Reds 3B Juan Francisco led the Domincan League in HR & RBI
Please forgive my extended absence. 2009 was crazy, and only occasionally in a good way. Anyway, regular season action in the Dominican League wrapped up just before Christmas, and the playoffs are just getting started. Without any further ado, here’s a recap of the regular season (the last shall be first):
6th place – ESTRELLAS ORIENTALES
Southpaw Evan MacLane recorded the best WHIP among the league’s ERA qualifiers and went 5-2 to rank second in victories. Unfortunately, the rest of the Estrellas’ pitchers went 10-33 in a pretty miserable winter campaign. The club’s 4.99 ERA was the worst of any team, and their offense scored the fewest runs per game. On the bright side, Detroit Tigers catcher Robinzon Diaz batted .333 to finish second in the batting race.
5th place – AGUILAS CIBAENAS
Despite a strong finish that brought their final record to .500, the once-mighty Aguilas followed up last season’s dismal post-season showing by missing the playoffs altogether. An inability to win at home (10-15) undermined their fortunes, as did Victor Diaz’s power outage. After breaking the league’s single-season home run record just a year ago, Diaz went deep just once in 134 at bats. Longtime stalwarts Luis Polonia and Jose Lima looked their age and contributed little. If you’re looking for positives, LHP Ben Jukich –a 27-y.o. from the St. Louis Cardinals– topped the league in strikeouts and 1B Kevin Barker posted the circuit’s third-best OPS.
4th place – TOROS DEL ESTE
Featuring power pitchers and contact hitters, the Toros held on to the fourth and final playoff spot behind the league’s highest scoring offense. The keystone combination of SS Manuel Mayorson (Florida Marlins) and 2B Victor Mercedes both hit over .300, and Texas Rangers reserve Esteban German led the league in runs scored despite a .237 batting average (his OBP was .395). Nobody saved more games than former big leaguer Julio Manon’s 17, and Cleveland Indians OF Jose Costanza swiped 12 bases in limited action to tie for tops in the circuit.
3rd place – GIGANTES DEL CIBAO
The free-swinging Gigantes led the league in home runs by a wide margin and featured three of the top five finishers in OPS. Cincinnati Reds 3B Juan Francisco led all players in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases in a banner winter campaign. Veteran Wilson Betemit (Kansas City Royals) had the best OPS of all at .928, while Erick Almonte (Milwaukee Brewers) was the on-base percentage king at .457. OF Luis Durango (San Diego Padres) tied for the most steals. On the mound, Gigantes pitchers led the circuit in ERA, paced by 28-y.o. RHP Jose Capellan (not to be confused with the Toros’ 23-y.o. LHP with the same name). Capellan’s 2.15 ERA was the best among qualifiers, and his 7-3 won-lost record also made him the winningest hurler in the DR.
2nd place – TIGRES DEL LICEY
“El Glorioso” is back in the playoffs again thanks to a team effort that shows few of their players dominating the statistical leaderboard. The primary exception being 34-y.o. Timo Perez, who hit .356 to win the batting title. Perez also ranked second in OPS, while closer Oneli Perez (no relation) saved 16 of Licey’s 28 victories to be the second most prolific closer.
1st place – LEONES DEL ESCOGIDO
Escogido’s pitchers issued the fewest walks, and their hitters coaxed the most en route to the league’s best regular season record by 2 1/2 games. Escogido players swiped the most bases on the circuit, and got solid play out of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2B Alex Valdez, who batted .308 with a league-leading six triples.
ROUND ROBIN PLAYOFFS
Licey 4, Gigantes 0: Ubaldo Jimenez (Colorado Rockies) struck out nine (or 10 depending whether you believe the USA or DR account) in five innings of one-hit pitching, and batting champ Timo Perez went 4-4.
Escogido 3, Toros 2 (11 inn.): Despite committing four errors, Escogido prevailed on Wilkin Castillo’s walkoff home run off Alexi Ogando. Escogido tied the game in the 8th on a bases loaded walk by Toros closer Julio Manon.
Gigantes 4, Escogido 3 (12 inn.): Escogido tied the game on Brian Myrow’s 8th-inning homer, but the Gigantes prevailed on Ramon Santiago’s line drive double to left in the 12th that scored Ambiorix Concepcion from first base.
