30th Haarlem Baseball Week: A Flash
The Cuban pitching responded again.
The offensive slump of the Cuban team has been so disappointing that it has practically left no room to give credit to the positive work of the pitching staff during this 30th Haarlem Baseball Week. For Cuba, except for César García, all the starters averaged at least 54 Game Score points and have total control of the game. However, the poor offensive contribution of the Alazanes de Granma ruled out any credit to the pitching staff.
During five consecutive losses, Cuba was able to score in just two of their 35 offensive innings, with four runs and a string of 25 consecutive scoreless innings. With right-hander Yuén Socarrás taking the mound at Pim Mulier Stadium, the Alazanes lineup achieved, at least, one offensive flash in the game against Italy today.
After going scoreless in the first third of today's game for the fifth place in the tournament, Cuba broke the streak of consecutive scoreless innings with a decisive three-run rally to secure a 5-1 victory this Thursday*.
*In the previous five games during the Qualifying Round, Cuba had scored only four runs: today in just five innings, the team exceeded all the offensive production of the previous 25 innings they played during the scoreless innings streak.
In the top of the fourth inning Alexander Ayala's third double of the tournament —the rest of the lineup registered only one—, a walk to Frederich Cepeda, and an RBI single by Guillermo Avilés, opened the score 1-0 against Italian right-hander Christian Paul Scafidi. With Cepeda on third, Scafidi threw a wild pitch that gave Cuba the second run of the inning. Minutes later Dennis Laza grounded out to second moving Avilés to third, and with two outs, Carlos Benítez - in a 1-for-12 mini-slump including four strikeouts and the use of an illegal bat yesterday - singled to centerfield off Scafidi to make it 3-0.
It was just what Cuban starter Yuén Socarrás needed. Socarrás, after allowing a single by Alberto Mineo to open the bottom of the fourth inning, struck out two of the following three batters, putting another zero in the score and keeping the 3-0 Cuba lead over the Italian team, led by legendary former Major League catcher Mike Piazza.
In the top of the fifth, against reliever Diego Gergolet, the Cuban bats responded again. Ayala walked, Cepeda singled, and then the next two batters, Guillermo Avilés and Dennis Laza were responsible for producing two more runs with back-to-back singles to extend the lead to 5-0.
While the core of the lineup was responsible for all runs in the game, the bottom part of the Cuban lineup, featured Benítez, catcher Iván Prieto and right-fielder Alexquemer Sánchez, went 2-for-9 in the game and overall 4-for-42 (.095) in the tournament, including 13 strikeouts. Alexquemer finished the tournament 0-for-13 and, along with Prieto, were responsible for leaving runners in scoring position, failing to drive in any runs after seeing a total of 96 pitches.
Cuba's offensive game was pathetic throughout the tournament. Including today's game, the Alazanes ended up showing a low slash line of .220/.273/.247. In addition, they received 30 strikeouts — 25 of them without any contact —, walked just nine times, and no player was able to steal a base or carry the ball out of the park.
Unlike the disappointing offensive performance in a tournament where, in general, batting was not outstanding, it is worth giving credit to the Cuban pitchers. In 40 innings they posted an excellent 2.70 ERA, with just four extra-base hits allowed, a .238 OBA, and a .313 OBP. What was the main deficiency? Yes, as always with Cuban pitchers nowadays: lack of control.
In 40 innings, the Cuban staff walked 19 batters. Even so, the percentage of strikes was acceptable (63%), and only 23.6% of the walks were starting innings. However, there was another result that continues to illustrate one of the main deficiencies of Cuban pitchers today: they registered only 8.0% of swing failures with their pitches, demonstrating that there is still a lot of room to improve to face a different level of opposition at international levels.
Today, Yuén Socarrás deserves all credit for his excellent work, after another disappointing performance in international events by Cuba. Socarrás' work prevented Cuba from total collapse to the bottom of the standings in this edition of the Haarlem Baseball Week.
After supporting an unearned run in the fifth inning - due to Carlos Benítez's error when he lost a fly ball that allowed Ricardo Paolini to get on base and an RBI single by Cuban imported Noel González -, Socarrás recovered and was able to retire the next five batters he faced.
In the seventh, just two outs away from completing the game, the right-hander from Sancti Spiritus walked the ninth batter, Andrea Sellaroli, and Paolini singled to put two runners on. With already 126 pitches - 80 of them strikes -, 8 strikeouts and 3 walks, Cuba manager Carlos Martí congratulated his starter and called right-hander closer Carlos Santana, who needed only three pitches to force a 64-double play to end the game.
After five consecutive losses, Cuba finally was able to win again, although the streak of 10 consecutive losses in the Qualifying Rounds at the Haarlem Baseball Week, is still alive. Yes, it hurts to say it, but let's face it: the Cuban baseball debacle continues.