Tuesday, March 28, 2017

USA Baseball: Team Eagle has Finally Landed

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

2 0 1 7

United States   8
Puerto Rico     0

Stars and Stripes Stumble Out of Starting Block, But Finish With a Flourish; Claim First Ever World Baseball Classic Title.

Just think - one lapse in concentration, a bad hop, a wild pitch, just one misplay, and The Eagle might have never landed on the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium.

Had USA fallen to Colombia in their very first match of the World Baseball Classic - against which they needed ten innings before finally emerging victorious - we might not even be having this discussion.

That's because America's Nine suffered a demoralizing loss during their very next game against Dominican Republic in which they blew a sixth inning, 5-0 lead, en route to a 7-5 loss.  However, Stars-n-Stripes rebounded smartly, closing out Round One with an 8-0 trouncing of Canada.

The Dominican Republic posted a 3-0 record in Pool-C play, whereas Team USA with a 2-1 record might have arguably benefited from a weak field.

Team USA easily handled Venezuela's all-star line-up opening Round Two of pool play.  But then suffered their second (and final) setback of the Classic, losing a hotly contested match against Puerto Rico by a 6-5 final, in which they stranded the tying run in the top of the ninth on third base.

USA continued forward, though, gaining a measure of revenge during their rematch against the defending WBC champions with a 6-3 victory over Dominican Republic, and thus securing themselves a Third Round appearance among the WBC's final four.

The highly anticipated semi-final game against undefeated Japan featured a classic pitchers duel - with every pun intended. Starting for USA, Tanner Roark threw four innings of scoreless baseball, allowing but two hits.  Six relievers followed, combining to limit Japan's potent line-up to a lone run on just two more hits.

Giving credit where it's due, Japan starter was no less up to the task, pitching six strong innings, while allowing USA one run on three hits and a walk, with six strikeouts.

With one out in the top of the eighth, Adam Jones' fielder's choice scored shortstop Brandon Crawford from third giving USA their slim, but final 2-1 margin of victory.

What USA then accomplished in the WBC final game against formidable and likewise undefeated Puerto Rico went far beyond expectations.  Team Borinquen entered Wednesday's final having pounded their opposition into submission, easily leading the tournament in runs scored.  But they say good pitching trumps good hitting, and that's exactly what happened.

Team USA starting pitchers performed superbly throughout the entire WBC tournament.  And Wednesday's championship game proved no different.  Making his second appearance of the games, Marcus Stroman whitewashed Puerto Rico through six innings, allowing but one hit and a walk, while fanning three.  In facing 19 batters he threw 77 pitches with 44 going for strikes, while inducing 11 ground balls, and just one fly.

Jim Leyland handed the ball off to relievers Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek, in the seventh and eighth respectively, then to David Robertson for the ninth.  The trio combined for three scoreless innings of two hit ball, with a walk and three more strikeouts.

Offensively, USA saved their best for last, pounding out eight runs, and hitting safely against each of Puerto Rico's eight pitchers.  Puerto Rico previously limited USA to seven hits during their Second Round encounter.  This time around, America's Nine stroked a team high 13 hits, topping their previous high of eleven set against Canada and matched against Venezuela.

Ian Kinsler opened the scoring in the third inning off starter Seth Lugo with a two-run knock to center.  After which USA never looked back, continuing to pile on six more unanswered runs.  USA got two more RBI each from Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Crawford, and single runs batted in from Christian Yelich and (Miami team mate) Giancarlo Stanton.

In all aspects of play, this was by far their finest performance of the tournament.

So now that USA has won one of these, how will this affect local and national fan interest levels moving forward?  And how, if at all, can winning a WBC title help sway America's more elite ball players into participating?

On a Related Note:  Extra! Extra! Forget All About It!

With regard to my particular local tabloids, their coverage of the 2017 World Baseball Classic flat out sucked.  The 2006 and 2009 Classics were treated with back page covers, and full multi page spreads featuring game photography, in depth summaries, accompanying articles, and just about every boxscore of tournament play.  Coverage was dialed back somewhat during the 2013 Classic, but this scrapbook maker nonetheless found the content at least satisfactory.  But no, the effort put forth was not as extensive as that of the previous two Classics.

