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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, November 4, 2 0 1 9

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A two-run single by Efren Navarro and a three-run homer by Ali Solis in the eighth inning broke open a one-run game as Mexico went on to defeat the United States, 8-2, Sunday night in WBSC Premier12 play at Guadalajara's Estadio Charros.  The win gives Mexico a 2-0 record in Group A play with one game left to play against The Netherlands (0-2) Tuesday night at 7PM Central time.  Regardless of Tuesday's outcome, Mexico (who has outscored their opponents 14-3 over their first two games) will advance to the second round of the Premier12 in Chiba, Japan because they've defeated both the USA and the Dominican Republic, who'll take 1-1 records into their game Monday night.


The Verdes Grande, who were Sunday's visiting team, opened the scoring early when Christian Villanueva singled off American starter Tanner Houck to plate in Jonathan Jones and Juan Perez in the top of the first inning to go up 2-0.  The United States chipped away at their deficit via the longball, as Eric Kratz belted a solo homer off Mexican starter Horacio Ramirez in the top of the third and Bobby Dalbac followed suit with a bases-empty blast off Ramirez one inning later to knot the score at 2-2.


Mexico went back ahead for good in the top of the fifth when Noah Perio hit a leadoff single, moved to third on a Javier Salazar safety and then scored the go-ahead run with two out when reliever Daniel Tillo's pitch to Esteban Quiroz got away from catcher Kratz.  From that point on, Felipe Gonzalez, Jesus Cruz, Brennan Bernardino and Carlos Bustamante held the Americans scoreless the rest of the way as Navarro and Solis put on their eighth frame fireworks show to cinch the win for the Mexicans. 


Gonzalez earned the win with 1.2 innings of scoreless pitching for Mexico while Houck took the loss for the USA.  The Grandes Verde collected 10 hits to 6 for the Americans as Perez, Solis and Perio each had a pair of hits.  A crowd of 10,123 witnessed the contest at Estadio Charros, the largest gathering over the first two days of Group A action.  Going into the Premier12, the USA (managed by ex-Yankees infielder Scott Brosius) was ranked second in the world while Mexico was sixth.


Quiroz belted a fourth-inning grand slam homer to break open Mexico's Premier12 opening game against the Dominican Republic Saturday in Guadalajara as the hosts went on to top the Dominicans by a 6-1 score.  The contest was halted by rain after six innings, sending the reported 8,000 fans at Estadio Charros home or to their hotel rooms early.


The Dominicans took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first when leadoff batter Geraldo Perdomo singled off Mexico starter Eduardo Vera, advanced to second base on an Otto Lopez groundout and later scored on a two-out single up the middle by former Mariners outfielder Carlos Peguero.  Peguero played three seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan before batting .286 with 9 homers and 44 RBIs in 52 games this summer for the Korea Baseball Organization's LG Twins (after spending a month with Tijuana in the Mexican League, hitting .259 with 5 homers in 22 contests).


The score held until the bottom of the third frame, when Salazar and Jones led off with singles and Christian Villanueva drew a one-out walk before Quiroz launched his bases-loaded blast over the center field wall off an Enny Romero delivery to give the Mexicans a 4-1 lead.  Two innings later, Navarro and Matt Clark hit back-to-back homers to right off reliever Luis Perez to make it a 6-1 contest.  Solis then struck out and Salazar grounded out to first before the game was called because of rain.  Reliever Humberto Castellanos got the win for Mexico after tossing two perfect innings while Romero absorbed the loss.


The Dominicans bounced back Sunday to even their Group A record at 1-1 with a 14-4 win over The Netherlands as Peguero, Charlie Valerio and Jeison Guzman each bopped solo homers after Holland had taken a 3-0 lead in the first.  The United States had swamped the Dutchmen, 9-0, in the Group A opener Saturday afternoon behind a two-hit shoutout from winner Cody Ponce (5 IP) and four relievers who were backed up by four homers, including a grand slam from Red Sox prospect  Dalbac.  Venerable Rob Cordemans took the loss for The Netherlands.  Cordemans, who turned 45 on Halloween, has pitched internationally for Holland since 1995, including appearances in the World Baseball Classic, Olympic Games, Baseball World Cup and Intercontinental Cup (winning the 2011 Gold medal) while anchoring eight European Baseball Championship title teams.





Weeks into their inaugural Mexican Pacific League season, the Monterrey Sultanes are finding life a little tougher on the playing field as well as in the luxury suites and box seats.  The Sultanes are a perennial powerhouse during the spring and summer during the Mexican League season, but they currently have a 7-12 LMP record to tie fellow expansionists Guasave for sixth place, four games behind the 11-8 Obregon Yaquis. 


Monterrey's winterball team is operated separately from their Liga brethren, with largely different players and coaches.  Former White Sox outfielder Alejandro de Aza leads the Sultanes with a .394 batting average while outfielders Michael Choice and Felix Perez have combined for four homers and 23 RBIs (although Perez is hitting just .209 thus far after batting .308 with 30 homers for Monterrey over the summer).  Sultanes manager Homar Rojas' pitching staff has struggled at times, although starting pitcher Edgar Gonzalez has pitched better than his 1-2 record indicates, with a 2.01 ERA and 19 strikeouts and just 2 walks over 22.1 innings. 


Even though the team is not performing up to the usual Monterrey standards, they ARE a new LMP entry and there are still nearly two months to turn things around in the won-lost column.  The front office may be wishing their team's on-field performance was their biggest concern, but that distinction may belong to the some of the Sultanes' most well-heeled fans.


