Time files. It seems like only yesterday when the 56th edition of the National Baseball Series began on Sunday, August 7, to be exact. Now, with only a week to go until the end of the first 45 game round, only two teams have just about qualified, while an intense battle between nine squads for the six remaining slots is underway.
The structure of the current series was changed from that of last year’s. Now, the top four teams automatically qualify for the second phase, while the remaining two are decided by a short best-of-three play-off, that is to say, only six squads will compete in round two of the tournament, also composed of 45 games and a play-off between the top four.
The teams undoubtedly have a long road ahead. However, the Cocodrilos de Matanzas are already on a good run, representing the first team to win 34 of its first 37 games, demonstrating almost absolute supremacy over the rest of its rivals; and setting another record after winning all its opening clashes during 13 three-game sub-series.
Another team with a foot in the second stage are current national champions the Tigres de Ciego de Ávila, occupying second place; a squad featuring the majority of players who won the previous season, led by star-pitcher Vladimir García, the only member with eight wins in the series thus far.
Far behind are a group of seven teams separated by a few games difference. Only two and a half matches stand between Villa Clara, in third place, and Industriales-Camagüey tied in fourth; while The Isle of Youth and Pinar del Río are only two games away from eighth place.
Meanwhile, a problem remains in regards to games suspended or cancelled due to persistent rains which have hit Cuba this September. Several spots in the play-offs could be decided in the pending match-ups - more than a dozen set to be played after the first stage ends October 4.
This year’s Series has its special features. For example, over 60 batters with an average of .300 or more, a figure which could represent an all-time first, as this reporter is unaware of any other baseball league in the world with a similar number of players averaging .300 or more. However, this has a lot to do with the poor quality of Cuba’s pitchers.
The island’s current pitchers lack speed, with few reaching 90 miles an hour, a standard benchmark for pitchers around the world. Meanwhile, throwing strikes has also proven extremely difficult for such players, requiring more work on their ball control. Despite all these issues, Cuban fans continue to support their national sport, with the championship title looking set to be disputed in an intense final.