In Dominican baseball, Licey versus Aguilas is like the Yankees versus the Red Sox. And like those East Coast powerhouses, Licey and Aguilas had to go seven games to decide their championship playoff series this year. Aguilas, who features former A's shortstop Miguel Tejada as their main star, jumped out to an early 3 games to 1 lead in the series. The sole Licey victory during the first four games was a tight 3-0 victory in Game 2. The A's newly acquired hurler Juan Cruz was the winning pitcher for Licey in that game. Cruz tossed seven shut-out innings, allowing only four baserunners. Licey dropped the next two games before winning two in a row to force a decisive Game 7.
Cruz wasn't so successful in his second start of the series – the decisive Game 7. The wiry righthander made it only into the fourth inning before being pulled. He allowed two runs in three and two-thirds innings, as Licey fell in the final game by a 7-1 score. Cruz had a strong winter season as a starting pitcher for the Tigres. He is likely to fill a role in relief for the A's this season, but Cruz may be a sleeper for the fifth starter slot in the rotation this spring.
A's outfielder Eric Byrnes, who has made a career out of heroics in the Dominican League playoffs, struggled with both the bat and the glove during the championship series. Byrnes managed only three hits in 21 at-bats during the seven game tilt. He also had trouble in the outfield. One of his misplays triggered an Aguilas rally in the first game of the series, a Licey blow-out loss.
Despite the struggles with the bat, Byrnes did manage to score six runs during the series, in large part because Byrnes walked five times. He also recorded Licey's only stolen base of the series. "Captain America" did have a strong showing in the round-robin tournament that led into the final series clash with Aguilas, so his winter was not without some heroics.
Former A's MVP Miguel Tejada had a big series for his Dominican team, hitting .385 with two homers in the series. Tejada and the rest of Aguilas are headed to Mexico to compete in the Caribbean World Series.
Puerto Rican League
A's utilityman Hiram Bocachica had a productive winter in his native Puerto Rico. The righthanded hitter finished second in the league in homeruns with eight and tied for second in the league in runs batted in with 23. Bocachica, who has an outside shot at making the A's roster as a 25th man, compiled a 953 OPS. The versital Bocachica played 10 games at third, four at second and 25 in the outfield for the Ponce Leones. Ponce finished three games out of first during the regular season and were eliminated early on in the Puerto Rican playoffs.
A's second baseman Marco Scutaro also had a productive winter. After helping to lead his Caracas Leones team to the playoffs with a stellar 920 OPS and a .335 BA, Scutaro hit .291 in the championship series with four homeruns, including a grand slam in the final game. Unfortunately for Marco, the grand slam was not enough, as Caracas fell one run short in the final game. Scutaro will be battling for a roster spot as a back-up middle infielder this spring.
Oakland A's Winter League Notebook - 2/2/05
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