by Bruce Baskin
October 28, 2019 - Mexican League (ML)
MEXICO BLANKS VENEZUELA IN PREMIER12 TUNEUP
The Mexican National Team opened a quick two-game series against Venezuela in Puebla with a 2-0 shutout Saturday afternoon in front of 4,514 onlookers at Estadio Hermanos Serdan. The short set is serving as a warmup to next month's WBSC Premier12, during which Mexico will be one of four nations represented in Group A competition in Guadalajara for the first stage of the Olympic qualifying tournament. Mexico is sixth in the WBSC's latest world baseball rankings while Venezuela is ninth.
As one might surmise from a 2-0 contest, pitching dominated Saturday's tilt, in which former Braves starter Horacio Ramirez opened for Mexico against Venezuela's Felix Doubront, who won Game Four of the 2013 World Series for Boston and spent last summer pitching for Saltillo in the Mexican League. Both ex-MLBers went two scoreless innings before being replaced as Mexico manager Juan Castro and Venezuela skipper Carlos Subero made sure to avoid overworking any of their hurlers. Ramirez, who went 40-34 over eight big league seasons and has pitched the last four years for Tijuana, only allowed one walk and no hits over his two innings of work.
The scoreless tie carried into the ninth inning, as it took a Jorge Flores double with one out in the top of the sixth (Venezuela was the designated home team) to record the Verdes Grande's first hit of the day. Flores advanced to third on a Jose Vargas flyout to center, but a Javier Salazar popup and Noah Perio groundout ended the threat without any further damage.
The Venezuelans nearly broke the deadlock one inning later, but the hosts benefitted from a defensive gem via an unlikely source. Matt Clark, who usually is pencilled in as a designated hitter and known far more for his power hitting, reached above the right field wall to nab a likely home run from Alexander Palma to earn an ovation from the crowd.
That's the kind of game it was until the top of the ninth, when the Mexicans rapped three doubles to end the orgy of 0's on the scoreboard. Vargas opened the entrada with a two-bagger up the middle and then scored the first run of the game on Salazar's double down the third base line. Efren Navarro later stroked a double to right that brought Salazar in to give Mexico a 2-0 lead. Then it was left to Justin Kelly, who pitched in the Braves and Dodgers systems before joining eventual Mexican League champion Monclova this summer, to toss a scoreless ninth to save the victory for the Verdes Grande. Adam Quintana pitched the seventh and eighth innings for Mexico to earn the win.
Game Two of the so-called Giants of Latin America series was set for Sunday afternoon in Puebla, with Hernandez Alvarez scheduled to start for Venezuela. Castro had not named a starter for Mexico as of Saturday. Alvarez pitched a no-hitter for the Florida Marlins in 2013 and was picked for the National League team in the All-Star Game one year later. As of BBM post time, results for Sunday's game were not available.
The Mexican Nationals will open the Premier12 tournament on Saturday, November 2 when they play the Dominican Republic at 7:00PM local time in Guadalajara's Estadio Jarros. The USA will meet The Netherlands in the other Group A Saturday game at Noon.
OPPORTUNISTIC TOMATEROS IN LMP LEAD
Culiacan has won nine of their first 13 games in the 2019-20 Mexican Pacific League seasons and it's certainly been a collaborative effort to put the Tomateros in first place, primarily among their potent stable of batters. The eleven-time Mex Pac champions are the only team in the loop batting above .300 with a .309 average and while manager Benji Gil's squad only has a combined seven homers to rank fifth in the LMP in that category, Culiacan has made up for it with speed on the basepaths (their 31 stolen bases are 19 more than anyone else) while their bullpen-by-committee has seen four relievers combine for a Mex Pac-best five saves, with former Pirates minor leaguer Ryan Kelly turning in two of them.
Six Culiacan regulars are batting above .300 thus far, led by the .396 average of one-time Cincinnati farmhand Sebastian Elizalde leading the way. The Guaymas-born outfielder spent four years in the Reds system between 2014 and 2017, being named an organization All-Star his first campaign and playing in the Florida State League's 2015 All-Star Game, but never rose above AAA Louisville before being shipped back to Monterrey of the Mexican League early last year. Shortstop Ramiro Pena (.347 with 8 runs), catcher Ali Solis (.324 and 8 RBIs) and second baseman Jose Guadalupe Chavez (.311 and a team-high 11 ribbies) have also been key to the Tomateros' fast start, but the real catalyst may be one of the guys hitting UNDER .300, outfielder Rico Noel.
Noel and manager Gil have had their past difference and nearly came to blows in the dugout during one game in Gil's first stint running the team, but the 2010 San Diego draft pick (who played in California and Texas League All-Star Games during his stint in the Padres system) has given the volatile Gil little reason to don the Everlasts. Noel's .277 average is little to write home about, but he's made the most of his opportunities when he's reached base, scoring ten runs, driving in eight, cracking a pair of homers and stealing nine bases in ten attempts. Considering that the former Coastal Carolina speedster's career high in single-season homers is three, his two longballs for Culiacan are an unexpected bonus.
