Puerto Rican Championship Features Atlantic League Flair

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The Caribbean Winter Leagues are now deep into the playoffs, and the competition has become increasingly tense as the Caribbean Series draws closer. As we have documented previously, there are a host of Atlantic League alumni playing down in countries like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Many spent time in the ALPB as recently as this past season, but several others have played in the league prior to that point.

Throughout the coming weeks, we will break down the performances of many of these alumni throughout each of the four main leagues. However, this post will focus solely on the excitement taking place in Puerto Rico. The five-team winter league has now been whittled down to the final two, with Cangrejeros de Santurce battling Criollos de Caguas for the championship.

Santurce, who posted the league’s best record during the season at 28-12, reached the finals thanks to a dominant 4-1 series victory over Gigantes de Carolina in the seminfinals. The series saw Santurce outscore Carolina 20-8, including a pair of shutout victories and two games where Carolina was held to one run. Among the pitchers that shined for Santurce in the victory was Ducks alumni Darin Downs, who threw four innings of two-hit, shutout baseball and struck out three as the starter in Game Three.

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Although his team was defeated, another Ducks alumnus also pitched well. That would be Jarret Leverett, who earned the win in Game Two with three and one-third innings of scoreless relief. Other ALPB alumni who joined Leverett on Carolina were former Skeeters pitchers Michael Nix and Andrew Johnston and outfielder Jeff Dominguez.

Caguas finished third during the season at 19-21, but they found a way to triumph over an Indios de Mayaguez team that was 26-14. Although Caguas found themselves trailing the series two games to none, their pitching staff turned things around with a dominant performance of their own, limiting Mayaguez to just six runs over the final four games (compared to nine in the first two games). Caguas won all four of those games to secure a place in the championship.

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Leading the way in the comeback was Ducks fan favorite John Brownell. The righty pitched five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball in Game Three to earn Caguas its first win of the series and then turned in a vintage effort in the clincher, firing seven innings of three hit, shutout baseball and striking out four to earn another victory. Closing out both of his wins was former Ducks and York Revolution reliever Ricardo Gomez, who collected three saves in the series overall and pitched in five games, allowing just three hits while striking out seven over six innings. Although he took the loss in Game One, former Somerset Patriots pitcher Will Oliver also posted strong numbers. He allowed only one unearned run in seven and one-third innings of relief, yielding six hits while striking out two. Former Ducks pitchers Patrick Crider and J.C. Romero also pitched for Caguas in the series.

Offensively, Ruben Gotay led the charge for Caguas. The former Ducks infielder batted .400 for the series (8-for-20) and drew four walks as well. He collected a pair of doubles as part of a three-hit performance in Game Two, drove in both of Caguas’ runs in Game Five on RBI singles and picked up the lone RBI in the Game Six clincher on a bases loaded walk. Former Duck Randy Ruiz also performed well in the series, batting .333 (7-for-21) with seven RBI and two runs. His big performances came in Game Three, when he picked up an RBI double and a three-run home run, and Game Four, where he collected three hits and one RBI.

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Despite suffering the series loss, former Ducks pitcher Andrew Barbosa impressed for Mayaguez. The southpaw tossed three scoreless innings in relief during his team’s win in Game One and then started Game Four, pitching five and one-third innings of one-run ball while striking out four. Teammates of his included 2015 Atlantic League Player of the Year Welington Dotel and former Patriots pitchers Connor Little and Efrain Nieves.

That brings us to the Puerto Rican Winter League Championship Series, which is already off to an exciting start. Game One, which took place on Saturday, featured a terrific pitcher’s duel that saw the teams combine for just 11 hits. Caguas took an early 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out RBI infield single in the first inning from Ruiz, who finished with two hits on the night. Orlando Roman started and threw four and two-thirds scoreless innings, but Oliver collected the eventual win with two scoreless and hitless innings of relief. Gomez ended up nailing down the save with a 1-2-3 ninth to secure the 1-0 victory.

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Game Two featured a matchup of Atlantic League alumni on the mound. Downs took the ball for Santurce, while Barbosa got the nod for Caguas. Barbosa was picked up by Caguas in a draft held following the semifinals where the winning teams are permitted to draft two players from the teams they had eliminated. Caguas built an early lead against the former Ducks southpaw, scoring single runs in the second and fourth innings. Ruiz walked and scored on a double in the second, while former Patriots infielder David Vidal walked and scored on a double in the fourth. Meanwhile, Barbosa dominated on the rubber with six scoreless innings, surrendering just one hit and two walks while striking out four. However, Santurce’s offense exploded against the Caguas bullpen, scoring six runs over the final three innings to earn a 6-3 win.

Following a day off, the series resumed on Tuesday night for Game Three. Once again, Caguas jumped in front against Santurce with a pair of runs in the first inning. The eventual game-winning run was tacked on in the fifth when Vidal led off the frame with a solo home run. Former big leaguer and Patriots pitcher Jose De La Torre started for Caguas and was strong for the first five innings. However, he ran into some trouble with a 3-0 lead in the sixth, as a fielding error prevented another scoreless frame. After one run scored on a force out, Oliver entered the game and allowed an RBI double. Fortunately for him, the tying run was thrown out at the plate to keep Caguas in front 3-2. Caguas added an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI double from Ruiz, and Gomez picked up another save with two scoreless innings of relief despite allowing a pair of hits and a pair of walks.

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Caguas maintains a 2-1 series lead, but there is still plenty of baseball to be played. Puerto Rico’s Championship Series is a best-of-nine, meaning that a team must win five games to claim the title. Here is the remaining schedule for the series:

Game Four: Wednesday, January 18 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas
Game Five: Thursday, January 19 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Santurce
Game Six: Saturday, January 21 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas
Game Seven: Sunday, January 22 – 3:15 p.m. EST at Santurce (if necessary)
Game Eight: Wednesday, January 25 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Caguas (if necessary)
Game Nine: Thursday, January 26 – 6:15 p.m. EST at Santurce (if necessary)

Brownell is currently scheduled to pitch on Wednesday in Game Four, while Barbosa and Downs are slated to start again in Game Six on Saturday. Fans wishing to follow along can do so via MLB’s Gameday by CLICKING HERE. Best of luck to both teams as they bid for the Puerto Rican League championship!

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Posted on January 18, 2017, in Winter Hot Stove and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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