by Bruce Baskin
July 19, 2017 - Mexican League (ML)
Although the 2017 season has not likely gone the way Manny Barreda hoped it would after a good enough start to the year, the Tijuana Toros' right-handed pitcher from Sahuarita, Arizona has accomplished a rare feat by tossing his second no-hitter in eight months in Sunday's 4-0 win over Tabasco. Barreda turned in a similar performance for Los Mochis last November 28 when he blanked Hermosillo, 2-0, giving him a no-hitter in both the Mexican and Mexican Pacific Leagues within eight months of each other.
Similar to his November no-no, which required 138 pitches, Barreda had to work deep into counts to Olmeca batters en route to a 145-pitch performance but only walked two Tabasco batsmen while striking out 14. The contest was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning when Jose Guadalupe Chavez scored on a Juan Apodaca line-drive single to left. Apodaca later came around to plate a run on Jorge Cantu's single up the middle. Tabasco starter Angel Araiza found more trouble in the bottom of the fourth when Dustin Martin's 20th double of the year brought in Gabriel Gutierrez and Corey Brown to make it a 4-0 contest.
That would turn out to be more than enough cushion for Barreda to work with as he retired eleven Olmecas in a row before allowing a walk to the dangerous Sandy Madera in the seventh, then put away Tabasco's final seven men to seal the no-hitter and win. Araiza was at times his own worst enemy on the mound for the visitors. Despite only pitching those first four innings, the eighth-year veteran righty tossed 104 pitches but only 55 went for strikes as he walked five Toros hitters among the 25 he faced.
Barreda's strong winterball campaign for the Caneros (a 2.20 ERA and 1.077 WHIP with 66 strikeouts over 69.2 innings) led to his signing with the Atlanta organization in December, but he was returned to Mexico without ever pitching a regular-season inning in the Braves system. Although the 28-year-old has pitched reasonably well for the Toros since arriving in the border city on April 4, showing a 3.63 ERA after 16 starts and striking out 88 hitters over 89.1 innings, Sunday's win was only his fourth in ten decisions for the team with the best record in the Liga.
A throng of 13,598 (equal to a week-long homestand in Villahermosa) looked at at Tijuana's Estadio Gasmart as the Toros won their seventh straight contest and widened their LMB North lead to three-and-a-half games over Monterrey, who lost at Oaxaca Sunday by a 6-2 count. The Sultanes have lost six of their last ten games and now have to worry less about catching up to TJ and more about holding off a hard-charging Monclova team sitting one game behind them in the standings after the Acereros swept a road series in Oaxaca and took two of three games in Veracruz last week. Aguascalientes is now six games behind Monterrey in fourth place and the Rieleros continue to play well for manager Homar Rojas, a past expert at working with low-budget rosters who's led the Railroaders to eleven wins in 14 games this month.
The Yucatan Leones continue to hold a comfy lead in the LMB South, but surprised observers by firing manager Willie Romero on Saturday. Romero got into a heated argument with a fan following a heartbreaking 1-0 home loss to Puebla on July 9 and was serving a resulting suspension handed down by the Liga office when the axe fell on the two-time LMB Manager of the Year. Romero arrived in Merida as a player in 2003 and was well-liked by Leones fans (except for at least one, apparently) after being a key performer for Yucatan's 2006 pennant winners and had led the Lions to an overall 193-110 (.637) record since taking the helm in 2015 and had them at 50-31 before his suspension began Friday.
Bench coach Oswaldo Morejon, who retired as a player last year after hitting .296 with 2,011 hits in his 20-year LMB career, has taken over for Romero and may remain manager the rest of the season although with the Arellano brothers in charge, one never knows for sure...don't be shocked if Union Laguna helmsman Ramon Orantes (like Morejon a longtime Liga infielder who retired last fall after 24 seasons) is brought in and reunited with former Vaqueros MVP candidate Ricky Alvarez.
