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01/02/2006 Archived Entry: "Mexican Pro Baseball News: VIVA BEISBOL Weekly"

Mexican Pro Baseball News: VIVA BEISBOL Weekly
By Bruce Baskin

MexPac Regular Season Ends in Wild Finish
Mayos earn top playoff spot; Culiacan nips Yaquis for berth

As if the first half of the Mexican Pacific League schedule wasn’t tight enough, with all eight teams having a mathematical shot at first place heading into the final week, the second half was just as competitive as tiebreakers decided the fate of no less than five MexPac teams and a single contest determined postseason hopes for two more.
When the dust settled after the final scheduled games on December 30, Navojoa, Mazatlan and Los Mochis were all tied for first with 19-14 records. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that while Navojoa and Los Mochis faced each other nine times in the first half, they did not play each other at all in the second stanza. The MexPac office decided the three-way deadlock via a formula based on runs scored to award the Mayos first place, with the Venados and Caneros finishing second and third. Fourth place was a little easier to determine. Both Guasave and Hermosillo ended up knotted at 17-16, but the Algodoneros got the nod by winning four of six games with the Naranjeros in the second half.
Culiacan and Obregon settled their duel for the sixth and final postseason berth the old-fashioned way: They played for it. In a season-ending three-game set in Culiacan, the Yaquis beat the host Tomateros twice to set up a final game in which the 16-16 Yaquis could slip into the playoffs with a win by tying Guasave and Hermosillo and prevailing in a tiebreaker. However, Culiacan broke Obregon’s back with a 5-3 victory and holding the Yaquis to just 4 second-half points, thus sneaking into a first-round matchup with Navojoa by half a point.
The postseason begins today, with Navojoa hosting Culiacan, Los Mochis playing in nearby Guasave, and Hermosillo making the long trip down to Mazatlan. All three series are best-of-7 sets, with the winners advancing to the semifinals along with a wildcard team, a so-called “lucky loser” taken from among the three vanquished teams based on how far they stretched their respective series before losing their fourth game. It is almost identical to the system used by the Mexican League during the summer.

