by Bruce Baskin
January 17, 2023 - Mexican League (ML)
CANEROS, GUASAVE ONE WIN AWAY FROM LMP TITLE SERIES
When it comes to listing traditional powers in the Mexican Pacific League, neither the Los Mochis Caneros nor the Guasave Algodoneros are placed high on that table. Now in their 61st LMP season but with a team history dating back to 1947, the Caneros have won but three titles (1968-69, 1983-84 and 2002-03) and entered the current season on the heels of two consecutive last-place finishes in the playoff points race.
The Algodoneros entered the Mex Pac in 1965 but over 53 seasons (minus a five-year absence between 2014 and 2019 after the original version of the Cottoneers were sold and moved to Guadalajara), they have just a 1971-72 title to show. While they've been more competitive in recent years, the Algodoneros have rarely been considered a contender.
That's partly why when the Mex Pac season opened in October, nobody would've predicted a Los Mochis-Guasave championship series this month. However, after Monday's games, it's a distinct possibility as both clubs stand one win away from semifinal triumphs heading into their respective Game Sixes on Wednesday night.
Despite absorbing two straight road losses in Obregon, including a vicious 15-1 pounding in Obregon Sunday night that saw the Yaquis belt five homers after scoring just four runs over the first three games, Los Mochis still leads that series 3-games-to-2 heading back home to Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada on Wednesday. Victor Mendoza belted two roundtrippers Sunday while Sebastian Valle, Dariel Alvarez and Jose Figueroa each cracked homers for the Yaquis in their 15-1 laugher, with Figueroa's blast a pinch-hit grand slam off veteran reliever Fredy Quintero in the seventh.
Monday's Game Five didn't feature nearly as much fireworks but Obregon still pulled out a 6-3 home win over the Caneros to continue keeping the series alive. Leadoff batter Allen Cordoba lined Los Mochis starter Nick Struck's first pitch of the game into the left field seats in the bottom of the first to give Obregon an early 1-0 lead. The Yaquis built their advantage to 4-0 in the fourth on consecutive two-out RBI singles by Juan Carlos Gamboa and Valle.
Juan Uriarte's two-run homer for the Caneros off Manny Barreda in the top of the fifth cut the Yaquis' lead in half and a run-scoring single by Justin Dean in the sixth made it a 4-3 contest, but Yadir Drake stroked an RBI double and later scored on Maikel Serrano's groundout in the seventh to put Obregon up 6-3 and close the scoring. Barreda earned his second playoff win while Struck lost for the first time in three decisions.
In the other LMP semi series, Guasave held a 4-2 lead over Hermosillo in the bottom of the seventh during Sunday's Game Four at home when play was halted by umpires due to fog. After the game resumed Monday, the Naranjeros loaded the bases twice in the top of the ninth inning with one out, but only scored one run on a Cardona sacrifice fly before reliever Felipe Arredondo recorded the last two outs by striking out Alejandro Mejia and inducing the dangerous Nick Torres to loft a fly ball to Elizalde in right with the sacks full to end Game Five to knot the series at two games apiece.
Monday's Game Five nightcap was no less dramatic as what began as a pitching duel between Hermosillo's Tyler Alexander and Geno Encina of Guasave ended in a 1-0 Algodoneros win. In the bottom of the fourth, Alan Lopez singled and Jose Heberto Felix doubled with two out before Alexander (who was 4-11 for Detroit last season) was pulled with finger blisters. His replacement, Luis Marquez, bounced a 2-2 wild pitch to Julian Ornelas off the right foot of catcher Cesar Salazar into foul territory, allowing Lopez to scamper home from third with the lone run of the game. That was all Encina would need for his first playoff win, going six innings and allowing only a Salazar double in the second. Alexander took the loss for Hermosillo, which entered the postseason as the top seed among eight teams.
