65th Caribbean Series: 'Turn it off and let's go' - Game 3 Analysis
Updated: Feb 9
—Agricultores were devastated by Leones de Caracas' offensive attack
Despite starting the 65th Caribbean Baseball Series on the wrong foot as the most ineffective offense, the Leones de Caracas, the top winners of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League with 21 titles, mercilessly crushed the Farmers on day three.
In the first two games of this Caribbean classic, the host Leones de Caracas, regarded as a favorite, averaged just .191 on offense, which sounded really strange before the game.
Even more alarming was the fact that only one of the team's 12 hits in the tournament reached the extra base category, a double by Wilfredo Tovar. There was, however, an overlooked statistical indicator in which the Vinotinto offense had surpassed Cuba by a considerable margin: innings of dominance with an advantage on the scoreboard. In contrast, the Lions, who beat Panama 5-2, held the lead in seven of the nine innings, but Agricultores only took control in one of the ten innings against Curaçao in Day 1 of the tournament.
As both teams had a 1-1 record, a pitching duel ensued between right-handed players: For Cuba, Yoel Mogena, who was a key player in winning the Agricultores title in the Elite League of Cuban Baseball, while Guillermo Moscoso, a 39-year-old veteran, took the mound at the legendary Monumental Stadium in Caracas, Simón Bolívar, also known as La Rinconada Baseball Stadium. As the "Vinotinto" fans roared their support, Moscoso made a few mistakes, leading to the first Agricultores run in the first inning. Yuniesky Larduet led off the game with a single to center, stole second base, and made his way to third, taking advantage of Moscoso's throwing error.
The Maracay pitcher used his experience on the hill to strike out a couple of Cuban hitters to avoid the first run of the game putting the inning in two outs. Then Moscoso made one of his only mistakes all night. As Moscoso tried to pitch ahead of the count to an aggressive hitter such as Yosvany Alarcón, the Cuban catcher doubled to right field.
Agricultores led the board after two games without scoring a run before the fifth inning. But Moscoso remained calm and struck out Rafael Viñales to end the inning, extending Viñales slump to 0-for-9 since arriving in Gran Caracas.
As the infield players from Cuba passed the ball around, the excitement grew before the Leones de Caracas took advantage of their first offensive opportunity. The Cubans' joy quickly faded after just six pitches, and the first inning quickly turned into a slaughterhouse of offense. Wilfredo Tovar's double tied the score at 1-1 after Ali Castillo singled to center.
It was a different scenario for the Cuban starter, in contrast to what starters Cesar García and Jonathan Carbó did in the previous two games. In his case, the offensive barrage came as expected. Despite Mogena's slow pitching strategy, Venezuelan hitters quickly adjusted their swings. The Granma right-hander placed his slider in the outside corner, and instead of pulling, all Venezuelan hitters hit pitches to the opposite field. A single by Danry Vásquez (RF), a single by Hernán Alejandro Pérez (1B) and a single by José Gregorio Rondón (CF) sent Mogena back to the dugout. He was only able to dominate one batter, Carlos Rivero on a fly out to right.
In his first relief appearance, Alexander Valiente was sent to the mound by Agricultores' manager Carlos Martí, but the "Vinotinto" lineup looked unstoppable: Francisco and Oswaldo Arcia walked and hit, respectively, and a new Cuban reliever, Yunier Castillo, completed the seven-run barrage with a force out on rolling to the shortstop - which could have been converted into a double play.
Undoubtedly, opening down 7-1 was devastating. In the way the Venezuelan hitters acted, I was reminded of the legendary comment "turn off and let's go" used by ESPN analyst Candy Maldonado when the Yankees opened the bullpen door to welcome their star closer Mariano Rivera.
As predicted, it was a great night for the Leones de Caracas, who slaughtered the Cuban pitchers with 11 more runs after the first third of the game: a rally of three runs in the fourth and five innings, a rally of one more in the sixth, and a rally of five in the eighth. After setting a new team record for Caribbean Series with 25 hits, Venezuela' starters, with the exception of leadoff Ali Castillo, had at least two hits in the game. We can appreciate the team's lineup offensive contribution if we divide it into two parts:
—Between the 1st and 5th hitters: they batted 23 times, scored 10 runs, had 12 hits, doubled three times, homered once, and walked three times.
—Between the 6th and 9th hitters: 20 at bats, 9 runs scored, 11 hits, 2 doubles, one home run, 11 RBIs, one walk, and one strikeout.
