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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 Hermosillo Naranjeros are one of the proudest teams in Mexico. Dating back to the 1940's (when the team was known as the Queliteros), Hermosillo has won a total of 19 pennants in four winter leagues, the most recent being in 2013-14 under manager Matias Carrillo, who also led that year's squad to their second Caribbean Series title. Since then, the team has gone through manager after manager seeking another flag for the Orangemen. The latest occupant of the perpetually-hot seat in Hermosillo is Juan Gabriel Castro, a former Dodgers infielder and Mexican National Team manager who has already become very well-aquainted with the vagaries of managing a baseball team south of the border.


            Castro inherited the reins of the Naranjeros from ex-skipper Juan Navarrete during the season last winter and led them to a 36-32 regular season record (21-18 under his command) before a first round playoff loss to Monterrey in seven games. He got the chance to start this season at the helm of the team and thus far has the Naranjeros at 8-3 out the gate to lead the LMP standings, good for a one-game lead over Guasave and two games up on four other teams. Defending champion Jalisco is tenth and last at 3-8.


            The Naranjeros are a veteran outfit with the likes of thirtysomethings Maxwell Leon, Luis Alfonso Cruz, Walter Ibarra and Fernando Salas along with relative youngsters Roberto Ramos, Nick Torres, Jasson Atondo and Jose Cardona. Thus far, Cardona (an eight-year Texas farmhand who hit .389 for Jalisco in last winter's Caribbean Series) is hitting .319 with three doubles, a triple and 11 runs scored in as many games while Ramos and Torres have seven homers and 19 RBIs between them.


            Hermosillo's pitching has been solid, if unspectacular as Salas has two saves in five appearances and has yet to be scored upon while another vet hurler, Juan Pablo Oramas, is 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 11 strikeouts in two starts. While it's far too early to think about the postseason with 58 games and two-plus months left in the regular season, Castro is hoping to be a rarity with the Naranjeros: A manager who lasts two full seasons in orange and black.


            One player who's off to a hot start is veteran outfielder-first baseman Sebastian Elizalde of Culiacan. Now in his 12th Mex Pac season (starting at the tender age of 18 with Hermosillo in 2010-11), Elizalde is the only .400 hitter in the early LMP going with a .429 average, 35 points ahead of Mexicali's Leo Heras at .394. Hermosillo's Torres is tied with Felix Perez of Monterrey with four homers each while Perez, who's also hitting .366, is leading with 14 RBIs, three up on Torres and Navojoa's Ian Sagdal. Justin Dean (Los Mochis) and Jared Oliva (Obregon) are tied at the top of the stolen base charts with six apiece.


            At least eight pitchers are tied with two wins each, among them Guasave's Jeff Kinley, Braulio Torres-Perez of Mazatlan and Navojoa righty Luis Payan (who are all sporting 0.00 ERAs less than two weeks into the schedule). Fabian Cota of Los Mochis had four strikeouts in his last start to raise his total to 14, one more than Kinley. Brandon Koch has been a standout as Guasave's new closer, saving each of the Algodoneros' seven wins to lead the loop, while Mazatlan's Elkin Alcala has five salvados for the Venados.


MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings: Hermosillo 8-3, Guasave 7-4, Los Mochis 6-5, Mazatlan 6-5, Mexicali 6-5, Navojoa 6-5, Culiacan 5-6, Monterrey 4-7, Obregon 4-7, Jalisco 3-8.





            Despite taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Angel Camacho motored home from third base on a Lee Chen-hsun wild pitch, Mexico went scoreless the rest of the way in a 3-1 loss to host Taiwan in Sunday's Bronze medal game at the World Baseball Softball Confederation's U-23 Baseball Gold Cup tournament in Taipei.


            After surprise starter Nestor Anguamea (who'd been Mexico's closer) pitched a 1-2-3 top of the first, Camacho hit a leadoff single off Lee, took second on an Aldo Nunez bunt and moved to third on a bunt by Jose Zepeda before scampering home when Lee uncorked a wild pitch to Brandon Valenzuela. Lee settled down to end the inning without any further damage and went on to limit the Mexicans to two more singles through the fifth frame, retiring the last eight batters he faced before giving way to reliever Chuang Hsin-yen in the sixth.


            By then, Taiwan had taken the lead after tying the score on Chen Sheng-ping's RBI double in the top of the second and then going up 3-1 one inning later on Chen's two-run single up the middle off reliever Erubiel Armenta, who had just replaced Anguemea with the bases loaded. Armenta and three relievers held Taiwan scoreless for the next four innings while Chuang pitched two perfect entradas for the hosts as 481 onlookers watched at Tianmu Stadium. Besides Camacho, Zepeda and Hugo Sanchez singled for Mexico but no runner reached base after the third inning. Later in the Gold medal game, Japan shut out South Korea, 3-0, as Asian teams took all three medals home.


            It was somewhat miraculous that Mexico got as far as they did. They advanced to the Super Round with five other teams despite being shut out in both of their last two First Round games: a 2-0 loss to Cuba last Tuesday in what had been a scoreless contest until the Cubans pushed two runs across in the top of the seventh, followed by a 1-0 defeat to South Korea in Wednesday's make-up of an earlier rainout. That one was likewise scoreless until the Koreans scored the game's lone run in the top of the eighth on a throwing error by Mexican catcher Valenzeula, who was trying to nail tiebreak lead runner Kim Tae-yun at third after Kim had first advanced from second on a throwing error by reliever Manuel Castro.


            Despite failing to score over their last 15 innings and collecting eight hits over the two shutouts, Mexico was one of five Group B teams to finish 2-3 behind 5-0 South Korea, and was waved to the Super Round along with Australia due to tiebreaker arcana we won't go into here (life is short enough already).


