58 CNS | BaseballdeCuba Power Ranking, Week 1 (2nd-Half): Roosters steal headlines

Yirsandy Rodríguez

By Yirsandy Rodríguez | Senior Writer at BaseballdeCuba

The first week of the 2nd-Half of the 58th Cuban National Series has left us with several questions. But the most interesting is: Can the Sancti Spíritus' Roosters stay atop of the standings towards the 2019 Cuban postseason?

José Raúl Delgado's team completed a dominant week. They beat Holguin 2-1 in the 3-game series, and then swept the Ciego de Ávila Tigers for the first time since December 24, 1995. They have won their last five games, with a run differential of ±12. They are averaging six runs per game, but, without a doubt, their strength has been the pitching rotation. I know, its only the first week of the 2nd-Half, and a reasonable analysis would be to say that there are still 39 games pending. However, it's also fair to mention that, bad starts can be costly for teams trying to qualify to the 2019 postseason. Remember: Any difference in the team standings at the end of the season, is a reflect of a catastrophic start.

Here is the first Power Ranking of the 2nd-Half of the 2018-2019 Cuban season. Please note that, the teams are ordered by their overall performance. Although, for more information, we have also posted their weekly performance status.

                                                                                                                                         

Villa Clara

1. VILLA CLARA

2nd-Half Record: 13-8

Last Week: 4-2

It was a thrilling first week for the Sugar Makers. They achieved an attendance record at the Augusto Cesar Sandino Stadium, and were close to finish the week with a 5-1 record. The lost a game in each of the two 3-game series this past week. First, against Industriales and then against Holguín. However, there was an interesting detail: Villa Clara was in control during their first five games of the week. And part of this success was driven by the “key components” that manager Eduardo Paret picked up during the Players Draft for the second half of the season. 

Rookie César Prieto looked good as a shortstop and as a leadoff-hitter. Also, Carlos Benítez and William Saavedra brought the expected offensive impact. Benítez and Saavedra combined to produce 20 runs. Saavedra also hit 2 homers during the week and his average with RISP was an excellent .429. Saavedra, a well know performer in postseasons, seems to be back as a force in the middle of Villa Clara’s lineup. With these two additions, now Villa Clara shows a clutch-hitting lineup. A third hitter, Yurien Vizcaíno, had another successful week, with a .580 SLU, 1.3 WAR-Off and a .379 AVE w/RISP.

Villa Clara’s manager, Eduardo Paret, also made some lineup changes. Paret moved outfielder Norel González to the second turn and, since then, González has averaged a .429 wOBA. To appreciate his contribution, please note that, during the present season, only one hitter that bat third with at least 50 PAs - Lions’ Stayler Hernández - has a wOBA higher than Norel. Doing this, Paret has the advantage of placing a potential 3-hole hitter in the second turn, and Norel is responding as expected. 

It is also valid to remember that, behind these three hitters, Villa Clara presents the worst average w/RISP (.192). If their rivals can limit the offensive damage of González-Benítez-Saavedra, then Villa Clara and its manager will need another offensive source.

We don’t want to forget about RHP Jonder Martínez. The 40 y/old veteran has shown that he can still dominate. Having Martínez in the bullpen is a relief for Paret and the Azucareros, especially when you know a statistic that surprises you: Villa Clara’s rotation was the worst of the week. They had a 5.97 ERA, allowing 13.9 hits per nine innings and completing only an average of 5 1/3 innings. Perhaps, Freddy A. Alvarez's outing ruined the overall effectiveness of the staff, but left-handed pitchers Misael Villa and Robelio Carrillo have not been good either.