Both Game Sixes on Wednesday will start at 9:30PM Eastern. In Los Mochis, the Caneros will send Pitcher of the Year Luis Miranda to the mound against Obregon's reinforcement from Mazatlan, Brazilian Braulio Torres-Perez, who finished third in POY voting. Hermosillo will host Game Six in the other semi as two-time POY Elian Leyva climbs the hill to face Guasave's Matt Pobereyko, a first-time starter after nine pro seasons as a reliever who led the LMP with 73 strikeouts en route to a 6-2 record and 2.05 ERA.
GUASAVE LEADS HERMOSILLO, 3 GAMES TO 2
Wed, 1/11: HERMOSILLO 8, Guasave 1 (Roel Santos went 3-for-4 with a run and 3 RBIs to support Tyler Alexander's 5.2 innings of pitching with 8 K's for the Naranjeros)
Thu, 1/12: Guasave 4, HERMOSILLO 3 (Esteban Quiroz homered twice for the Algodoneros but a Sebastian Elizalde single in the 8th drove in Julian Ornelas with the go-ahead run)
Sat, 1/14: Hermosillo 2, GUASAVE 1 (Wilmer Rios tossed 7 shutout innings as Irving Lopez and Jasson Atondo contributed RBI singles; Joey Terdoslavich homered late for Guasave)
Sun-Mon, 1/15-16: GUASAVE 4, Hermosillo 3 (Sebastian Elizalde homered and singled for Guasave in game that took two days to complete after fog suspended play Sunday night)
Mon, 1/16: GUASAVE 1, Hermosillo 0 (Former Toronto minor leaguer Geno Encina allowed 1 hit over 6 shutout innings for Algodoneros, striking out 5 and walking 3)
LOS MOCHIS LEADS OBREGON, 3 GAMES TO 2
Wed, 1/11: LOS MOCHIS 2, Obregon 1 (Fabian Cota and Nick Struck combined for 7 IP of 1-run ball but it took Yasmany Tomas' RBI single in the sixth to plate the game-winning run)
Thu, 1/12: LOS MOCHIS 2, Obregon 1 (Tomas' grounder to SS Juan Carlos Gamboa was mishandled, allowing Isaac Rodriguez to score from third in walkoff fashion in the 10th)
Sat, 1/14: Los Mochis 3, OBREGON 2 (Fernando Villegas walked with bases loaded off Alberto Leyva to force in winning run in the 12th, one of 3 Leyva BBs allowed that frame)
Sun, 1/15: OBREGON 15, Los Mochis 1 (Victor Mendoza clubbed 2 HRs and had 4 RBIs and Jose Figueroa hit pinch grand slam in support of Arturo Lopez' 6 IP of 1-run ball)
Mon, 1/16: OBREGON 6, Los Mochis 3 (Yadir Drake was 3-for-4 with a double, 2 RBIs and a run while Allen Cordoba homered, doubled and scored twice for the Yaquis)
MIRANDA OUTDUELS RIOS FOR LMP PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Los Mochis right-handed pitcher Luis Miranda edged out Wilmer Rios of Hermosillo in voting among teams, media and fans for the Vicente "Huevo" Romo Trophy as the Mexican Pacific League's Pitcher of the Year for 2022-23. In the closest balloting among awards announced thus far, Miranda beat Rios by five percentage points from among six hurlers who received votes based on their respective performances during the regular season.
The 28-year-old Miranda, a Hermosillo native who had briefly been a teammate of Rios' with the Naranjeros two previous winters, went 5-1 over 12 starts and was the Mex Pac's leader in effectiveness with a sparking 1.07 ERA. He was also the league's WHIP leader at 0.87 while also achieving 56 strikeouts in a total of 67 innings pitched. Miranda started off with a bang by pitching 36.1 innings before allowing an earned run at the beginning of the season.
Despite having spent three years in Atlanta's minor league system and earlier pitching bits and pieces of three seasons with the Naranjeros and Guasave, Miranda was chosen Rookie of the Year in the 2020-2021 campaign as a member of the Algodoneros after going 8-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 11 starts. He's the Caneros' fifth Pitcher of the Year and the first to win the award since Yoanys Quiala in 2019-20.
