Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Final Four Madness II

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Semi-Final #1
Puerto Rico def. Netherlands

United States
Los Angeles

Team USA finally earns opportunity to avenge their 2009 WBC Semi-Final Loss Against Japan.

In three previous World Baseball Classics, Team USA has yet to advance into the championship round.   

They bowed out of the first ever WBC in the second round.  Despite posting a controversial victory over Japan, USA was eliminated after consecutive losses to South Korea and Mexico.  They reached the final four in 2009, but this time were eliminated by Japan whom went on to capture their second straight WBC championship.  In 2013, USA scored a second round victory over Puerto Rico, but lost against eventual champion Dominican Republic, and then were eliminated from the tourney after a lost rematch against Puerto Rico.

For the moment, USA has merely matched their previous best showing with their second ever semi-finals appearance.  Tonight, they'll seek to change that.

Overcoming undefeated Japan, however, poses a daunting task.

After six games, some would argue USA's 4-2 record is a little suspect.  In truth, Team USA has offered up some good, a little bad, but nothing too ugly to speak of.

In Round One, USA barely defeated upstart Colombia in extra innings.  They followed up surrendering a 5-0 lead to Dominican Republic en rout to a ponderous 7-5 loss, then soundly defeated an outclassed Canadian squad in the Pool-C finale.

They opened Round Two defeating Venezuela (whom wound up being one of the most disappointing teams of this tournament).  USA unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of a 6-5 thriller against Puerto Rico in Game Two, but avenged their previous loss against defending champion Dominican Republic with a 6-3 victory to gain their second ever final four appearance.

Former 2003 first round draft pick, Baltimore Orioles outfielder, and San Diego native, Adam Jones continues playing like Captain America.  I don't care that he's presently under the Mendoza Line, batting .154 through six games.  He drove in the winning run during USA's extra-inning Pool-C opener against Colombia, hit the game tying home run against Venezuela opening Round Two, then homered against Puerto Rico, and most recently made a game saving catch in the seventh inning against Dominican Republic, reaching over the right/center field wall robbing Manny Machado of a home run.

Trust me ... I'm okay with that.

Daniel Murphy, however, has had six at-bats all tournament.  He started at DH and went 0 for 4 in USA's very first game against Colombia.  He then went 0 for 2 in USA's fifth game versus Venezuela, and that's it - that's been the full extent of his participation through six games.

Jim Leyland has tasked (Washington) Tanner Roark with starting Tuesday evening's showdown against Japan.  His lone appearance to date came in USA's second game of Pool-C play against Dominican Republic.  That was the game which started out so brilliantly with Marcus Stroman on the mound, and USA leading 5-0 through 5 1/2 innings of play.  

Then the roof caved in.

In relief of Stroman, Tanner Roark faced nine batters, throwing 41 pitches, but only 24 (58%) going for strikes.  He was tagged for three earned runs on three hits, two walks, with no strikeouts in just 1.1 innings of work.  Yet, he still somehow managed getting credited with a hold.

That doesn't exactly inspire confidence with regards to this evening's game.  But a look at his 2016 season totals should.  Roark appeared in 34 games and made 33 starts.  He pitched 210 innings, posting a 16-10 record with a 2.83 ERA/1.171 WHiP/.379 FIP, and a 7.4 K/9 average.

I will say this, though: Jim Leyland's handling of the bullpen, his selections, and negotiating match-ups, has left much to be desired.  I said it after game one against Colombia, and maintain that same opinion today.

Jim Leyland is faced with another dilemma in the outfield awaiting a decision: who to start between Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones.  And who to DH for that matter.

USA needs power!  They have hit seven home runs through six games, and none during the first two games of Pool-C.  Giancarlo Stanton finally came around during USA's most recent win over D.R. with his first knock of the tourney.

This is a revamped Japan team that has homered in every game they've played.  They have hit multiple home runs in four of their six games, and have hit ten overall.

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