My Turn at Bat
By Ray Otero*
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 1 — It was an up-and-down week in Cuban baseball with stellar performances from Granma outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, Las Tunas rookie lefty Darién Núñez Arias and Metropolitanos the other team from Havana.
The biggest attraction during the week were the two series pitting Matanzas against Industriales and Metros, the two teams that play out of the capital city. The results of those series dropped the Matanzas Crocodiles out of first in the Western Division of the Cuban Baseball League.
Playing at home, Matanzas dropped their first two games against Industriales on Tuesday (7-5 in 10 innings) and Wednesday (10-6) and fell out of first place for 24 hours. However, on Thursday spectacular pitching from Yohan Hernandez and an inspired Matanzas led by a grand slam by “unknown” batter Demis Valdes against Industriales ace Odrisamer Despaigne returned Victor Mesa’s team to lead the division.
But then came the big surprise during the games on Saturday-Monday as Industriales’ little brothers, Metropolitanos, completed a historic series sweep over Matanzas, allowing Industriales to regain the top spot one game ahead.
Returning to the games between Matanzas and Industriales, the Victoria de Girón stadium in Matanzas seems to have transformed itself after appearing more like a cemetery a year ago. This time it was a mad house as the fans filled the stands to back the team that once upon a time brought titles to the city, and now packs the house at each game.
The Matanzas fans don’t go to see big stars, since they don’t have any yet, but to enjoy seeing a group of young players that play with a fighting spirit which makes many recall the Sanchez, Rosique and Isasi of times gone by, and why not, as well as manager Victor Mesa who provides the controversy and everything included, bringing color to the game like he did as a player for more than 20 years.
But it wasn’t only Industriales and Matanzas trading the lead in the West that drew attention. In the other circuit, Villa Clara opened up a four game lead over Ciego de Avila, with Santiago de Cuba and Las Tunas 4½ games back.
Villa Clara, managed by Ramon More, swept their two series against Mayabeque and Artemisa, reaching eight straight wins and 10 in their last 12 games, a recovery from the sweep they suffered at the hands of Matanzas on January 12-14.
Everything seems to indicate that VC is reaching its best play as the season reaches the halfway mark. The big question is will they have the fuel to continue playing this way into the postseason. I hope so.
Artemisa was unable to score even one earned run in its three games vs. Villa Cara and lost two games by 10 and 15 run margins. Villa Clara racked up three shutouts during its undefeated week.
Another attention grabber was the 18-year-old Las Tunas rookie lefthander Darien Nuñez Arias. His relatively short 1.71 meter height reminds many of the Venezuelan Major Leaguer Johan Santana for his fastball.
Darien has registered 97 mph with his fastball and against Santiago de Cuba in his last outing he struck out nine in six innings. In his preceding game against Guantanamo he struck out 12 in eight, the third highest mark of the season behind Pinar del Rio’s Vladimir Baños who fanned 14 in 7.1 innings against Artemisa on December 16.
The other was Yadier Pedroso of Artemisa who struck out 13 against Ciego de Avila on January 26, the same day as Darien’s game against Guantanamo. In his last two starts Darien has 21 strikeouts in 14 innings for a 2-0 record and 3.86 ERA.
Another player who has regained his top form is Granma slugger Alfredo Despaigne, who hit a homer in each of his team’s important three game sweep of Holguin to try and stay in the fight to make the 2012 postseason.
Despaigne has homers in four consecutive games that included one against Industriales before the Holguin series. Despaigne now leads the league with 16 homers as well as RBIs with 47 and slugging percentage at .704
The other individual leaders are Andy Zamora (Villa Clara) in hitting with a .396 average; Yordan Manduley of Holguin in hits with 64; Yuniet Flores (Villa Clara) in doubles with 16; four players are tied with four triples; Yuniet Flores is tops with 13 stolen bases; Alexander Malleta (Industriales) in walks with 42 and Ramón Lunar (Villa Clara) in runs scored with 42.
Matanzas pitcher Jorge Martinez still leads the league with a 0.72 ERA; Ismel Jimenez of Sancti Spiritus leads in shutouts with three while Duniel Ibarra of Cienfuegos is tops with saves with 12.
In team batting the top three teams are: Villa Clara (.313), Industriales (.312) and Holguin (.296). In pitching Villa Clara is also number one with a 2.90 team ERA followed by Ciego de Avila (3.35) and Matanzas (3.43).
In fielding Matanzas leads with .983 followed by Metropolitanos (.981) and Camaguey (.980).
The three game series that began on Wednesday and continue on Thursday and Friday are the following with Camaguey taking rest.
Eastern Division (home team)
1:00 p.m. G. Moncada – Cienfuegos vs Santiago de Cuba
1:00 p.m. C. García – Villa Clara vs Holguín
1:00 p.m. J. A. Mella – Ciego de Avila vs Las Tunas
1:00 p.m. N. Van Troi – Matanzas vs Guantánamo
Liga Occidental (Home Team)
8:15 p.m. Latinoamericano – Pinar del Río vs Industriales (TV)
1:00 p.m. N. Fernández – Isla de la Juventud vs Mayabeque
1:00 p.m. J. A. Huelga – Granma vs Sancti Spíritus
1:00 p.m. S. Méndez – Metropolitanos vs Artemisa
(*) Ray Otero is a columnist with Baseballdecuba.com
The following standings include some of the games played today Wednesday February 1.