Wednesday, March 08, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: USA Preview; Pool-C

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

POOL-C: @ Miami, USA
  • Columbia
  • Dominican Republic
  • Canada
  • United States

Is This The Year Team USA Finally Wins the World Baseball Classic?

This much is true: they've been their own worst naysayer.

There's no disguising how the World Baseball Classic gets taken far more seriously everywhere else on the globe outside America - ironically the country where the game originated, yet where WBC apathy rules the day.

The number of USA's best players willing to participate speaks for itself.  Some top tier players relish the opportunity of playing for their country.  But just not enough of the game's elite consider the WBC -- a meaningless exhibition -- worthy enough of breaking routines, compromising perceived obligations to their organizations, or risking injury.  I begrudge none of them.  After all, this country taught its children to win World Series championships, not round robin tournaments against other countries.  You can arguably blame USA's ambivalence towards international interaction.  After all, the 2006 WBC was the first time American major league players were able to compete in international competition.

For the moment, national teams still just aren't America's cup of tea ... yet.  The Classic and soccer's World Cup are making small strides towards changing that.  The evolution, though, will remain slow.

USA advanced to the second round of the 2006 WBC, then advanced to the 2009 semi-finals.  In 2013, they were eliminated in the second round after consecutive losses to eventual WBC champion Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Entering 2017, I feel Jim Leyland is the best manager Team USA has ever named (Buck Martinez, Davey Johnson, Joe Torre).

However, I have reservations regarding USA starting pitchers.  Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer will open USA pool play when he climbs the hill on Friday against Columbia.  I have no issues there.
After Archer matters become more uncertain.  How will Marcus Stroman and Danny Duffy fare against the Dominican Republic and Canada?  It's still undetermined how Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray and Drew Smyly will be worked into the mix.  However, USA sports a good bullpen with Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and serviceable Tyler Clippard.

USA is strong behind the plate with Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy sharing duties.  The rest of the diamond will be manned by the likes of Daniel Murphy, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Eric Hosmer, Ian Kinsler.  An outfield comprised of Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones and Christian Yelich, looks good on paper and should be able to hold their own against a slugging team like the Dominican Republic, right?

*          *          *

Once again a heavy favorite, the Dominican Republic are the defending World Baseball Classic champions.  And once again, manager Felipe Alou will have many names to chose from when filling out his line-up card.  However, according to this USA Today article, manager Tony Pena told his Dominican contingent they'll need to check their egos at the door if they intend to repeat.  Once listed as questionable, Adrian Beltre may play in round one after all.  Otherwise, Robinson Cano leads a well stacked crew consisting of Jose Batista, Manny Machado, Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, Starling Marte, et al.  Jeurys Familia, Hansel Robles, and Dellin Betances, gives D.R. a representative bullpen, while Johnny Cueto and Carlos Martinez headline the starting rotation.

Oh Canada ... they have their work cut out for them.  Perhaps the most notable player not playing for them is Joey Votto.  Instead, Canada will feature Justin Morneau, Freddie Freeman, and Pete Orr in the infield.  On the mound, they hope to get an assist from 39- year old Ryan Dempster who pitched for the 2013 world champion Red Sox, and from 41-year old reliever Eric Gagne who pitched briefly for Ottowa of the Can-Am League last season, and even touched 93-mph on the radar gun.  It's been eight years, however, since he last threw a major league pitch.  Canada still might be better off activating members of their coaching staff: Bert Blylevin, Ernie Whitt, and Larry Walker.

This is Colombia's first participation in the World Baseball Classic.  They defeated the field of Panama, Spain, and France in the WBC #2 Qualifier played last March in Panama City.  There's still a chance former Mets prospect Dilson Herrera could participate for Columbia.  Keep an eye on catcher Jorge Alfaro.  Otherwise, Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran should provide representative pitching ... if nothing else.

updated 9:30pm

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