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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

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            Although the next edition of the Caribbean Series is slated to take place next February in the relatively stable Dominican Republic, Septima Entrada writer Tomas Lopez says Mexican Pacific League president Omar Canizales is touting a Mexican city that has never hosted the event as a possible future site: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.


            It shouldn't be long before Monterrey can have a Serie del Caribe,” Canizales is quoted as saying. “Indeed, there's an agreement between the owners of the teams where there's a rotation to host this tournament.” Canizales added that Monterrey could be an ideal fill-in in case another scheduled country declines to host the event for some reason because the hometown Sultanes are co-owned by the Multimedios media company that can effectively get the word out on short notice. The Sultanes' 21,906-seat Estadio Monterrey is the largest ballpark in Mexico and third-largest in Latin America.


            Canizales alluded to past Caribbean Series that have had to move weeks before the tournament to alternate sites like Panama City and Guadalajara because of politicial and economic miseries occurring in Venezuela, the planned host site. “Let's remember that eventually eventually, our Caribbean brothers in some countries may have some instability and I think Monterrey can be a good 'pinch-hitter' for this event...I believe Monterrey and Multimedios can be tremendous hosts.”


            Mexico is one of four nations included in the CS rotation along with Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Venezuela is scheduled to host the Serie del Caribe in 2023 while Mexico, which held the event in Mazatlan last winter, is not slated to come up in the rotation until 2025. Mexicali is seen as the frontrunner to serve as host that year.


            Meanwhile, on the playing field, only two games separate the top five teams in the Mex Pac standings after last weekend's games. When the dust settled Sunday night, Navojoa had sole possession of first place with a 15-8 record after the Mayos slipped past Obregon, 3-2, in ten innings. Maikel Serrano's bases-loaded walkoff single to left off reliever Alberto Leyva plated Jorge Sesma with the winning run as Obregon fell to a three-way tie for third with Jalisco and defending champion Culiacan.


            Guasave kept pace with Navojoa and remain a half-game out of first after clobbering Mexicali, 11-2, Sunday at Estadio Aguilas. Yadir Drake crushed a three-run homer for the Algodoneros while Jhoan Urena went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs to support starter Jordan Kipper's five shutout inings.


            Jalisco dropped a 5-4 decision Sunday to Los Mochis at home to remain in third a 13-10. Caneros' leadoff hitter Justin Dean and second batter Issac Rodriguez combined for five hits, three RBIs and two runs scored for the winners.  Likewise, Culiacan remain tied for third Sunday after losing to Mazatlan, 3-2, at home. The Venados' Ramon Rios stroked a leadoff single, moved to second on a bunt, took third on a Derrick Loop wild pitch and scored the winning run on a Ricky Alvarez sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth.


            Navojoa outfielder Tirso Ornelas is the LMP's only .400 hitter and leads the loop with a .417 average, ahead of Jalisco's Christian Villanueva (.394) and Nick Torres of Hermosillo (.370). Torres' six homers are tops, followed by the five apiece from Monterrey's Danny Ortiz and Kyle Martin of Navojoa (who's hit his longballs over just ten games). Guasave's Jesse Castillo leads Maikel Serrano of Navojoa in the RBI race, 21 to 20. Culiacan's Dairon Blanco heads the list in stolen bases with eight, one more than three other baserunners: Jose Cardona (Hermosillo), Sebastian Elizalde (Culiacan) and Roel Santos (Navojoa).


            On the mound, 2018-19 LMP Pitcher of the Year Elian Leyva is making the decision of the Jalisco Charros to release him last winter appear ill-considered. Now pitching for Hermosillo, the Cuban-born righty gave up one single over seven innings in Monterrey Saturday to run his string of shutout entradas at the start of the season to 32. Needless to say, Leyva's 0.00 ERA is best in the Mex Pac (Jalisco's Orlando Lara has allowed one earned run over 27 frames), his 4-0 record matches Navojoa's Carlos de Leon for most wins and his 0.63 WHIP is also first in the LMP. Leyva's 25 strikeouts are third on that list behind two Obregon hurlers, Luis Escobar (30) and Hector Velazquez (27). Jake Sanchez' strong work for Mexicali continues, with the Californian's seven saves leading Navojoa's Carlos Bustamante's five while striking out 17 batters in just ten innings to augment his 0.90 ERA.


            Looking forward, a pair of midweek series loom large when Jalisco visits Obregon and Navojoa opens a three-game series in Hermosillo on Tuesday. Next weekend, Navojoa will host Guasave while Hermosillo will be in Guadalajara for a trio of games against the Charros as all five teams seek to break up the relative logjam at the top.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE STANDINGS: Navojoa 15-8, Guasave 14-8, Culiacan 13-10, Jalisco 13-10, Obregon 13-10, Hermosillo 12-11, Mexicali 10-13, Mazatlan 9-14, Monterrey 9-14, Los Mochis 6-16.





            The Mexican League has announced that its Assembly of Presidents recently approved  a 90-game regular season for 2022 running from late April until early August, followed by an extended postseason in which 12 of the Liga's 18 teams will qualify for playoff berths.


