Santiago Wins, Makes Cuba’s Playoffs

By Circles Robinson

Cuban baseball fans. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 23 —Santiago de Cuba defeated Las Tunas again on Wednesday in a lopsided 13-6 game to win the last ticket to the 2009-2010 Cuban Baseball Playoffs to begin on this coming weekend.

Santiago jumped on Las Tunas starter Yudiel Rodriguez for four runs in the first inning and then came back for six more in the third to put the score at a commanding 10-1.

Right-handed starter Danny Betancourt had control problems but struck out nine Tunas batters before giving way in the sixth to reliever Osmani Tamayo who was followed by Osmel Cintra.

Maikel Castellanos and Hector Olivera homered for Santiago and  Yosvani Alarcon had two round-trippers for Las Tunas, who lost their final two games at home and were eliminated from the postseason.

Las Tunas outfielder Henry Urrutia finished the season with a .400 batting average after going two-for-five in the final game.  Alfredo Despaigne of Granma won the batting title with a .404 average.  Despaigne also led the pack in home runs with 31.

The playoff match-ups are Sancti Spiritus (63-27) vs. Industriales (47-43) and Cienfuegos (51-39) vs. Defending league champs, La Habana (49-40) in the Western Division.  Ciego de Avila (49-40) vs. Guantánamo (52-37) and last season’s league runner-ups, Villa Clara (56-32), vs. Santiago de Cuba (48-41) in the Eastern Division.

The biggest surprises this regular season came from Guantánamo and Cienfuegos which both finished in second place in their divisions.  Neither team made the playoffs the previous season when Guantanamo finished with a 43-47 record and Cienfuegos a lowly 34-56.

This season’s top game winner Sancti Spiritus, improved considerably after a 48-42 third place finish the previous campaign.