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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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Wille-Romero-Russell-Vasquez            Seventeen days into the 2022-23 Mexican Pacific League season, the Obregon Yaquis board of directors fired manager Willie Romero last Friday. Bench coach Russel Vasquez was also sent packing after the Yaquis had posted a 5-9 record and were one game ahead of last-place Jalisco when the axe fell a little over two weeks into the schedule.


            The Mexican managerial merry-go-round (and the accompanying lack of job security running a baseball team south of the border) has been chronicled here for years, but few helmsmen have been given the pink slip as soon into their first season as Romero. The 48-year-old Venezuelan was spirited away by Obregon last spring from the Magallanes Navegantes, who he'd led to the Venezuelan League title last winter, to replace Sergio Gastelum, the 2020-21 LMP manager of the year.


            Replacing Romero at the helm of the Yaquis will be Luis Carlos Rivera, a former Atlanta and Baltimore pitcher who had been serving as Mazatlan's pitching coach after ironically coaching Romero's mound staff in Magallanes last season. The 44-year-old Rivera has managed Yucatan, Leon and Aguascalientes in the Mexican League but this will be the first time he's run a team in the Mex Pac. If history is any indication, it won't be the last.


            The Hermosillo Naranjeros have lifted their record to 12-5 and opened a three-game lead over six teams tied for second place with identical 9-8 records: Culiacan, Guasave, Los Mochis, Mazatlan, Mexicali and Navojoa. Monterrey and Obregon are tied for eighth at 7-10 while defending champion Jalisco brings up the rear at 5-12.


            One of players Rivera inherited from Romero in Obregon, outfielder Yadir Drake, leads the LMP in batting with a .365 average, ahead of Culiacan's Ramiro Pena (.359) and Leo Heras of Mexicali (.351). Monterrey slugger Fernando Perez, who's batting .323 for the Sultanes is the co-leader with four homers (matched in roundtrippers by Niko Vasquez of Mexicali, Hermosillo's Nick Torres and Sebastian Valle of Obregon). Perez also leads the Mex Pac with 18 RBIs, two ahead of Jalisco's Christian Villanueva. Hermosillo outfielder Jose Cardona has eight steals, topping Randy Romero of Mazatlan by one on the swipes chart.


            Three pitchers are tied at the top of the wins list with three victories apiece: Jalisco's Tyler Alexander, Juan Paul Oramas of Hermosillo and Mexicali's Davis Reyes. The veteran Oramas is third in ERA at 1.10, trailing only Los Mochis' Luis Miranda's 0.00 and Nico Tellache's 1.07 ERA for Guasave. The 2-0 Miranda, a former Atlanta farmhand who was 1-8 with a 9.64 ERA for Guadalajara last summer in the Mexican League, has allowed just seven hits over 13 scoreless innings in three starts for the Caneros. Guasave's Jeff Kinley and Javier Solano of Jalisco are tied for the lead in strikeouts with 21 apiece while Elkin Alcala of Mazatlan and Guasave's Brandon Koch each have eight saves to split the lead in that category.





            In conjunction with the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation, the Caribbean Series organizing committee has released the nine-day schedule for the 2023 version of the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball, to be held between Thursday, February 2 through Friday, February 10 in Caracas, Venezuela.


2023-Serie-de-Caribe-Schedule.jpg            The 65th Serie del Caribe will feature eight national champions for the first time as Cuba returns following a two-year absence while Curacao makes its initial entry into the competition. Longtime combatants Puerto Rico, Mexico, host Venezuela and the Dominican Republic have taken part almost every winter since the Caribbean Series was revived in 1970 after an 11-year layoff while Panama and Colombia have joined the fray on a conditional basis in recent years.


            Panama hosted the event in an emergency capacity in 2019 after political and economic turmoil forced Venezuela to back out of hosting the tournament weeks before it took place, with the Panamanians surprising the baseball world by winning the CS. Colombia joined the roster of nations in 2020 and after going winless their first two years, they won the championship last February in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.


