by Bruce Baskin
July 29, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
STREAKING SARAPEROS TAKE OVER FIRST IN LMB NORTH
The Saltillo Saraperos have put together a nine-game winning streak to vault into a race with Tijuana and Monclova for the Mexican League's North Division second-half championship. Saltillo began their skein with a July 19 win at Aguascalientes and went on to sweep the Rieleros, cop three wins in a midweek home series against Durango and then topped Aguascalientes in a trio of home games to run their second-half record to 21-10.
As 6,275 looked on at Estadio Francisco I. Madero, Manny Rodriguez' grand slam in the bottom of the eighth broke open Sunday's contest with the Saraperos clutching a 4-3 lead. Rodriguez, now 37, has had a very quiet year with only six homers and a .249 average after 89 games, the first 25 with Quintana Roo before the Tigres loaned the four-time LMB All-Star to Saltillo on May 7 after he'd hit just .202 for the Tigres, who retain his rights.
The Saraperos were just 28-32 in the first half, finishing fifth in the LMB North and collecting just 4.5 playoff points. Beyond Rodriguez, they're not a star-studded team. Former Reds minor league infielder Juan Perez is batting .335 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs, outfielder Rainel Rosario has a .319 average with 19 homers and 61 ribbies and veteran first baseman Jorge "Chato" Vazquez homered four times in six games last week to reach 17 for the year. He's hitting .313 with 56 RBIs in 60 games as the injury-prone, 37-year-old slugger shows he can contribute when healthy.
Tijuana won two of three weekend games at Dos Laredos to stay two games behind Saltillo at 20-12. The Tecolotes won Sunday's game, 9-5, at Laredo's Uni-Trade Stadium as catcher Arturo Rodriguez had a solo homer and three RBIs on three hits. Monclova (19-13) is in third after beating Monterrey, 6-3, at home Sunday as Chris Carter belted his 41st homer and Alex Mejia, Francisco Peguero and Ricky Rodriguez each singled, doubled and drove in a run. Monterrey and Dos Laredos are virtually tied for fourth: The Acereros are 16-16 while the Tecos are 15-15.
While Saltillo, Tijuana and Monclova duke it out for LMB North supremacy, Durango and Aguascalientes are in freefall at the bottom of the division. The Generales (11-16) have been swept in four straight series for 12 losses in a row, changing managers and apparently being put up for sale in the process (more below) to fall to 11-21 and out of playoff contention for all intent and purposes. Durango and Union Laguna (11-16) are fighting to stay out of last place but while the Generales haven't won for two weeks, the Algodoneros have helped themselves by winning four in a row and eight of their last ten under new manager Jonathan Aceves. For their part, the Rieleros (9-23) have the worst record in the league while turning into a train wreck, so to speak.
The perpetually cash-strapped team's trading of star third baseman Jose Vargas to Monclova removed one of their larger salaries and likely netted then some money in return, but at the cost of goodwill with remaining Aguascalientes players and fans. Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros writes that he received an email from several Rieleros claiming owner Armando Medina threatened to "freeze" them if they didn't sign for what he was offering, called sports manager Leo Clayton an "agent" and accused team president Eustacio Alvarez of corruption. Ballesteros says sources tell him the franchise is for sale and that businessmen in San Luis Potosi have shown interest. Other than that, everything's fine in Aguascalientes.
Meanwhile, in the LMB South, Quintana Roo and Yucatan have separated themselves from the pack to make it a two-team race for first place. The Tigres pounded Tabasco, 11-0, Sunday night in Villahermosa to bring their record to 23-9, giving them a one-game lead over idle Yucatan in the battle for those eight playoff points. In Sunday's rout, Eric Aguilera went 2-for-5 for Quintana Roo with a run scored and three RBIs while Brian Hernandez had three hits to score once and drive in two more. Ex-Pittsburgh pitcher Wilfredo Boscan tossed seven shutout innings for the Tigres, allowing five hits and striking out eight to lift his season record to 6-3. Like Saltillo, the Tigres are a surprise team in the second half after they went 25-35 in the first half to finish sixth in the LMB South with 4.0 playoff points.
Yucatan is right behind the Tigres at 22-10 and carried a five-game winning streak into Monday's travel day. The Leones swept a midweek road series in Tabasco and won the first two games of their weekend set in Campeche before Sunday's tilt was rained out. Cesar Valdez won his LMB-leading 13th game Saturday in a 6-2 Yucatan victory. Mexico City is third at 18-15 and Tabasco holds forth with a 15-16 mark in a decent second-half showing. Oaxaca (15-17), Campeche (13-16) and Puebla (13-17) are all less than two games behind the fourth-place Olmecas. Last-place Leon (10-21) won in Oaxaca Sunday, 7-2, as Felix Pie went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs for the Bravos.
Pie still leads the batting race with a .406 average but Mexico City teammates Emmanuel Avila (.388) and Jesus Fabela (.384) have closed the gap a bit. Chris Carter of Monclova leads in both homers and RBIs. Carter homered off Tijuana's Orlando Lara last Tuesday to become the first player in pro ball to reach 40 roundtrippers this season. Carter is in the discussion for MVP honors along with Oaxaca's Alonzo Harris. The former Mets and Cards farmhand is second in homers (33), RBI's (89), runs scored (100) and stolen bases (38), trailing only Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis' 48 in that category to augment a .339 average. Prior to coming to Mexico, Harris was the Atlantic League's 2017 Player of the Year playing for York.
