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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

B a s e b a l l   M e x i c o
Monday, September 6, 2021

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            The Yucatan Leones and Tijuana Toros wrapped up their respective Mexican League Division Championship Series last week and will clash in Game One of the Serie del Rey Monday night in Tijuana. The Leones defeated Mexico City in five games the LMB South title while the Toros required six games to dispatch Guadalajara in the LMB North finals. Both the Diablos Rojos and Mariachis finished first in their respective divisions during the regular season.


            The following is a wrap of last week's Liga playoff games:




            After the Leones won the first two games of the LMB South Championship Series in Mexico City, both teams moved to Merida for the next three contests, starting with last Monday's 5-3 Yucatan win over the Diablos. Mexico City drew initial blood in the top of the first inning when Jesus Fabela scored from third on Japhet Amador's bases-loaded, 6-4-3 double play grounder. Yucatan answered in the bottom of the frame with Yadir Drake launching a two-run homer to put the hosts up 2-1. Another longball by Leones outfielder Jose Juan Aguilar in the bottom of the second made it a 3-1 contest and Yucatan maintained their advatange the rest of the night. Drake ended the game batting 3-for-4 in support of starter Jake Thompson, who let in two runs on three hits over six innings. Diablos opener Luis Rodiguez took the loss after allowing four runs in five innings.


            Mexico City won their only game of the series, 6-4, last Tuesday. The Leones held a 3-2 lead after six innings before the Diablos posted two runs in the top of the seventh, including a Fabela RBI single, and two more tallies in the eighth when Yucatan reliever Rafael Ordaz came in for Enrique Burgos with the bases loaded and promptly plunked Fabela to push across one run and walked Juan Carlos Gamboa to score another, ending Ordaz' night. Luis Juarez slammed a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth but the Leones drew no closer. Yangervis Solarte belted a pair of roundtrippers for the winners (both off Yucatan starter Casey Harman) while Sebastian Valle and Walter Ibarra socked solo homers for the Lions.


            Yucatan ended the series at home last Wednesday with a 9-7 triumph in comeback fashion. The Leones were up 6-4 going into the top of the eighth, when Mexico City took the lead with three runs, including a single by Gamboa that sent Julian Ornelas home. Juarez reversed the Red Devils' 7-6 lead in the bottom of the eighth by rocking his second homer of the night (and third in two games), a three-run blast over the left-field wall on Roberto Osuna's second pitch of the game. It was left to Burgos to record a 1-2-3 ninth and whiff Eduardo Revilla swinging for the final out to end the contest and the series. Juarez, who hit .550 for the series, went 3-for-3 with three runs and four RBIs for the LMB South champs while Gamboa was 3-for-5 with a pair of ribbies.




            Like Yucatan, Tijuana opened the LMB North Championship Series with two wins but after losing two of three games at home, the Toros had to wait until Friday's Game Six victory in Guadalajara to put the Mariachis away and advance to the Serie del Rey. Guadalajara won last Monday's contest, 4-3, in TJ's Estadio Nacional. The game was tied 3-3 in the top of the ninth before the Mariachis scored the go-ahead run off Toros closer Fernando Rodney without a hit: Issmael Salas's grounder to third was badly mishandled by Luis Alfonso Cruz, with Salas advancing to third on the play and later scoring on a Luis Sardinas sacrifice fly. Fernando Cruz tossed a scoreless ninth for the win. Carlos Mendivil clubbed a two-run homer for Guadalajara and added an RBI single while Gabriel Gutierrez went deep for the Toros.


