Caribbean Series Championship Preview

Caribbean Series Championship Preview

MIAMI – The Caribbean Series championship game between Tigres del Licey (Dominican Republic) and Tiburones de la Guaira (Venezuela) on Friday at loanDepot Park (8 p.m. ET) is a study in contrasts.

The Licey club has won the most Caribbean Series titles in the tournament’s history, 11 – including last year in Venezuela – while the Tiburones have yet to do so and are playing in their first edition of the event since 1986. As a nation, the Dominican Republic has 22 championships to its name, also a record, while Venezuela has seven and hasn’t won since 2009, when Tigres de Aragua took the crown in Mexicali, Mexico.

In the dugout, the Tigres are led by manager Gilbert Gómez, 31, a Minor League captain in the Mets organization, recently promoted to High-A Brooklyn. The Tiburones are managed by none other than Ozzie Guillén, the former White Sox and Marlins skipper who won a World Series leading the South Siders in 2005.

“I think everyone at the club knows what our responsibility is, being the defending Caribbean champions,” Gómez said.

The Tigres also reached the final of the Caribbean Series in a different way than the Tiburones. On Tuesday, the Dominican team was on the brink of elimination from the tournament in the qualifying round before veteran lefty Raúl Valdés and a deep Licey bullpen shut down a Curaçao club stacked with major league veterans like Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop. and Didi Gregorius. The Dominican Republic would finish the first round with a 3-3 record.

The Venezuelan team, on the other hand, had few hiccups on its way to a 5-1 record and first-place finish in qualifying, leading the tournament in team ERA with 2.17 – including a no-hitter by Ángel Padrón, just second in the event’s history – and in the team’s .299 batting average. They defeated Club Curaçao, 6-2, on Thursday to set the stage for Friday’s match with the Dominican Republic.

“From day one, I said there was no easy team here,” Guillén said. “Obviously, you have to beat the best. The Dominican Republic, with its history in the Caribbean Series, always comes up.”

On Friday, Gómez will start with right-back César Valdez, one of Licey’s most popular players of the last decade. Valdez could have started Thursday’s semifinal against Panama on four days’ rest, but Gómez opted to go with Cameron Gann, who threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in a 4-1 win for Licey. Jonathan Aro, Fernando Abad, Neftalí Féliz, JC Ramírez and Jairo Ascencio pitched the final 4 2/3 frames to secure the win. For Friday’s championship game, Gómez says “everyone will be ready” on the bullpen once again.

In Valdez’s first start in this year’s Caribbean Series against the Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico) on Saturday, the veteran pitched five innings with six hits and two runs to pick up the win in a 5-2 Licey victory .

Offensively, Tigres will look to veterans Dawel Lugo (.455/.478/.545 in qualifying), Emilio Bonifácio (.400/.423/.560) and Robinson Canó (.333/.346/.524 , a home run) to lead their offense.

For the Tiburones, Guillén will send Ricardo Pinto to the mound on just three days of rest. But the Tiburones also have a deep well in the wings, with Silvino Bracho, Anthony Vizcaya, Jorgan Cavanerio and closer Arnaldo Hernández shortening the run to Venezuela’s five wins so far. In his first start in the series, Pinto went five innings against Naranjeros de Hermosillo (Mexico), giving up six hits and one run, with eight strikeouts and two walks.

Venezuela, which has outscored its opponents 35-16 in the first seven games of the tournament, has received contributions from familiar names such as Wilson Ramos (.320), Alcides Escobar (.368, one home run, 1.034 OPS ) and Alexi Amarista (.391, .835 OPS), as well as Ramón Flores (.346, .933 OPS) and Wilfredo Tovar (.348, .922 OPS).

“My focus is to win the title not only for Venezuela, but also for all of us, the players,” Guillén said. “We want to bring the trophy home, because our country needs this kind of happiness.”

In Friday afternoon’s third-place match between Federales de Chiriqui (Panama) and Curaçao Suns (Curaçao), the Panamanian team won 5-4.

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