This year's coverage was virtually non existent.  Not a single back page was given. Most mentions of the Classic were treated as mere afterthoughts.  The championship game only received one lone quarter panel lost among the ads from one tabloid, with no mention anywhere on the back page that a baseball game even took place.

The NYT did a better job.  And the Asian papers did even better prior to Korea's, Taiwan's, and China's respective elimination.  The Oggi Italia was good for two half panels, and the local Mexican tabloid was useful too.  I could always count on USAToday for good coverage.  They started okay, sputtered, then finished strongly.  Lastly, El Diario always does a superior job covering not just the WBC, but the Winter Leagues as well.

But I must say I was once again counting on USAToday for quality scrapbook content, 

Overall, though, the American papers left much for me to be desired.

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 Wrold Baseball Classic: Final Four Madness

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Netherlands * Puerto Rico * United States * Japan

Puerto Rico

The Netherlands entered the 2017 World Baseball Classic with expectations of reaching the Second Round.  Congratulations to them on a job well done.  

Didi Gregorius has Netherlands in the semi finals, and must now somehow lead them against impressive Puerto Rico.

Netherlands enters the semi-finals with a 4-2 tournament record, having registered victories over Korea, Taiwan, a rematch win over Israel, and a commanding victory over Cuba.  They we upset by Israel in the first round, and lost to (still undefeated) Japan opening Round Two.

To date, Netherlands has outscored their opponents by an 45-20 margin.  Much of that can be explained by their most recent victories: a 12-2 romp over Israel, followed by a 14-1 dismantling of Cuba.  Said another way, Netherlands enters Monday's showdown against Puerto Rico on a roll.

Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, and Wladimir Balentien, are capable of providing Netherlands with sufficient slugging potential against Puerto Rico.

Team Borinquen enters the semi-final undefeated, registering victories over Mexico, Italy, Dominican Republic, United States, and a pair of victories over Venezuela.  They've outscored their opponents by a 52-15 margin.

They played a thriller against Team USA last Friday.  Puerto Rico led 6-3 through the eighth.  USA rallied for a pair of runs on Brandon Crawford's triple in the top of the ninth.  But with two and the game tying run on third, reliever Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison swinging to end the game.

Puerto Rico roughed up USA starter Marcus Stroman right away, scoring four earned runs in the first inning.  Stroman allowed eight hits, walked one, and fanned a pair through 4.2 innings pitched.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

N.Y. Mets: Terrible Terry Lashes Out

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Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic Showdown: USA vs. Puerto Rico Preview

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


United States
Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is undefeated through four games of World Baseball Classic play.

They were far and away the class of Pool-D, offering no quarter to opponents Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy.  Puerto Rico outscored the field by a 32-8 margin, and out-hit them by a similar 36-13 margin.

In a rematch of the 2013 WBC final, Puerto Rico most recently defeated Dominican Republic opening Round Two play.  Their 3-1 victory was the most tightly contested game they've played to date.  Each team was limited to six hits.

So far Puerto Rico has hit eight home runs and have committed just one error in the field.

New York Mets pitcher Seth Lugo will climb the hill again for Puerto Rico in their Friday night showdown against Team USA.  He started Puerto Rico's opening game of the WBC against Venezuela, surrendering just one hit and striking out three over 5.1 scoreless innings of work.

Team USA's most recent victory over Venezuela was perhaps their best played game of the tournament so far.

They have outscored their four opponents by a somewhat less prolific 20-11 margin.  However, USA has matched Puerto Rico's 36 hits during the tourney (while allowing their opponents 24 hits).  They are also coming off back-to-back 11 hit games (against Canada and Venezuela).

Team USA's strength has easily been their starting pitching.  Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy, and Drew Smyly, all started a game apiece.  Together, they have combined to allow just one unearned run on eight hits and no walks, with 22 strikeouts through 17.1 stellar innings pitched. None has yet to pitch five full innings.