            Last Tuesday, the Toros topped Guadalajara, 7-3, to come within a game of clinching the series. In the bottom of the first, TJ manufactured an old-school run when Isaac Rodriguez singled, moved to second on a Junior Lake safety, stole third and then scored when Mariachis rightfielder Anthony Garcia couldn't hang on to a Leandro Castro fly ball. However, it was Efren Navarro's three-run double off Guadalajara starter Zack Dodson in the bottom of the third to give Tijuana a 4-0 that proved the decisive blow. Rodriguez went 2-for-5 on the night with a pair of runs while the Mariachis' LMB bat champ Leo Heras was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer. Carlos Hernandez got the win for the Toros by tossing five innings of two-run ball and Rodney earned his third save of the series. Dodson absorbed the loss.


            The Mariachis came back Wednesday to make it two road wins in three games, pounding Tijuana, 12-5. Holding a 4-2 lead at the time, Guadalajara put together an eight-run fifth to chase Toros starter Teddy Stankiewicz. Sardinas clubbed a two-run homer for the visitors while reliever Jose Samayoa's throwing error on a Beau Amaral comebacker on the mound resulted in two more Mariachis scores. Sardinas posted a 3-for-5 night with two homers, four RBIs and three runs scored for the winners. Edson Garcia homered for Tijuana, who drew an announced 44,719 for their three home games. After losing the series opener in Guadalajara, LMB wins champion Masaru Nakamura got the win with six innings of work, allowing two runs on five hits with five strikeouts.


            After the series moved back to Guadalajara for Game Six, Tijuana eliminated the Mariachis on Friday by a 5-4 count. Heras' three-run homer off Toros starter Joe Van Meter in the bottom of the fourth gave Guadalajara a 3-0 lead, but TJ came back to score four times in the top of the fifth, with Cruz busting a two-run homer and Rodriguez punching a run-scoring single. Ricky Alvarez gave the Toros a 5-3 lead with an RBI singleton in the top of the ninth and while Christian Ibarra's double in the bottom of the ninth off Rodney brought Heras in to bring the Mariachis within a run, but after Rodney walked Mendivil to put runners on first and second, he induced Amaral to hit a grounder to Daniel Castro for a game-ending double play, escaping with his fourth save of the series and Tijuana advancing to the finals.


2021 SERIE DEL REY Schedule

Game 1: Monday, September 6 (10:05PM EDT) Yucatan at Tijuana

Game 2: Tuesday, September 7 (10:05PM EDT) Yucatan at Tijuana

Game 3: Thursday, September 9 (7:00PM EDT) Tijuana at Yucatan

Game 4: Friday, September 10 (7:00PM EDT) Tijuana at Yucatan

Game 5: Saturday, September 11 (7:00PM EDT) Tijuana at Yucatan*

Game 6: Monday, September 13 (10:05PM EDT) Yucatan at Tijuana*

Game 7: Tuesday, September 14 (10:05PM EDT) Yucatan at Tijuana*

*-If necessary





            As the Mexican League season enters its final days, training camps for Mexican Pacific League teams have begun opening. Sessions for players and coaches began last Thursday in Los Mochis, Hermosillo, Navojoa and Culiacan. All ten Mex Pac teams should have their camps running at full speed by the end of the week in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which opens with three games on Tuesday, October 5 when Mazatlan plays at Culiacan, Mexicali visits Hermosillo and Monterrey travels to Guadalajara to take on the Jalisco Charros (who may be under new ownership by then)


            This season, the LMP's ten clubs will be allowed to carry five foreigners on their active rosters after teams were limited to just three imports each as the pandemic made travel across the border a near impossibility. After an Assembly of Presidents meeting this summer, the league office issued a statement that read in part, “By a majority of votes, the number of imported players was made official. Each team may have up to five foreigners on its active roster, maintaining the inactive periods of 5 days for position players and 10 days for pitchers.” During the 2018-19 campaign, teams were allowed twelve imports in the first half and eight imports for the second half.


