Pitching consistency needs to carry over into postseason
The Manila Sharks are tearing Baseball Philippines Series 3 apart.
With its 10-1 record at the conclusion of the regular season and a pitching staff that has allowed the fewest runs in the league, Manila is once again playing the role of favorite with the goal of winning its first-ever championship.
Although heavily-favored, Sharks manager Jhoel Palanog remains wary about his team’s chances in the semi-finals against the Dumaguete Uni-Bikers.
While the Sharks have beaten the Uni-bikers three straight since the latter’s debut in Series 2, all the games have been decided by three runs or less. Their fourth encounter, in late May, was rained out with Manila up by a run.
“Siyempre kahit top team kami ngayon kailangan pa rin maghanda sa semis,” Palanog said in tagalog. “Yun mga ibang teams nagpalakas din ng roster at favorites din na manalo.”
Palanog cites in particular the Series 2 champion Cebu Dolphins and the streaking Batangas Bulls as among the teams that are also groomed to win this season’s crown.
“Nandyan pa rin ang Cebu, malakas pa din sila, at yung Batangas talagang maganda nilalaro nila sa ngayon,” added Palanog.
Manila has boasted one of, if not, the deepest rosters in the league. The Sharks are led by a core that includes right-handed pitcher Charlie Labrador (league-leading 4-1 record and 1.52 earned run average), third baseman Nino Tator (.354 BA, 13 RBI), and catcher Rommel Roja (.327 BA, 9 RBI), the Series 2 batting champion, all of whom are with the national team, and 42-year old veteran infielder Larry Icban.
The roster also boasts of collegiate players from Palanog’s National University Bulldogs and University Athletics Association of Philippines champion Adamson University Falcons which is skippered by Sharks coach Orlando Binarao, a one-time top-ranked player in the nation.
The team’s youth infusion is bannered by Falcons right-handed hurler and reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Romeo Jasmin who was 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA for the Sharks in 2007 and 2-0, 2.31 in Series 3.
Manila added depth to its team by acquiring veterans Francis Candela and Romy Bumagat from the Makati Mariners whose collective experience have helped the youth movement.
Production-wise, both leadoff hitter Candela and Bumagat have made significant contributions. Candela is batting at a .355 clip with a home run, while the 37-year old Bumagat is one of the top hitters in the league with a .556 BA along with five rbi.
“Malaki talaga ang tulong nila sa amin,” Palanog said of Candela and Bumagat. “Talagang lalo kaming lumalim sa lineup at nakakacontribute sila sa amin on a consistent basis.”
Despite being tagged as the favorites, the Sharks need to pull through when it matters the most — in the playoffs, particularly Labrador, who succumbed to fatigue late last season.
In Series 1 last year Manila got beat by then MVP left-handed hurler Ernesto Binarao and the Negros Roosters. In Series 2 they were similarly overwhelmed by the stellar pitching performance of Joseph Orillana and the Cebu Dolphins’ ‘Blue Sky Machine’ offense despite taking the Baseball Philippines Championship Series to a full three games.
Before this season’s playoffs, Palanog made plans for the team to continue its training while playing some exhibition matches to remain competitive.
“Baka maging factor din yung mahabang pahinga kaya matindi din na preparation dapat gawin namin,” he said.
With the playoffs now underway, the Sharks hope that a third time is a charm in their goal of winning it all.