The first five weeks of the season concluded with the Cibao Eagles in their familiar position at the top of the standings. The Eagles’ record of 20-5 was a game ahead of last season’s pace at the midpoint of the regular season. ESPN broadcaster Kevin Cabral notes that the Eagles have been remarkable in the first half for seven years now, with records of 21-9, 16-9, 17-8, 18-7, 17-7, 19-6 and 20-5, being in first place every year but one.
At the midway point, the standings showed the Eagles ahead of defending champions Licey, with Estrellas, Giants, Escogido and Azucareros following in that order. Since then, all the teams have been streaking, shaking up the order. The Cibao Giants have won six consecutive games, and passed Licey for second place. The Escogido Lions, once again in the middle of a bad season, won three games in a row, the first one a very rare comeback win against the Eagles at their home, Cibao Stadium, also known as The Death Valley. The Lions then beat the Aguilas at home 8-0, and won their third in a row by blowing out their eternal rivals, the Licey Tigers, 21-2, scoring a league-record 18 runs in one inning. The three-game winning streak put the Lions just one game behind the Estrellas–losers of three consecutive games–for fourth place, but then the Elephants (as the Estrellas are also known) humiliated the Lions the following night 16 to 1, bombing Jose Capellan and three other relievers.
Licey had their own little streak, winning three consecutive games before losing the next three, including the massacre at the hands of Escogido on Sunday and a heartbreaking loss to the Aguilas the next night, when the Tigers hosted their championship-ring ceremony. The Azucareros, falling dangerously in the depths of the basement, have lost four out of six, and are three games back of the fourth-place Estrellas. The team from La Romana is playing horribly on the road (2-13) and their failures cost manager Luis Silverio his job. Former major-league infielder Teddy Martinez replaced Silverio as the Azucareros skipper.
Blockbusters at the Deadline
In an unusually active trade season, the blockbuster came on November 29, a few hours before the deadline, when the Eagles and Lions agreed on a much-rumored trade involving Raul Mondesi. The Lions sent Jose Lima to the Aguilas for Mondesi, who was hitting just .192/.254/.442 in 52 at-bats, and, as expected, had missed several games with an undisclosed “injury.” Mondesi is now back to his original organization, the one that had traded him to the Aguilas in 2000 for Moises Alou (who never played a game for the Lions), disenchanted with the player’s attitude and performance. Lima is also returining to his original team, having been traded away from the Tigers in 1994.
Just minutes before the deadline Aguilas and Lions agreed on a second blockbuster deal, in which the Eagles sent catcher Miguel Olivo to the Lions for right-hander Miguel Batista. Olivo was disenchanted with the Aguilas because despite his status as a major-league regular, the team was never able to guarantee him playing time. As strange as it sounds, Alberto Castillo is the Aguilas’ everyday catcher, and a player seem as a part of the core that has guided the Eagles to many championships in the last decade. Veteran leadership and intangibles were critical factors in the opinion of the Eagles front office. Batista was property of the Lions for the last three seasons pitching a grand total of two innings, he pitched one year for the Aguilas and led the league in wins with six. Batista pitched his first five seasons for the Lions.
The Lions think they’ve greatly upgraded their team with both Mondesi and Olivo, and with the possible integration of Rafael Furcal and David Ortiz, the lineup could be much different and dangerous if the team makes the playoffs. As for the Eagles, they could have a major-league front of the rotation in January with Lima, Batista and Julian Tavarez.
Cubs outfielder Felix Pié was one of the pleasant surprises of last season, hitting .302/.389/.365 in 63 at-bats. After a strong summer in the Florida State League, Pié was one of the young players the Tigers were counting on for the first half of the season. Unfortunately, his performance has not been particularly good. In 80 at-bats, Pié is hitting .238/.299/.375, with a worrisome strikeout rate–29 already–and just five walks. The league is proving to be very hard this time around for the talented, but inexperienced, outfielder.
Ervin Santana made his first start of the season last Sunday for Licey, in the infamous 21-2 slaughter at the Escogido’s hands. Santana, who previously had made five relief appearances, was on a 65-pitch limit and lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and two runs, with three strikeouts. Santana’s fastball was consistently clocked between 92-94 mph and touched 95 several times, but his command of the pitch was erratic, missing high in the strike zone several times. His best pitch that afternoon was a tight slider, which was breaking hard, low and inside to left-handed hitters. With the pitch, Santana had three consecutive strikeouts in the second inning.
John Patterson completed a successful stint in the league, posting a 1.20 ERA in 30 innings across five starts, walking just four and striking out 27. Patterson pitched very well in every start, throwing his fastball with very good command. His curve gave league hitters all kinds of trouble. Patterson’s deal with Licey was for one month, and its expiration was the reason why he left the ballclub.
Jose Capellan had a rough outing Monday against the Estrellas in San Pedro de Macoris. Capellan came into the game with just six hits and two walks allowed in 12 innings, and a 0.75 ERA. But that night the prospect’s secondary pitches were not effective, his fastball a couple of miles slower and poorly located. The result was seven runs in an inning and a third, with seven hits allowed. An interesting note on Capellan is that he seems much more bigger than last winter, and bigger than the 6’3″, 170 lbs. he’s listed at the Register. Capellan must weigh around 200 lbs.
Cuban Alay Soler‘s successful start in the Dominican League lasted just three weeks. After three consecutive poor outings, the Escogido management decided to release him and sign Kelly Shoppach in his place. The Lions needed a catcher, and had to release one foreign player to put Shoppach on the roster. Since Escogido has a lot of pitching depth, they decided to cut Soler and keep only one foreign pitcher, lefty Donovan Osborne. Soler impressed in his first two starts, reportedly with a very good assortment of pitches and fine velocity, but I never had the chance to see him live.