                                                                                                                                         

Las Tunas

2. LAS TUNAS

2nd-Half Record: 13-8

Las Week: 3-3

We already know that the Woodcutters can hit. In fact, they have two hitters totaling 22 RBIs, Jorge Alomá (22) and Danel Castro (10), while overall, the Ciego de Ávila Tigers, in 224 PAs accumulate only 21. So, let's talk a little bit about Las Tunas pitchers. The Woodcutters have a disastrous bullpen. In 19.1 innings they are showing an exorbitant 6.98 ERA. Three key pieces, RHP Yosbel Alarcón has a 13.50 ERA, RHP Armando Dueñas shows a 14.54 ERA, while LHP Dariel Góngora has a 9.82 ERA. We only have a week of competition during this 2nd Half, but it’s important to remember the value of any game during this decisive stage. One example was this past week. The collapse of Las Tunas bullpen prevented them from equaling the overall series against Industriales. Now the Lions lead the series 4-2 so far in 2018, and they proved the ineffectiveness of Las Tunas’ bullpen. During the three-game series, Las Tunas No. 1 & 2 starters, RHP Yoalkis Cruz and LHP Yudiel Rodriguez, had decent outings, but Las Tunas bullpen could not stop Industriales’ bats.

After winning Game 1 easily 8-2, Las Tunas lost two close games, 9-8 and 7-5. In Game 2, they allowed a nine-run seventh inning, a record the Lions had not achieved since January 3, 1995, when they defeated the Havana Horses 15-4. The following night, during Game 3, Industriales came back in the eighth inning scoring three, to run away with the game. Leadoff hitter Yosvany Peñalver hit the decisive single, and Las Tunas bullpen ended up allowing 12 runs in two consecutive nights. The story here is that Las Tunas bullpen struggled and couldn’t secure two easy wins.

Recently I expressed on Twitter:

"Is my perception that the Woodcutters will have big problems with their bullpen. Consider this: (A) They no longer have Diego Granado, whom completed 75.0 innings in 2017. (B) Because of that, Yosbel Alarcón is under pressure. (C) Are José Adiel Moreno and Alberto Civil big pieces for the bullpen? (D) Can Armando Dueñas become the next Granado? Will he be able to handle the pressure of his role?...”

At the end, the point I’m trying to make is that skipper Pablo Civil should start using a 5-man rotation, and to achieve this, Civil needs to remove LHP Dariel Góngora from the bullpen, and add him to the starting rotation. Gógonra will give Las Tunas another trusted arm behind Yoalkis Cruz, Yudiel Rodríguez, Yadián Martínez and José A. Peña.

                                                                                                                                         

Sancti Spíritus

3. SANCTI SPÍRITUS

2nd-Half Record: 12-9

Last Week: 5-1

Question: How far can the Sancti Spíritus Roosters go? If you are up to date with the season, you know that the Roosters rotation was able to answer that question with its performance for at least a week. There's an interesting little number here: Sancti Spíritus’ starters had four decisions in six games. One more detail: They won all of them. So, Sancti Spíritus ended the week with these numbers: 4-0 record, 3.15 ERA in 34.1 IP, and limiting their opponents to an offensive line of .248/.310/.331. Only RHPs Angel Peña and Yoen Socarrás had no decisions, however, the bullpen was able to pitch well during one of those two outings, and overall worked for a decent 3.66 ERA. By doing this and supported by a team that scored 36 runs, the Roosters were able to win five out of six games during the week. Hitters Frederich Cepeda and Dunieski Barroso combined to produce 14 runs, with five home runs, 10-RBIs and a .685 slugging. Daviel Gómez had a .654 OBP in his first 26 PAs, and Yoandy Baguet led the team in average w/RISP with an excellent .429.

I don't think it will be easy for the Roosters to repeat this performance in the following weeks, but there is no doubt that the Sancti Spíritus rotation knows how to dominate rivals. However, their final success and possible advance to the 2019 postseason will depend in how the Sancti Spíritus hitters perform during the rest of the season. 

                                                                                                                                         

Industriales

4. INDUSTRIALES

2nd Half Record: 10-11

Last Week: 3-3

After leaving 25 RISP stranded on bases against Villa Clara, Industriales reminded everyone about their hitter’s ability to produce in clutch situations. They lead the league in the 2nd-Half with 2.1% BB/SO ratio and were third on average (.350) and OPS (.903) with runners on base this week. But, from day one, the problem for the team has been the use of speed on bases and their weekly drop in production, although some of Industriales best hitters continue to have success. 