            With eight teams competing in Gran Caracas 2023, four games will be played daily over the first seven dates of round-robin competition. The newer Estadio Rinaconda will host three games per day while venerable Estadio La Guaira will feature one game. On the Thursday, February 2 Opening Day, Cuba and Curaçao will meet at Rinconada Stadium at 10:30 AM. Colombia and Puerto Rico will do battle at La Guaira Stadium at 2:00PM. The final two contests of the day will take place at Estadio Rinconada as Mexico and the Dominican Republic will face each other at 3:00PM and in the official opening match after opening ceremonies, Panama and Venezuela will square off at 8:15PM.


            Game times and venues will remain the same throughout seven days of first-round action, with Venezuela playing in each nightcap as the host team. One semifinal on Thursday, February 9 will be played at Estadio La Guaira while the other semi is slated for Estadio Rinaconda. The following day, both games will take place at Rinaconda with the third-place game scheduled for 2:30PM and the title contest set for 7:30PM.


            The calendar proposed by the Organizing Committee was approved by the CBPC Assembly and endorsed by the Confederation of Professional Players of the Caribbean (CONPEPROCA). CBPC commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera said, "We want to congratulate the members of the Organizing Committee and the Venezuelan Baseball League for the tremendous work they have been doing to set up a great Caribbean Series in February 2023."


            The Organizing Committee is also preparing the start of ticket sales for the first days of November.





WBC US games            The countdown to the 2023 World Baseball Classic has already begun and with it, the assembling of the 20 teams that will play the tournament next March also began. Mexico has not been left behind and some of the names that will see action on the field of play during the international event are already known. Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías, Tampa Bay Rays infielder Randy Arozarena and Houston Astros hurler Jose Urquidy were all confirmed earlier in October.


            Urías is coming off a historic season in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, finishing as the National League's ERA leader with a 2.16 mark (becoming the first player born in Mexico to do so) while finishing with a record of 17-7 and an 0.96 WHIP in 175 innings pitched and recording 166 strikeouts in 31 starts.


            Arozarena played 153 games with Tampa Bay, posting a .263 batting average with 20 home runs, 72 runs scored, and 89 RBIs. In April of this year, the man born in Havana, Cuba but now a resident of Merida, Yucatan in the off-season received his Mexican citizenship and reiterated his desire to represent the Verdes Grande in the World Baseball Classic.


            Urquidy was announced as the third member of Mexico's WBC team. The 27-year-old Mazatlan product is currently pithing for Houston in the World Series after going 13-8 wth a 3.94 ERA over 28 starts for the Astros in 2022. Urquidy, who has yet to pitch in the current postseason, won both his starts against Atlanta in last year's World Series.


            Three more major league players join the list of players who have confirmed their interest in participating with Mexico: Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo, New York Mets starter Taijuan Walker and St. Louis Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos, reported the Mexican National Team Commission.


            Verdugo has six seasons of experience in the Major Leagues and is currently with the Red Sox. For his career, he boasts a .286 batting average, 44 home runs and 210 RBIs. He began his big league career as a Dodgers outfielder.


            Walker is a starter for the New York Mets and has 10 years of experience in the Major Leagues, where he has an overall record of 54-50 with a 3.89 ERA and 806 strikeouts. In 2021 he was chosen to participate in the All Star Game as a Mets representative.


            Gallegos has built a six-year MLB career in which he's also worn a Yankees jersey. The 31-year-old Obregon native had 57 appearances in 2022 for the Cards, registering an ERA of 3.05 with 73 strikeouts, a 1.02 WHIP and 14 saves in 20 opportunities.


            Mexico is part of Group C of the World Baseball Classic alongside the United States, Colombia, Canada and Great Britain. The Mexican squad will begin play on Sunday, March 11 against the Colombians at noon local time, followed by games against the USA on March 12, Great Britain on March 14 and Canada on March 15.


            All Group C contests will take place in Phoenix at the Arizona Diamondbacks home ballpark. The top two teams from each of four groups will advance to the quarterfinals in Miami on March 17 and 18 while the final four will continue play at Marlins Park for the semifinals and championship game March 19-21.


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