For only the fourth time in the past quarter-century the capital city of Havana will have neither of its league teams (fan-favorite Industriales or usual also-ran Metropolitanos) represented in the post-season playoffs that open on the island this coming Wednesday. With only a final weekend of action remaining in National Series #48, all four post-season slots in both leagues have now been determined and little drama remains to regular season competition outside of a few marquee individual statistical races. The foremost of those sidebar stories is the tight three-man battle for the individual batting crown between Yulieski Gourriel (Sancti Spíritus), Yorelvis Charles (Ciego de Avila) and Michel Enríquez (Isla de la Javentud), with all three still hovering a fraction below the .400 mark. Gourriel, seeking his first hitting title (although a few years back he was the first ever to pace the circuit in both homers and triples in the same campaign) is currently in the lead at .399 (with Enríquez at .398 and Charles standing at .395). A second important sidebar is Alfredo Despaigne’s last ditch effort to overhaul Alexei Bell’s single-season home run mark of 31 set only last winter. Despaigne tied the record earlier in the week but has been homer-less in the past four contests and now faces the pressures of a final three-game series on the road against tough Villa Clara pitching.
Match-ups for the first round (quarterfinals) of “best-of-seven” post-season action are as follows:
Occidental League (West)
Habana Province (1st place) versus Isla de la Juventud (4th place)
Pinar del Río (2nd place) versus Sancti Spíritus (3rd place)
(Habana Province and Pinar del Río enjoy the extra home game in these two series)
Ciego de Avila (1st place) versus Holguín (4th place)
Santiago de Cuba (2nd place) versus Villa Clara (3rd place)
(Ciego de Avila and Santiago de Cuba enjoy the extra home game in these two series)
Last winter’s playoffs concluded with Pinar del Río suffering an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of Santiago, which will now be seeking its third straight league crown during this year’s post-season dance. The power-laden Wasps have to be considered a consensus favorite to three-peat, despite a slow early-season start that ultimately left them trailing surprising Ciego de Avila by a half-dozen games in the eastern division. Ciego, owner of the top league record this winter at 62-25 (three games remaining), will be seeking its first-ever league title and has never made it out of the first round in its handful of previous post-season appearances.
All the playoff action can be followed in detail (including radio and television Spanish-language broadcasts) on www.baseballdecuba.com, which will feature a special post-season page complete with game reports and day-by-day statistics. This author will also be reporting directly from the scene in Cuba during a two-week-span of the playoff saga that opens on May 6 and will extend possibly as late as June 11 (depending on the length of the final series).