They simply could not be stopped, and the Lions' negative 31.4% strikeout-to-miss ratio during the first two games of the tournament dissipated. Cuban pitchers, who tended to throw fastballs without authority and had weak repertoires, exposed their strengths. It's worth noting that the Leones de Caracas made contact on 49 of their 50 swings against Mogena, Valiente and Yunier Castillo. That's awesome!
Despite only needing a few innings to achieve victory, the veteran delivered a superb performance in six innings without letting his guard down. The vast experience he has on the mound was basically put to good use. Eight of his 18 putouts were strikeouts, and he caused 22 swinging strikes without walking a single batter. To the delight of Venezuelan fans, the work resulted in another quality performance.
Venezuela 20, Cuba 3/Final: A review
Cuba: 3-9-3 (R-H-E)
2B: Yos. Alarcón (1, Moscoso)
RBI: Yos. Alarcón 2 (2), Yor. Alarcón (1)
RBI 2 outs: Yos. Alarcón 2
Team RISP: 3-10 (Yos. Alarcón 2-3, Avilés 0-1, Viñales 0-1, Yor. Alarcón 1-3, Da. Pena 0-1, Santos 0-1)
Team LOB: 6
-RUNNING THE BASES-
SB: Larduet (1, 2o base de Moscoso/F. Arcia)
E: Avilés (1, fildeo); De La Cruz (1, fildeo); Millán (1, fildeo)
DP: 1 (Abreu-Yor. Alarcón-Avilés)
Venezuela: 20-25-1 (R-H-E)
2B: Pérez (1, Castillo); F. Arcia (1, Castillo); Rivero (1, Civil); Tovar (2, Mogena); Rondón (1, Castillo)
HR: Vásquez (1, 2nd inning against Castillo none on base, 0 Out); Rondón (1, 8th inning against Civil 2 on base, 1 Out)
RBI: Arcia 2 (2), Castillo (3), F. Arcia 3 (3), Rivero 2 (2), Vásquez 3 (3), Tovar (2), Rondón 6 (7)
RBI 2 outs: Vásquez
SF: Arcia; Rondón
Team RISP: 11-23 (Arcia 1-2, Pérez 0-2, Castillo 0-1, F. Arcia 2-3, Rivero 2-5, Reyes 1-2, Vásquez 2-2, Noriega 0-2, Rondón 3-3, Torres 0-1)
Team LOB: 12
-RUNNING THE BASES-
SB: F. Arcia (1, 2nd base of Valiente/Yos. Alarcón); Reyes (2, 3rd base of Valiente/Yos. Alarcón)
E: Moscoso (1, tiro)
-The Leones de Caracas set new Caribbean Series records with a 17-run difference and 25 hits.
Notable Slash lines: Yuniesky Larduet went 3-for-4 and scored three times as the leadoff hitter. After Yosvany Alarcón went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, the next six batters combined to hit 2-for-20.
Performance of pitchers:
-Yoel Mogena (P, 0-1): 0.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
-Alexander Valiente: 0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
-Yunier Castillo: 3 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR
-Carlos Santana: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
-Alberto Pablo Civil: 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR
WP: Santana (4)
HBP: F. Arcia (de Civil)
Strikes/Batters facing on the first pitch: Civil 6/8; Castillo 7/17; Mogena 4/6; Santana 13/22; Valiente 1/3
Strikes called-Strikes fanned-Foul balls-Strikes in play: Civil-5-6-9-6; Castillo-9-1-9-16; Mogena-1-0-4-6; Santana-12-7-7-17; Valiente-2-0-1-2
Ground balls and fly balls: Civil 1-2; Castillo 2-5; Mogena 0-1; Santana 3-8
How did victory escape?: During the first inning, when the Cuban pitchers could not get an out against the Venezuelan hitters. In games where a team trails 9-1 so early and the bullpen and offense fail to respond, the game is practically over.
What adjustments should they make?: It appears that Cuba has no choice but to wait for the pitching to respond again. Thus far, that has been the way to win, even though there have been some defensive lapses. The Agricultores would be worst in run production and ERA if it wasn't for Curaçao's offensive drought, in which the team has scored four times in three games.
As a point of reference, we should keep the following in perspective: Despite leading this Saturday against Venezuela, Agricultores have led only twice of their 28 offensive innings in the Caribbean Classic.
(Photos: CBPC/AP/Calixto N. Llanes)