Toros 3, Licey 1: Veteran Ramon Ortiz pitched well, but his error handling a bunt in the 7th led to what proved to be the go-ahead run.
Escogido 7, Gigantes 0: Edward Valdez hurled the first six innings of the shutout, and his Escogido teammates took advantage of seven bases-on-balls issued by Gigantes pitchers. Carlos Gomez homered, stole a base and scored three times for the victors.
Licey 8, Toros 1: Licey broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth when they scored runs on a throwing error and a balk. “El Glorioso” batted around and blew the game open two innings later. CF Jose Bautista had a big game for the winners, going 3-4 with a double, 2 RBIs and an outfield assist.
Gigantes 6, Licey 5: The Gigantes rallied from an early 4-2 deficit against Jorge Sosa, taking the lead for good on Juan Francisco’s two-out RBI single in the fourth. Dario Veras worked a perfect bottom of the ninth for the save.
Toros 9, Escogido 3: The Toros trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the sixth, but pounded out 19 hits to win going away, including a 4-4 performance by leadoff hitter Jose Costanza. SS Pedro Ciriaco drove in four runs with his three hits, three of them coming on a bases loaded double that gave the Toros the lead for good.
Escogido 3, Licey 0: Seven Escogido pitchers allowed a mere five singles, while Licey starter Daniel Cabrera struggled with his control yet again in a losing effort. Willis Otanez’ RBI double started the scoring, and proved to be the game-winning hit. After Licey’s league batting champion Timo Perez was twice hit by pitches, three of his teammates were ejected: two pitchers in the fifth inning for throwing close to Escogido’s Carlos Gomez, and Ronnie Belliard in the ninth after he was hit as well.
Gigantes 6, Toros 5: Ruddy Yan drove in three runs with a double and a triple to help the Toros carry a two-run lead into the sixth, but the Gigantes rallied and prevailed in the ninth when Vince Sinisi singled home pinch-runner Luis Durango. Just before allowing the decisive hit, Toros closer Julio Manon wild-pitched Durango into scoring position.
Escogido 5, Licey 2: Escogido moved into sole possession of first place in the Round Robin playoffs behind a strong performance by southpaw Francisco Liriano, who whiffed seven over five shutout innings. The Leones swiped six bases in the victory, three of them by leadoff hitter Freddy Guzman, who also doubled, scored & drove in a run.
Toros @ Gigantes: postponed by rain
Gigantes 2, Licey 1: With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Alexi Casilla snapped a 1-1 tie by greeting reliever Atahualpa Severino with a ground ball single to right that drove Francisco Peguero home from second with the winning run. Licey put a man aboard in the top of the ninth, but Dario Veras retired Ronnie Belliard to save the Gigantes victory.
Toros 4, Escogido 3: Ruddy Yan took Panamanian Manny Corpas deep with a man on in the seventh to snap a scoreless deadlock and put the Toros on top. They led 4-0 after a pair of unearned runs in the ninth, but held on to win by the slimmest of margins after Alex Valdez’ three-run homer off Julio Manon in the bottom of the ninth got Escogido back in the game.
Escogido 4, Gigantes 3 (13 inn.): The Gigantes forced extra innings with a two-out, pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, but Escogido improved the best record in the round robin playoffs on Kevin Barker’s decisive homer off Chris Baker in the top of the 13th.
Toros 8, Licey 6: The Toros were being shut out on one-hit with two outs in the top of the seventh, but exploded to score eight times before the inning was over. Victor Mercedes’ three-run homer got the Toros started, and their last three tallies were unearned following Licey shortstop Erick Aybar’s error.
Gigantes 9, Toros 2: The Toros made errors on consecutive fifth-inning plays, and the Gigantes made them pay by cashing in three unearned runs to take control of the game. Brandon Duckworth and three relievers limited the Toros to only four hits. The Gigantes currently have the best winning percentage in these Round Robin playoffs. Catcher Saul Soto whacked a couple doubles in the victory.
