Few times has the training of a Cuban baseball team for the principal international event left so many doubts. The island’s team that is in Barranquilla was not good at all in its preparatory meets and has set off the alarms among fans and specialists.
Not even the crushing victory (15×4) of the farewell at home against the U.S. university students served as a tranquilizer: barely four victories in 10 games, counting what was done in Venezuela and Colombia, is a concerning result not only for the Central American and Caribbean Games, but also as a compass of Cuban baseball’s current moment.
Let’s start by the end, with the game against the Americans. In a practically empty Latin American Stadium, in which the small amount of public booed more than once the local players, Cuba lost the first three games, in which they only scored one run and barely connected 12.
In those games the bats froze before the pitching of some quality university students who have field experience. Meanwhile, the Cubans looked like schoolchildren, with little discipline in the batting mound and inadmissible tactical faults among men with long experience on the island and several months of training.
Moreover, it was contradictory that in a meet to put to the test the team going to Barranquilla, in the first two games only two pitchers from the principal team performed. The rest was from the team that, until now, had also left an unfortunate image in the Haarlem Tournament in Holland.
Finally, the Cuban team cleaned its image in the last game with a great offensive barrage of 15 runs with 17 uncatchables and two home runs. Two legionnaires who play abroad: Yordan Manduley and Yurisbel Gracial, showed they were in excellent shape and must play a leading role in Colombia.
The pitching, meanwhile, behaved rather well, although it seems unexplainable that Lázaro Blanco, the alleged first opener of the team, did not pitch not even one entrance in the meet. If he was on the bench, why not use him at least in two innings to warm the arm?
It is said that the last image is the one that stays. Let’s hope so, because the last game was the only rescuable one for Cuba in the meet, beyond satisfactory performances from the mound like those of Yariel Rodríguez and Fredy Asiel Álvarez.
The psychological impact of this victory could be the necessary fuel in the Central American Games, where the Cubans will be facing a system of all against all and will have to minimize the mistakes and show greater efficiency. However, the result in the games against two of the principal rivals they will find in Barranquilla should serve to banish triumphalisms and take careful aim.
Debts in Venezuela, blows in Colombia
Before facing the U.S. university students and after a controversial Special Series, the island’s team left for Venezuela and Colombia to measure the temperature of their training. And they came back with a cold thermometer.
The result against the Venezuelan team was quantitatively positive, with two successes and one defeat. Cuba won the first two games with 5-0 and 10-2 scores, to finish falling 0-3. However, everything wasn’t a bed of roses.
The best for the Cuban team was its corps of pitchers, which had three solid openings against the Venezuelans. Fredy Asiel Álvarez and Yariel Rodríguez did not allow runs, and Misael Villa – included as reinforcement –only scored one after six innings.
The pitching, always a big question mark, worked for an excellent effectivity of 1.58, but the average offensive of its opponents was a high 297. The Cubans were batted quite a lot, but the batting that would boost runs was missing: they allowed the considerable number of 30 hits in three games, although only four were two bases. There was a bit of luck in those numbers.
The defense, for its part, was not good, to the point that they made five mistakes in the last game which had an influence on the defeat. However, the worst was the offensive, which showed an anemic collective average of 233, and only three men – Raúl González, Roel Santos and Frederich Cepeda – batted more than 300.
These shortages were repeated to a great extent in the game against the Colombians, precisely in the Edgar Rentería Stadium where the Central American Games baseball will be played. But this time the cost was higher: the balance of the dual meet was negative for Cuba, with one victory and two defeats.
The Cubans opened with a 3-0 victory in which the batting served to score the necessary runs and the pitching stood up with excellent performances by Josimar Cousín, Alain Sánchez and Vladimir García.
But in the second meet, things started leveling. It was certainly a closed defeat (4×5), but not because of that was it less painful. Cuba was winning 4×2 but received a bunch of runs in the seventh inning, which inclined the balance against it. This time relief pitching did not work.
Fredy Asiel Álvarez again had a quality opening in which he withstood two runs in six innings, with five outs. But southpaw Yoanny Yera spoiled his performance and was responsible for the defeat when allowing three scores in a third inning.
Yera was Cuba’s lowest point in both meets and his bad opening pitches were concerning, since he must be one of the team’s long reliefs.
The last defeat was a five-inning game due to the rain. Cuba fell 0x2 to a great extent due to the very bad pitching of Misael Villa who allowed five runs and one run in one inning. Yariel Rodríguez gave his all with only two hits and a run and was confirmed as one of the best notes of the year for Cuban baseball.
The offensive of the team led by Carlos Martí was again poor. Playing against the Colombian pitchers it only collectively compiled for a very bad 152 and no baseball player batted more than 300.
If we add up the numbers against Venezuela and Colombia, the Cubans only batted for 195. With those numbers Cuba won’t be able to aspire to the gold in Barranquilla, an event to which the locals, furthermore, will take reinforcements compared to the team that participated in the meet.
On the other hand, the pitching looked better, with an average of 2.09 clean runs adding the six games. But if the bats continue frozen, the pitchers will have to multiply their efficiency in the Edgar Rentería.
The defense and the tactical functionality will also have to be fine-tuned, because the least mistake can cost a game and even the championship.
Cuba is getting to Barranquilla with that panorama. A defeat there will pour more salt in the increasingly bigger wound of Cuban baseball and, in addition, would anemically have an impact on the entire delegation. Zero hour is approaching for the Cuban team.