by Bruce Baskin
July 22, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
TIGRES IN FIRST, WIN STREAK SNAPPED AT EIGHT GAMES
Even though the Quintana Roo Tigres saw their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a 3-2 loss at home to the Tabasco Olmecas, the Tigres have gotten off to a hot start in the second half of the Mexican League schedule and now sit alone in first place in the South Division standings with a 20-7 record. As 3,975 fans looked on at Estadio Beto Avila in Cancun, Tabasco's Daniel Carbonell lofted a sacrifice fly to Quintana Roo centerfielder Yordanys Linares to bring Roel Santos from third to break a 2-2 tie with the game-winning run. Despite the loss, the Tigres have a three-game lead over 17-10 Yucatan, who topped Campeche, 9-4, Sunday in Merida as Leones starter Yoanner Negrin got the win to go to 10-3 on the season.
It's been an unexpected rise for the Tigres after a tepid first half in which they finished sixth in the LMB South at 25-35 (13-17 at home) and Salon de la Fama member Jesus Sommers was fired as manager 28 games into the season. New skipper Adan Munoz has seen an entirely different Tigres team since coming back from the All-Star Break for the second half of the season. Quintana Roo has won 10 of 15 home games and gone 10-2 on the road en route to the best record in the LMB in the second half.
One revelation for Munoz has been Colombian first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez, a former Yankees and Red Sox minor leaguer who joined the team in late May and has since hit .366 with 14 homers in 40 games. Third baseman Brian Hernandez is batting .333 with nine homers and 53 RBIs and catcher Francisco Cordoba has 14 homers and 48 homers but the Tigres are not a team that will batter opponents into submission. The pitching is little better so it remains to be seen how long the team will remain atop the table, but no doubt they're enjoying the ride.
Even though they're in second, things have not been so sanguine in Yucatan, where the defending LMB South champions fired manager Luis Carlos Rivera Friday following a 5-3 home loss to Campeche. The Leones finished fifth in the division for the first half with an uninspiring 26-32 mark but the Merida squad began the second half by winning eight of their first nine games and was second in the standings at 16-9 when the axe fell for Rivera. Geronimo Gil, who was hired as a bench coach during the All-Star Break at Rivera's request, was named interim manager.
While the Tigres and Yucatan are 1-2 in the South (surprising Tabasco and Mexico City are virtually tied for third at five games behind Quintana Roo, things are a bit murkier in the LMB North, where two games separate the top four teams and two more sides are less than four games out of fourth. Tijuana is in first at 17-10 but another surprise team, Saltillo, is hot on the Toros' heels at 16-10 after sweeping a weekend road series in Aguascalientes. It was a good weekend for road teams in the North as Monclova (16-11) took all three big games at defending champion Monterrey (12-13) while Dos Laredos (15-12) won two of three at Tijuana to pass the Sultanes into fourth place. Even moribund Union Laguna staggered into Durango with a 3-20 ledger and managed to post 35 runs in three wins over the Generales.
Leon's Felix Pie went 4-for-28 over his last ten games before going on the 7-day injured list July 9 (he still hasn't reappeared), but still leads the Mexican League in batting with a .410 average. Mexico City's Emmanuel Avila is second at .388. Chris Carter of Monclova has socked five homers in nine games to bring his season total to 39, eight more than the 31 of Oacaxa's Alonzo Harris, who also has 36 stolen bases over 86 games in what is becoming an MVP-style season. He has become the third member in the LMB's 30-30 Club, joining James Steels (1991) and Luis Terrero (2011). Harris is second in steals, trailing only Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis, who has 48 swipes.
Yucatan's Cesar Valdez has won three games since suffering his lone loss of the season June 28 at Durango, bringing his season record to 12-1. Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan and Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez (both 10-3) are tied for second in wins. Valdez also leads the LMB with a 2.32 ERA. Yasutomo Kubo of Leon's 116 strikeouts top the whiff list and Dos Laredos closer Ramon Mendez' 25 leads the league after the Dominican converted his last eight save opportunities beginning July 4.
Among the more important midweek series opening Tuesday night will be when Monterrey visits Dos Laredos while Oaxaca hosts Mexico City in a big LMB South matchup. Next weekend will see Monclova at home for three against the Sultanes and Tijuana on the road at Dos Laredos.
DIABLOS SIGN BRANDON PHILLIPS, VARGAS TRADED TO MONCLOVA
A pair of recent major players transactions have strengthened two Mexicna League teams battling for playoff seeding within their respective divisions. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos signed three-time MLB All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips as a free agent on July 15 while the Monclova Acereros traded with Aguascalientes for All-Star third baseman Jose Vargas three days later.