Marcus Stroman returns to the mound for USA against Puerto Rico.

mural; street art

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: USA Late Strike Defeats Venezuela

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Venezuela        2
United States  4

Adam Jones Continues Leading USA in Right Direction

Team USA put forth perhaps their most complete performance to date, despite Venezuela leading 2-0 through the top of the seventh inning,

Venezuela opened the scoring as Carlos Gonzalez crossed the plate on Ender Inciarte's sac-fly to center.

Third baseman Rougned Odor later gave Venezuela a 2-0 lead with a home run to right in the top of the seventh.  But USA got a run back in the bottom of the frame when Jonathan Lucroy delivered home Eric Hosmer with a sac-fly to right.

Generally speaking, taking a lead in the bottom of the eighth is golden ... just ask Japan.  And Team USA did just that.   Center fielder Adam Jones tied the game at two with a lead-off home run to left/center.  Left fielder Christian Yelich followed with a single.  Then with one out, Eric Hosmer homered to right/center, giving USA a 4-2 lead, and final margin of victory.

On the mound, Seattle's Drew Smyly provided team USA with their fourth straight high quality performance.  He faced 16 Venezuelan batters over 4.2 innings, throwing 64 pitches with 44 going for strikes.  Smyly allowed one unearned run due to his own throwing error in the third, but otherwise allowed just three hits, no walks, and struck out eight batters before exiting on the losing side of a (then) 1-0 game.  Smyly needed to be that good because his Mariners team mate, King Felix Hernandez, pitched five innings of scoreless, three hit baseball against USA, with three strikeouts.

Jim Leyland utilized five relievers over the final 5.1 innings of the game, whom collectively limited Venezuela to one run on just three hits, issued one walk, and fanned a pair.

USA's victory sets up a Pool-F showdown versus undefeated Puerto Rico.

Made In The USA...

Former 2003 first round draft pick, Baltimore Orioles outfielder, and San Diego native, Adam Jones gets my preliminary vote for team MVP.  He drove in the winning run during USA's extra-inning Pool-C opener against Colombia, and in Round Two hit the game tying home run against Venezuela.   His is 5 for 18 (.278) through four games, with two doubles, a home run, three RBI, and three runs scored.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Cuba Exits With a Whimper

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


JAPAN (3-0)
ISRAEL (1-2)
CUBA (0-3)


!Adios Cuba!  They'll have lots of explaining to do...

They exit with what I'll call a nationally disappointing 2-4 record, punctuated by a dismal 0-3 performance in Round Two, and leave behind many unanswered questions.

Chief among them: what happened?

Netherlands ended Cuba's participation in the WBC in a 14-1 rout, in which Cuba was limited to just five hits.

Talk about going out with a whimper ...

This was easily there poorest showing in four Classics.  Cuba played fundamentally poor in the field, particularly behind the plate.  Their pitching was not up to snuff.  And they failed to distinguish themselves at the plate.  In fact, Cuba matched their opponents with 55 hits both for and against, but were outscored by a considerable 23-40 margin through six games.  Their last game against Netherlands may have skewed the numbers somewhat, but Team Cuba as a whole nevertheless appeared flat throughout the tournament.

Next World Baseball Classic can't come soon enough for gamely Team Israel.

In a must win situation, Israel finally bows out of the World Baseball Classic after an 8-3 defeat against Japan.  

However, advancing into Round Two should not go under spoken.  This was a huge step forward for Israeli baseball.  They certainly enjoyed an impressive run.  I'm yet to hear one person call them a fluke, which indeed would be farthest from the truth.  Israel registered legitimate victories over such favorites as Korea, Cuba, and Netherlands, and over a much improved Taiwan.  Only after winning four straight did they fall to Netherlands in a rematch, then lose their second straight against still undefeated Japan.

I also previously watched them win all three of their WBC Qualifier games played last September in Brooklyn.

2017 World Baseball Classic: Puerto Rico Quiets Dominican Republic

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

Puerto Rico (1-0)
United States
Dominican R. (0-1)

Puerto Rico was runner up to Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and have been waiting to avenge that loss ever since.

