The stakes have risen in the Dominican League’s semi-final round-robin tournament between the Aguilas Cibaeñas, Escogido Leones, Licey Tigres and Cibao Gigantes. Several veteran major leaguers have entered the fray, led by Miguel Tejada, who hit two doubles in his debut with the Aguilas.
The Aguilas also reinforced their outfield with newly signed Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss, whom Aguilas manager Felix Fermin is hoping will bring the left-handed power the team has lacked all season, as well as Edwin Encarnacion, who played the past five regular-season games, but has only seen action in one of the first four round-robin games. Starting pitcher Fausto Carmona has also joined the Aguilas for the postseason.
Tejada’s two doubles led to a 6-0 win against Licey to keep pace with Escogido, which reinforced its rotation by welcoming Francisco Liriano and shored up the bullpen with Fernando Rodney, who saved the game in his Leones debut. Led by Pedro Florimon, Fernando Tatis, Julio Lugo and Andy Dirks, the Leones are batting a collective .350 through the first three games of the semifinal round robin.
Ugueto steals home, helping Caribes earn playoff berth
Luis Ugueto stole home in the bottom of the 12th inning against the Lara Cardinals, sending the Anzoategui Caribes into the postseason to join the Aragua Tigres, La Guaira Tiburones, Zulia Aguilas and Magallanes Navegantes in the five-team round robin. Ugueto last played in the major leagues in 2003 with the Seattle Mariners, and was predominantly used a pinch-runner all season. But his late-inning feat gave the Caribes their second consecutive postseason berth.
Elsewhere in Venezuela, Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve completed an impressive regular season for Magallanes, finishing among the league’s leaders in batting average (.339), at-bats (242), runs scored (32), hits (82), doubles (18), total bases (110) and RBIs (35), making him one of the leading candidates for MVP along with teammate Jesus Flores and La Guaira’s Gregor Blanco.
Among the pitchers, Zulia’s Austin Bibens-Dirkx led the league in victories with a 7-3 mark with an ERA of 2.19, and Renyel Pinto finished at 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 73 in 77.2 innings pitched. Magallanes’ Eric Junge led the league in ERA with a 1.53, putting together a 4-1 mark in 10 starts.
Madera, Canizares lead hitters in the Mexican League
Former Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles farmhand Sandy Madera was crowned the batting champion in the Mexican Pacific League after batting .366 in 49 games with the Los Mochis Cañeros to edge out Navojoa Mayos outfielder Kraig Binick in the last three days of play.
Madera’s impressive offensive year did not help Los Mochis as the Cañeros missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker against the Navojoa Mayos, who had won their particular regular-season series. The Mazatlan Venados, who had made the playoffs each of the past 11 seasons, were the other team eliminated from semifinal play, which begins on Jan. 1 with Navojoa facing Culiacan, Hermosillo at Mexicali and Guasave at Ciudad Obregon. Former Cuban national team player Barbaro Canizares, Obregon's first baseman, finished as the regular season home run king with 20 in 65 games.
In another MPL note, several veteran free agent pitchers finished the regular season with respectable showings as they seek spring training invitations. Former New York Mets pitcher Oliver Perez has 23 relief appearances with the Culiacan Tomateros and had an ERA of 0.63 in 14 1/3 innings pitched. Former Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers prospect Francisco Campos, now 38, led the MPL in strikeouts with 74 over 82 innings while putting together an 8-2 record for Culiacan.
Feliciano leads Mayaguez’s charge into the playoffs
Jesus Feliciano was one home run shy from the hitting for the cycle, leading the Mayaguez Indios to a 6-4 win against the Carolina Gigantes on Friday and clinching the second of the three playoffs spots in the Puerto Rican league.
The defending champion Caguas Criollos had clinched a berth last week while Carolina’s loss to Mayaguez placed it in a tough spot of having to sweep its last three games to edge the Ponce Leones for the final playoff berth.
Feliciano, a free agent who spent part of eight seasons with the New York Mets, has teamed up with Milwaukee Brewers prospect Martin Maldonado and former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Randy Ruiz to lead the charge for Mayaguez, which is looking for its first title since the 2009-10 season.
Meanwhile, the fledgling Puerto Rican league received a bit of good news this week as news spread about the possible return of the San Juan Senadores, who did not play this season after negotiations with the City of San Juan for the lease of San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium were unsuccessful.