My Turn at Bat
By Ray Otero
HAVANA TIMES, Jan 24 — The Eastern Division of the Cuban Baseball League continues to be hotly contested with seven of the eight teams in the running for the four playoff slots after just over a third of the season. In the West, five teams are thus far in contention.
Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Ciego de Ávila, Holguín, Granma and Guantanamo are all bunched up with seventh place Guantanamo (16-20) only 6.5 games behind the leader Villa Clara (22-13) in the East.
Meanwhile, Matanzas (24-11) continues on top in a head-to-head duel with Industriales (24-14) in the West, with Cienfuegos (19-17), Sancti Spiritus (20-20) and Pinar del Rio (18-18) battling for third at 5.5. and 6.5 games back.
The coveted All-Star game is set for February 12 and the teams will be aligned according to the statistics of the first 40 games of the 96-game season. The voting will take place by popular ballot at each stadium and in the country’s mass media. Each fan participating must select three players for each position.
Taking a look at the teams to date and the weight of offense this season, it is not by chance that Villa Clara, Industriales and Matanzas are the squads with the most wins.
Industriales is batting a whopping .317 team average with an acceptable .975 fielding percentage. The Lions pitching is miserable though and they are 14th among the 17 teams with a team 5.03 ERA.
Villa Clara is batting .306 and Matanzas .302, the three teams over the .300 mark. Villa Clara leads in pitching with a team 3.06 ERA and Matanzas is second with 3.28.
That said about the top teams, Las Tunas (20-15) and Holguin (20-16), both in the East, are also having good seasons.
Las Tunas is coming off a sweep over Cienfuegos moving into third place just two games behind Villa Clara. Despite losing its last two series 1-2 to Isla de la Juventud and Matanzas, Holguin maintained its fifth position only a half game behind Las Tunas and Ciego de Avila (21-16). Santiago de Cuba (20-13) is now only one game back of Villa Clara.
In the West, Cienfuegos, Pinar del Rio and Sancti Spiritus, struggling to be above .500, are battling in the rearguard behind Matanzas and Industriales.
Enrique Díaz reached 1,600 in career runs scored, only the second Cuban to do so at any level of baseball. The other was Rafael Palmeiro in the US Major Leagues who finished his career with 1,663. The veteran is now poised only 25 hits from another mark held by Antonio Pacheco who had 2,356 for Santiago de Cuba, a feat considered reachable this season.
In team feats, the most attractive was the triple play pulled off by Camaguey against Industriales. It was Camaguey’s second of the season, having turned another against Metropolitanos on January 12.
The first came on a Rangel Rodriguez’ liner to shortstop Alex Ayala to second baseman Rafael Lastre to first baseman Dary Bartolome.
The second triple play, only five days later, came on a liner to Ayala, who got out two by touching second and throwing to first to Bartolome to get Irait Chirino for out number three.
Some changes occurred this past week in the individual leaders. Jose Miguel Fernandez fell below the .400 mark, and now the Matanzas player leads the league at .395. Marino Luis of Camaguey is second with .389.
In home runs, Alfredo Despaigne of Granma, the league leader two seasons back, now heads the circuit with 13. The outfielder also leads in RBIs with 42. Metropolitanos Roberto Carlos Ramirez leads in the hits department with 55; Yuniet Flores of Villa Clara en stolen bases with 12, and Industriales catcher Lisban Correa is tops in slugging percentage with .680.
In pitching, Jorge Martinez of Matanzas continues to lead the league with an excellent 0.62 ERA. Ismel Jimenez of Sancti Spiritus has the most wins with seven. Martinez leads in shutouts with three. Yadier Pedroso of Artemisa is the leader with 62 strikeouts and Cienfuegos reliever Duniel Ibarra is still on top with 10 saves.
The series slated for Tuesday through Thursday are the following with Granma resting:
Eastern Division (Home Team)
1:00 pm, – Guantánamo at Las Tunas
1:00 pm, – Mayabeque at Villa Clara
1:00 pm, – Santiago de Cuba at Holguín
Liga Occidental (Home Team)
1:00 pm, – Camagüey at Pinar del Río
1:00 pm, – Sancti Spíritus at Isla de la Juventud
1:00 pm, – Ciego de Avila at Artemisa
1:00 pm, – Cienfuegos at Metropolitanos
8:15 pm, – Industriales at Matanzas (TV)