Where is the real Neifi and what have you done to him?
In the middle of the Escogido Lions’ bad stretch, a recognized local sportswriter openly criticized Lions shortstop Neifi Perez for not being playing with the team early, since he’s not a major-league regular anymore. The controversy hit the airwaves when Perez and the sportswriter (who’s also a member of the Escogido broadcast staff) had a heated discussion on a famous local radio talk show, where Perez told the media member that he was going to play when he considered it time, and not when “a broadcaster told me so.” Surprisingly, Perez was in uniform a couple of days later and promptly had consecutive four-hit games, leading the Lions to three wins in a row. Every single time that Perez got a hit, he signaled and gestured to the press box, enjoying his sweet revenge. Perez is now hitting .667/.700/.889 in 18 at-bats, and if we take into account that he hit .371/.400/.548 with the Cubs, is it possible that he is actually becoming a good hitter?
(Sample size, Carlos, sample size.)
Anyway, Cubs fans, there’s a tip for you, all you need to do is get Chip and Stoney back in the booth and have them get Perez mad.
Players of the Week
Azucareros LHP Raul Valdez was player of the week for November 9 to 15; Eagles OF Alex Fernandez for November 16 to 22; and the Lions’ Neifi Perez for November 23 to 30.
The list is long, so here we go, for the Aguilas, OF Wily Mo Peña and LHP Arnaldo Muñoz. For Licey, IF Ronnie Belliard, 2B D’Angelo Jimenez, 1B Carlos Peña, IF Jose Offerman, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Felix Diaz and RHP Francis Beltrán. For Escogido, SS Neifi Perez, IF Enrique Wilson, 2B Juan Uribe, OF Steve Smitherman, OF Brian Gordon and RHP Al Reyes. For the Giants, SS Jose Reyes, 3B Pedro Feliz, OF Charles Thomas, IF Mike Hessman and RHP Duaner Sanchez. For the Estrellas, RHP Denny Bautista, RHP Esteban Yan and IF Brendan Harris. For the Azucareros, RHP Daniel Cabrera and OF Jason Jones.
The Azucareros signed catcher J.R. House and the Estrellas de Oriente signed Cuban defector, and new Angel, Kendry Morales, a very good hitting prospect according to several scouts, but without experience in pro baseball. Newly acquired Jose Lima announced his debut on December 8 against Licey, and Miguel Olivo could be on the lineup during the weekend for Escogido. Licey shortstop Cristian Guzman is training with the club, and could be joining the team soon. Jose Guillen will be practicing next week and will join Licey sometime during the month. There’s also increasing rumors that newly acquired, and reigning AL MVP, Vladimir Guerrero could be playing for the Tigers on the last week of the regular season. The Tigers also expect right-hander Ramón Ortiz this month.
The Estrellas fired outfielder Doug Devore and first baseman Kyle Nichols. Licey RHP John Patterson left the team after one month, as mentioned. Lefty Ron Flores was released by the Tigers. Aguilas lefty Scott Sauerbeck left the team after 10 innings pitched, as was specified in his contract. Sauerbeck didn’t allow a single run and struck out 14 batters. Mike Nannini‘s contract also expired after six starts. Outfielder Jason Ellison was released by Escogido after he missed several games with nagging injuries. Outfielder Adam Stern and infielder Nick Green left the Cibao Giants after their contracts expired.
Yankees prospect Robinson Cano is hitting .284/.356/.420 in 81 at-bats, and is tied for the league lead in doubles with nine. Cano is hitting much better after a mediocre start … Dodgers shortstop Joel Guzman is staying above .300 (.311/.345/.437), not an easy task for a soon-to-be 20-year-old kid. Guzman showed a flash of his enormous power potential hitting a long home run to the right-center field bleachers of Estadio Cibao… PECOTA’s favorite boy Wily Mo Peña joined the Aguilas ten days ago, and in his first game hit a decisive three-run homer against Estrellas right-hander Denny Bautista. A few days later Peña hit what is believed to be the longest home run ever at Santiago’s Estadio Cibao, measured at 536 feet of distance. Peña hit two more homers on Tuesday and is now tied for the league lead, and among the top ten in RBI, in just nine games and 33 at-bats. Problem is that Peña’s all or nothing approach has produced just two singles apart from the five home runs, and his total line is .212/.308/.667 … Kelly Shoppach is hitting .185/.233/.204 with 24 strikeouts, four walks and one extra-base hit in 54 at-bats. Shoppach is supposed to stay with the Lions until December 22, but with Miguel Olivo now with the team, and that kind of performance, he’s not expected to stay that long in the Dominican. Given his poo performance at Triple-A last year, he is probably not yet ready to supplant Jason Varitek … Reds prospect Steve Smitherman is hitting just .160 in his first 25 at-bats, with one walk and one XBH… Athletics right-hander Jairo Garcia has 13 stikeouts in 11 1/3 innings, but also 11 walks and 11 hits allowed; his ERA is 4.73 … Dodgers infielder Brian Myrow is leading the league in walks with 26 while playing first base for Escogido. Myrow’s OBP is .423; the #2 man in walks is Azucareros’ Andy Marte with 17 … Former Red Sox prospect Juan Peña is one of the best starters in the league with a 4-0, 1.72 ERA in 31 1/3 innings for the Eagles. Peña has 20 hits allowed with an excellent 34/4 K/BB ratio. Peña did not pitch in organized baseball during the summer… Braves catcher Brayan Peña is second in the league in batting average with .340. He has no home runs and just seven doubles in 94 at-bats … The second edition of the Interleague All-Star Game, between the Puerto Rican League and Dominican League, will be celebrated at Santo Domingo Estadio Quisqueya on Sunday December 12. The Puerto Ricans won the game last year at San Juan.