            The anouncement came from the LMB office in Mexico City, in which league president Horacio de la Vega stated, “I appreciate the encouragement and collaboration of all the presidents to define the key dates for the 2022 season in order to have adequate planning that will benefit us all: fans, television stations and sponsors.”


            The Mexican League regular season is slated to open Thursday, April 21, at Estadio Nacional, home of the defending champion Tijuana Toros. The Bulls' opponent was not mentioned. The rest of the LMB will swing into action one night later on Friday, April 22. The regular season, which will consist of a total of 810 games, will conclude on Sunday, August 7, with the playoffs to commence shortly thereafter. The Liga's All-Star Weekend will take place between June 17 through 19 in Monclova. There was no All-Star Game last summer.


            The playoffs will be similar to this year's format, in which the top six teams from each division will advance to the first round, with the three series winners moving on to the Division Semifinals along with a fourth “wild card” club that fared the best among the three opening round losers. The LMB will use a single-season format and discard the two-half look it's had in past seasons and that the Mexican Pacific League still employs during the winter.


            While the 90-game slate represents a 36 percent increase over this year's pandemic-shortened, 66-game schedule, it also marks a 25 percent reduction from 2019's 120-calendar and will be the circuit's shortest regular season since before it was officially brought into the National Association (now Minor League Baseball) as a Class AA league in 1955. The shaving of 30 games off the last full season is partly meant to limit financial losses for the vast majority of LMB teams who lose money every time they throw the gates open. The Liga will now play only 22 more regular games than the Mex Pac.


            The Mexican League is a member of Minor League Baseball but operates as an independent league devoid of any formal affiliations with Major League organizations. The Liga's classification was raised from AA to AAA in 1967 but the loop received no classification for 2021.


            There was also a 3-for-1 trade in the Mexican League last month that saw Monclova send infielder Jose Vargas plus pitchers Ryan Verdugo and reliever Andrew Morales to Saltillo for outfielder Juan Perez in what appears to be an Acereros payroll deduction. Vargas hit .302 with 8 homers and 28 RBIs in 46 games for Monclova last summer, Verdugo was 1-0 with a 14.49 ERA in 11 appearances (including two starts) while Morales went 1-2 and 4.81 in 23 relief outings. Perez hit .233 for the Saraperos in 2021, adding 10 homers and 26 ribbies in 65 games.



MEX PAC ROAD TRIP (Stop #5): Navojoa, Sonora


            From Obregon, we’ll continue our virtual Mexican Pacific League road trip with a short 43-mile hop south on Highway 15 to the fifth of ten stops: Navojoa, Sonora, home of the Mayos and one of the LMP's smaller markets with a 2020 population of 164,387.


            The word “navojoa” comes from the Mayo Indian dialect root “navo” (or “prickly pear cactus”) and “jova” (or “house”), therefore meaning “the house of prickly pear cactus.” Even before the Spaniards arrived, the Mayo tribe had possession of the land including the Rio Mayo and the Mayo Valley. Although Spanish explorer Diego de Guzman arrived in the area in 1536 and Jesuit missionaries began settling locally in the 17th Century, Navojoa dates back to 1825, when it was part of the old State of the West formed after the Mexican Independence War starting in 1810.


          Due to its geographical location, Navojoa has been considered from the start as the center of productivity of this region, combining with Ciudad Obregon to form the Mayo Valley, one of Mexico’s most productive agricultural regions. The most important businesses are concentrated in Navojoa, with the main northbound and southbound state highways and railroads coming through the city as well as highways going to Alamos and Yavaros.


            Known as “The Pearl of the Mayo”, Navojoa is a city of contrasts. In spite of its modern features, the city has preserved an array of important historical monuments in the area well worth visiting, among them the Municipal Palace, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, sculpted monuments such as one erected in memory of General Alvaro Obregon, a plaza with obelisks in honor of the Talamante brothers.


            The Navojoa Mayos started in the Mexican Pacific League in the 1959-60 season and (after a two-year absence between 1960 and 1962) are playing their 60th consecutive season of winterball.  After winning three titles in the old Pacific Coast League, the Mayos copped their first Mex Pac pennant in 1978-79 under manager Chuck Goggin and won their second (and last) flag in 1999-20 for skipper Lorenzo Bundy. They are now managed by Salon de la Fama member Matias Carrillo, who led Navojoa to the LMP finals against Hermosillo in 2013-14, one of ten times the Mayos have played the postseason bridesmaids. The team has retired two numbers: the 12 of Jose “Chico” Bojorquez and the 25 worn by Hector Heredia and


            “The Tribe” plays their home games at Estadio Manuel “Ciclon” Echevarria, an 11,500-seat ballpark named after a locally-born Salon de la Fama pitcher. The ballpark opened in time for the 1970-71 season and is owned by the Sonora state government. Navojoa is the only LMP city that hasn't built a new stadium or performed major renovations to its existing facility over the past decade.


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