By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
The LIDOM champions, the Tigres del Licey, will face Venezuela’s Leones del Caracas tonight in the championship game of the 2023 Caribbean Series, and the championship game will be a reprise of the earlier meeting between these two teams during the opening round on February 5.
Tigres del Licey is hoping to win their 11th Caribbean Series and first since 2008, while Leones del Caracas is trying to win their third Caribbean Series title and first since 2006.
Cesar Valdez, a veteran pro who has appeared in 69 Major League games over five seasons with five different teams, will start for the Dominican Republic. Valdez, who won the pitching triple crown (led the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA) in the LIDOM in 2021-22, is coming off another stellar season that saw him with the pitcher of the year award. Valdez was 6-0 with Licey in 2022-23, posting a 1.51 ERA with 37 strikeouts during the regular season. His one start of the Caribbean Series came against Venezuela on February 5, a game where Valdez threw six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four. Venezuela won that game 3-2 in 12 innings.
Venezuela will start Erick Leal, who started against the D.R. on February 5, a game that saw him throw six scoreless innings of his own, allowing four hits, one walk, and striking out six.
At the plate, Venezuela will look to Jose Rondon, Danry Vasquez, and Wilfredo Tovar to spark the offense. Rondon slashed .385/.486/.654 with an OPS of 1.140 for Venezuela during the opening round, with 10 hits, two homers, and 15 RBI. Vasquez, a former Astros prospect, had 10 hits in 27 at bats during the opening round, with one homer, five RBI, and seven walks, while Tovar had 11 hits in 35 at bats, including two doubles.
The Dominican Republic’s offense is primed for a big night, with seven players batting over .300 in the opening round. Second baseman Robinson Cano, 40, is the biggest name on Tigres del Licey and the biggest name in this Caribbean Series, and the former New York Yankee and Met had 10 hits in 31 at bats with two doubles and three RBI. Major League veteran and LIDOM round robin MVP Emilio Bonifacio slashed .353/.421/.588 with a home run and five RBIs for the D.R. through the opening round.
Off the bench, expect D.R. manager Jose Offerman to look to Luis Barrera, who has played parts of the last two Major League seasons with Oakland, should he need a hot bat off the bench. Barrera, 27, has wielded a hot bat in the Caribbean Series, slashing .417/.588/.583 while appearing in five games during the opening round.
Venezuela has a decided advantage in relief pitching, with Anthony Vizcaya, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Miguel Socolovich all making multiple strong appearances through the opening round. Vizcaya, 29, is a former Mets farmhand who threw 6.1 innings in five games, allowing just four hits and one unearned run, and will likely be the first call for Venezuela manager Jose Alguacil.
Jairo Asencio has allowed nine hits in 5.2 innings of relief work for the Dominican Republic, while Jonathan Aro has made four appearances, allowing one hit in 2.1 innings of work.
Prediction: If Cesar Valdez has a good start, Venezuela might be in trouble. Erick Leal has never pitched on a stage like this – in front of a home crowd of nearly 40,000 that will hang on every pitch he makes. Both teams have solid lineups, but the Dominican Republic has significantly more big game experience. Dominican Republic 8, Venezuela 6.