            One of those imports will be infielder Addison Russell, a former National League All-Star who was a member of the Chicago Cubs' 2016 World Series championship team. After spending part of the 2020 season with the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, where he hit .254 with two homers and 31 RBIs over 65 games, Russell spent this summer in the Mexican League with the Monclova Acereros. Playing primarily at third base for the defending champions, the Florida native hit .318 with eight longballs and 47 RBIs in 66 games, leading the Steelers in batting and ribbies and finishing tied for second in homers. It's not known where Hermosillo manager Juan Navarrete, a Salon de la Fama second baseman, will place Russell in the Naranjeros infield.


            Another import with big league due to make his LMP debut is hulking designated hitter Kennys Vargas, a Puerto Rico native who'll toil for the Los Mochis Caneros this winter. The 6'5” 290-pound Vargas spent parts of four seasons with the Minnesota Twins between 2014 and 2017, hitting an aggregate .251 with 3 homers and 116 RBIs over 116 games. After belting 21 homers for the Twins' AAA Rochester affiliate in 2018, Vargas spent 2019 in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines and batted .179 with a homer and six RBIs in 35 NPB games while also hitting .267 for the Marines' Eastern League farm team. This summer, Vargas played his first season in the Mexican League for Saltillo and had a solid campaign for the Saraperos with a .318 average, finishing third in homers with 18 while playing all 66 regular season games. There is concern that Vargas will only play the first month of the LMP season with the Caneros before heading home to Puerto Rico, where he's played winterball for Mayaguez. The Roberto Clemente League starts its schedule later than the Mex Pac.





            The full schedules have been released for both the 2021 WBSC Under-23 Baseball World Cup and the 2022 Caribbean Series tournaments.


            The 12-team U-23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico will open Thursday, September 23 with tripleheaders in both Obregon and Hermosillo and conclude with the Gold and Bronze medal games on Saturday, October 2 in Hermosillo.


            Group A nations in the opening round at Estadio Yaquis in Obregon include Cuba, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Taiwan and host Mexico. Group B teams in Hermosillo's Estadio Sonora are Colombia, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, South Korea and Venezuela. The top three finishers in each Group will advance to the Super Round in Hermosillo while the bottom three seeds will be relegated to Obregon for the Consolation Round, both beginning on Wednesday, September 29.


            Tripleheaders will be played throughout the World Cup except for the final day. Games at both venues are scheduled for 10:30AM, 3:00PM and 7:30PM local time from September 23 through October 1 (with a rest day set for September 28). The Bronze Medal game on October 2 in Hermosillo begins at 1:00PM with a 7:30PM start for the Gold Medal game.


            The WBSC previously ruled to expand the age category for the U-23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico to include players up to the age of 24. Previous tourneys have included young professional players from the Australian Baseball League (ABL), Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), Major League Baseball (MLB), Minor League Baseball (MiLB), Mexican Baseball League (LMB), Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League (LNBP), Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and other leagues around the world.


            Meanwhile, the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation has released the schedule for the 2022 Caribbean Series to be played in the Dominican Republic at Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal. Built in 1955 and renovated in 2007, the 14,469-seat ballpark serves as home for both the Licey Tigres and Escogido Leones of the Liga Dominicana and will be hosting its ninth Serie del Caribe since 1972.


            As with the U-23 Baseball World Cup in Sonora, the Caribbean Series will feature tripleheaders throughout the five-day opening round-robin portion of the tournament between January 28 and February 1, with games scheduled for 10:30AM, 3:00PM and 8:00PM (as per tradition, the host LiDom champions will play in every nightcap). A doubleheader with games at 3:00PM and 8:00PM is set for the February 2 semifinals while first pitch for the February 3 championship game will take place at 7:00PM. All times are local.


            The same six nations represented in 2020 (San Juan) and 2021 (Mazatlan) will be sending their heavily-reinforced national champions to Santo Domingo: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The host Dominicans are seeking their 22nd Serie del Caribe title, Puerto Rico is looking for number 17 and the Mexican Pacific League will be hoping for a tenth title. Venezuela has seven championships, Panama has won the event twice and Colombia's pennant-winner will try to win that country's first game.


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