SANTIAGO, D.R.–Home-field advantage? Check. More big leaguers than any other team in the tournament? Check. Dominican League champions? Check. Best team in the 2008 Caribbean Series? Well, not so far.
Aguilas, heavily favored to repeat as Caribbean Series champions heading into the tournament, has looked very ordinary over the first five games. Their defense is shoddy, the pitching has been inconsistent and their bats haven’t woken up since the club’s opening night, 13-6 win.
Let’s start with the outfield defense. Aguilas manager Felix Fermin started 43-year-old Luis Polonia in left field against Licey on Monday, and Polonia hasn’t seen left field since. Polonia got late jumps on balls he should have gotten to, which helped Licey knock off the defending champs, 5-2. Bernie Castro hasn’t been much better, and his routes to balls have been terrible at times. Left field is a revolving door of sorts, as Fermin even put utility infielder Hector Luna–a well-below-average runner–in left last night briefly.
And then there is the pitching. Joselo Diaz has been very impressive, but other than that, Aguilas hasn’t had a lot of options. And when Francisco Cruceta or Alfredo Simon are your go-to guys out of the bullpen, that says something. Licey’s staff has been much better as a whole, despite closer Carlos Marmol’s blow-up Wednesday against Mexico. Marmol won’t be an option for Licey manager Hector De La Cruz today against the club’s archrival, or for the one-game playoff Friday if the Series comes to that. The Cubs mandated that Marmol pitch no more than four innings in the Series, and with yesterday’s action he’s pitched 3 2/3 innings.
Aside from Aguilas’ explosion of 13 runs against Mexico, there isn’t much offense to speak of. They certainly aren’t hitting in crucial situations and Miguel Tejada has turned into a walking 6-4-3 doubleplay since he hit two bombs against Obregon. The club’s two best hitters have been Rafael Furcal and Mendy Lopez, but again, no one seems to be able to pick up the offense when needed.