            Mexico then went 2-1 in the Super Round, starting with a 4-3 win over Colombia last Thursday in which they overcame a 3-1 deficit with three fifth-inning runs thanks to a pair of walks and a wild pitch (all with the bases loaded). Camacho and Valenzuela each had two of Mexico's eight hits in the game.


            That was followed by 2-1 Friday shocker over host Taiwan in eight innings. Mexico recorded ten singles for the night, none more important than Ruben Salinas' poke to left field that allowed Zepeda to score from third with the go-ahead run. After getting the last two outs of the seventh, Castro held the Formosans hitless in the bottom of the eighth to nail down the victory.


            Mexico suffered their first loss of the Super Round Sunday in a 4-2 defeat at the hands of 2016 Gold Cup champion Japan. The game wasn't that close, with the Japanese scoring a run in the second inning and three more in the third as Kanta Aiba and Kaido Saida had RBI singles. Mexico finally got on the scoreboard via Salinas' bases-loaded walk in the sixth and Zepeda's double in the seventh bringing in Christopher Escarrega, but manager Che Reyes' team had just three hits overall as Japan's Raiku Katayama tossed five no-hit innings in another Mexican offensive meltdown after two solid games at the plate. Japan advanced to the title game against South Korea with the win while Mexico was sent to the third-place game against Taiwan. Sunday's loss dropped the Mexicans' overall record to 4-5 for a fourth-place finish in the 12-team tournament.


            Mexico hit .203 as a team for the Gold Cup. Camacho's .333 average the only one above .250 among individual players. A California native, Camacho's nine hits led the team, as did his one triple. Valenzuela and Javier Sanchez had three RBIs each while 2021 Mexican Winter League batting champion Oliver Carrillo's four runs scored were tops.


            The pitching was much better, as the squad turned in a collective 1.59 ERA. Castro was 2-1 in relief and one of four hurlers with a 0.00 ERA. Fernando Sanchez had no decisions in two starts but he had a 1.50 ERA while his 15 strikeouts in 9.1 innings led Mexico. Anguamea's ERA went from 0.00 to 3.32 with his rocky start against Taiwan in the Bronze medal game and he finished 0-2, but he also had both saves at the World Cup.





            While most of the the 300 players on the Mexican Pacific League's opening night rosters overwhelmingly hail from Mexico, to the surprise of nobody, there are many countries that contribute talent to the Mex Pac's ten teams. Writer Christan Vernet of Mexico's ScoreDeportes website recently took a deep dive into the numbers to find out exactly where these guys DO come from. Here are translated and edited excerpts from his column on the matter (thanks to Carlos Fragoso of Mexico City for forwarding the story):


            Two Mexican locales with a rich history and baseball tradition, Sonora and Sinaloa, top the list of States in Mexico with the largest number of players represented, according to birthplaces listed on the Mexican Pacific league's opening rosters.

            This article shows the distribution of the origin of the 300 baseball players who started in the rosters of the 10 teams for their respective opening games of the 2022-2023 season of the Mexican Pacific League. The players and places of birth were listed by the 10 teams on their respective rosters, which were distributed to representatives of the media.


            There are 234 players born in Mexican territory, or 78 percent of the total of players. In addition, there are 7 other nations represented, led by the United States, which has 52 (17.3%), including players who are regarded as Mexican “nationals.” The overall percentage of foreigners born outside of Mexico is 66 playrs, or 22 percent. Cuba is the second foreign country with the most players with seven (2.3%), followed by Colombia with three (1%) and the rest are Germany, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico with one each (0.3%).

            Now it's time to distribute them by states: Sinaloa is unsurprisingly number one in that category, since of the 234 Mexicans, 67 (28.6%) were born in Sinaloan territory. Sonora is number two with 62 players, or 26.5 percent.


            In total there are 22 states of the Mexican Republic represented. Third place is occupied by Baja California Norte with 31 (13.2%), followed by Jalisco with 12 (5.1%), then Coahuila and Nuevo León with 9 apiece (3.8%). The “Top Ten” is completed by Veracruz with 6 (2.6%), Baja California Sur, Chihuahua and Yucatan with 5 each (2.1%).


            Regarding the distribution by municipalities, Ahome, a suburb of Los Mochis, is the leader of all with a total of 30 players, or 12.8% of the 234 Mexican baseball players. Hermosillo and Cajeme are tied for second place with 19 baseball players (8.1%), followed by Guasave with 14 (6%), Tijuana and Culiacán each have a dozen (5.1%) while Mexicali and Mazatlán both have 10, or 4.3%.


            Looking at the United States, California has 21 players, which could be the fourth best mixed with those in Mexico, just behind Sinaloa (67), Sonora (62) and Baja California Norte (31). California has 40.4 percent of the LMP's American 52 players, followed by Texas with 6  (11.5%), Arizona has 5 (9.6%), Florida and Illinois have 3 each (5.8%) and Indiana has 2 (3.8%). In total, there are 18 US states.


            As for the foreign cities with the largest number of players, they are Cartagena, Colombia; Havana, Cuba; and Dallas, Texas (all with 3), followed by Camagüey, Cuba; Tucson, Arizona; and Anaheim and Long Beach, California with 2 each.


            The Mexcali Aguilas have the most players born outside of Mexico with nine, while Guasave, Obregon and Los Mochis have 8 each followed by Hermosillo (7), Culiacan(6) and Mazatlan, Monterrey, Jalisco and Navojoa with the minimum regulatory amount of 5.


            These are only numbers and statistics of places of origin of the players who started the season. In January, we'll have a second installment to know the origin of all the players who participated during the season.


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