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National Series playoff predictions 2021: Cienfuegos-Matanzas, who will win?

The 60th Cuban National playoffs are well underway, but the defending champion is still to be seen.

The quarterfinal series between Matanzas-Cienfuegos was pushed back two days, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the wait is over, today at 1 p.m. both teams will be action during Game 1 at José A. Huelga stadium in Sancti Spíritus.

UPDATE: On Friday morning it was announced that two players from Cienfuegos tested positive for COVID-19. Game 1 will be suspended and will be wscheduled at a later date.

As I did with the previous three quarterfinals series, today I have my prediction for this series.

Cienfuegos (6) at Matanzas (3) – Friday, 1 p.m. ET on Tele Rebelde

Game 1 starters

CFG: Yasmani Insua (8-5-5.42)

MTZ: Yoanni Yera (5-2-2.72)

It is quite difficult to pinpoint one specific strength for the Matanzas Cocodrilos, it may just be their balance. They ranked fifth in home runs (55) and eighth in runs scored (429), as well as eighth in runs produced. On the pitching side, they ranked fourth in overall ERA (4.40) and their regular season record against the other seven teams that are in the postseason was .571 (20-15). However, there is a problem with this, only one team was able to beat Matanzas four out of five times during the regular season: Cienfuegos. How they did it?

12/5: Mtz 2, Cfg 12

12/6: Mtz 3, Cfg 9

12/15: Cfg 10, Mtz 3

12/16: Cfg 13, Mtz 8

12/17: Cfg 2, Mtz 9

Cienfuegos outscored Matanzas 46-25 in the 60th NS. During the stretch, they destroyed pitchers such as Dariel Góngora, Jonder Martínez, and Renner Rivero, all of them will see action this postseason. Having said that, the Matanzas team that we will see this postseason is a little different to the one we saw back in December. Consider this, to a lineup that was already the core of the 2020 Championship, Matanzas is adding the names of NPB players: Ariel Martínez (catcher) and Yurisbel Gracial (outfielder), along with three other stars from the Mexican League: outfielder Yadir Drake, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, and Matanzas ace, LHP Yoanni Yera. Playoff-tested Yera will get the start in Game 1, and they recently announced the return of Noelvis Entenza from the LVBP. A team as confident as Matanzas is will be exceedingly difficult to beat, I consider them favorites to win it all.

On the other hand, Cienfuegos is the team of the future in the National Series, at least if they can keep most of the players. Cienfuegos is dynamic and exciting to watch. The team is led by the 60th NS batting champion, 22 y/old second baseman César Prieto, along with two seasoned players that will provide some power: third baseman Pavel Quesada (12 HR/.566 SLG/190 ISO) and outfielder Juan M. Soriano (9 HR/.438 SLG). A player to watch is slick-fielding shortstop Luis Vicente Mateo, who had 100 hits, 54 RBIs, and a .469 slugging this year. Veteran outfielder Yusniel Ibáñez (.317 BA, .467 SLG, 55 RBIs) I still productive, even when his speed around the bases has dropped.

Pitching was the key for Cienfuegos against Matanzas this year, but overall, during the season Cienfuegos had the fifth worst ERA of the year, an alarming 5.61. Yasmani Insúa, Abel Campos (6-4-4.80), and Adrián Bueno (6-8-6.51) should be the starters, and they will need to have great outings if they want to be able to stop Matanzas hitters. In contrast, Cienfuegos’ relievers had the fourth best ERA (5.09) of the season. Carlos D. Ramírez, 35 games, 12 saves, and 3.69 ERA, is the closer. If the Elefantes manage to get to the nineth inning with a lead, they will need Ramírez to be able to lock it down. He blew only 3 saves opportunities this season. Luis A. Serpa, José Ozuna, and Hermes González will be the long arms of Cienfuegos bullpen this postseason.

I believe a key factor this postseason will be Yoanni Yera. If Yera can consistently dominate in the playoffs, then there should be nothing to stop the Cocodrilos, even if they go the distance in any series, unless they are outpitched.

Prediction: Matanzas over Cienfuegos

(Top photos of Yasmani Insúa: Osvaldo Gutiérrez & Yoanni Yera: Ricardo López Hevia, Photo of Yadir Drake: John Vila Acosta/Photo of César Prieto: István Ojeda Bello)



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