by Bruce Baskin
August 19, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
SULTANES WIN SIX STRAIGHT, TECOS FIGHT TO STAY ALIVE
Defending champion Monterrey was in a fight for fourth place in the Mexican League North Division before a six-game win streak gave manager Roberto Kelly's Sultanes some breathing room over fading Dos Laredos with just three series remaining in the regular season.
Monterrey swept three-game home sets over Dos Laredos and Tijuana last week to go to 27-22 in the second half, trailing Saltillo (33-17), Monclova (31-20) and TJ (29-22) in the standings. The Sultanes capped their broom job over the Toros Sunday with a 5-4 win as 9,136 fans braved 102 degree temperatures to watch at Estadio Monterrey. The Sultanes chased Tijuana starter Carlos Hernandez with four runs in the bottom of the second inning to go up 5-0, then had to hang on as the Bulls sent Edgar Gonzalez to the showers by scoring three in the sixth. Juan Gamez combined with four other relievers to hold Tijuana to one more run over the final ten outs as Wirfin Obispo pitched a perfect ninth to register his 28th save.
While Monterrey, Monclova and Tijuana are virtual locks for the playoffs even if Dos Laredos passes the Sultanes in the next ten days, the Tecos need to move up in the standings to reach the postseason if Saltillo holds on to first place. If the season ended today, the Saraperos would finish the two halves with 12 points while the Owls would only have 9 points to show for themselves. The Tecos salvaged a road series in Monclova Sunday with an 11-9 win powered by five Dos Laredos homers (including Balbino Fuenmayor's 30th longball of the season) to halt a five-game losing skid. The Tecos are now 24-27 to trail Monterrey by four games and while they should hold off Aguascalientes (21-29), Durango (17-33) and Union Laguna (16-34), standing pat likely means being spectators when the playoffs open next month.
Things are no better defined in the LMB South, where Yucatan (33-18) leads Quintana Roo (32-18) by just half a game with Mexico City (30-21) creeping up on both teams by winning seven of their last ten games. Should the Diablos remain in third place they would finish with 13 points and qualify for the playoffs even if Campeche (24-24) or Oaxaca (24-26) overtake them, but that's about the only certainty. Yucatan had only four points in the first half while the Tigres picked up just three while Oaxaca won the division and eight points while Puebla finished third and collected six points.
The Leones and Guerreros will probably join Mexico City in the playoffs next month, but the Pericos are plummeting after losing eight of their last ten games to fall to seventh at 19-28. Quintana Roo will not fall below third, meaning they'll finish with at least nine points for the year. Puebla needs to overtake sixth-place Tabasco (21-28) to finish with nine points. The Pericos will host Yucatan and Tabasco this week before finishing the regular season next week with a series in Mexico City, so they've got their work cut out for them. Puebla didn't help themselves by dropping two of three games against Tabasco in Villahermosa over the weekend, including an 8-4 Olmecas win Sunday as every Tabasco player in the lineup had at least one hit (Roel Santos had three) and eight scored a single run, with Jose Luna knocking out a solo homer in the second off Scott Harkin. Tabasco has been one of the Liga's problem franchises for years and only 1,847 were in the Parque Centenario de 27 Febrero on Sunday, but new owner Juan Carlos Manzur has reportedly brought the beleaguered franchise a sense of order and direction that was lacking when the Olmecas were owned by the Dagdug brothers.
After batting over .400 most of the season, Leon outfielder Felix Pie's recent freefall continues as the ex-Oriole went 3-for-20 over his last six games to drop out of the LMB lead into third place in the batting derby with a .387 average, trailing new leader Francisco Peguero of Monclova (.389) and Durango's Daniel Mayora (.388). Peguero is the defending Liga MVP after batting .368 with 13 homers and 60 RBI's over 52 games in the league's shortened Fall season. Acereros teammate Chris Carter's memorable campaign continues after the ex-Brewers slugger cracked three homers last week to bring his season total to 46, nine more than Puebla's Danny Perez and Alonzo Harris of Oaxaca. Harris now has 43 stolen bases (second to fellow Guerrero outfielder Johnny Davis' 54) to go with his .336 average and needs three homers to become the first-ever 40/40 man in Mexican baseball history. He and Carter (who also leads with 114 RBIs) are dueling for the MVP trophy, although Mexico City's massive Japhet Amador has been heating up and shows .354/27/109 numbers despite missing ten days in June due to injury. Amador is batting .436 with four homers and 13 ribbies over his last ten games.
The league office may as well have their Pitcher of the Year trophy engraved because there's little chance Yucatan's Cesar Valdez won't get it despite losing his second game of the season Sunday, 2-0, to Campeche despite allowing two runs and striking out five in seven innings. The Piratas' Manuel Flores pitched his league-leading second shutout of the year, scattering three hits to go to 9-7. Valdez leads the league in wins (14-2 record), earned-run average (2.30) and WHIP (1.07) while standing fifth in strikeouts (115). Leon's Yasutomo Kubo has struck out 23 batsmen in 19 innings over his last three starts to take control in that category with a total of 144 whiffs. Kubo also gave up 15 earned runs in that span to fall to 8-13 with a 5.97 ERA. He's allowed just 29 walks in 144.2 innings this year. Obispo's save Sunday over Tijuana put the Monterrey closer one save behind leader Roman Mendez, who has 29 for Dos Laredos. Mendez finally won a game outright Sunday in Monclova to go to 1-6 for the year.