Navojoa MAYOS 20-15 (8.0) 19-14 (8.0) 39-29 (16.0)
Guasave ALGODONEROS 19-16 (7.0) 17-16 (5.0) 36-22 (12.0)
Mazatlan VENADOS 16-18 (3.5) 19-14 (7.0) 35-32 (10.5)
Hermosillo NARANJEROS 17-17 (6.0) 17-16 (4.5) 34-33 (10.5)
Los Mochis CANEROS 15-20 (3.0) 19-14 (6.0) 34-34 (9.0)
Culiacan TOMATEROS 17-17 (5.0) 14-19 (3.5) 31-36 (8.5)
Obregon YAQUIS 17-18 (4.0) 16-17 (4.0) 33-35 (8.0)
Mexicali AGUILAS 17-17 (4.5) 11-22 (3.0) 28-39 (7.5)
Mexican Pacific League Team Reviews
NAVOJOA MAYOS (39-29/16pts/1st)
While it took a tiebreaker to determine first place for the second half, the Mayos have been the best team in the MexPac this winter. SS Luis Alfonso Cruz (.327/10/37) and OFs Douglas Clark (.324/11/42) and Norris Hopper (.320/1/21) all finished in the top four in the MexPac’s batting race, while 1B Jesse Gutierrez (.293) was among LMP leaders in homers with 15. The Mayos pitching was top-rate, too, as starters Vinny Gonzales (7-4/3.90), Mario Mendoza Jr. (7-3/4.22) and Humberto Montemayor (6-4/3.52) were solid, as was closer Scott Chiasson (a MexPac-best 18 saves). This is the team to beat in the playoffs.
GUASAVE ALGODONEROS (36-32/12pts/2nd)
The Algodoneros didn’t set the world on fire in the second half, but any team with Spike Lundberg would be a threat. The lefty Lundberg (9-3/2.23) was the best pitcher in the LMP this season, leading the MexPac in wins and ERA and tied for second in strikeouts. Rudy Gonzales (5-7/4.36) was the only other Cottoneer with more than 3 wins. OF Mario Valenzuela (.310/16/48) led the league with 28 extra-base hits, C Noe Munoz (.310/6/34) had a fine year, and 1B Kevin Barker had a 3-homer game December 30 in a 15-12 win over Hermosillo. Closer Dale Thayer tied Navojoa’s Chiasson for the LMP lead in saves with 18.
MAZATLAN VENADOS (35-32/10.5pts/3rd)
After an indifferent first half performance, the defending Caribbean Series champs turned it up a notch in December and will be a force in the playoffs. Much like last winter, the Deer are loaded with pitching and defense. Starters Pablo Ortega (4-5/2.49), Francisco Campos (4-6/2.60) and Walter Silva (7-3/3.33) all finished in the top six for best ERA as Campos ran away with the strikeout crown with 78, 17 more than Silva, Guasave’s Lundberg and two others. Offensively, Mazatlan is only ordinary. The Gonzales brothers, 1B Adrian (.306/10/42) and 3B Edgar (.326) both hit well, but pitching will determine this teams’ fate.
HERMOSILLO NARANJEROS (34-33/10.5pts/4th)
Speaking of pitching, Hermosillo needs some. Badly. The Naranjeros hit the ball just fine with a .276 team batting average (second in the MexPac to Navojoa’s .286), but the hurlers were too generous, allowing an LMP-worst 4.72 runs per game. OF Luis Alfonso Garcia (.320/18/57) led the league in homers and RBI’s in an MVP-like season, while venerable DH Juan Carlos Canizales (.337/12/50) led the circuit in batting. As bad as the pitching was, both Jonathan Castellanos (5-4/4.05) and Azael Alvarez (5-4/4.02) gave the Orange Growers some quality starts. Still, Hermosillo does not look like a team that’ll go deep in the playoffs.
LOS MOCHIS CANEROS (34-34/9.0pts/5th)
This was really a tale of two seasons. The Caneros were cellar-dwellars in the first half, but led the MexPac much of the second half before a tiebreaker placed them third after ending in a tie with Navojoa and Mazatlan. Which Los Mochis team will we see in the playoffs? They have some hitting, with 3B Ramon Orantes (.312/9/46) and OF Christian Quintero (.306) leading the way. 1B Calvin Pickering (.288/14/34) supplied power, but was suspended towards the end of the season. The Caneros have a little pitching, too, but will rely on rookie righty Francisco Rodriguez (7-5/3.92) to carry their postseason hopes. That’s a lot to ask.
CULIACAN TOMATEROS (31-36/8.5pts/6th)
Perhaps the poster children for underachievement this winter, the Tomateros looked a lot better on paper than they did in the standings, and it took a win on the last day of the season to reach the postseason. Still, these guys have enough to be scary. OF Ruben Rivera (.308/16/44) should get some MVP consideration, and fellow OF Ben Francisco (.296/13/31) was the hottest hitter in the MexPac for a stretch. 2B Jorge Cantu (.203), SS Benji Gil (.221) and 1B Randall Simon (.242) have big league experience, but have not played to their abilities. Nor has P Oliver Perez (0-3/4.50), who moonlights with Pittsburgh in the summer.
OBREGON YAQUIS (33-35/8.0pts/7th)
You have to feel bad for the Yaquis. Surviving a turbulent winter in which the team settled on Homar Rojas as manager after considerable confusion, and top pitcher Mark DeFelice (5-2/3.14) and hard-hitting OF Doug DeVore (.302/6/12) both bailed out on the team late in the season, Obregon managed to win 7 of 9 games to nearly reach the playoffs before Culiacan squelched their hopes on the last day of the campaign. Among the players who stuck it out, C Chris Coste (.263/12/44) led the Yaquis in homers and ribbies and closer Joakim Soria (1.45/10 saves) pitched well. For all their heart, this team deserved better.

MEXICALI AGUILAS (28-39/7.5pts/8th)
Easily the worst team in the MexPac at the end of the season, the Aguilas collapsed like a cheap card table down the stretch in which manager Tim Johnson and the club parted ways and 1B George Arias (.208) took over the reins despite no managerial experience before his appointment. Mexicali was competitive in the first half, going 17-17 to finish in a four-way tie for third place, but the Eagles landed hard in the second half, winning just 11 of 33 games. 2B Howie Clark had a great season (.333/9/30), and P Fernando Valenzuela (4-2/4.31) had a nice comeback, but that’s about it. Even popular 1B Bubba Smith (.245) was cut by the team.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Playoffs: First Round Schedule
SUN, JAN 1 Culiacan@Navojoa, LosMochis@Guasave, Hermosillo@Mazatlan
MON, JAN 2 Culiacan@Navojoa, LosMochis@Guasave, Hermosillo@Mazatlan
WED, JAN 4 Navojoa@Culiacan, Guasave@LosMochis, Mazatlan@Hermosillo
THU, JAN 5 Navojoa@Culiacan, Guasave@LosMochis, Mazatlan@Hermosillo
FRI, JAN 6* Navojoa@Culiacan, Guasave@LosMochis, Mazatlan@Hermosillo
SUN, JAN 8* Culiacan@Navojoa, LosMochis@Guasave, Hermosillo@Mazatlan
MON, JAN 9* Culiacan@Navojoa, LosMochis@Guasave, Hermosillo@Mazatlan
*-Best-of-7 series. Games played if necessary.