Industriales had 34 hits against Villa Clara’s pitchers but they only scored 10 runs. Against Las Tunas pitchers, and in the initial 16-innings of the first two games, Industriales was able to score more runs (11). Since the First Half of the season the trend has not changed: The Lions need more durability from the starters. Again, the relievers have been charged with 45.1% of innings pitched in the first six team decisions during the beginning of the second half. But even with RHPs Noelvis Entenza and Frank Monthiet out for injury, reinforcements Frank Luis Medina, Erlis Casanova and Vladimir Baños have done an acceptable job. However, of all of them, Medina will be the one receiving the best ovation when he takes the mound at Latinoamericano Stadium for the first time under the Lions’ uniform.

The 31-year-old right handed defeated Villa Clara throwing 7.1 innings and giving up just a walk to the #32 hitter he faced. It was the only time this season that an Industriales pitcher works through the first 31 opponents and walks none. During his second outing, Medina made a phenomenal 8.1 innings relief, where he allowed two earned runs on only five hits. In only two appearances with Industriales, Medina already shows a 2-0 record. 

To recap, Industriales hitters compiled a .318 average during their six-games on the road, a fact that can be considered very positive, after scoring only 28 runs during this period (16 of them in the first two games against Las Tunas).

This Saturday Industriales will begin its first of three-game series at home - Latinoamericano Stadium – a place where they won 18 of 24 games during the First Half of the season. With this, the Lions will try to get near the Sancti Spíritus Roosters (3rd Place) and remain atop the standings during this 2nd Half of the season.

                                                                                                                                         

Ciego de Avila

5. CIEGO DE ÁVILA

2nd-Half: 9-12

Las Week: 1-5

Just 25 runs scored (4.1 per game) and five losses in six games playing at home has been an unexpected blow for the Tigers. At the same time, the rotation that we have been praising so much - and, of course, it's not going to have many weeks like that – had a negative 1-4 record and 4.76 ERA during those games. With exceptions like RHP Lázaro Blanco and LHP Maikel Folch, the rest of the Ciego de Avila starters had problems in at least one outing. Right handers Vladimir García, Yander Guevara and Dachel Duquesne, allowed six runs each during their work. Vladimir and Yander against Las Tunas, while Duquesne had the same result against Holguín.

That was what we expected to hear from this rotation. And, although it may change in just a week, there's another situation that remains a big threat: the bullpen. The Ciego de Ávila relievers have a 9.50 ERA allowing hitters to put this numbers against them: .386/.500/.554. That is just part of the problem, but if you have not noticed yet, the team is fielding only .929 when the relievers are in action. Something strange.

If you have a lineup that accumulates more strikeouts (28) than runs scored (25), you are in trouble. However, this is the Ciego de Ávila Tigers, a veteran team that knows how to comeback from situations like this and that also have players able to start producing at any time. The Tigers will begin the week on the road facing the Industriales Lions. They have the opportunity to avoid a little bit of their problems against left-handers’ pitchers (batting only .091), as the Lions don’t have any good LHP to face them.

Let’s just sit, relax and wait to see how the two-time champions during the Draft Players Era that started in 2013, perform this week. It will be the first time this season that they play as a visitor, after having an under .500 record, 10-11 (.476) during the First Half.

                                                                                                                                         

Holguín

6. HOLGUÍN

2nd-Half: 6-15

Last Week: 2-4

As his manager Noelvis González said just last week: "We have to come from behind, again”.

I must admit that I don't like the new classification system either, where teams only keep their results against teams classified to the 2nd Half. However, one thing is clear: The Cubs were not an elite team against the strongest teams. Their results confirmed it before starting this phase, when they fell to last place with a negative record of 4-11. After that, their first week has reflected the numbers they brought to the 2nd-Phase.

The Cubs will visit the Woodcutters in the next series, a good opportunity to bring out their predominant .445 OBP. Although, if they continue to hit .253 w/RISP, they won’t be able to generate much production. At the same time, the challenge of their rotation is enormous. Holguín’ starters pitchers work for a 5.35 ERA and the bullpen remains unresponsive with a 6.11 ERA.

 

Follow Yirsandy Rodríguez on twitter (@yirsandy) or email him at yirsandybdc2018@gmail.com. You can also follow us on Facebook (BaseballdeCuba).