Welcome back to The Cardinal Nation’s weekly summary of St. Louis Cardinals players competing in winter leagues around the world. The final field is now set in all five of the main Winter Leagues. Final series are either underway or about to open. The winners will advance to Serie del Caribe in Culiacan, Mexico.
Let’s review where the leagues and the Cardinals currently stand.
Mexico (LMP) - no Cardinals active
Both Mexican Pacific League semi-finals went down to a deciding seventh game Thursday night. Méxicali prevailed over Hermosillo and Los Mochis defeated Culiacán, setting up the LMP finals pairing. Los Mochis will have the home-field advantage in the best-of-seven finals that get underway on Saturday, January 21.
Catcher Irving Wilson’s winter season ended with Culiacán’s Thursday loss. Well, actually it ended sooner. In the semi-finals, the reserve catcher did not appear after going 0-for-2 in the first round.
Dominican Republic (LIDOM) - no Cardinals active
Resulting from the 18-game round-robin phase, Tigres del Licey and Águilas Cibaeñas advanced to the nine-game finals with Gigantes del Cibao and Leones del Escogido (Tommy Pham, Eliezer Alvarez) sent home.
As hot as Pham had been in the prior period, he finished colder than cold, on a 1-for-15 slump, including six strikeouts, over his final four contests. That dropped his round-robin batting average from .349 through 13 games to .276 over 17. Here are his round-robin totals.
Interestingly, in one of the final week contests, on the 16th, second baseman Alvarez also took the field for Pham’s Escogido club. It was TCN’s 2016 system-wide Player of the Year’s first LIDOM appearance since way back on November 5, weeks before Pham joined the club.
Coming out of mothballs did not go any better for Alvarez in the round-robin than in his regular season. In his one-game appearance, he went 0-for-4, including two strikeouts. (In the regular season, Alvarez had batted just .083 over eight games.)
With the home field advantage in the finals, Águilas defeated Licey in Game 1 on Thursday night.
Prior to the finals opener, when the two clubs submitted their rosters, neither Alex Reyes (Licey) nor Carlos Martinez (Aguilas) are listed among the active. As a result, it would appear the Cardinals are done in the Dominican for this winter.
Or are they? Last weekend from St. Louis, Martinez made an Instagram post, congratulating Aguilas for reaching the finals. In it, he suggested in Spanish that fans would see him in the finals. So I guess we will just have to wait and see if either Cardinals pitching star suits up.
Puerto Rico (LBPRC) – no Cardinals active
Santurce (home field advantage) leads Caguas three games to two in their best-of-nine finals that opened last Saturday, January 14.
Anthony Garcia’s Carolina club was eliminated by Santurce in the semi-finals, as reported here last week.
Venezuela (LVBP) - no Cardinals active
Lara and Zulia have advanced to the finals, with LaGuaira and Caribes each eliminated after winning just one in five of seven scheduled semi-final contests.
Though both Breyvic Valera and Jose Martinez were done for the winter prior to the semi-finals, there was big news this past week. Valera was named the LVBP’s Most Valuable Player, listed first on 34 of 50 media ballots cast.
During the regular season, the 25-year-old led the circuit in hits (78), triples (6), slugging (.566) and OPS (.974). Valera finished second in runs (40) and stolen bases (11). His average (.356), OBP (.408) and doubles (13) were fourth-most.
Defensively, Valera continued to demonstrate his versatility, appearing in 19 games at second base, four at third, seven in left field and 30 in center.
Valera is the Cardinals' second winter league MVP in the last three years, following Anthony Garcia's 2014-2015 success in the Puerto Rico League. That also serves as a reminder that winter success does not necessarily carry over into the regular season, however.
Martinez received two votes, one second and one third-place selection, finishing seventh in the MVP tally.
Valera, Martinez and Garcia will join Pham in Cardinals major league camp starting next month, where the four will be vying for reserve sports on St. Louis’ roster.
What is ahead?
After the elimination tournaments through January are complete, the final winners of the leagues in Mexico (LMP), the Dominican Republic (LIDOM), Venezuela (LVBP) and Puerto Rico (LBPRC) will join the Cuban champion in the Caribbean World Series. Also known as Serie del Caribe, it will be held February 1-7 in Culiacán, Mexico.
The format includes three phases. Phase 1 is a five-team, four-game round robin though which the bottom team will be eliminated. Two semi-final games follow, pitting the #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 finishers in Phase 1. The champion will be crowned through a single-game finale between the two semi-final winners.
However, given that all Cardinals appear to be done, this should be our final winter ball report of this off-season – unless any organization players decide to suit up ahead.
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