Maestros of Mexico: Baldomero “Mel” Almada, outfielder (1932-41)
The first Mexican-born player to reach major league baseball, Mel Almada roamed American League outfields in the 1930’s and gained a reputation as a speedy fielder and good contact hitter for the Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns before spending part of his final season in the National League with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The 6’0” 170-pound left-handed Almada was born February 7, 1913 in the small coastal town of Huatabampo, Sonora (near the current MexPac city of Navojoa), but grew up in Los Angeles and spoke perfect English. Almada broke into pro ball as a 19-year-old with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, batting .311 with six homers for the Indians. Almada would never hit more than five homers in a season again, but after batting .323 with 204 hits for Seattle in 1933, the Red Sox called him up for a 20-game stint, where he hit .341. Almada struggled for Boston in 1934, hitting just .233 in 23 games and spending most of the season in Kansas City and batting .328 for the Blues. He came back for good in 1935, landing a starting job in the Red Sox outfield and collecting 176 en route to a .290 year at the plate, finishing third in the AL with 20 stolen bases.
Almada played with Boston until June 10, 1937, when he was swapped to Washington along with brothers Rick and Wes Ferrell for Bobo Newsom and Ben Chapman. After batting just .236 for the Bosox in 32 games, Almada came alive with the Senators and hit .309 over his remaining 100 games to finish at .295 for the season. However, after another slow start in 1938, he was sent to the Browns for Sam West. Again, the deal woke up Mel’s bat as he batted .342 for St. Louis the rest of the way to end at .311 and a career-best 197 hits (topping the circuit with 158 singles).
Even that 1938 campaign wasn’t enough to keep Almada in St. Louis for long, and after yet another slow start (.239 over 42 games), he was dealt away once again. This time, the money-starved Browns sold him to Brooklyn for cash. Unlike years past, though, Almada did not rebound after the deal, hitting just .214 for the Dodgers in 1939 prior to his release. He landed back in the PCL with Sacramento in 1940, but only hit .233 in limited duty. Just 28 years old, Almada wrapped up his career in 1941 with Union Laguna in the Mexican League, the only year he ever played in his native country. Almada played just 28 games for the Torreon club, but did well with a .343 average.
In his seven-year major league career, Mel Almada batted .284 with 706 hits and 15 homers. Although his career in Mexico was limited to his one campaign with Union Laguna in the Liga and some managerial experience in the old winter Pacific Coast League (the forerunner to the modern-day MexPac), Almada was voted into the Salon de la Fama in 1971. His status as the first major leaguer from Mexico earned his enshrinement, but he should also be remembered as a quality player who spent most of his big league career as a starter. Almada passed away at age 75 in Hermosillo, Sonora in 1988.
NEXT MAESTRO (Jan. 15): Roberto “Beto” Avila, infielder (1943-59)
NEXT WEEK: The Road Trip continues with a visit to Culiacan, Sinaloa

Viva Beisbol Trivia Quiz
Last issue’s Quiz answer: Present Culiacan manager Francisco “Paquin” Estrada has managed six Mexican Pacific League pennant-winners, most of any manager in the modern era. Estrada has won five flags with the Tomateros since the winter of 1982-83, along with another LMP title managing Mexicali in 1998-99. Estrada will pilot Mexico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
This issue’s Quiz: Who is the only manager to win MexPac championships with three different teams?

This is the first edition of VIVA BEISBOL Weekly, which will be produced every Sunday throughout 2006. Also, tomorrow will mark the debut of VIVA BEISBOL Daily, a one-page recap with standings, scores and schedules for pro baseball involving Mexican teams. We will provide comprehensive coverage of the Mexican Pacific League playoffs in January, the Caribbean Series in February, and the World Baseball Classic in March. Let us know if you want a FREE subscription at Info@VivaBeisbol.Net.
Don’t forget to log on to our website www.VivaBeisbol.Net for the most complete info on Mexican pro baseball in English on the internet, including Carlos “The Latin Insider” Fragoso’s updates, Salon de la Fama member Tomas Morales’ “Tommy al Bat” column, and lots more. We usually post current standings and scores in evenings after games are played.

OTHER GOOD LINKS FOR INFO ON MEXICAN PRO BASEBALL: (Featuring Carlos Fragoso’s “Latin Insider” column) (Stats of all past and present Mexican major leaguers) (Covers Mexican pro baseball, including the independent leagues) (One of Mexico’s top sports papers, and home to Tomas “Tommy al Bat” Morales) (Top columnists and prime coverage of Mexican baseball) (The official Mexican Pacific League website) (The official Mexican League website) (Featuring Mexican League standings and statistics) (With informative stories on Mexican baseball from subscriber Jesse Sanchez) (Great site for minor league sports, and Viva Beisbol’s original “home”) (Not a baseball site, but great stories on Mexican baseball by subscriber Jon Clark) (Lots of coverage of the LMB and LMP, plus some good columnists) (Official site of Mexico’s Hall of Fame, and a treasure trove of information)

P.S. Remember to check out our website at www.VivaBeisbol.Net. for the full
meal deal. We'll be updating Hall of Famer Tomas Morales' "Tommy al Bat"
column soon, adding team web addresses to the Links page, and adding a new
page listing all champions for the Mexican League, Mexican Pacific League
and Caribbean Series.

Replies: 1 Comment

Cool site! I really liked it. Keep up this great site.

Posted by Thomas @ 01/06/2006 06:40 PM EST

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