Winter Ball Playoff Update

The playoffs for each of the four major winter leagues are under way, with the champion of each league slated to head to the Caribbean Series in Venezuela from Feb. 2-7. Here's a quick look at each league's playoff picture.

Dominican League

Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez went 5-for-6 with a three-run homer for Escogido in the Leones' 13-4 victory yesterday over the Gigantes, who lead the best-of-nine championship series 2-1 after squeaking out a 2-1 and a 1-0 victory to open the series.

Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano allowed one run (unearned) in five innings for Escogido while striking out six in the Leones’ Game One loss, keeping his ERA at 0.00 through 27 playoff innings with a 30-5 K-BB mark. Reds outfielder Wladimir Balentien also fueled Escogido’s playoff push, hitting .403/.452/.522 in 17 postseason games.

Reds third baseman Juan Francisco struggled in the postseason, but hit .302/.352/.566 with 11 home runs for the Gigantes in 46 regular-season games. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz was a standout for the Gigantes in the postseason, hitting .273/.407/.682 with three home runs in eight playoff games.

Venezuelan League

San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval powered the Navegantes del Magallanes to the best-of-seven championship series against Caracas. The series begins tonight.

Sandoval, 23, hit .395/.425/.604 in 20 regular-season games, then batted .477/.500/.932 with five home runs in 10 playoff appearances. Cubs 25-year-old catcher Robinson Chirinos also provided a spark for the Magallanes in the regular season and the playoffs, hitting .366/.420/.641 with 10 home runs in 48 regular-season games before adding five more home runs and hitting .333/.365/.633 in 14 playoff contests.

Strong pitching helped fuel Caracas’ playoff run. Astros 29-year-old lefthander Gustavo Chacin maintained a 2.83 ERA in 31 2/3 innings over five playoff starts, while Braves 22-year-old lefty Jose Ortegano allowed just one earned run in his 13 postseason innings.

Mexican Pacific League

Hermosillo will face Mazatlan in the finals, which begins tomorrow. Vinny Castilla (yes, Vinny Castilla) hit .289/.349/.632 with three home runs in 10 playoff games for Hermosillo, while Diamondbacks 27-year-old lefty Travis Blackley helped pace the Hermosillo rotation with a 1.83 ERA in 20 innings over three playoff starts.

Puerto Rican League

The Lobos de Arecibo beat the Indios de Mayaguez 6-0 yesterday to even the series at 1-1 in the best-of-seven semifinals, while the Criollos de Caguas won 2-1 in 10 innings to take a 2-1 series lead over the Gigantes de Carolina.

Arecibo, which finished first in the regular season with a 25-14 record, ranked first in the league in both runs scored (209) and runs allowed (179). Mets 31-year-old first baseman Michael Abreu struggled for Triple-A Buffalo in 2009 but hit .351/.444/.718 with 12 home runs in 36 games for Arecibo to win the league MVP, leading the league in home runs and slugging and ranking second in on-base percentage.