On Tuesday, they finally did to the Dominican Republic what no other team has managed against them since the 2009 Classic - defeat them.  Dominican Republic previously ran the table during the aforementioned 2013 tournament, and entered Tuesday's game undefeated through three games of pool play.  But their 11-0 run met its end with Puerto Rico's 3-1 victory in the opener of Round Two play in San Diego.

Headlining Puerto Rico's evening was catcher Yadier Molina for his handling of Puerto Rico's pitching staff, for his defensive play, and for his contributions at the plate.

Puerto Rico escaped near disaster in the top of the first.  Jean Segura led off the game with a single, Manny Machado doubled, Robinson Cano drew a walk, and just like that, Dominican Republic had the bases loaded with no outs.  Puerto Rico starter Orlando Roman settled down to strike out Jose Bautista.  First baseman Carlos Santana then followed with a fly ball hit somewhat deeply to right. Eddie Rosario positioned himself for the catch, then fired home nailing Jean Segura attempting to tag from third on the play.

In the bottom half of the frame - you guessed it - Yadier Molina's RBI single staked Puerto Rico to a 1-0 lead.

With one out in the top of the second, Nelson Cruz - not so unexpectedly - tied the score with a home run to right/center.

Orlando Roman was relieved after a shaky start, allowing a run on three hits and two walks, with three strikeouts over 2.1 innings.  From then on, four Puerto Rico relievers combined to subdue Dominican Republic for the final 6.2 innings of the game.  Together, they allowed D.R. no runs on just three hits, with four walks and seven strikeouts.

Right fielder Eddie Rosario's double in the fourth scored Javier Baez from second for a 2-1 lead.  And Yadier Molina then capped off the scoring with a line drive home run into the left field corner, giving Puerto Rico a 3-1 lead, and final margin of victory.

Edwin Diaz pitched the ninth, fanning two for the save.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic Musings

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL





  • Israel (3-0)
  • Netherlands (2-1)


  • South Korea (1-2)
  • Chinese Taipei (0-3)

Israel stuns the world; easily the top story of Round One.  Netherlands baseball is no longer a secret; they can hit with the best of 'em.  South Korea is in a state of shock; once considered a perennial lock for Round Two.  Chinese Paipei played much better than their record indicates.



  • Japan (3-0)
  • Cuba (2-1)


  • Australia (1-2)
  • China (0-3)

No surprises here.  Feature game no doubt was the rematch between Japan and Cuba.  Team Japan enters the WBC with a completely revamped roster.  Cuba not looking as sharp as in previous Classics.  Australia displayed unexpected power, and came damn close to pulling off an upset against Cuba.



  • Dominican R. (3-0)
  • United States (2-1)


  • Colombia (1-2)
  • Canada (0-3)

Poor showing for Canada; they'll be forced to re-qualify.  Colombia was another major surpise of Round One.  They gave major headaches to every team they faced.  USA needed extra innings against Colombia, and are somewhat lucky to have advanced.  Dominican Republic line-up is doing exactly what was predicted of them.



  • Puerto Rico (3-0)
  • Venezuela (1-2)*


  • Italy (1-2)
  • Mexico (1-2)
*tie-breaker - Venezuela def. Italy

Venezuela becomes the most dangerous team of the tourney if only because they just barely survived the first round thanks to tie-breakers. Their line-up is an all-star team unto itself, but have not wielded their big sticks yet.  That's what makes them dangerous; they're lick a ticking time bomb.   Puerto Rico is smooth and balanced, and are right where they should be.  They are dealing with very high expectations.  Mexico bowing out was a surprise, as well as a disappointment.  Italy was the most resilient and tenacious team of Round One. They could very easily be in Round Two over Venezuela, but they just came up one break short.



  • Japan (2-0)
  • Netherlands (1-1)
  • Israel (1-1)
  • Cuba (0-2)

Japan has done all the right things, and remain undefeated.  Cuba on the other hand, deserves to be right where they are.  They haven't been sharp to begin with, and played a particularly sloppy rematch game against Japan.  Errors no doubt cost them a victory.  Look out for Netherlands!  They take on Cuba next in a game with Trump-like "huge" implications.


