Michael R. Stevens
What Hath Cuba to Do with Chicago?
So, we've waited for the NL West until last, as always, since to me the West Coast senior circuit competition is the most abstract and the least predictable. The Colorado Rockies early season success probably won't last: without a Cuban player, they will experience a natural disintegration. For the same reason, the reigning world-champ Giants will stay in the cellar this year (and they thought it was because of the free-agent defection of the Kung-Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval!). That leaves the Padres and the Dodgers as the true contenders (Arizona's not ready, but wait a year or two), and not just for the NL West but for the whole National League. The seriously retooled Padres will push hard, not only because they coaxed Matt Kemp to come down the highway from LA to SD, but also because the link to Cuba has brought Yonder Alonso and the lyrically named Odrisamer Despaigne to the Padre fold. Ah, the possibilities of springtime, in the city where it is always summertime (can anyone trace the last rain-out in San Diego?). All well and good, but the Dodgers rule the roost for the entire league when it comes to Cuban players, with the dynamic and difficult Yasiel Puig leading a host that includes Alex Guerrero, the name-rich pair Erisbel Arruebarrena and Yasmani Grandal, and more likely than not the next-kid-from-the-island Hector Olivera. Lots of talent, lots of mojo, and the wildcard not from Havana, but from Evansville, Indiana, in the form of manager Don Mattingly, my baseball hero in the golden years of icy, swampy, occasionally glorious high school baseball in upstate New York. Despite Kemp's valiant vengeance late in the season, the Dodgers will prevail in the West.
Indeed, the postseason will find the Padres and the Reds in the wild-card one-game tilt, with James Shields battling Johnny Cueto the full nine, until Yonder Alonso hits one yonder and the Reds head to Miami to play the Marlins. That means the Cubs will travel to Chavez Ravine to tilt with the juggernaut Dodgers, with the shades of Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson held in living memory during a nail-biting series that will swing back and forth from the sunshine of LA to the bluster of Wrigley in October. Will the rookie wonderboy Kris Bryant be able to tip the scales away from the Dodger's Cuban-fueled destiny? Can Jorge Soler strike a blow to the coterie of his countrymen wearing the Dodger blue? Will a late-season acquisition of Dayan Viciedo put the Cubs over the top?? I want to say yes, but for this one year, the Dodgers have chosen the path of victory (as well as to hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines to Major League Baseball and tens of millions of dollars in salaries—all for the services of these fine Cuban folk). Meanwhile, the Reds batter the Marlins in a sweep, fueled by the unexpected battery of Cuban rookie Raisel Iglesias and long-time back-up catcher and fellow-Cuban Brayan Pena (Pena also hits .750 in the series with 3 unlikely home-runs!). And so the NLCS will have the look of the 1970s to it, with the Reds and Dodgers returning to postseason prominence—but instead of Rawley Eastwick facing down Ron Cey at the key moment in Game 6, it will be Aroldis Chapman firing a triple-digit fastball to Yasiel Puig, in an all-Cuban finale, as Puig drives the right-center gap for a game-winning inside-the-park gallop! The Dodgers win the pennant, and all of Cuba rejoices!
In the American League, the White Sox will play the Royals in the wildcard, and these familiar foes will go scoreless to the edge of midnight, when Alexei Ramirez will offer the Cuban surge with a triple down the line, and his countryman Jose Abreu will score him, and win the game, on a sacrifice fly. No KC magic this fall—why did they let Brayan Pena go two years ago?! The White Sox will ride the surge into Boston, and the Sox vs. Sox battle will feature significant Cuban contributions—but will the known quantities of Abreu and Ramirez for Chicago trump the unproven youth movement of Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada in the Boston red and black? In honor of Minnie Minoso (and hopefully not as a slam to Luis Tiant), I see the Chicago team riding Abreu's stellar bat to a seventh game win.