The dawn of the 52nd Cuban Baseball Championship has domestic fans in suspense. Nobody, not even Cuba´s best expert, can rightly point the candidates to qualify for the second round, because it is simply impossible due to the huge parity among the 16 participating teams.
The four historical giants of Cuban baseball are outside the top eight of the event, only places granting passports to the second round this season, after the implementation this season of a new tournament´s structure.
Industriales, Pinar del Rio, Santiago de Cuba and Villa Clara disappoint their fans daily with opaque , poor performances, both in the offensive and pitching sectors.
The Blues from Havana, maximum winners of national championships (12), are batting only .252, with just six home runs in 13 games, which influences on its weak slugging of .345, worth of youth teams.
In addition, its pitchers staff is the tournament´s fourth worst, with 4.04 ERA (the tournament average is 3.02). All this has Cuba´s current runners-up submerged in the ninth place in the contest, with six wins and seven losses.
Pinar del Rio and Villa Clara are passing through similar situations; they are placed 12th, with an identical record of five wins and seven losses. In both cases, their main weakness is the offensive output , with greater emphasis for Pinar del Rio, who is the next to last among all contestants, with a dismal .237 batting average, in addition to compiling just two homers in more than 400 at-bats.
Santiago de Cuba has to be analyzed differently. The three aforementioned teams have at least competitive squads, despite their modest performances, however Santiago de Cuba is mainly made up by poor quality players and veterans who already saw their best years past away.
The Wasps´ fearsome lineups of previous seasons, made up entirely of stunning sluggers, such as Kindelan, Pacheco, Fausto, Pierre, Jose Julio, etc, are mere anecdotes in that eastern province, which now just has Alexei Bell as the only really quality player; Santiago is in the 15th place in the standings, with just three wins in 12 games.
The rest of its field players are a display of mediocrity, much like its pitching staff, whose sole exponent of certain level is the prospect Alaín Dela, but with little experience to lead a project as incomplete and deformed as Santiago´s, intended to be left out of the postseason for the third consecutive year.
The surprise is even bigger when we take into account that he tigers of Ciego de Avila, Cuba’s reigning champions; also appear in the bottom area of the standings, tied with Industriales in the ninth place. Incredible!
These hardships of Cuban baseball´s giants are used by the small teams. The best positioned is Guantánamo, with extraordinary stats in all sectors of the game, especially in the pitching area (2.03 ERA, leaders).
Other emerging teams that take advantage of the situation from the dismal quality slump of traditional leaders are Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus and Las Tunas, in addition to the surprising squads of Isla de la Juventud and Camagüey, although they both should begin to fall any time soon.
Matanzas, coached again by national team manager Victor Mesa, seems to be a solid candidate after its spectacular growth in the previous season, Cienfuegos and Sancti Spiritus are also strong options to advance to the second round, while Las Tunas should play really hard at all times to qualify because they do not have squad of overrun quality.
Right now, the tournament is upside down, the “giants” have disappointing performances and the “dwarves” seem better than they really are.
From this campaign on, the Cuban Baseball National Series will be played in two qualifying stages using the round robin system before the playoffs.
In the initial phase of 45 matches 16 teams are involved, of which only the top eight will advance to the second round, to play another 42 games. The first four teams of this phase will go to playoffs and the 2 winners will discuss the national title.