  • Dominican Republic
  • United States
  • Puerto Rico
  • Venezuela

Underway in San Diego, California.

A World Baseball Classic Rivalry: Japan vs. Cuba II

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

Pool - E

JAPAN          2-0
Netherlands  1-1
ISRAEL        1-1
CUBA            0-2

Netherlands  12
Israel              2

Team Israel experienced their first ever taste of defeat in World Baseball Classic competition, and it was bitter to say the least.  A consortium of eight Israel pitchers managed little to stem the rate of Netherlands production, whom pounded out 15 hits and 12 runs.  Designated hitter Did Gregorius lead the charge going 2 for 3, with a walk, double, home run, five RBI, and three runs scored.  Clean-up hitter and right fielder Wladimir Balentien went 3 for 4 with a walk, three runs scored and three RBI.

With pitching limits extended in the Second Round, Netherlands starter Jair Jurrjens (who last pitched for Colorado in 2014) faced 23 batters, throwing 74 pitches with 53 going for strikes.  He threw six innings, allowing just a run on five hits, and fanned five for the victory.


In what has fast become a genuine WBC rivalry, Cuba looking to turn tables on undefeated Japan.

In their view I'm sure, Cuba is coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss against Israel.  Los Cubanos previously fared no better against Japan during the WBC Pool-A opening game one week ago, in which they bowed by an 11-6 final.

In four games to date, Cuba has defeated China and Australia - not exactly Murderer's Row and the Gas House Gang.  Then there's aforementioned losses against Japan and Israel to ponder.  And so will the real Cuban team please stand up?  Because so far the Cuban level of competition we've been growing accustomed to has yet to materialize.

The new breed Team Japan is still undefeated after four games of tournament  play.  With Pool-A proving a rather weak division, Netherlands represented their toughest opponent to date.  Japan emerged victorious by a close 8-6 margin.  Japan has nonetheless outscored their opponents through four games by a 30-16 margin.

CUBA   5

Look What Japan Did To Cuba ... Again!

Japan jumped out to an immediate lead with a one-out Tetsuto Yamada home run to left/center.  Cuba answered right back with a two-run home run in the top of the second from second baseman Yurisbel Gracial.

Japan then tied things up in the third, but Cuba continued pressing forward with two more runs in the top of the fourth on a two run single from right fielder Victor Mesa.  Japan struck again for a pair in the fifth to knot the game at four.  Each team would then trade a run in the sixth to forge another five all tie.

In the bottom of the eighth, it was Japan who would emerge to deliver a knockout blow.  A run scoring sac-fly broke the deadlock, then Tetsuto Yamada gave Japan an 8-5 lead with his second home run of the game.

Kazuhisa Makita pitched a scoreless ninth with a pair of strikeouts to earn the save.

What a great game!

Cuba is obviously in a bind.  They must win their upcoming game against Netherlands, while Israel must lose to Japan in the Pool-E finale in order to forge a three-way tie.  WBC tie-breaker math will eliminate one of the three.  The remaining teams will then participate in a tie-breaker game.

N.Y. Mets: Spring Training Pot Pourri

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Mets starting pitching, 
infield depth, Terry Collins,
strength and conditioning,
My major World Baseball Classic rant,
Jackie Robinson, Mets who've worn #42,
Dave Kingman, Bamby's Bandits,
and much more.

Rising Apple Spring Training Previews

These are Rising Apple collaborative articles presenting our respective views.  I invite you to read them all.  You'll find mine a few pages in.
Five more installments still to come.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: USA Finally Gets Act Together

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Dominican Republic Reminds USA Who's Game This "Was"

The other day I thought over-extending the bullpen in Game One against Colombia wound wind up costing the United States dearly against the Dominican Republic.  Needless to say, after a game that started out so promisingly ended in agonizing defeat for Jim Leyland and Team USA, I stand by that.

