By Aliet Arzola Lima
Sometimes, the Cuban Baseball National Series shows its brightest face, that of the tight pitching duels, clutch hitting or spectacular defense, or timely managerial decisions. But that is just sometimes, because, actually, the Cuban championship picture is mostly very depressing, with numbers as cold as eloquent or nefarious.
The outrageous amount of bases on balls, the defensive errors or the fake offensive production are some of the woes that daily affect fans and torture managers, who most of the times look really upset, as they have almost no idea of what to do to solve the many problems they face every game.
This Tuesday, April 5 was one of those stormy examples, even for those who were away from the actions of the day. I, for instance, had no opportunity of watching anything on television, or listen to the games on the radio… even to follow any of them online. Yet, when I was told that 50 runs had been scored in just two games, with 28 walks and 59 hits, I almost had a heart attack.
At first, I thought it was a joke, but later on I realized there was no reason not to believe it. Any fact we consider as paranormal in baseball is perfectly possible in the 61st National Series. To bring an example, a couple of weeks ago, Santiago de Cuba and Mayabeque (two teams at the top of the standings) left outrageous numbers in two games: 48 runs, 53 hits, 15 strikeouts, 24 walks, five wild pitches and five errors.
It all happened in 15 innings, because one of the games ended in six innings, and with the best pitchers of both teams on the mound. There was no reason to be tired, as they were coming from the All-Star break.
But let’s get back to the events of this past Tuesday, because things got out of control. To start, in eight games, there were 127 runs scored (almost 15 per match), 185 hits (almost 12 per game), with 46 extra bases and 17 home runs. On top of it all, there were 20 errors and only three teams played flawless defense: Sancti Spíritus, Mayabeque and Villa Clara.
Pitchers issued 81 bases on balls and hit 14 batters, so they got 95 runners on base because of their lack of control. When we add the numbers to the hits and errors we get an overwhelming result: almost 300 men got on base, an average of 19 per team.
With only seeing this, as a manager I would be tempted to go to the psychiatrist, and that is just knowing part of the problem. Yes, because we also got horrible news from the mound. For instance, there were 11 wild pitches in the season, and half of the teams threw at least one.
Out of the 16 teams, 12 issued more walks than strikeouts in the day. The only teams to reverse the formula were Industriales (3-1), Mayabeque (5-4), Las Tunas (9-4) and Villa Clara (3-2). It seems unbelievable, but let’s not forget we are talking about the National Series, a tournament that has one third left to play, still has more walks than strikeouts globally.
Talking about pitching. This Tuesday there were barely 58 strikeouts, meaning 7.25 per game, which is just above three per team, a very low number. Out of the 16 teams, 13 got less than five outs via strikes, and the only teams to equal or surpass that amount were Mayabeque (five), Camagüey (five), Matanzas (seven) and Las Tunas (nine).
Do you remember the aforementioned two games with 50 runs? Were they were starred by Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba, Industriales and Camagüey. The two latter had a slugfest between them, but the disaster took place between the two former. Matanzas started the game with 11 runs, which would not have been enough because Armando Ferrer’s ship is capsizing in every possible way.
The team of Santiago started cutting down the lead and managed 13 runs, although they would lose in the most surreal way. With the bases loaded and the game 12-17, Yaicel Pérez hit a single that drove the third base runner Adriel Labrada, but the second base runner Rudens Sánchez also ran to the plate and he was thrown out.
Some colleagues say that the play at the plate was safe, but the point is, what was he doing trying to score if he could have been the last out of the game and his team was still trailing by three runs. This can bring a heart attack to anyone.
In this game, both teams issued nine walks, which also drew our attention. This felt so curious and uncommon that we searched for nine-walk games for each MLB team for last season to see if two of them had done it in the same game, and the answer was zero. Just as you are reading: in all of 2021, a team issued nine or more walks on 82 occasions, but it never happened with two teams in the same game.
The worst part is that it happens by game 50, with at least 20 more days to play, plus the 20 final dates, when exhaustion starts becoming a factor, mainly after so many games played in the sun.
Hang in tight, crazy days are coming.