WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – The weather across the United States is getting cold. But the Major League Baseball playoffs are starting to heat up thanks to a healthy dose of Latin spice.
Players from Latin America are playing major roles on all eight teams who are each 11 wins away from winning the World Series, the game’s ultimate championship.
In the National League, the two-time defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies (97 wins, 65 losses) play the Cincinnati Reds (91-71), while the San Francisco Giants (92-70) face the Atlanta Braves (91-71). In the American League, the New York Yankees (95-67), the defending American League and World Series champions, must start on the road against the Minnesota Twins (94-68). Meantime, the Texas Rangers (90-72) open the postseason in Florida, against the Tampa Bay Rays (96-66).
Each Divisional Round series is best-of-five, with the winners advancing to the league championship series, which is best-of-seven. The winner of each league meets in the World Series, where the team that wins four games is champion.
Here are some Latin Americans who will shape the postseason of the United States’ National Pastime.
Francisco Liriano, pitcher
The veteran has finally regained his elite pitching stats this season as he emerged as an American League Cy Young candidate as the best pitcher in his league. Liriano, a 26-year-old native of San Cristóbal in the Dominican Republic, went 14-10 with a 3.62 earned-run average and 201 strikeouts against 58 walks. He is scheduled to start Game 1 on Thursday night against the New York Yankees.
New York Yankees
Mariano Rivera, pitcher
The 40-year-old is perhaps the game’s best relief pitcher. The native of Panama City, Panama, is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. He has 33 saves with a 1.80 earn-run average and yielded just two home runs in 61 games. He also has been fantastic throughout his career in the postseason, as he was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series in 1999 and the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series in 2003.
Vladimir Guerrero, designated hitter
He’s one of the best hitters in the game. The 35-year-old native of Nizao in the Dominican Republic had a terrific season. He hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 runs-batted-in and 83 runs scored to lead the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Tampa Bay Rays
Rafael Soriano, pitcher
The 30-year-old native of San José in the Dominican Republic has been a pillar of the team’s bullpen, recording an American League-leading 45 saves and miniscule 1.73 earned-run average. If the Rays are to make the World Series for the second time in three seasons, they will need Soriano to continue his career year by being dominant in the late innings against the game’s best hitters.
Plácido Polanco, third base
The 34-year-old infielder is in his second stint with the Phillies and has been an integral part of their offense, batting second in the order. This season, the native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is hitting .298 with six home runs and 52 runs-batted-in and 76 runs scored. Polanco has plenty of postseason experience, as he was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series in 2006, when he led the Tigers to the World Series.
Edinson Vólquez, pitcher
The 27-year-old right-hander from Barahona in the Dominican Republic is making his postseason debut. Vólquez started just 12 games this year after recovering from surgery to repair ligaments in his elbow. His 4-3 record and 4.31 ERA aren’t very impressive, but he’s been fantastic his past four starts, going 1-1 with a 1.94 earned-run average with 31 strikeouts.
San Francisco Giants
Edgar Rentería, shortstop
The versatile infielder likely will come off the bench for the Giants, but his postseason experience will be invaluable for the National League West division champions. The 35-year-old from Barranquilla, Colombia, has played in 72 games this year and is hitting .276 with three home runs and 22 runs-batted-in. In 1997 Rentería won the World Series for the Florida Marlins with a two-out single in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians.
Alex González, shortstop
The 33-year-old native of Cagua, Venezuela, has emerged as a power hitter in the middle of the team’s lineup, hitting .250 with 23 home runs and 88 runs-batted in, fantastic numbers for a player at his position. González, who was acquired just before the trade deadline in July from Toronto, has plenty of playoff experience, including winning the World Series in 2003 with the Florida Marlins and two playoff stints with the Boston Red Sox.