Everything started off great.  USA led 5-0 after 5 1/2 innings helped along by RBI from left fielder Christian Yelich, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.  Even better, starter Marcus Stroman pitched brilliantly (just like Chris Archer before him), throwing 4.2 innings of scoreless, three hit baseball.  He faced 17 batters, and threw a full allotment of 64 pitches with 37 going for strikes.  He did not allow a walk and fanned four.

After which, the wheels on USA's wagon essentially fell off.  Dominican Republic went on to score seven unanswered runs, highlighted by an explosive four-run eighth inning.

Leyland initially utilized Tanner Roark - a starter for the Nationals - in relief of Stroman, whom proceeded to allowed three earned runs on three hits, including a home run.  Later in the eighth, Jim Leyland allowed reliever Andrew Miller to face six batters, in which he surrendered three hits with two going for home runs - but none more devastating than Nelson Cruz' three-run rope into the second outfield deck at Marlins Park.

  • The game set a Marlins Park record for attendance.  Moreover, the clearly partisan crowd in Miami roared for the Dominican Republic.
  • Even if you're a fan who is still on the fence regarding the World Baseball Classic, how could you not get caught up in this game?

USA Finally Fires on All Cylinders Against Canada

Team America received a third straight stellar performance from their starting pitcher.  Kansas City Royal Danny Duffy faced 14 batters, and threw a full allotment of 63 pitches with 44 going for strikes.  He pitched four scoreless innings of two hit baseball, with no walks, and a nifty seven strikeouts to earn the victory.  Canada fared no better against USA's bullpen, whom combined on five innings of scoreless, two hit baseball, walking one, and striking out eight.

Canada's starter Ryan Dempster made a nice effort to participate in these games, but in truth he failed to be even somewhat effective.  USA encountered no problem scoring early and often against him.  A pair of RBI from Eric Hosmer and another from Buster Posey staked USA to a 3-0 lead in the first.   In the second, Nolan Arenado launched a three run home run over the left/center field wall.  Posey promptly followed with his second RBI of the game, giving USA a 7-0 lead.

Buster Posey homered in the seventh for good measure as Team USA dispatched Canada by an 8-0 final to advance into Round Two.

2017 World Baseball Classic: La Nuova Forza del Baseball?

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL




Caesar would have been proud ...

The Venezuelan monster has awoken!

It's only the first round, and we've already been treated with numerous unexpected surprises, and major upsets.  But make no mistake - despite any potential elimination from pool play Italy will go down as one of, if not the most resilient team of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

While their opening game victory over Mexico easily qualifies as an instant classic (every pun intended), their follow up game against Venezuela proved no less thrilling, albeit less successful.  

Unfortunately for Italy, the Venezuelan monster awoke from its slumber to wreak havoc against them at the plate.

Italy led Venezuela 5-0 through the first four innings of play.  One could argue Italy blew that lead.
In fact, I previously accused Italy in my Pool-D preview of lacking the pitching required to contend with Mexico, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

However, the phantom truth of the matter lay in Venezuela's failure to score over their first 13 innings of WBC play.  It was just a matter of time before they started rustling, and sure enough the monster finally awoke midway against Italia.  They scored three runs in the fifth, two runs in the sixth, and three more runs in the seventh, giving Venezuela an abrupt 8-5 lead.

Undeterred, Italy struck back with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, then tied the game in the eighth.  It can be said they were now poking the monster.  And sure enough with one on and one out in the top of the ninth, catcher Salvador Perez went deep for an 8-6 Venezuelan lead.

But the Spartan-like Nine countered yet again.  With one run already across the plate, Mets prospect Gavin Cecchini lined a game tying single to center field.

Into extra innings they went.  And not surprisingly, Martin Prado's RBI double put Venezuela back on top in the tenth.

Italy was then retired in order to finally end this wild affair.

Italy    3
P.R.     9

Despite their spirited performance against both Mexico and Venezuela, Italia unfortunately stood no chance against Puerto Rico.  As I said, not nearly enough pitching.  Italy was forced to start Luis Lugo, a 23-year old power pitcher who owns a 4.10 ERA through 531.1 innings pitched in rookie and A-level ball.  That's fine, just not against Puerto Rico's polished line-up.