Now 38, Philiips was drafted by Montreal in 1999 and played in the Expos system before he was traded to Cleveland in June 2002 as part of a six-man swap that also sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. After limited success with the Tribe, with a .206 average in 135 MLB games over four seasons mostly spent in AAA, Cleveland traded Phillips to Cincinnati in April 2006 for a player to be named later (pitcher Jeff Stevens). The Reds gave the Stone Mountain, Georgia product their starting job at second base and Phillips' fortunes turned.
Over the next eleven years, Phillips would be awarded four Gold Gloves and play in the 2010, 2011 and 2013 All-Star Games, garnering MVP votes in 2007 and 2012 (ironically, neither were All-Star seasons). Between 2006 and 2016, he played 1,616 games for Cincinnati and batted .279 with 191 homers and 194 stolen bases while leading National League second sackers in fielding percentage three times.
However, the Reds traded Phillips to Atlanta prior to the 2017 season. He hit .291 for the Braves in 120 games before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, for whom he batted .255 the rest of the season. Phillips was released that November. Boston picked him up last year and he played nine games in September for the Red Sox, batting .130, but was left off the eventual World Series champion's postseason roster and granted free agency after the season. In his first four games with Mexico City, Phillips was 2-for-15 with a double while handling 19 chances flawlessly at second.
Vargas was in the middle of an MVP-worthy season for Aguascalientes before the financially-strapped Rieleros shipped him to Monclova for pitcher Juan Carlos Perez and two players to be named later on July 18. A 2008 White Sox 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura (CA) College, Vargas hit .255 with 25 homers over three years in the Chisox system, then spent six years with Traverse City in the independent Frontier League (belting 29 homers with 110 RBIs in 2012) before coming to Aguascalientes in 2017.
In 59 games with the Rieleros prior to last Thursday's trade, Vargas hit .366 with 29 homers and 70 RBIs before being shelved in late June with a broken hand. While Vargas is naturally a third baseman, the Acereros have perhaps the best defensive third sacker in the LMB with Rodolfo Amador holding down the position. First base? Well, there's Chris Carter (who has 38 homers and 90 RBIs, both tops in the Liga) and veteran Jose Amador and ex-LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez, so time's limited there. Since Vargas has played just 46 games in the outfield during his 12 pro seasons, that's not a likely option. The Californian's bat has been too hot to keep out of the lineup, so expect Vargas to mostly be in the designated hitter's slot for new Monclova manager Pat Listach, who replaced Pedro Mere at the helm July 1, but hell also likely fill in at the infield corners and perhaps even right field.
NEW MEXICAN PROSPECTS LEAGUE OPENS PLAY IN JALISCO
Mexico's Office of the President for Development and Promotion of Baseball, aka ProBeis, has created a new league for promising players age 14 through 17. The Mexican Prospects League opened play earlier this month in Guadalajara, Jalisco and will continue through August 22.
"It will be eight intense weeks," said ProBeis commissioner Edgar Gonzalez, "with daily workouts and two games daily at 4 and 7 from Thursday through Sunday. Four teams will be formed with 28 players each plus reserves." Each team is carrying the name of former Mexican major league players while jerseys will contain elements of the MLB team to which each player belonged.
LPM players will be evaluated over the course of the short season to determine their ability to land pro contracts or college scholarships. "We are very happy to start this great project that will be one of the pillars of the new way to promote Mexican youth talent of excellence, "Gonzalez explained, adding that this marks the first time in history that there will be a showcase of international stature with the scope and support of the Mexican government. "The key to this project is inclusion, in which we have invited young people from all over the country with diverse backgrounds and histories. It's the jewel in the crown of ProBeis." Players were recruited in part via invitations to different professional and semipro leagues, private academies, and both MLB and local scouts.
Gonzalez thanked the Mexican Pacific League and Jalisco Charros owner Salvador Quirarte for their support, including the use of Estadio Charros for games and training. He also cited the Mexican League's role in coordinating the nascent league, which is an outgrowth of new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's desire to raise the profile of his favorite sport. Gonzalez is a former MLB and NPB second baseman who more recently managed LMP teams in Mexicali and Jalisco before being tabbed by AMLO to oversee the development and growth of baseball on a national level. The longterm goal inludes the creation of several government-subsidized academies throughout the country.
Mexican Prospect League doubleheaders began July 10 and will continue four times per week until the 32-game season concludes on August 22.
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