, also of Jalisco. Like Villanueva, Rodriguez is a Guadalajara native. He can throw strikes as a setup man.



            The Aguilas reinforced their outfield with Culiacan's Sebastián Elizalde, the winner of the Héctor Espino Trophy as MVP for 2020-21. Elizalde had an off year (.264/1/25) for the Tomateros but he hit .385 for Monterrey in the LMB last summer and remains a dangerous man at the plate capable of getting hot.

            The second selection of the Eagles was Culiacan third baseman Emmanuel Ávila, who also had a down season (.244/2/7) but is a career .322 hitter in ten LMB summer seasons.



            Further addressing their solid Mexican base, the Cañeros acquired Rookie of the Year candidate Fernando Villegas, who finished third in batting at .337 for Jalisco with five homers. Calling Villegas a “rookie” is a bit of a stretch, however, since he spent two years in the Pirates system and had played 48 games in three previous winters for the Charros.

            The second reinforcement is reliever Karch Kowalczyk, a five-year Dodgers minor leaguer who was 0-0 and 3.31 in 34 appearances for Jalisco.



            The Mayos reinforced their bullpen with reliever Sasagi Sánchez, who turned in 7 holds and 5 saves for Culiacan this campaign with a 1.73 ERA while allowing just three walks in 26 innings. Sanchez only had five saves in nine years prior to the current LMP season but may serve as a closer for Navojoa's bullpen by committee

            The Mayos also took another reliever, David Gutiérrez, who was 0-2 with one save for the Tomateros but also had a 1.96 ERA after helping Yucatan win the LMB pennant in 2022.



            The leaders of both points and general standings opted for Jalisco lefty Tyler Alexander, who finished third in wins with six and had 49 strikeouts in 64 innings. However, the former Brewers farmhand had a 5.20 ERA for the Charros and will need to step it up in joining a rotation already featuring Wilmer Rios, Elian Leyva and Juan Pablo Oramas.

            Hermosillo took Jalisco reliever Jared Wilson as a second option. Wilson was just 1-5 for the Charros but had a solid 1.95 ERA with four saves in 22 appearances.



            The Algodoneros broke the trend for pitching and chose two outfielders, including Jalisco's Julián Ornelas in the first round. Ornelas hit .292, led the Charros with eight homers, was third on the team with 28 RBIs and held down center field. He's capable of playing all three outfield slots and can steal a base for you as well.

            Guasave's second pick was Jalisco gardener, José Juan Aguilar, a 32-year-old who's lost a step after 13 seasons but hit .296 as a part-timer, strikes out rarely and gets on base.



            The Gray Ghosts chose Culiacan starting pitcher Kurt Heyer with the eighth pick. A former Cardinals minor leaguer out of Arizona, Heyer was 2-4 with a 4.09 ERA for the Tomateros, allowing just six walks (but also six homers) in 61.2 innings pitched. Nothing spectacular but Monterrey needs pitching.

            Which is why the Sultanes picked Jalisco's vet righty Javier Solano in the second round. Solano was 2-6 and 3.80 this winter but is 55-44 lifetime and knows how to win.



            While names of players have been trickling in regarding Mexico's entry in March's World Baseball Classic, the Naitonal Selection Commission has been busy filling out the coaching staff for manager Benji Gil. Late last month, team general manager Rodrigo Lopez announced the addition of five members to Gil's coaching staff, including a pair of fellow ex-MLBers as pitching coaches. The commission consists of Lopez along with representatives from both the Mexican Baseball Federation (FEMEBE) and the Mexican League.


Rigo Beltran            Rigo Beltran and Elmer Dessens will pair up in handling Gil's mound staff while brothers Ever and Bobby Magallanes will be joined by Jacob Cruz as batting coaches in Phoenix, where the Verdes Grande will play first-round games in Group C over five days beginning March 11 at the Arizona Diamondbacks' home stadium.


            Beltran was a lefty pitcher who spent all or part of five seasons in the majors between 1997 and 2004 with St. Louis, the New York Mets, Colorado and Montreal as well as a stint in Japan with Hiroshima and with the LMB's Saltillo Saraperos (for whom he was 13-4 in 2005). After retiring as an active player, the Tijuana-born Beltran has coached in Minor League Baseball and was pitching coach with AAA Columbus the past two years and he'll be Terry Francona's bullpen coach in Cleveland next season. He was also pitching coach for Mexico in the 2017 WBC.


            Dessens spent 14 seasons in MLB between 1996 and 2010, pitching for nine teams along the way and going 52-64 with a 4.44 ERA in 441 appearances (including 140 starts), winning 21 games for Cincinnati between 2000 and 2001, pitching for Mexico in both the inaugural WBC in 2006 and in 2009. The Hermosillo product also spent 1999 in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants and hurled four winters with his hometown Naranjeros before wrapping up his playing career in the LMB with Mexico City in 2011. He's spent the past two summers as pitching coach for the Reds' Arizona Complex League rookie team.


            Bobby Magallanes spent three years as an infielder in the Mariners system between 1990 and 1992, never batting higher than .216 for a season, then played several campaigns in independent leagues and in the Mexican League before wrapping up his playing career with the Mexico City Tigres and Puebla of the Liga in 2001. His coaching experience includes time with the Mexican National Team at the Central American & Caribbean Games at Veracruz in 2014, serving with Mexico along with Beltran in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and as an assistant batting coach for the 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves.


            Ever Magallanes managed Mexico in the 2014 Central American & Caribbean Games while serving as a coach for Mexico in both the 2009 and 2013 editions of the WBC while managing several years in MiLB (including last summer with the Angels' Indland Empire affiliate in the Class A California League). As a player, the elder Magallanes attended Texas A&M before embarking on a pro career in 1987 that would last 19 seasons, the last 11 in the Mexican League. He went hitless in three plate appearances for Cleveland in 1991.


            Jacob Cruz hit .241 with 19 homers over 409 games for five teams in bits and pieces of nine MLB seasons between 1996 and 2005. The well-traveled Oxnard, California native also played in South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico before retiring after the 2010 season. Over the past five years, Cruz has been an offensive coordinator with the Chicago Cubs (2018), an assistant batting coach in Pittsburgh (2019), an assistant hitting coach in San Francisco (2020) and has served as the Giants' minor league batting coordinator over the past two summers.


            The five join Vinny Castilla, Tony Perezchica and Gil Velazquez, who were named to Gil's coaching staff earlier in December. Mexico will open Pool C play on March 11 against Colombia at 12:30PM local time. They'll also face the host United States, Great Britain and Canada that week.



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