Most series are taking on added importance these days, but few among the midweek sets are bigger than Oaxaca's trip to Cancun to face the Tigres in a series with playoff implications for both teams. The same can be said when Yucatan visits Puebla and Saltillo travels to Tijuana. Next weekend's biggest series appears to also be in Cancun, when rival Mexico City visits Quintana Roo, although it'll matter when Tijuana hosts Monterrey in the LMB North.
FERNANDO VALENZUELA NAMED LMB COMMISSIONER
No fireworks were reported from last Thursday's Mexican League owners meeting in Monterrey, but one surprising development has emerged: former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela has been named to fill the newly-created Commissioner position.
According to Martha Cedillo of Milenio, a national newspaper owned by Monterrey Sultanes co-owners Grupo Multimedios, says the position of LMB Commissioner will be "even above its president, Javier Salinas." Puro Beisbol was a bit more vague describing El Toro's new job, stating simply that "Valenzuela will address sports issues independent of the presidency of the circuit."
Whatever Valenzuela's role as Commissioner will be, the announcement from Monterrey was made by Monclova Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides, a Salinas ally and head of the Liga's Board of Presidents. Cedillo reports that the next LMB league meeting will be held in September, during which Salinas' status as president will be discussed. Salinas was not at the Monterrey gathering.
Valenzuela's two-year travails as owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres has been broached here numerous times so we'll avoid another at-length rehash of the difficulties he and wife Linda have encountered ever since they entered negotiations to buy the legacy franchise from Carlos Peralta in February 2017, but it's safe to say the couple does not feel they've received their pesos' worth since then. Thereve been past rumors that the Valenzuelas were so fed up with their experience owning an LMB team, they were considering putting the franchise back on the market, but last month's league-wide retirement of Valenzuela's number 34 and accompanying pregame celebrations (Fernando took part in one at his home ballpark in Cancun) may have mollified them somewhat.
Interestingly, as reported last week, there is a split among LMB team owners whether to retain Salinas as president and conjecture is that his opponents may break away from the league and form their own summer loop if Salinas stays on, and the one owner said to be on the fence was Valenzuela. With divisions within the league as even as they are on this matter, it's not beyond the pale to speculate that the Commissioner position was created specifically for Valenzuela in an effort to swing his vote to the Salinas camp. It's not known whether his appointment will have any effect on his duties as a color commentator on Los Angeles Dodgers Spanish language broadcasts, a post he's held for 17 years.
Also at last week's meeting, a new committee on league relations was formed with Valenzuela, Francisco Gonzalez (Monterrey), Erick Arellano (Yucatan) and Jose Miguel (Puebla), the latter three in the camp favoring the retention of Salinas. The role and duties of that committee was not given in the Puro Beisbol writeup while the formation of the committee was not mentioned in Milenio.
DODGERS SIGN 18-YEAR-OLD RIELEROS LEFTY, TOP LMB PROSPECT
The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed an 18-year-old lefthanded pitcher considered by many to be the Mexican League's number one prospect. Aguascalientes hurler Octavio Becerra came to terms with the defending two-time National League champions late last month. One of the sticking points within the Liga regarding their March agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of prospects controlled by LMB franchises is that the prospect is required to be on the Liga team roster for at least one year in order for the team to receive a portion of the player's signing bonus. Since Becerra made his LMB debut on July 18, 2018, the Rieleros expect to receive 35 percent of his bonus.
A native of Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Becerra signed with Aguascalientes as a 16-year-old in February 2017 and was assigned to the LMB Academy near Monterrey. He was brought up to the Rieleros during the Fall 2018 season and was less than overwhelming, turning in a 7.94 ERA over 11.1 innings in seven relief appearances. Things had not gone any this season for the portsider before he signed with the Dodgers. In seven more relief outings, Becerra allowed ten earned runs, including six homers, in seven innings for an ERA of 12.86 (although he did strike out 11 batters in that span). His last outing for Aguascalientes came on April 23 at home against Monclova, when he tossed one inning and gave up a roundtripper to 2017 LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez. He was subsequently sent back to the academy in El Carmen for more seasoning.
Despite his lack of early success at the AAA level in a hitter's league or size (he stands 5'9" and weighs just 165 pounds), he was ranked the Academy's top prospect this year prior to signing with the Dodgers. Rieleros team president Jose Eustacio Alvarez said at the contract ceremony, "We know that today is the first step to achieve the dream of reaching the big leagues. He is a player with discipline and a lot of work, so we are sure he will have a career full of successes." Dodgers scout Juvenal Soto commented, "He was a pitcher who from the beginning, more than six months ago when we started to look more at him, he always caught our attention, not just because of the speed of his pitches. He also has a very good selection of secondary pitches. All the evaluations we did were positive, so we did not hesitate to follow up until we got his signature."
Becerra is expected to be assigned to the Dodgers team in the Dominican Rookie League next month.
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