National Series playoff predictions 2021: Pinar del Río-Sancti Spíritus, who will win?
The 60th Cuban National Series postseason will get underway today, with the Santiago de Cuba-Las Tunas and Granma-Industriales series – I went over both predictions yesterday – while another series will begin on Wednesday, Pinar del Río-Sancti Spíritus.
The first change to the 2021 postseason schedule was announced yesterday. Cienfuegos-Matanzas will play Game 1 on Thursday, Jan 27th instead of a day earlier, a change related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the RY-PCR tests performed on the Cienfuegos players.
And because making playoff predictions in baseball is always fun and foolish, here is my prediction for the Quarter Finals series between Vegueros (Pinar del Río) and Gallos (Sancti Spíritus).
Pinar del Río (8) at Sancti Spíritus (1) – Wednesday, 10 a.m. ET on Tele Rebelde
Game 1 starters
PRI: Vladimir Baños (8-4-3.93)
SSP: Yoen Socarrás (11-4-2.63)
Knowing that pitching depth is always important in short series, we can deduce that the best-of-five series between Vegueros and Gallos will be an epic one. Vegueros, with a long history of titles and a clear advantage in postseasons, will be a challenge for the regular season first place Sancti Spíritus. Both teams were the only ones that had an ERA under 4.00 during the regular season. Pinar led the league with an excellent 3.58 while Sancti Spíritus rotation was not far behind, 3.91. The question here is: which rotation will hold more? Pinar has a lot of experience with starters Erlis Casanova, Vladimir Baños, and youngster Yaifredo Domínguez, whom combined for 274 innings, 23 wins, and a 3.45 ERA in the 60th NS and totalize 15 postseason wins. The Gallos starters, Yoen Socarrás (11-4-2.63), Yamichel Pérez (7-7-4.50), and José E. Santos (7-4-4.17) - except for Yoen - they lack experience and combined have won only two postseason games, that will be key in the series. I do believe we may see promising Pedro Álvarez – who started only 8 games this year – taking a more decisive role in the series.
In modern baseball, the bullpen is almost everything and it’s here where I like Pinar chances. The Gallos have relievers with excellent numbers: Yanieski Duardo who saved 11 games, and Yankiel Mauri who from the bullpen won 10 games and saved 5. However, the return of LHP Liván Moinelo and RHP Raidel Martínez from the NPB, plus the arms of Frank L. Medina – 10 saves – and Reilandy González – 49 IP/45 SO & 1.82 ERA in the season - will make Pinar overwhelmingly favorite, especially if they get to the late innings with at least minimum advantage.
Offensively both teams struggled to produce runs during the season. Pinar will love to see William Saavedra be the guy he knows he can be in postseasons – 20 HRs/60 RBIs in 65 games – but my eyes will be in Yaser Julio González, first Pinar’s hitter with 17 home runs since Yosvany Peraza in the 2012-13 season. Sancti Spíritus’ manager should not underestimate the 121 runs batted in by the trio of Dueñas-Rodríguez-Blanco. With the lack of power from other hitters, Pinar's manager Alexander Urquiola should exploit as much as he can speedy Juan Carlos Arencibia, who had 19 steals this year. Four hitters are the core of Sancti Spíritus’ offense: veterans Freddie Cepeda - .369, 31 EXT, 48 RBIs - & Yunier Mendoza - .333, 27 EXT, 47 RBIs -, and youngsters Geisel Cepeda - .354, 23 EXT, 48 RBIs - & Daviel Gómez - .317, 35 RBIs -. For Freddi, unfortunately, this will be one of his last opportunities of winning a championship with his hometown team.
One interesting thing about this series, and overall, about this postseason is to see how the bubbles affect performance, if at all. The policy of no travel days and a day-rest in between games will also be beneficial to bullpens but, again, I do believe it will benefit more the team with the deepest bullpen this postseason, and that is Pinar del Rio.
Prediction: Pinar del Río over Sancti Spíritus
(Photos Ricardo López Hevia, Oscar Alfonso, Marcelino Vázquez, Juan Moreno)