Caribbean Series in Sight

Looking in on the baseball still being played in January (and February, too)!

With the initial World Baseball Classic generating more and more attention in the USA, many are either unaware or have forgotten that baseball has been and is still underway in the Caribbean. While the Cardinals' players teams have mostly either been eliminated or the players have returned home, there is still news to report.


The four champions from the winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela will clash in the 36th Caribbean Series.  The round robin tournament of daily doubleheaders starts Thursday, February 2 and runs through the 7th at Maracay and Valencia, Venezuela. But, first we need some teams. 


A Sunday diversion


On Sunday, I had to be just about the only person in the USA who had the Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos AFC Championship game on the small picture-in-picture window with the Dominican Republic final between Las Aguilas Cibaenas and Licey Tigres capturing the majority of my attention on the big screen, even as the commentary was delivered "en Espanol".


In these gap days on January, I have to get my baseball fix anyway I can. Transporting, at least mentally, to the DR to enjoy a warm day of baseball sounded pretty darned good to me.


And, in this game, I was given a bonus. With Cibao up two games to one over Licey in the finals, who did I find but handsome old number 50, Julian Tavarez, starting on the mound for Las Aguilas!


I don't miss him already. Tavarez tossed two shutout innings before Anderson Hernandez doubled down the left field line, Erick Aybar tripled to right, and a sacrifice fly gave Licey a two-run lead. But, Matt Cepicky doubled home Miguel Tejada to tie the game in the fourth against Licey starter Juan Cruz. An awful two-error play by Licey's Alexis Gomez in center gave Cibao the lead back in the fifth, with Tavarez still in the game and now in line for a win.


Cepicky and Cruz cleared the benches twice during and between the top and bottom of the sixth as the former took exception to the latter's pitch placement – up near his head. I didn't even need the translation of the words exchanged.


With Tavarez having thrown 57 pitches to that point, I couldn't wait for him to take the mound in the bottom of the inning. While he didn't hit anyone, he did manage to blow the lead. Tavarez fanned the first batter, Napoleon Calzado, but the winter league umpiring is par with the level of play.


On strike three, the ball struck Calzado's foot and rolled into fair territory. Tavarez then fired the ball into the turf as it eluded the first baseman and rolled into right. Julian departed with one out and runners on the corners. Justin Miller relieved and allowed a sac fly that ended Tavarez' chance for a victory. Good luck, Red Sox!


During a long delay in the bottom of the seventh due to half the lights in the stadium going out, the crazed fans continued to chant and wave team flags, as horns continued to honk non-stop in the background. 


Former Cardinal Bill Pulsipher had been warming up for Cibao. But Houston, then free agent, then Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez came in and promptly served up the eventual winning run. Closer Jorge Sosa sealed Licey's 5-3 win with a strikeout and a save. What a wild three-plus hours of baseball!


Where was I?


Let's get back to the big picture. You think the designated hitter in MLB makes play between the American and National Leagues different? Well, take a look at this.


Each of the four countries, Venezuela, DR, PR and Mexico, have their own playoff formats to decide their Caribbean Series entrant, each seemingly more wild than the others. Still, though each has their own unique route, ultimately, there will soon be crowned one league winner in each of the four nations, as the playoffs are well underway. 


Check out these match-ups and reconsider whether the current MLB wild card format is that bad, after all. Ok, it is, but you at least have to admit that this is even worse than Buddy's bumbling.


Dominican Republic League 


All the regular season accomplished was to eliminate two of the six teams from playoff consideration.  The four remaining teams played an 18-game round-robin tournament, with the top two teams advancing to a best-of-seven league championship series. 


The two losers: Estrellas Orientales, Gigantes del Cibao


The four playoff entrants: Licey Tigres, Las Aguilas Cibaenas, Escogido Leones, Azucareros del Este


The finalists (finals record through Sunday): Cibao (2-2) and Licey


Mexican Pacific League


Two seems to be the operative number as the regular season eliminates two of eight teams from playoff consideration.  The six remaining teams pair off in a best-of-seven quarterfinals. 


But, don't despair if your favorite team loses, as long as they were the winningnest of the losers. Say what? Well, we can't have an odd number of teams proceeding, can we? So, one loser becomes a winner. Specifically, the one of the three quarterfinal losers with the best record joins the three winners in the best-of-seven semifinals.  The two winners meet in the best-of-seven league championship.


The two losers: Mexicali Aguilas, Obregon Yaquis


The six playoff entrants: Mazatlan Deer (defending Caribbean Series champion), Caneros de Los Mochis, Navojoa Mayos, Guasave Algodoneros, Hermosillo Naranjeros, Culiacan Tomato Growers


The finalists (finals record through Sunday): Mazatlan (1-1) and Guasave


Puerto Rican League 


Yes, the number is again two. Three shall be too many and one shall be too few. Two of the six regular season teams become eliminated from playoff consideration.  The remaining four teams faced off in best-of-seven semifinals.  The two winners then meet for the league championship.


Simple enough, right? Not so fast. Since everything else has been so straightforward, the Puerto Ricans add their twist in the final round with a best-of-nine series. 

The two losers:
Mayaguez Indians, Arecibo Lobos


The four playoff entrants: Manati Athenians, Carolina Giants, Ponce Leones, Caguas Criollos


The finalists (finals record through Sunday): Carolina (3-3) and Ponce


Venezuelan Winter League 


Oops. Forget about two. How about five teams in the playoffs? OK, here you are. Apparently, anything goes in Venezuela! There, three of eight regular season teams are eliminated from playoff consideration. 


The top two teams in each division plus a wild card team play a 16-game round-robin series.  The top two finishers meet in a best-of-seven series for the league championship.


The three losers: La Guaira Tiburones, Pastora de los Llanos, Zulia Aguilas              


The five playoff entrants (record through Saturday): Aragua Tigres (10-5), Caracas Leones (10-6), Carabobo Magallanes (8-7 -eliminated), Lara Cardinales (7-8 - eliminated), Caribes de Anzoátegui (3-12 -eliminated)


The finalists: Aragua and Caracas


Colombian League


Even though they are not a part of the Caribbean Series, the Colombians are having their own five-game playoff series.


The two losers: Barranquilla Tigres and Sincelejo Toros


The finalists (record through Sunday): Barranquilla Cardinales (1-1) and Monteria Caimenes


Tomorrow, I will report on the final stats of the Cardinals players who completed their winter play. Or, at least I think their play ended. You see, the teams that enter the Caribbean Series augment their rosters with the best players from their vanquished foes, making the Series a sort of an All-Star competition, not unlike the WBC, I guess.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at


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