Italy twice went deep in posting three early runs.  But Puerto Rico - playing as the home team - matched them to forge a 3-3 tie after just two innings.  After which, Puerto Rico poured it on, tacking on six more runs in the third through fifth innings.  Their bullpen then did what Venezuela's could not: shut the Italians down the rest of the way.

Puerto Rico starter Jose Berrios allowed three runs on just two hits and a walk, with six strikeouts to earn the victory.  The bullpen combined on four scoreless innings of one-hit ball, with a walk and three strikeouts.

Puerto Rico defeated Italy 9-3, and in doing so, handed Italy their second loss of pool play.

However, even despite Venezuela's Sunday loss against Mexico, Venezuela still qualifies to play Italy in a tie-breaker game on Monday.

Forza di Baseball: Italia

Quite surprisingly, Italy has not suffered a lack of power.  They've hit an astonishing eight home runs in just three games.  Problem is, they've been outscored by their opponents 23-29 (largely due to Puerto Rico).  That said, the only reason Venezuela will play the tie-breaker, and not Mexico, is because MEX bullpen sucks a mere fraction more than VEN's.  Once thought to be respective strengths, they've been terrible.  That said, Venezuela's bullpen will be coming off a taxing night against Mexico which may clear the way for Italy generating scoring chances.

Otherwise, in order for Italy to defeat Venezuela and advance into Round Two, they must pitch their finest game to date.

  • Italy will be without the services of Brandon Nimmo - who has played very well - due to a strained hamstring.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Pool-E Play Underway

from the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL



Israel Humbles Cuba in Pool-E Opener

Israel opened Second Round play on Saturday with yet another major upset, this time against mighty Team Cuba.  They remain undefeated at 4-0, and if you include last September's 2016 WBC Qualifier, Israel has now won seven straight games.

Cuba jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second on Alfredo Despaigne's third home run of the tournament, but would muster little else.  They managed just five hits for the game.  Israel starter Jason Marquis played a hand in that through 5.2 innings pitched, allowing one run on four hits and a walk, with four strikeouts.  At the plate, Israel got a pair of clutch two-out RBI from catcher Ryan Lavarnway and left fielder Blake Gailen en route to a 4-1 victory.

Revamped Japan Squad Better Than Ever

Japan and Netherlands battled toe-to-toe like a pair of heavyweights in their Pool-E opener.  Each line-up taking turns landing clutch hits, and launching huge home runs.  As such, both starting pitchers were knocked out of the box after just three innings of work, and after surrendering five runs apiece.

A duel of bullpens ensued lasting through the tenth inning.  However, not before Japan broke a five-all tie with a run in the fifth.  They carried that lead into the ninth inning.  In the bottom of the frame - you guessed it - Netherlands Xander Bogearts drew a one-out walk, and later scored on Jonathan Schoop's base hit that deflected off Japan second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi and into center field.

After a scoreless tenth inning, WBC rules dictate that each inning thereafter begin with runners on first and second.  As visitor, Japan wasted no time advancing the runners with a lead-off sacrifice bunt.  Next up, first baseman Sho Nakata laced a single to left plating both runners for an 8-6 lead.

Netherlands then took their turn with runners on first and second in the bottom of the 11th.  Leading-off, Jurickson Profar popped-up to second invoking the infield fly rule.  Xander Borgearts grounded into a fielder's choice.  Then with two outs and runners on the corners, right field replacement Kilian Sams popped out to the catcher in foul territory to end the game.

Netherlands drops to par (2-2) while Japan remains undefeated with a 4-0 record.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Adam Jones Saves USA From Colombia

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


POOL-C: Showdown! USA vs. Dominican Republic
  • Dominican R.      1-0
  • United States      1-0
  • Colombia            1-1
  • Canada               0-2

Colombia        2
United States  3

Did manager Jim Leyland almost blow the game?

