Led by home runs from Fernando Tatis, Mauro Gomez and Dennis Phipps and triple by Andy Dirks, the Escogido Lions pounded Edinson Volquez and the Cibao Gigantes to clinch a spot in the Dominican League finals.
The Leones got off to a 5-0 start in the 18-game, four-team semifinal round-robin tournament. They have enjoyed plenty of offense from Tatis, Gomez and Dirks, who have combined for 33 RBIs in 16 games while the pitching, anchored by Fernando Rodney, Nelson Figueroa and Boston Red Sox pitching prospect Kris Johnson, have recorded 118 strikeouts in a 16-game span.
The second spot in the finals is up for grabs between the Gigantes, Licey Tigres and Aguilas Cibaenas who are all within one game of each other with only two to play.
The Aguilas have added some firepower to their roster with the activation of Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes while Hector Luna, Miguel Tejada and Oakland Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss continue to contribute on offense. For its part, Licey added Angels shortstop Erick Aybar for the final stages of the round robin while the Gigantes continue to count on Erick Almonte, Alexi Casilla and Wilson Betemit to carry them into the finals.
Aragua making a charge in the semis
The Aragua Tigres, led by former major leaguer Edgardo Alfonzo, have won five straight games -- including a two-game sweep of the defending champion Anzoategui Caribes -- to move to within a half-game of the lead in the five-team Venezuelan League semifinal round robin.
The 38-year-old Alfonzo is batting .417 with an on-base percentage of .512 through 10 games in the semifinals and has paired well with Hector Gimenez (who signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox last week) and New York Mets utilityman Luis Hernandez to power the Tigres’ offense.
Meanwhile, the Magallanes Navegantes have kept themselves in contention despite losing the services of Chicago Cubs first baseman Brian LaHair, who was recalled by the Cubs. The Navegantes have won of their last four games and are caught in a fight for survival with the La Guaira Tiburones, who have enjoyed a surprisingly strong performance from imports Brian Sweeney (2-0, 0.71 ERA) and Les Walrond (2-0, 2.60 ERA) as they seek their first Venezuelan League title in 26 years.
However, the Caribes still look strong atop the round-robin standings, as Alexi Amarista, Gustavo Molina and Jose Castillo continue to pound opposing pitchers as they have combined to bat .377 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in their last 11 games.
The Zulia Aguilas have already been eliminated as they began the round robin with a nine-game losing streak.
Obregon, Guasave lead in semifinal series
The defending champion Ciudad Obregon Yaquis took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Mexican Pacific League semifinal series against the Mexicali Aguilas with an eighth-inning home run from minor-league veteran Iker Franco, who has carried the Yaquis in the series.
A one-time touted prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, Franco has combined with import Doug Clark and newly-acquired veteran Karim Garcia to lead the offense to the series lead. The Yaquis have also relied on solid performances from starter Marlon Arias and relievers Mario Mendoza and Luis Ayala to gain an edge over underdog Aguilas.
In the other semifinal, the Guasave Algodoneros hold a 2-1 series lead over the Culiacan Tomateros, but Culiacan, after being down 0-2 in the series, exploded for a 17-4 victory behind three homers by import Cory Aldridge, who became the seventh player to hit three homers in a playoff game in MPL history and the first import to do it since Willie Aikens in 1987. Javier Robles and Humberto Cota equaled the feat in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Aldridge, a free agent since 2010 when he played in five games for the Los Angeles Angels, led the attack which also included a rare home run from shortstop Ramiro Pena and another from outfielder Refugio Cervantes, who has played the last 12 seasons in the Mexican League.
Mayaguez pounds Caguas in final series opener
The Mayaguez Indios’ bench came alive in the Puerto Rico Baseball League final series opener as last-minute replacements Danny Ortiz and Danny Gonzalez -- starting for the injured Randy Ruiz and Mickey Negron -- combined to go 5-for-8 with four RBIs to give the Indios a 10-1 victory over the Caguas Criollos.
Fresh off a semifinal series win over the Ponce Leones, the Indios took advantage of the rusty Criollos, who by winning the four-team regular season title had a 10-day layoff to await their opponent in the finals. Mayaguez pounded Criollos starter Matt DeSalvo, who lasted only three innings as Jesus Feliciano, Jeffrey Dominguez and Ruben Gotay all contributed to the attack.
Indios starter Bobby Livingston, a Mexican Summer League standout who most recently pitched in the minors in 2010 for the Tampa Bay Rays organization, pitched five scoreless innings yielding only a double to Criollos second baseman Alex Cora.