Miranda obtained 40 percent of the weighted vote by team front offices, media members and fans, leaving second place for Ríos at 35 percent. Third place went to Braulio Torres-Perez of Mazatlan (11%), followed by votes for Guasave's Matt Pobereyko (8%), Eduardo Vera of Mexicali (4%) and Pobereyko's Cottoneers moundmate Geno Encina (2%).
Rios had a legitimate claim for POY honors after a winter during which he led the MLP with nine wins (nobody else had more than seven), finished third with a 1.86 ERA (Torres-Perez was second at 1.49), tossed one of the LMP's two complete game shutouts (Obregon's Arturo Lopez' no-hitter was the other), was second to Miranda with a 0.90 WHIP and allowed just 1.1 walks per nine innings to come in second to Kurt Heyer of Culiacan's 0.9.
The only award remaining to be announced is the Hector Espino Trophy for Most Valuable Player. The six players nominated for that honor are Miranda, Rios, outfielders Yasmany Tomas and Justin Dean (both of Los Mochis) and infielders Victor Mendoza (Obregon) and batting champ Roberto Valenzuela (Monterrey).
PUEBLA HIRES HECTOR HURTADO AS SKIPPER FOR 2023
The Puebla Pericos Board of Directors have announced the appointment of Héctor Hurtado as manager for the 2023 campaign. Hector Estrada and Miguel Angel Lopez also join the Pericos coaching staff along with holdovers Russel Vázquez, Gilberto Sotomayor, Eduardo Ríos, Jorge Luis Loredo, Ignacio Vargas, Marco Duarte and Humberto Rojas.
A 51-year-old native of Navojoa, Hurtado spent 22 years as a catcher in the Mexican League before retiring after the 2011 season. Beginning in 1989, he donned the tools of ignorance for (drawing deep breath) Leon, Minatitlan (twice), Mexico City Tigres, Monterrey (twice), Campeche (twice), Union Laguna, Cancun, Monclova (twice), Dos Laredos, Tijuana, Puebla, Chihuahua (twice), Nuevo Laredo, Laguna and Quintana Roo. Over the 831 LMB games the baseball-reference website has stats for, Hurtado hit for a .253 average with 53 homers and 283 RBIs. Not being a speed merchant at 6'1" and 230 pounds, he was caught stealing all seven times his attempts were recorded.
Hurtado was smiling during the formal announcement of his hiring and declared it to be the most important day of his career, thanked the entire Board for the opportunity. "I know that there were many important people considered for this position and they decided on me. I am very grateful. I have a lot of commitment to the fans and the Board."
Pericos vice president Alfonso López was in charge of the press conference announcing the hiring of Hurtado as manager and said, "Héctor Hurtado is a graduate of the Pasteje Academy and a lover and strategist of the game, as he has shown us in the last two years. Since I've known him, he has shown a great responsibility towards our beautiful game.
"I compare him, with all due respect, with a wise man of this game, Don Jorge Calvo. Hurtado develops baseball players, he has full knowledge of our organization from below. All the guys who are going to debut and have already debuted, he knows them perfectly. His commitment to the organization led us to think a lot about him to be the new manager."
Hurtado has directed the Pericos in the Mexican Winter League the last two years, obtaining great results by reaching the Serie del Principe both occasions and being crowned in the last edition.
Previously, he managed the Reynosa Broncos (2016) and Quintana Roo Tigres (2018) in the Mexican League. As an active baseball player, he wore the flannel of the Pericos in the 2005 season. Hurtado will replace Willie Romero at the helm in Puebla.
Romero was fired on December 15, exactly one year after his 2021 hiring. In his lone year as Pericos dugout boss, the Venezuelan led the team to a 48-39 record in 2022, good enough for third place in the LMB South and a playoff berth. However, the Parakeets were knocked out in the first postseason round by eventual Serie del Rey champion Yucatan and in a league where many owners have the highest (and often unrealistic) of expectations, a playoff series loss can undo everything accomplished during the regular season.
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