Yucatan moundmates Cesar Valdez and Yoanner Negrin are the only two legitimate candidates for Pitcher of the Year. Valdez' win in Campeche Saturday gives him a 13-1 mark and league leadership in wins (13), earned-run average (2.38) and WHIP (1.12), microscopic numbers during a season where only five starters qualifying for the ERA title are at less than 5.00. Negrin (11-3) is second to Valdez in wins (11), ERA (2.85) and WHIP (1.19). Leon's Yasutomo Kubo leads the Liga with 119 strikeouts. Ramon Mendez is 0-5 for Dos Laredos and the Tecos must accept it as a trade-off for his LMB-best 26 saves in 27 opportunities and 3.47 ERA. All-Star middleman Jesus Pirela still leads with 24 holds. Pirela also has a 4-3 record and three saves for the Toros.
Important midweek series opening Tuesday night include Monclova visiting Tijuana and Mexico City hosting Oaxaca. Yucatan will welcome Quintana Roo Friday for a huge LMB South weekend series while Tijuana heads to Saltillo for three against Roberto Vizcarra's surprising Saraperos.
PACHO NAMED THIRD DURANGO MANAGER SINCE MAY
The Durango Generales made their second managerial change in a two-month span when the Mexican League team fired Efren Espinoza last Monday and brought in longtime Mazatlan Venados skipper Juan Jose Pacho as dugout boss. Pacho becomes the third manager in Durango this season.
The Generales began the 2019 campaign with veteran helmsman Lorenzo Bundy running the team, but Bundy was fired May 22 following an 18-9 home loss to Leon and Espinoza, a 14-year LMB outfielder with no prior managerial experience, was named interim manager with Durango holding a 16-25 record. Espinoza led the Generales to a 21-24 mark but the club had lost six games in a row when the change was made. A Salon de la Fama shortstop who has guided Mazatlan to three Mex Pac pennants and two Caribbean Series titles, Pacho made his Durango debuted last Tuesday with an 8-4 loss in Saltillo.
One day after Durango installed Pacho as manager, the Leon Bravos severed ties with manager Tony Aguilera, making him the ninth skipper fired this season in the LMB. In comparison, no Major League Baseball manager has been handed his walking papers this year. The firings have happened in two bursts, with five skippers getting pink-slipped between May 9 and 21 while the other four were shown the door between July 1 and 23. Here is a current list of 2019 managerial changes in the Liga:
May 9: Quintana Roo fired Jesus Sommers, replaced by Adan Munoz May 12: Campeche fired Tim Johnson, replaced by Jesus Sommers May 18: Dos Laredos fired Felix Fermin, replaced by Houston Jimenez May 21: Aguascalientes fired Joe Alvarez, replaced by Feliz Fermin May 22: Durango fired Lorenzo Bundy, replaced by Efren Espinoza July 1: Monclova fired Pedro Mere, replaced by Pat Listach July 20: Yucatan fired Luis Carlos Rivera, replaced by Geronimo Gil July 22: Durango fired Efren Espinoza, replaced by Juan Jose Pacho July 23: Leon fired Tony Aguilera, replaced by Luis Carlos Rivera
All, of course, publicly received thanks from the teams firing them for their hard work and professionalism along with best wishes in future endeavors.
In case you didn't notice, Sommers found work in Campeche three days after being fired in Quintana Roo, Fermin landed in Aguascalientes three days after losing his job in Dos Laredos and Rivera was hired in Leon three days after Yucatan jettisoned him. Bundy caught on in Monclova as Listach's bench coach but as a longtime figure in Mexican baseball, mostly in the Mex Pac, he may be considered a hot property among other LMB owners looking to make a chance. Mere, who was reassigned to another position within the Acereros organization, would be another while Johnson and Alvarez are potential candidates to manage teams for owners with itchy trigger fingers.
MAZATLAN BUSINESSMAN ARAMBURO IS NEW OWNER IN GUASAVE
The Guasave Algodoneros have been scrambling to put together a team in time for next winter's Mexican Pacific League season after joining the loop earlier this year along with Monterrey as the LMP's two new expansion franchises. Along with players, coaches, ticket takers and popcorn sellers, the Algodoneros have spent their short existence looking for a team owner after billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu made it clear that while he would foot the bill for renovations at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon, he has no desire to be the primary owner in the Mex Pac's smallest market.
The search for an owner of the Cottoneers ended last week when Mazatlan businessman Alfredo Aramburo was introduced at a press conference in Guasave as the man who will sign the paychecks. At the press conference, Aramburo thanked LMP president Omar Canizales, other team owners and Algodoneros general director Sebastian Sandoval for their support, adding that "we come with great enthusiasm, with a lot of seriousness and a lot of professionalism."
That latter point might be disputed by fans in Durango, where Aramburo is also the owner of the Mexican League Generales. Shortly after the press conference in Guasave, the Generales fired their second manager in two months, the team is sliding out of playoff contention, attendance ranks in the lower half of the league and Aramburo himself is rumored to want out of Durango, according to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros.
With the Mexican League about to enter into another schism among owners over the agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of domestic prospects making it nearly impossible for LMB teams to recoup the cost of developing them, Aramburo may simply prefer operating in the less-fractured Mex Pac, although he told Durango's El Siglio newspaper in June that rumors the league is seeking a new owner for the franchise is speculation.
Although Aramburo is a Mazatleco, he is friends with Venados owner Jose Antonio Toledo, who encouraged him to purchase the Algodoneros and was at the press conference, during which Canizales said, "The philosophy is that the franchise stays here for a long time, but it is clear to us that we cannot force anyone if the city does not respond" with support.
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