According to Puro Beisbol, lifetime holders of seats and luxury boxes at Estadio Monterrey have sent a letter to the Sultanes threatening legal action after the team allegedly failed to honor terms of the agreement between the two sides dating back 30 years.  At that time, several prominent baseball fans in Monterrey made significant monetary contributions toward the construction of Estadio Monterrey, which opened July 12, 1990, when the city hosted the World Youth Baseball Champions for players 16 and under.  The Sultanes' first LMB home game there was played against Nuevo Laredo one week later.  The agreement between the franchise and benefactor fans was that in exchange for their contributions toward building Mexico's largest ballpark at present, the fans would receive "lifetime" access to their designated boxes and seats for up to 50 years, or until the year 2040.


Now, those fans are claiming that Sultanes co-owners Grupo Multimedios, who bought half the team in 2017, have reneged on the agreement cobbled together by co-owner and team president Jose "Pepe" Maiz three decades ago.  "As many know," the letter states, "a new administration led by Multimedios entered two years ago and arbitrarily decided this year not to invalidate those rights granted to us nearly 30 years ago."


Making things more complicated for the Sultanes is another claim made in the letter: That the team cannot use Estadio Monterrey for Mex Pac games because the contract (presumably the one between the team and lifetime seatholders) needs to first be modified by the Nuevo Leon state government and has been suspended by order of a federal judge.  "We want to see the Pacific League and encourage teams in our state," the letter concludes, "But we will not let a company (Multimedios) make fun of us and our rights."


Back between the LMP foul lines, a first-half dogfight has developed at the top of the standings between Culican and Hermosillo.  The Tomateros have a 14-5 record to clutch a narrow half-game lead over the 13-5 Naranjeros.  Los Mochis and defending champion Jalisco are two games out of first with identical 12-7 records, one game ahead of Obregon. 


Noel Cuevas of Los Mochis leads in batting with a .395 average while Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde is second at 387.  Obregon outfielder Paulo Orlando is tops with 6 homers and tied with teammate Art Charles for third with 17 RBIs, one behind co-leaders Henry Urrutia of Jalisco and another Yaquis player, Jesus "Cacao" Valdez, who have 18 ribbies each.  Culiacan's Rico Noel is first in stolen bases with 9.  


Six pitchers have three wins apiece, one of them being Jalisco reliever Linder Castro.  A 28-year-old righty who represented Aguascalientes in the 2018 Mexican League All-Star Game, Castro is 3-0 with a save and has yet to be scored upon in eight appearances out of the bullpen, striking out 10 batsmen and walking one in 10.2 innings.  Among LMP starters, Los Mochis' Luke Heimlich has the lowest ERA at 0.77 after four starts, Arturo Lopez (Obregon) and Greg Mahle (Mexicali) are tied with 23 strikeouts and Hermosillo's Trey McNutt leads with 8 saves.





Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador touted how much a baseball fan he is during his 2018 campaign, and has proven as good as his word since the 65-year-old Tabasco native took office for his 6-year term last December.  Lopez Obrador has ordered the Mexican League to reinstate four financially-troubled teams scheduled for a one-year hiatus in 2019 as well as demanding the Mexican Pacific League expand from eight to ten teams this winter to fulfill a campaign promise to voters in Guasave to bring the Mex Pac back to the agricultural city. AMLO has also taken an active role in building the sport by appointing ex-MLB infielder Edgar Gonzalez as head of the newly-created President's Office for Promotion and Development of Baseball in Mexico while envisioning a series of federally-funded baseball academies at school campuses across the country.  Whatever one thinks of his ideas, nobody can deny that Lopez Obrador has been very proactive on behalf of his favorite sport.


AMLO's love of baseball has led the summer Northern Mexico League to hold talks with Gonzalez seeking government subsidies to help the LNM operate last season and now, the Veracruz Winter League is apparently following suit.  Diario de Acayucan writer Enrique Reyes Grajales recently reported that several teams are interested in playing in the LIV this winter, but most lack the money to meet player payroll without government subsidies.  Reyes Grajales says sisters Regina and Fabiola Vasquez Saut, co-owners of the Acayucan Tobis who rebooted the LIV last year, are hoping for an audience with Lopez Obrador to ask for federal assistance to keep their league afloat for another season.


Taxpayer support used to not be a problem when the state of Veracruz was led by then-governor Javier Duarte, who was generous with both the LIV (formed in 2005) and the Mexican League Veracruz Rojos del Aguila.  However, state subsidies dried up after Duarte left office amid a corruption scandal that eventually led to his extradition from Guatemala and subsequent imprisonment, causing owner Jose Antonio Mansur to move his LMB franchise to Nuevo Laredo a year after the original LIV had shut down altogether in 2016.  Former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Narciso Elvira led a replacement circuit named the Veracruz State Baseball League for two winters, but the four-team loop relied on untested rookies playing a short weekend-only schedule and the LVEB never really caught on before folding after the 2017-18 season.


The second LIV featured six teams playing weekend series in the regular season and playoffs. The Vasquez Saut sisters' Acayucan team won the pennant for their second straight berth in the Latin American Series, where the Tobis reached the title game in Veracruz' Estadio Universitario Beto Avila, losing to Nicaragua's Leon Leones, 4-3, on February 1.


Since then, the LIV website has shut down and no posts have been made on their Facebook page since July 29 with a plug for a local restaurant and an appearance by Salon de la Fama pitcher Angel Moreno. the Mexican League's career wins leader among left-handers with a 263-171 record.  Only time will tell if Reyes Grajales was correct and whether the Vasquez Saut sisters were able to get AMLO to give federal help in keeping the LIV alive but now that November is underway, that time is running out.  


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