Photo: Getty Images
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
Editor’s note: This piece represents the opinions of the author and not those of the World Baseball Network.
MIAMI – That Miami, the “gateway to Latin America,” is hosting a Caribbean Series isn’t surprising, that it took 12 years after loanDepot Park opened is the surprise.
When the Caribbean Series was held at Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium in 1991, this wasn’t a Major League town. The Florida Marlins, two World Series titles, and LoanDepot Park were wild dreams.
In the 31 years since the last Caribbean Series in Miami, the Magic City grew up, as did the Marlins franchise. And now, for the second time in 11 months, the eyes of the Latin American baseball fan will be locked on loanDepot Park, after the group play round of the 2023 World Baseball Classic brought Venezuela, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic to town, and Cuba and Mexico each paid a visit during the knockout stage.
This time, the 2024 Caribbean Series brings the Dominican Republic’s Tigres del Licey, Venezuela’s Tiburones de La Guaira, Puerto Rico’s Criollos de Caguas, Mexico’s Naranjeros de Hermosillo, Panama’s Federales de Chiriqui, and teams from Nicaragua and Curacao to town. Beyond the cultural significance and international flavor of Miami, this Caribbean Series is the biggest baseball event in the United States between the end of the World Series and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.
An international city with a vibrant aesthetic that blends American and Latin cultures, this Caribbean Series in Miami is the biggest baseball event in the United States between the end of the World Series and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.
After the final out of the World Series, most baseball fans in the United States fill the void of winter as they have for over a century with news of player signings and endless debates over the Hall of Fame qualifications of retired players, wishing they had games to watch.
But what if they did?
Growing up in New Jersey in the 1980s and still too young to understand that everywhere on Earth didn’t suffer cold winters, my father told me that there was baseball in the winter in Latin America.
Being a young kid and not understanding the mechanics of televising a baseball game (especially one originating, from, say, Caracas), I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t watch winter ball in the United States.
Thanks to the magic of the internet and live video streaming, now, we can – and far too few American fans know about it.
Sure, you can watch games from LIDOM, the Dominican Republic’s winter league, on MLB.tv with a paid subscription.
But why isn’t the Caribbean Series being carried live on MLB Network with commentary in English?
Perhaps it’s because the Caribbean Series isn’t an MLB-owned event like the World Baseball Classic.
American fans can, of course, tune in to ESPN Deportes and watch the Caribbean Series in Spanish, with outstanding commentary from Carolina Guillen, as good a baseball play-by-play announcer as there is, and Enrique Rojas, one of the best reporters covering baseball in any language.
But it’s a missed opportunity for Major League Baseball to show live baseball on MLB Network with players immediately recognizable to most American fans playing for national pride at a time when fans are desperately wanting to watch live baseball.
It’s hard to find a hotter team than the Tiburones de La Guaira, who are headed to the Caribbean Series after winning the Liga Venezolana Beisbol Profesional title in five games last week.
Not only did the Tiburones breeze through the LVBP’s championship series, they romped through the 16-game round robin stage of the playoffs, winning 10 of their first 11 games and going 12-4 to secure a berth in the championship series.
This is a team that is peaking at the right time. They were led by former Major League Yasiel Puig, who hit .383/.442/.681 with a 1.123 OPS and four homers during the round robin. All told, five Tiburones – Puig, Wilson Garcia, Maikel Garcia, Alcides Escobar, and Leonardo Reginatto – all batted over .300 during the round robin.
The big question, though, is which Venezuelan players will be able to get visas to enter the United States and play in the Caribbean Series?
According to several reports, multiple Tiburones players are having difficulty obtaining visas to enter the United States, as currently there is no U.S. diplomatic mission to Venezuela, forcing the players to go to other countries to seek the necessary paperwork to enter the country from the U.S. government.
Because of this, it’s difficult to make a prediction.
If the Tiburones can bring their full roster plus some notable reinforcements, they’re an easy pick to roll to the 2024 Caribbean Series title.