Licey 7, Escogido 6: Licey blew a 5-1 lead after a costly error in the bottom of the seventh, but prevailed after two miscues by Escogido infielders led to a pair of runs. With the tying runners in scoring position and nobody out, three straight Escogido hitters falied to get the ball out of the infield against Licey closer Oneli Perez. Emilio Bonifacio and Jorge Sosa were standouts for Licey.
Gigantes 5, Toros 2: The hottest team in the post-season improved their record at home in front of a Three Kings Day crowd in the make up of a rainout. Veteran righty Jose Capellan continued his stellar winter pitching, defeating his younger southpaw namesake. Wilson Betemit bashed a solo homer among his 3 RBIs, and youngster Francisco Peguero (SF Giants) added three hits and racked up an outfield assist.
Gigantes 7, Escogido 5 (11 inn.): For six innings, the Gigantes were shut out on a single hit by Escogido southpaw Francisco Liriano. When Liriano departed however, the Gigantes fought back to force extra innings, and won the game in the 11th after Francisco Peguero’s bases-loaded single. Escogido cut a four-run deficit in half in the bottom of the frame, but their rally came up shot. Leones’ RF Wladimir Balentien stroked three more hits to raise his Round Robin batting average to a tournament-leading .467.
Licey 2, Toros 1: Ubaldo Jimenez earned the victory with another strong effort (6ip 4h 1r 7k), and CF Jose Bautista’s third-inning home run snapped a 1-1 tie and capped the contest’s scoring. Toros’ SS Pedro Ciriaco raised his post-season average to .406 with three hits in the defeat.
Licey 9, Escogido 1: Ramon Ortiz carried a shutout into the seventh inning, and Licey long balls from Jose Bautista and Ronny Paulino helped blow the game open in a six-run eighth inning against Franciso Cordero. Shortstop Erick Aybar stroked four hits, drove in two and stole a base for the victors.
Toros 9, Gigantes 2: First-baseman Yurendell De Caster went 4-5 with a double, triple and 4 RBIs to lead the Toros to victory. Lefty Raul Valdes pitched into the seventh to earn his second victory of the Round Robin. Gigantes skipper Felix Fermin and pitcher Julio Del La Cruz were ejected in the third inning, along with Toros SS Pedro Ciriaco after De La Cruz hit Ciriaco with a pitch. Despite the loss, the Gigantes (7-4) still have the best record of the semi-finals, with the other three teams all deadlocked at 5-6.
Gigantes 8, Licey 4: Gigantes right-fielder Lucas Montero (Cleveland Indians) went 5-5 to lead a 15-hit attack that was also augmented by Wilson Betemit, who homered to drive in his ninth and 10th runs of the semifinals. Montero also stole two bases and threw out a runner at third base in an all-around performance. Phillies lefty Antonio Bastardo retired all seven men he faced, standing out as the most effective Gigantes pitcher.
Escogido 3, Toros 1: Escogido righy Edward Valdez carried a no-hit bid for five-and-two-thirds innings to earn the victory. Kevin Barker doubled twice for the winners, and back-to-back two-baggers by Willis Otanez and Wilkin Castillo early on gave the Leones a lead they’d never lose.
Gigantes 2, Licey 1 (10 inn.): Wilson Valdez stroked a game-winning single for the first-place Gigantes after Licey’s Anderson Hernandez and Ronny Paulino made errors on consecutive plays to start the bottom of the 10th. After issuing an intentional walk to load the bases, Licey right-hander Oneli Perez surrendered the walkoff hit. The Tigres only score came on CF Jose Bautista’s first-inning home run, before Bautista was ejected for arguing a called third strike in the fifth. New manager Jose Offerman also got the boot. Lucas Montero made in nine times on base in two nights with a single, double and a pair of walks. He also put down a successful sacrifice bunt. The Gigantes have won more extra-inning games in this year’s semifinals than the other three clubs combined.
Escogido 7, Toros 1: First-baseman Kevin Barker doubled twice and homered in a 4-4 performance to lead the surging Leones. Wladimir Balentien stayed hot with a two-run homer of his own, and pitchers Health Phillips and Nelson Figueroa combined on a three-hitter. The Toros and Licey are both now two full games behind Escogido for the second slot in the finals, with the Gigantes poised to seize the first spot barring a collapse.
