Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes lived up to the hype last week in the Dominican League as it was his game-winning RBI double that allowed Aguilas Cibaenas to a win over the favored Licey Tigres and earn a berth in the finals against Escogido Leones.
Since his surprising announcement that he would join Aguilas, Cespedes had struggled, but he came on in the final two games by getting three hits, including a home run, and the series-clinching double.
Aguilas, written off by many after falling four games behind in the semifinal round robin series, won their final six games anchored by an offense led by Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Miguel Tejada, Joaquin Arias and Hector Luna along with strong late-inning relief work from Miguel Batista, who saved the last five games.
Aguilas, managed by former major leaguer Felix Fermin, has won 20 Dominican League titles and will play in the finals for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Led by Andy Dirks, Julio Lugo, Pablo Ozuna and Mauro Gomez, Escogido had clinched its final series berth earlier in the round robin and will rely on its rotation of Francisco Liriano, Nelson Figueroa, Jordan Norberto and Kris Johnson in the finals.
In his four semifinal outings, however, Liriano has struggled with keeping his breaking ball down in the zone. As a result, opponents hit .394 off the left-hander, who has insisted on using his slider when in strikeout counts.
Obregon vs. Guasave in Mexican League finals
The long Mexican Pacific League season will come down to a rematch of last year’s finalists as Ciudad Obregon Yaquis will square off against Guasave Algodoneros.
Mario Valenzuela’s two home runs, including one in the eighth inning, helped Guasave eliminate the heavily-favored Culiacan Tomateros in the best-of-seven semifinal series, while Obregon, led by regular season home run champ Barbaro Canizares, Karim Garcia and Doug Clark, dominated Mexicali Aguilas 4-1 in their series.
The defending champion Yaquis, who also won the 2011 Caribbean Series, go into the finals as the favorite as their offense has been hitting on all cylinders during the postseason. Clark, a one-time Oakland A’s farmhand, finished the semifinals batting .385 while Canizares, a former member of the Cuban national team, had seven RBIs in five games, including three in the series clincher.
Guasave will send Cincinnati Reds prospect James Avery, who was 1-1 in the semifnals, to the mound for the series opener while Obregon will send Luis Mendoza, who made two starts for the Kansas City Royals last season and has pitched solid over the winter in hopes of a shot at a rotation spot with the Royals in spring training.
Aragua rallies, advances to Venezuelan League finals
The Aragua Tigres won six straight games, led by the resurging bat of veteran Edgardo Alfonzo and solid starting pitching from Yusmeiro Petit and Seth Ellerton, to earn a return trip to the Venezuelan League finals.
The 38-year-old Alfonzo carried Tigres with nine RBIs in the semifinal round robin as Aragua also got solid offensive contributions from Ramon Castro and Hector Gimenez while Wil Ledezma was untouchable in relief, giving up only two hits in eight relief appearances during the semifinals.
It's still unresolved who will face Aragua as the Anzoategui Caribes, Magallanes Navegantes and La Guaira Tiburones headed into the weekend within a half game of each other for the second finals berth.
The defending champion Caribes, who lost offensive leader Alexi Amarista to an injury, held the upper hand, but Magallanes, led by the booming bats of Gregor Blanco and Oscar Salazar, who lead the semifinal round with five home runs each, still had a shot at forcing a tiebreaking game.
Mayaguez leading in the Puerto Rican League finals
The Mayaguez Indios, helped by a home run from Jesus Feliciano, rallied from four runs down to defeat the Caguas Criollos, 7-4, and have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-nine finals in Puerto Rico.
Feliciano, who last week signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, has led the Mayaguez offense along with Milwaukee Brewers back-up catcher Martin Maldonado in the absence of Randy Ruiz, who has sat out the finals with an injury to his ankle.
The series has been marked by the fact that the home team has yet to win a game, but the Indios looked to break that trend on Saturday as they took on Criollos in Game 6 with starter Hiram Burgos taking on Caguas' Jose Rosario.
Caguas, the defending champion, has had a bout with the streaky hitting of Jorge Padilla, who parlayed his MVP season in Puerto Rico to a spring training invite from the Miami Marlins, and Alex Cora, who despite playing brilliant defense, has not made much noise with the bat in the final series.