Cuba finished its participation in the 59th Caribbean Series held in Culiacán, Mexico, taking fourth place, which does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the team managed by veteran strategist Carlos Martí, who will lead the country's players to the upcoming 4th World Classic.
Granma's Sorrels, who represented the country after winning the national championship, departed Mexican soil with great confidence, after being defeated by the home club Águilas de Mexicali, who were in turn bested by Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas, breaking that country's 17-year string without a title.
With extraordinary pitching, the Cubans left a good impression in the city's majestic new stadium, where the fans were wowed by their relaxed, entertaining play, two characteristics that have not been noted in our country's teams in a recent times.
The Sorrels faced off against the fiercest rival, without any extra dose of pressure, thanks to the impeccable work of their pitchers, who in four of five games allowed only one run or less, with two going down in the record books.
Lázaro Blanco reaffirmed his position at the top of the rotation and gave clear signs of his disposition to assume leadership of the team's pitching during the imminent World Classic.
This giant from Granma opened two games masterfully, the last a life and death struggle for the title, which he lost despite allowing only one run.
Pinar del Río's Vladimir Baños also rose to the occasion on the mound, almost becoming the first to pitch a full game since 2002, when Rodrigo López did so.
The right-hander should be one of the team's trump cards during the Classic, along with Ciego de Avila's Vladimir García, and left-hander Liván Moinelo, who has returned from international commitments in good form, well rested with little playing time clocked over the last two months, a detail that can serve him well during the demanding games on the horizon.
Generally speaking, the pitching corps should be the team's strength at the Classic, since in addition to those mentioned, also in the bullpen are
men like Miguel Lahera, José Ángel García, Noelvis Entenza, and the talented Raidel Martínez, who is ready to take the stage in a qualitatively more difficult environment.
The Culiacán Caribbean Series additionally showed us that the success of these excellent players is necessarily tied to Frank Camilo Morejón's direction from behind the home plate. The Havana catcher brings confidence to the job with his effective guidance of pitchers, blocking of breaking balls, and high percentages capturing runners between bases.
Of course, the picture is not all rose colored. The challenge in Mexico also revealed the weaknesses of Cuba's offense, unproductive for periods and lacking the steady nerves needed to execute specific plays in a given situation.
A lack of concentration with pop-up flies, batting behind the runner, and bunting was seen, even though these are recurrent plays, necessary to our teams who don't have the sluggers of yesteryear, those men with a swing that could change a game.
Runs now come from hard work and strategic play, and facing the pitchers of strong rivals requires patience and discipline at the plate, as well as careful running of the bases. Regarding this last detail, the team should take advantage of the explosiveness of Víctor V. Mesa, Yoelkis Céspedes, Roel Santos, Yurisbel Gracial and Yosvany Alarcón, players who know how to use their speed.
Adding strength to the middle of the line-up at the Classic will be three heavy hitters: Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne and William Saavedra, the last two with the dynamite needed to open up a game.
The key to success at this world class event lies in playing relaxed, without pressure and enjoying the game, conscious of what it represents for fans, as occurred during the Caribbean Series. At their sides will be millions of Cubans who will stay up late, shouting advice and cheering them on, inning by inning.