Should they lose some of those bats out of the lineup due to visa issues, however, the strong pitching of the Naranjeros de Hermosillo might be enough to get them to the title game.
Between Zach Mattson, Luis Marquez, Manny Barreda, and Joe Van Meter, the Naranjeros have four solid starters. That they added Odisdramer Despaigne as a reinforcement after he threw 24 innings in the LAMP playoffs with an ERA of 1.88 only makes them tougher.
A win this year would give the Naranjeros the opportunity to potentially defend a Caribbean Series title on their home field in 2025 – should they be able to repeat as LAMP champions.
My prediction: The Naranjeros de Hermosillo will beat the Tiburones de La Guaira in the final, and the Tigres del Licey will beat Panama’s Federales de Chiriqui in the third-place game.
Below are the predictions from World Baseball Network’s Matthew Tallarini and Conor Liguori.
Although each team should be tough opponents, I suspect Panama, Nicaragua, and Curacao will finish in the bottom three spots and not move on to the semifinals. Curacao has the best chance of advancing those three teams due to the experience of veterans like infielders Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons. Nicaragua and Panama will have their best chance to put a mark in the win column on Sunday, Feb. 4 at 10:30 a.m. ET, when they face off.
The Semi-Finals – Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela will advance to the semi-finals. The Tigres del Licey from the Dominican Republic are on a hot streak, winning four of their last five games to win the LIDOM championship, and Venezuela may have the hottest hitter on the planet in Yasiel Puig. For Puerto Rico, any team with Yadier Molina as their manager can win a title. For Mexico, infielder Issac Paredes is a force to be reckoned with and is a proven power bat, hitting 31 home runs with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2023.
Venezuela Defeats Dominican Republic in Finals – I have Venezuela defeating the Dominican Republic 6-4 in the championship game on Feb. 9. The Tiburones de La Guaira returning to the Caribbean Series for the first time since 1986 is a feel-good story, and sometimes the feel-good story teams play their best baseball when it matters most. For the third-place game, Mexico will defeat Puerto Rico 8-3.
– Conor Liguori
The 2023-24 LIDOM champion Tigres del Licey have a lot of momentum going to the 2024 Caribbean Series. They’re appearing in Miami for the second time – the first was at the Serie de Las Americas in 2015, which the Confederación de Beisbol Profesional del Caribe also hosted.
The Tigres del Licey won their 24th LIDOM championship and came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Estrellas Orientales in seven games on Saturday night 3-2. The Tigres del Licey manager, 31-year-old Gilbert Gomez, took over after the organization parted ways with Jose Offerman on Dec. 16. Gomez is the youngest manager in LIDOM history to win the league’s championship.
The Tigres del Licey pitching staff posted a 2.57 ERA during the LIDOM best-of-seven championship series and allowed 59 hits, 18 earned runs, two home runs, 27 walks, 40 strikeouts, and a 1.37 WHIP.
Robinson Cano hit .414 for Estrellas Orientales during the 2024 LIDOM championship series and can have a major impact for the Tigres offense as a reinforcement for the 2024 Caribbean series.
The Tigres del Licey are aiming to win back-to-back Caribbean Series championships, after beating the Leones del Caracas of the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional 3-0 at Estadio Simón Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela in the 2023 tournament.
The Naranjeros de Hermosillo are back in Miami for the first time since the 1990 tournament was held at the Orange Bowl.
Mexico’s Naranjeros de Hermosillo pitching staff allowed five earned runs during the best-of-seven championship series under manager Juan Gabriel Castro.
Isaac Paredes led the 2024 Liga ARCO Mexicana del Pacifico playoffs with 11 RBI and could have an impact for the Naranjeros offense during the 2024 Caribbean Series.
My prediction: The Tigres del Licey will repeat, defeating the Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the final. The LVBP’s Tiburones de La Guaira will
– Matthew Tallarini