Speaking of Alvarez, the stocky first baseman has struggled a bit since arriving from Torreon June 20 in a one-sided trade between the two teams owned by the Arellanos involving eight players. Alvarez was hitting .330 with 13 homers and a LMB-high 75 RBIs in 66 games at the time of the trade (attendance in Laguna has plummeted in the aftermath), but has hit .295 with two homers and 14 ribbies in 22 games with Yucatan. The Leones split road six games in Durango and Laguna last week while Puebla won four of six crossover home games against Aguascalientes and Saltillo to shave Yucatan's division lead to seven-and-a-half games. The Pericos beat the Saraperos twice over the weekend as well-traveled Jon Del Campo (playing for his third team in 2017 and seventh Liga squad since 2011) socked a grand slam on Saturday and a two-run homer Sunday for his first two longballs of the year.
WIth three weeks remaining in the regular season, the batting title is Yadir Drake's to lose. The former Durango outfielder from Cuba left his .385 average behind when he left to pay for Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters, for whom he's batting .138 after eight games. Monterrey's Daniel Mayora is second at .372 after going 11-for-26 in his first six contests for the Sultanes. Aguascalientes' Jesse Castillo hasn't dropped off since winning the All-Star Game MVP award in Campeche, belting two homers in Leon Friday to tie Tijuana's Corey Brown for the Liga lead. Yucatan's Alvarez continues to top the list for RBIs with 89, but underrated Manny Rodriguez of Monclova (if a career .317 hitter can be called "underrated") drove in five runs last week to bring his total to 79. Manny's new teammate, Justin Greene, swiped a base in each game of the Acereos' weekend series against Veracruz to continue running away with the stolen base title at 42. And, yes, I'll use that line until I get bored with it.
It may be a good thing the Liga doesn't let gringos like me vote for postseason awards because I have no idea who I'd mark down for Pitcher of the Year. Mexico City's Octavio Acosta beat Campeche last Friday in Estadio Fray Nano, which is no pitcher's park by any stretch, to run his season record to 12-1. Acosta leads the LMB in wins, ranks sixth with 88 strikeouts in 104.2 innings and his 2.67 ERA is eighth on that list. Then there's Nestor Molina, who has somehow posted an 11-1 mark for a very marginal Veracruz club. Then again, his 1.63 ERA over 19 starts would take care of the "somehow" part of the equation, as would his 95 strikeouts (second to the 117 recorded by Monclova's Josh Lowey). It's hard not to consider Yucatan's Yoanner Negrin, too. Although he's not having anywhere near the year he had in winning this award in 2016, Negrin is 11-3 and fourth in ERA at 2.48. The Cuban exile has a combined 33-5 record since joining the Leones from the Cubs organization just over two years ago.
Reliever of the Year won't be easy for voters either. Last year's winner, Chad Gaudin, is tops with 24 saves to augment his 2.25 ERA while Monterrey closer Wirfin Obispo is one behind at 23 saves with an even better 2.07 ERA. Still, I'd cast my vote for Durango's Tiago da Silva, who's third with 21 saves in 28 appearances after missing over a month with an arm injury. The Brazilian tossed a scoreless ninth in Sunday's win over Quintana Roo to lower his ERA to 1.78 in his first appearance since June 11. The Generales are in seventh and 23 games out of first in the LMB North, but it's hard to imagine where they'd be without the 32-year-old righty.
Perhaps the biggest upcoming midweek series on the schedule will be played in Aguascalientes, where the Rieleros try to stay hot against a Puebla team that's been playing better themselves in recent days. The inter-divisional games continue next weekend with no huge sets on the docket, although Veracruz at Monclova hold some intrigue. The Rojos del Aguila are trying to cement their hold on third place in the LMB South while the Acereros try to continue their climb up the North ladder. Nestor Molina is scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Monterrey amid this buzzsaw of a road trip the Eagles will take this week and will not open in Monclova.
LMB STANDINGS (as of July 17)
North Division: Tijuana 61-28, Monterrey 57-31, Monclova 56-32, Aguascalientes 52-38, Union Laguna 47-41, Mexico City 46-43, Durango 38-51, Saltillo 35-52
South Division: Yucatan 52-32, Puebla 47-42, Veracruz 40-46, Quintana Roo 36-48, Leon 34-50, Oaxaca 33-53, Campeche 32-52, Tabasco 30-57