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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 outbreak of the coronavirus and the resulting panic that led to the delay of the Major League Baseball regular season has unsurprisingly meant the cancellation of a planned two-game series between the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks in Mexico City next month. The so-called Mexico Series would've pitted the two National League West rivals against each other on the weekend of April 18-19 at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City.


            Instead, the two contests will be rescheduled later in the season in Phoenix, as the Diamondbacks had relinquished two home dates to make room for the Mexico Series. "It breaks our heart we won't be playing in front of the incredible fans in Mexico," a statement from the Arizona front office reads, "but health and safety come first." A tweet from the Padres states, "Our series in Mexico City has been cancelled do to the delayed start of the 2020 season. We look forward to the next time we are playing in front of our beloved fans in Mexico." MLB also cancelled a planned three-game series between the New York Mets and Miami Marlins between April 28-30 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. No decision has been made yet regarding the fate of this June's London Series in England between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.


            The Mexico Series would've marked the first MLB regular season games ever played in Mexico City, where the Diablos Rojos' 20,576-seat ballpark (named after their billionaire owner) opened a year ago this Monday when the Diablos hosted a team of Padres minor leaguers in front of a full house. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became the first Mexico president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch since 1947 and Mexico City's Jesus Fabela scored the first run in the new facility, but the rest of the contest belonged to the Padres, who won 11-2 in a game that was overshadowed by the festivities surrounding it. The Diablos went on to draw 389,641 fans over 54 regular season games last year (an average of 7,216 per opening) to finish fourth in the LMB in attendance, trailing only Tijuana (11,291), Monterrey (9,770) and Yucatan (8,673). The Toros and Sultanes led all of Minor League Baseball in average attendance while the Leones finished fifth. Mexico City was 18th overall.


            The cancellation of the Mexico City will cause a financial hit to the host Diablos Rojos. Ticket prices for the two games started at 450 pesos (US$18.41) for outfield seats and rose to 3,200 pesos (US$130.95) for VIP seats and 2,500 pesos (US$102.30) to sit behind home plate. Ticket refunds are being offered to those who already purchased their ducats.


MLB has previously held eleven regular season games in Mexico, all at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey, home of the Sultanes.  The first was a Padres-Colorado Rockies game on April 4, 1999, which brought in a ballpark record 27,104 spectators. A pair of two-game series last year (Cardinals-Red and Angels-Astros) drew in the 16,000-18,000 range per opening. 





            The Mexican Pacific League has announced the winners of its 2019-20 season Rawlings Gold Glove awards, given annually to players considered the best fielder at their respective positions. Four of then ten players receiving honors were members of the LMP champion Culiacan Tomateros.


            Pitcher of the Year Yoanys Quiala of Los Mochis aided his own cause by handling 18 chances in the field without a miscue in 87.2 innings over 14 starts without to earn the Gold Glove for hurlers, his second in a row with the Caneros. As a Culiacan postseason addition, Quiala was perfect on four chances during his lone start in the Caribbean Series.


            Two catchers also played errorless ball in 2019-20 to share the Gold Glove. Jalisco's Gabriel Gutierrez, already known as a top-notch receiver, burnished his reputation by not committing an error on 458 chances behind the plate. He also nailed 25 of 49 base-stealers for a 51% mark in that category. Another stalwart defensive backstop, Mexicali's Xorge Carrillo, was awarded after fielding 376 chances cleanly in 51 games. Carrillo threw out 17 of 46 base-stealers, a 37 percent rate.


            Culiacan anchored the right side of the LMP's defensive dream team. First baseman Joey Meneses committed two errors on 454 opportunities to finish with a .996 fielding percentage. Meneses, who hit .332 during the regular season, was flawless in 35 chances in four games at the initial hassock during the Caribbean Series and hit .417 before signing with Boston after the tournament.


            Tomateros second baseman Ramiro Pena, a favorite of manager Benji Gil, earned top honors at the keystone position by turning in a .988 fielding percentage after committing just three blunders over 256 chances. The former Yankees infielder, who also had MLB stints with Atlanta and San Francisco, handled 24 chances without error in the Caribbean Series and turned three double plays.