Licey 10, Toros 1: The Tigres built a 7-0 lead by the third inning and never looked back, as the Toros were held to a single run for their third consecutive loss. Jorge Sosa worked six innings of two-hit shutout ball for the victory, and Erick Aybar and Emilio Bonifacio were the offensive stars. Aybar stroked three singles and scored a trio of runs, while Bonifacio knocked in three with a double and a single. In dropping to 5-9, the Toros became the first team to clinch a losing record in the Round Robin.
Gigantes 4, Escogido 3: The Gigantes improved to 6-1 in one-run games this post-season. Escogido centerfielder Carlos Gomez cut down what would have been to go-ahead run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh following Ramon Santiago’s game-tying single. Santiago then swiped second, and scored the decisive tally on a two-out single by Francisco Peguero. Jose Capellan earned another victory with seven innings of five-hit pitching. He struck out seven.
Escogido 3, Licey 1: Francisco Liriano has now pitched 22 innings without allowing an earned run in the Round Robin, registering a 24:3 strikeout:walk ratio and surrendering a stingy total of 11 hits. Ubaldo Jimenez wasn’t sharp for Licey, and the Tigres cannot finish with a winning record in these semifinals. Wladimir Balentien continues to swing a hot bat for Escogido, doubling in one run and scoring another. The two teams combined went 1-21 with runners in scoring position.
Toros 6, Gigantes 1: Raul Valdes’ perfect game bid ended on Juan Francisco’s two-out single in the seventh, but the Toros’ 32-year-old southpaw from Cuba whiffed nine in his eight innings to run his post-season record this winter to 3-0, 1.05. The Toros used three two-out hits in a row to seize an early advantage, but led only 2-1 entering the bottom of the eighth when they poured it on against reliever Charlis Burdie. Stat of the Day: Gigantes LF Lucas Montero went 0-4…but he’s still sporting a .563 batting average in the Rounc Robin.
Licey 7, Escogido 5: Licey staved off elimination with a come-from-behind victory at home on the strength of a five-run sixth inning. After Wily Mo Pena doubled home the tying run, the Tigres surged ahead on a pair of bases loaded walks, and pulled away when two runs scored on an Alex Valdez error. Escogido pounded out 16 hits, but left 11 runners on base in a missed chance to clinch a spot in the finals.
Gigantes 7, Toros 4: Nelson Cruz homered twice and drove in four runs to lead the Gigantes to a comeback victory in a meaningless game as far as the finals are concerned. Saul Soto also went deep for the victors, who got 7 2/3 innings of shutout relief from six relievers after falling behind 4-1 early on.
Escogido 10, Gigantes 1: Right-hander Edward Valdez improved to 3-0, 1.08 in the Round Robin with six strong innings, and 1B Kevin Barker went 4-5 to lead a 16-hit attack. Wilkin Castillo drove in three runs, and Fernando Martinez added three hits for Escogido. The Gigantes never threatened after falling behind by six runs in the first four innings.
Licey 7, Toros 1: In a must win game for Licey, Jason Standridge and the bullpen carried a shutout into the bottom of the ninth, while Anderson Hernandez’ 3-hit/3-RBI night spurred the offense. The Tigres remain one game behind Escogido for the second slot in the finals heading into tomorrow’s games.
Gigantes 10, Licey 6: Gigantes RF Nelson Cruz blasted a second-inning grand slam off Edwar Ramirez, and Licey’s vain hopes of getting back to the finals vanished when they trailed 10-0 by the middle of the third inning when catcher Ronny Paulino and manager Jose Offerman had already been tossed. Offerman slugged 1B umpire Daniel Rayburn. Licey actually managed to bring the tying run to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Frank Martinez took a called third strike from Hector Cardenas and Anderson Hernandez flied out to end it. Even if Licey had won, it wouldn’t have mattered because Escogido won the other game.
Escogido 4, Toros 3: Regular season champion Escogido clinched a showdown with the Gigantes in the final thanks to three unearned runs after a pair of two out errors by the Toros in the fifth inning. Escogido RF Wladimir Balentien went 2-4 to finish with a Round Robin-best .407 batting average among qualifiers.