Four teams, the survivors after a long 90-game season, are vying for the ultimate title of Cuba’s national sport: that of the 56th edition of the National Baseball Series. Twelve squads failed to make the cut, including historic teams such as Industriales and Pinar del Río.
Standing out among the four semi-final squads are Víctor Mesa’s Cocodrilos of Matanzas, who excelled in the 16 team first round, winning 42 of 45 games, and going on to triumph in the second six-squad phase, winning a total of 70 of 90 games, to set a new Series record.
Offense was key to the Cocodrilo’s success, top batters of the competition with an average of .330, led by a player who saw the best of performance of his 15 season career, as highest scorer in no less than nine offensive categories, designated batter Yordanis Samón.
The Cocodrilos are favorites to win the Series trophy, which has evaded them for the last five years.
But the current game record holders haven’t got it in the bag just yet. The Ciego de Ávila Tigres, managed by experienced manager Roger Machado, have two consecutive titles under their belts, the 54th Series, during which they defeated the underdog Isle of Youth in the final, and last year’s championship when they left Pinar del Río in the lurch.
A good offense, led by big hitter Osvaldo Vázquez, with 17 home runs, and experience in life or death games, are the champions’ main attributes.
Another candidate vying for the title is Villa Clara, a historic rival, which remained out of the top spots for many years, until they won the 52nd edition of the National Series, and are back again this year.
Of the four semi-finalists, Villa Clara has the lowest batting average, but during the selection of reserves at the end of the year, they called on the services of one of Cuba’s best batters, ambidextrous Frederich Cepeda, who could help improve their offense.
The last of the four semi-finalists is the eastern region’s only representative, Granma, coached by Carlos Martí, with 28 years experience leading the Stallions and featuring, in this stage, Cuba’s most powerful slugger Alfredo Despaigne, who just finished an excellent stint in the demanding Japanese league, where he hit 25 home runs and batted in 92 runs with the Chiba Lotte Mariners team.
Who will win? Baseball is the enemy of forecasters and in a short seven game series, anything can happen. The easiest thing to do on this small Caribbean island is sit back and enjoy a spectacular show.