Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mexicali rests; CS semifinal field determined

The 3-and-0 Mexicali Aguilas enjoyed a day off Saturday as their spot in the 2017 Caribbean Series bye rotation came up.  It was a rest well-earned by manager Roberto Vizcarra's troops, whose Mexican Pacific League playoff pennant run was marked by a potent offense but it's been the pitching staff that's distinguished them at the CS in Culiacan with a microscopic three-game ERA of 1.33 as Hector Daniel Rodriguez, Hector Valenzuela and Barry Enright have all registered standout starts.

They've had plenty of breathing room, as the Aguilas offense has average .324 as a team for an average of 5.33 runs per game.  Four Mexicali batsmen are hitting .400 or better, led by Jason Bourgeois at .500.  Including last year's title run by Mazatlan, Mexican teams have now won nine games in a row at the Serie del Caribe.  The last loss by an MexPac in the CS occurred February 8, 2015 when Culiacan fell to Cuba's Pinar del Rio Vegueros, 3-2, in the championship game.

It'll be a Cuban team that'll attempt to derail Mexicali Sunday when the 2-and-1 Granma Alazanes take on the Aguilas at 5:00pm MST (0000 UTC) in Culiacan's Estadio Tomateros to wrap up CS Day Five.

ZULIA (VZ) Aguilas 8-15-0, Granma (CU) Alazanes 3-10-2

Freddy Galvis and Ronny Cedeno combined for six hits, three runs and three RBIs at the top of the Zulia order as the Venezuelan champion Aguilas beat Cuba's National Series champs Granma, 8-3, Saturday night as 14,973 onlookers watched in Culiacan.  The Zulia win knots both the Aguilas and Alazanes into a second-place tie with 2-1 records.  Both clubs were assured slots in Monday's semifinals after Caguas beat Licey in Saturday's opener.

Zulia grabbed the early lead with three runs in the bottom of the first inning, two of them coming in on Jose Castillo's slow roller to short resulted in an infield single to score Galvis, followed by a throwing error by Granma shortstop Alexander Ayala to bring in Cedeno.  A subsequent Alex Romero single plated Rene Reyes with the Aguilas' third run.  Granma tied the contest in the top of the second when Carlos Benitez belted a three-run homer to left.  Cedeno singled in Galvis to put the Venezuelans back on top, 4-3, in the bottom of the fourth, but it was the fifth when Zulia effectively put the game out of reach by scoring three more runs as Galvis scorched a two-run double for the key blow to make it a 7-3 Aguilas advantage and one more Zulia run in the seventh closed the scoring for the day.

Besides the batwork of Galvis and Cedeno, Romero and Reyes each had two hits for Zulia.  Benitez, William Saavedra and Roel Santos each had two hits for Granma.  Wil Ledezma pitched 2.2 innings of shutout relief ball to earn the win while reliever Yoelvis Entenza (4.1 IP, 3 ER) took the loss for the Alazanes.

CAGUAS (PR) Criollos 10-11-0, Licey (DR) Tigres 2-5-2

Cuban exile Rusney Castillo set an early tone with a first-inning, two-run homer as Caguas avoided a winless appearance at the Caribbean Series by beating Licey, 10-2, in Saturday afternoon's Day Four opener at Culiacan.  The Criollos have completed the round robin stage with a 1-3 record while Licey drops to 0-3.  Even if the Tigres beat Venezuela's Zulia Sunday in their Day Five matchup, Licey would still miss the final four to to their loss to Caguas, which in effect got the one win they needed when they needed it.

The score remained at 2-0 after Castillo's longball into the bottom of the fourth, when the Puerto Rican  pennant-winners added another run when Jorge Padilla scored from third on a Jonathan Morales sacrifice fly.  Licey got on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth with their lone two runs of the game as Zoilo Almonte lined a single to right to bring Engel Beltre and Anderson Hernandez to whittle the Criollos lead to one at 3-2.  That was as close as Licey would get, with Caguas scoring three times in the fifth as the Tigres self-destructed with two errors and added three more in the sixth behind Ivan De Jesus Jr.'s two-run double that gave Caguas a 9-2 lead.  Castillo's RBI single in the eighth was the cherry on the whipped cream for the Criollos, who outhit the Dominicans by an 11-to-5 margin for the game.

DeJesus finished the game with three hits, three runs and two RBIs while it was a three-hit night for the Criollos' David Vidal.  Beltre had two of Licey's five hits.  Andres Santiago pitched 2.1 innings in relief of Caguas starter John Brownell to earn the win, while nine-year minor leaguer Bryan Evans took the loss for Licey, going 2.1 innings and allowing two runs in the start.

The Tigres will close out their round robin portion of their schedule against Venezuela's Zulia Aguilas Sunday at 1:00pm MST (2000 UTC) in Culiacan.

Caribbean Series standings
3-0  Mexicali (MX) Aguilas
2-1  Granma (CU) Alazanes
2-1  Zulia (VZ) Aguilas
1-3  Caguas (PR) Criollos
0-3  Licey (DR) Tigres

Sunday's schedule
Licey at Zulia, 1:00pm MST (2000 UTC)
Mexcali at Granma, 5:00pm MST (0000 UTC)
Caguas bye