Caribbean Series Pairings Almost Set




Things are gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean Series, as each league—the Mexican Pacific League, the Dominican League and the Venezuelan League—are all currently in the finals.

The only situation where the championship does not really matter is in the Dominican Republic, where two clubs will represent the country in the Series beginning Feb. 1. Because the Puerto Rican Winter League went on hiatus this year the Dominican Republic will be represented by both Licey and Aguilas to even the field at four teams.

"It's unfortunate that Puerto Rico is not participating in this year's event, but this will make it all that much more special for fans in the Dominican Republic," Aguilas manager Felix Fermin said.

Fermin's club won it all last year in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and Aguilas has home field advantage this time around as the Series will be played at Estadio Cibao.

The Aguilas held a three games to two lead over Licey in the Dominican League nine-game final, and is loaded with big league talent featuring an infield than includes Rafael Furcal (Dodgers), Edwin Encarnacion (Reds) and Miguel Tejada (Orioles).

The Tigers, who have the reputation of being the Yankees of the Dominican, fired manager Tim Tolman and pitching coach Mark Brewer after the club lost the first three games in the final despite having secured a berth in the Series. That might seem excessive to baseball fans in the United States, but the stakes are much higher this year considering Licey has won the Caribbean Series a record nine times and the club is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Tolman served as the Nationals third base coach last season while Brewer was the Mets pitching coach at Triple-A New Orleans.

The Mexican Pacific League has been hotly contested this season. Mazatlan finished with a .500 record in the first half of the season, fired manager Juan Jose Pacho and replaced him with Eddie Diaz.

Under Diaz, the Deer bounced back to reach the postseason and made it to the championship against Obregon. And it's no small coincidence that Diaz most recently served as one of Fermin's assistant coaches on the Aguilas club.

"I learned a lot from Felix about how to handle a club," Diaz said. "He was a huge influence on me. As a team, we've really battled back and put ourselves in a great position. But it's not even close to being done."

The MPL finals kicked off Jan. 22, and Obregon blasted Mazatlan in Game One, 8-0, behind righthander Isaruo Pineda. But Mazatlan turned things around on the road Wednesday night, knocking off Obregon, 3-2 to even the series. Marlins outfielder Eric Reed has been a key player for the Deer, hitting .340.

In Venezuela, Aragua held a 1-0 lead over Lara behind the hitting of Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), Ramon Hernandez (Orioles) and Gregor Blanco (Braves).
Cabrera, who joined the team two weeks ago, went 2-for-4 with a double in the Tigers' 4-3 win.

If Aragua wins the Venezuelan League title, it would be their second consecutive Caribbean Series appearance. Though the club seemingly stacked up well against the Dominicans last year, Cabrera decided not to play in the Series and Venezuela settled for a third-place finish.

"I think you're going to see more big league veterans play in the Series this year because it's based in the Dominican Republic and there are two Dominican teams represented," one international scouting director said. "That rivalry between Licey and Aguilas is the Dominican version of Yankees-Red Sox, but the fans are much more energetic. I know fans of both teams in the States would disagree, but you really have to be here to understand what it means to every single person in the country.

"I'd be surprised if Cabrera didn't come. Venezuela's team was hit hard last year and I think they'll come into the Series loaded to try to compete with the two other Dominican clubs. Someone's going to have to, because those two teams should be considered the frontrunners."

—CHRIS KLINE