Some of Latin America's biggest stars and newcomers in baseball are looking ahead to a World Series appearance, hoping to add that rare championship ring that everyone strives for when those gates open up during spring training.
As the playoffs start this afternoon, they will certainly carry a new element with the addition of a second wild card team coming out of each league. In the past the wild card entrant from each league would just face the team with the best record or second best record if the wild card winner was from the same division as the team with the best record. While purists detest one or two wild cards, sometimes the change is for the best.
A year after the Atlanta Braves choked away their National League wild card berth on the last night of the season, Fredi González's boys have shaken it all off . He has the club contending for the NL East title and locked up the top wild card spot.
The Cuban manager and the Braves will welcome the St. Louis Cardinals later on today with the winner of the one-game series hosting the Washington Nationals, the top seeded team in the National League, this Sunday. The Cardinals clinched the second wild card berth Tuesday night and could have done so earlier had it not been for their struggles in the middle of September which led other teams back into the race.
Puerto Rican All-Star catcher Yadier Molina will be looking for his third ring after the Cardinals made that improbable run last October. Another fellow boricua, Carlos Beltrán, who was brought over after Albert Pujols bolted for the Los Angeles Angels, is looking for a different ending this time around in the playoffs. The last time the All-Star right fielder had a bat at this stage of the season, he infamously struck out looking on a curve thrown by current teammate Adam Wainwright in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS while playing for the New York Mets.
Slugging Dominicans Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltré will be trying to make sure their power at the plate plays a role in awakening the Texas Rangers from one of the worst collapses in history.
The Rangers became the first team to blow a five game lead with nine games to go, allowing the Oakland Athletics to win the American League West on Wednesday afternoon and will now host the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night in a do-or-die wild card game with the winner playing the New York Yankees on Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how the Rangers battle back. They really seemed as if they had seen a ghost in Oakland as they were swept.
Beltré has been battling a sore left shoulder and it's still unknown whether he will return to the hot corner or remain as the team's DH, a duty he's been relegated to since leaving Sunday's game.
The Orioles are trying to extend their magical season. Despite breathing down the necks of the Yankees until the very last night of the season, their constant bats and starting pitching failed them as they dropped two of their last three games and any chances of winning the division.
Rookie Manny Machado, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, played a role in the revival of the Baltimore franchise. The 20-year-old spent most of the season in a Double-A minor league and was promoted to the big club on Aug. 9. His arrival meant an instant improvement in the Baltimore's team defense as he shifted over from shortstop to third base, a position he played there only two times in the minors this season.
Despite that, Machado, one of baseball's brightest prospects has held his own at the plate, one of the biggest adjustments from minor league ball to the majors and has been something to watch.
The last time the Yankees and Nationals franchise had the best record in the game was on the last night baseball was played in the 1994 season that was canceled because of the player's strike. Many thought that the then-Montreal Expos and New York would had faced off in the World Series that year.
Both teams are at the top of their respective leagues and it could happen this season, eight years after the Expos were relocated to Washington.
Robinson Cano has been red hot over the last nine games.
The charismatic Dominican All-Star second baseman is looking for his second World Series title as a member of the Yankees and he's been on fire over the last nine games.
Where would the Yankees be without him? Losing out on the AL East crown to the pesky Orioles and probably playing the Rangers tonight had it not been for the way he finished the season with nine straight multi-hit games, going 24-for-39.
The Nationals did not blink once when Gio González was put on the trade market by the Oakland Athletics, giving up three prospects that ended up paying huge dividends for the A's.
With phenom Stephen Strasburg having been shut down three weeks ago, González's presence on the rotation means so much more now.
The left-hander has not pitched since his start Sept. 27 at Philadelphia. He is being tabbed to pitch in the franchise's first playoff game since Montreal lost Game 5 of the 1981 NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Washington's lefty ace had the best season of his career and made his case for his first Cy Young award. He finished 21-8, leading the league in wins.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, the first in baseball since 1967, is no stranger to success in October and will look to guide the Detroit Tigers to their first championship since 1984 as they will open up at home tomorrow night against Oakland in the best-of-five American League Divisional Series games.
As a 20-year-old, the Venezuelan played an integral role when the Florida Marlins won the NL Wild Card and the World Series. He will be looking to do the same this time especially after the Tigers lost the ALCS to Texas last year in six games. Cabrera still did his thing in the series, going 8-for-20 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
The baseball world wanted to see what Yoenis Cespedes was all about after video highlights of his went viral as teams sending scouts to the Dominican Republic to try and sign the Cuban defector during the offseason.
The cost-effective Athletics made the splashy move and signed him. Cespedes started off slow in the first half (.263, 9, 36), perhaps having to deal with the adjustment but was a different hitter in the second half (.311, 14, 46). He finished the season with a team-leading .292 average and 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in the 26-year-old's rookie season.
The Tigers and Cabrera were 4-3 against the Athletics during the regular season. Cabrera is no stranger to the Athletics after hitting three home runs against them during their September meeting. The way Athletics battled back to snatch the division like candy from the Texas, it will definitely not be a walk in the park for Detroit.
Another intriguing matchup will take place the National League Divisional Series that will start on tomorrow night as Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds visit the San Francisco Giants, winners of the NL West, and Pablo Sandoval.
They say good pitching stops good hitting especially at this time of the year.
Both teams have that.
Cueto will take the mound in the first game. He clearly looked like one of the favorites to win the NL Cy Young award but hit a rough patch at the beginning of September, losing three straight starts before finally reverting to the pitcher he was for the entire season with the Cincinnati, going 2-0 with a no decision that turned out to be a Reds victory as well. His 2.78 ERA was second in the league and his 19 wins were good for third.
Strong bullpens are key in any short series and Chapman quickly settled in the closer's role in late May for the Reds. Coming into the season Cincinnati thought they would be carrying Chapman as a starter but a season-ending surgery to free-agent signee Ryan Madson set the stage for the “Cuban Missile” to blast out off the bullpen. The All-Star lefty was nearly untouchable all season long, striking out 122 in 71 2/3 innings and saving 38 games.
The Giants are looking for their second World Series title in three years after winning it all in 2010 but they will be without Melky Cabrera, who technically won the NL batting title but decided to take the high road and forgo the at-bat that would have give him the title outright. The Giants basically told the MVP of this year's All-Star game not to bother coming back.
Sandoval will try to carry the offensive load as he is looking to bounce back from his disappointing showing during the Giants' run to their 2010 World Series title. The two-time Venezuelan All-Star battled weight issues throughout the year and was a liability on the field at times. The Kung Fu Panda hit just 3-for-17 and played in six of the 15 games.