            Jalisco veteran Agustin Murillo is not a newcomer when it comes to winning Gold Gloves at third base in the Mex Pac, and 2019-20 was no exception. Murillo turns 38 in May but showed no sign of slowing after augmenting his .314 batting average with a .993 fielding percentage, committing just one gaffe in 139 chances and taking part in nine twin-killings.


Daniel Castro's glovework is what led to MLB opportunities with both Atlanta and Colorado between 2015 and 2018, thus it's no surprise that his work at shortstop for Mexicali has been rewarded. Castro, who also plays second and third, was 261-for-266 in fielding chances for the Aguilas to finish with a .981 average after splitting the 2019 season between the Mariners and Dodgers systems.


            Culiacan players also anchored two of three positions on the LMP's Gold Glove team. Speedy Rico Noel, who led the league in steals (30) and runs scored (47), earned the nod in centerfield with a .986 fielding percentage, committing five errors in 138 chances during the regular season. He handled 18 chances without sin during the Caribbean and started a double play from the outfield.


            Tomateros teammate Sebastian Elizalde was named the Gold Glove rightfielder after recording a .983 fielding average, committing two errors in 115 chances over 54 regular season contests. A former Reds farmhand who played for Mexico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Elizalde played three games in the Serie del Caribe, fielding eight fly balls cleanly before signing with the New York Mets.


            Navojoa's Alonzo Harris, the 2019 Mexican League MVP, was given a Gold Glove for his play in left field for the Mayos. Harris was 133-for-135 in chances for a .985 fielding percentage and threw out six baserunners. The Mississippi native broke into pro ball in 2008 as a second baseman before being converted into an outfielder as a Mets minor leaguer during the 2011 season.





            The World Baseball and Softball Confederation released its first set of global baseball rankings for 2020 last Friday. There were no changes among the top six teams, which means Mexico maintained its number five ranking from the previous rankings released on December 31, 2019. In all, 86 nations were listed.


            Japan held on to the top spot with 6,167 total points, providing the Baseball Samurai a comfortable lead over the second-ranked United States, who came in with 4,676 points. South Korea is breathing down the USA's neck with 4,648 points while Taiwan held on to fourth place at 4,385. Mexico's 3,375 points was good enough to keep the fifth slot but Australia is not far behind in sixth at 3,249. Cuba and Venezuela leap-frogged past The Netherlands into seventh and eighth place, respectively, while the Dutchmen slipped from seventh to ninth. The Dominican Republic rounded out the Top Ten with Puerto Rico hanging on to its #11 ranking while Panama slipped past Canada into twelfth on the list as Latin American countries make up half of the dozen leading nations on the listing. At the other end of the spectrum, Bahrain, Haiti and Iraq were tied for 84th and last with five points apiece.


            In other categories, Japan also led in the women's baseball rankings, ahead of Canada, Taiwan and Venezuela, who bypassed the USA into fourth place while the Americans dropped to fifth. Mexico moved past the Philippines into 14th place in women's baseball. In men's softball, Japan holds the top slot in those rankings as well after slipping past former #1 Argentina in the latest listing. New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States round out the top six while Mexico moved up one berth to eighth, trailing the seventh-place Czech Republic. In the WBSC women's softball rankings, the USA preventing Japan from sweeping all the top spots by holding the number one position on that table while Japan stayed in second. Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico complete the first five.


            Global rankings from the WBSC are compiled on a points system based on how well respective national teams perform at various levels of competition. Baseball rankings are drawn from the World Baseball Classic and Premier12 events as well as Baseball World Cup tournaments at the U-23, U-18, U-15 and U-12 age groups. Continental events such as Europe's CEB Championships or the Pan-American Games are also included, albeit for fewer points in the ranking system, while co-called friendlies between national teams in non-tournament settings (such as last winter's Samurai Series between Japan and Mexico) round out the points system. Rankings are released on an irregular basis, although the WBSC usually compiles them at least once a year.



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