None of the Tomateros pitchers have really stood out, although Aldo Montes is 3-0 as both a middleman and starter. A 10-year Mexican League veteran from Tijuana who pitched for Mexico in last March's Samurai Series against Japan in Kobe, Montes made three scoreless appearances for Culiacan (winning two of them) before Gil picked him to start Saturday night at home against Navajoa. He tossed another five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out seven in the Tomateros' 7-0 whitewashing of the Mayos. Although Montes is not a "staff linchpin" type of pitcher, his early success has greatly helped a Tomateros team still hoping for the likes of slow-starters Romario Gil (2018 Mexican League Rookie of the Year), Manny Barreda (no-hitters in both leagues in 2017 and 2018) to round into shape. Fortunately, Culiacan hasn't really needed them. Yet.
FANS SELECT MEXICAN LEAGUE'S 2019 "DREAM TEAM"
The Mexican League is going through the unusual process of allowing its fans to pick the circuit's All-Star Team for the recently-concluded 2019 season. People cast votes on the LMB's website on a daily position-by-position basis, starting with catchers on Monday, October 14 and concluding with relief pitchers last Thursday. Each of the 16 Liga teams had one player per position on the ballot and fans around the world were allowed to vote three times a day during the eleven-day process.
According to the Septima Entrada site, here is the Mexican League "Dream Team" for 2019:
CATCHER: Bruce Maxwell, Monclova
A former Oakland catcher who was the first MLBer to take a knee during the National Anthem, Maxwell was signed by the Acereros as a free agent shortly after the season opened and went on to reach career highs by hitting .325 with 24 homers and 112 RBIs while being selected to represent the LMB North in the midseason All-Star Game.
FIRST BASE: Chris Carter, Monclova
Carter led the LMB in homers (49), RBIs (119), slugging percentage (.709) and OPS (1.158). The hulking former National League's 2016 homer co-champ went stone cold in the postseason, batting .130 without a ribbie in the Serie del Rey against Yucatan, but the 2009 Texas League Player of the Year was a huge factor in Monclova's 75-45 regular season.
SECOND BASE: Michael Wing, Aguascalientes
A Californian who knocked around the Angels system and indy leagues for nine seasons and out of baseball for a year before signing with the Rieleros in 2017, Wing put together a great season in Aguascalientes, hitting .355 with 28 homers and 110 RBIs. Previously a utilityman, the 31-year-old All-Star played second base exclusively this year.
THIRD BASE: Emmanuel Avila, Mexico City
The only Dream Teamer to finish in the top ten in batting, Avila finished eighth with a .367 average while socking 16 homers and driving in 76 runs for the Diablos Rojos. The 30-year-old Los Mochis product spent four summers in the White Sox system before coming to Mexico City in 2010. He's hit .322 and been selected to four All-Star Games since.
SHORTSTOP: Amadeo Zazueta, Monterrey
Barred from playing in the LMB until 2016 because he'd signed directly with Houston twelve years earlier at age 18, Zazueta hit .326 and provided steady defense for the Sultanes (his fourth Liga team in the last three years) to earn his second All-Star Game appearance. He then hit .308 with two homers against eventual champ Monclova in seven playoff games.
LEFT FIELD: Alonzo Harris, Oaxaca
An MVP favorite along with Monclova's Carter, the ex-Mets farmhand rebounded from an awful Fall 2018 season (.165 average for Quintana Roo) for a halcyon year in Oaxaca, hitting .343 with 39 homers, scoring an LMB-high 131 runs, driving in 117 and stealing 45 to narrowly miss becoming the Liga's first 40/40 man. Someone not a midseason All-Star.
CENTER FIELD: Juan Perez, Saltillo
A major reason for the Saraperos' second-half title and playoff berth, Perez quietly put together a .322 season at the plate with 23 homers and 30 steals, scoring 99 runs along the way. A former Reds minor leaguer (where he was a 2014 organizational All-Star while playing for Class A Bakersfield), Perez also threw out 12 runners from center field.
RIGHT FIELD: Danny Ortiz, Puebla
Ortiz finished second to Monclova's Carter in homers (42), was fourth in RBIs (114) and just missed the top ten in runs scored (96), posting a solid .312 average. The 2017 Puerto Rican League MVP, Ortiz was a midseason All-Star in both the Midwest (2011) and Eastern (2013) leagues before his LMB ASG appearance in Mexico City this July.
DESIGNATED HITTER: Japhet Amador, Mexico City
Back in the LMB after a three-year stint in Japan that ended controversially, Amador matched his 2015 batting average (.346), falling from 41 to 28 homers while his RBI totals dropped slightly from 117 to 115. Still, the 6'4" Mulege Giant, listed conservatively at 310 pounds, quickly regained his reputation as one of Mexico's most feared batsmen.
STARTING PITCHER: Cesar Valdez, Yucatan
As easy a choice as there was on this list. Valdez pitched in the Liga's 2015 All-Star Game amid four cups of MLB coffee between 2010 and 2017, but nobody predicted a 2019 campaign in which the Leones righty dominated LMB batters and went 15-2 with a 2.26 ERA in a hitter's year. Valdez struck out 122 batters and walked just 17 over 147.2 innings.
RELIEF PITCHER: Casey Coleman, Tijuana
Son of one former MLB All-Star pitcher and grandson of another, Coleman had success as the Toros closer with a 2.03 ERA. Still, the ex-Cub's choice was puzzling at best after only 14 appearances out of the bullpen with six save for Tijuana over 13 innings. Monterrey's Wirfin Obispo (6 wins, 30 saves, 2.62 ERA) might've been a more sensible pick for fans.
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