Think about it ... the score was tied 2-2 after nine innings.  Colombia's starter Jose Quintana (White Sox) threw his full allotment of pitches, which was good enough for 5.2 innings of work.  He allowed one run on one hit and a walk, while fanning four.  Colombia then utilized three relief pitchers through the tenth inning.

Chris Archer started for Team USA.  He only tossed four innings due to the Tampa Bay Rays' expressed desire of limiting his innings.  Archer nevertheless pitched superbly, allowing no runs, no hits, no walks, and striking out three.  Jim Leyland then utilized five relievers while maneuvering USA through the ninth.  Tyler Clippard pitched the tenth inning, making it six relievers on the night - all basically given an inning each of responsibility.  Said another way, Leyland exhausted all but three members of his bullpen, with a game against Dominican Republic scheduled the very next day.

  • Had the game extended into the 11th inning, WBC rules dictate each half inning from that point forward would start with runners on first and second base.

Lucky for Leyland, Orioles slugger Adam Jones made that a moot point.  Jones and Christian Yelich were the only ones to hit with any kind of authority against Quintana and Colombia pitching.  Jones drove in USA's first run in the sixth with a double lined down the left field line scoring Brandon Crawford.  His base hit to center in the bottom of the tenth center plated Yelich from third for the victory.

Whoa Canada!

Team Canada lost their second straight.  After dropping the Pool-C opener against Dominican Republic, Canada bowed to surprisingly tough Colombia.  Despite jumping out to a quick 1-0 first inning lead on Freddie Freeman's RBI single, Colombia went on to score four unanswered runs to claim their first victory of the tournament.

Yankees product, shortstop Donovan Solano went 2 for 5 with two RBI for Colombia.  Starter Julio Teheran (Braves) completed five innings, allowing just one run on two hits and a walk, with three strikeouts for the victory.

2017 World Baseball Classic: Pair of Mets Shine for Puerto Rico

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Venezuela       0
Puerto Rico  11

New York Mets sophomore Seth Lugo and rookie J.T. Rivera are Puerto Rico's latest shining stars of the Caribbean.

Making the start in Puerto Rico's opening match of Pool-D play against Venezuela, Seth Lugo kept silent a formidable line-up featuring Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Jose Altuve, Martin Prado, Odubel Herrera, Salvador Perez, et al.

Lugo threw 5.1 innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball, walking none and fanning three for the victory.  He faced 17 batters, throwing 65 pitches with 40 going for strikes.

Credit must also be given to catcher Yadier Molina for guiding Lugo through his way.

Venezuela was limited to just three hits all game.

Playing first base and batting eighth, T.J. Rivera went 1 for 3 three at the plate.  He drove in Puerto Rico's first run in the bottom of the third inning with a sac-fly to center scoring Eddie Rosario.  He then would plate Eddie Rosario yet again in the seventh with a home run to center, capping a six run outburst en route to an 11-0 whitewashing of Venezuela.

An original Brooklyn Cyclone from 2001 and former Met, Angel Pagan went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts.  Third baseman Carlos Correa and Yadier Molina also homered for Puerto Rico.  Right fielder Eddie Rosario went 3 for 4 with two RBI.  Designated hitter Carlos Beltran went 1 for 2, with two walks and two RBI.

Puerto Rico

Friday, March 10, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Pool Play Updates

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

POOL-A: Israel Upsets Field; Netherlands Advances
  • Israel                  3-0
  • Netherlands       2-1
  • South Korea        1-2
  • Chinese Taipei    0-3
Team Israel Upending Pool A
Pool-A Recap

POOL-B: Japan Completes Sweep; Cuba Advances
  • Japan        3-0
  • Cuba         2-1
  • Australia    1-2
  • China         0-3
Game One: Japan defeats Cuba in Pool-B Opener

On Wednesday, Japan limited Australia to one run on just five hits en route to a 4-1 victory.  First baseman Sho Nakata homered in the seventh to break a one all tie.  Left fielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo then connected on his second home run of the tournament, as Japan improved to 2-0 in pool play.   Starter Tomoyuki Sugano allowed one run on four hits, with four strikeouts through 4.1 innings of work.

Japan completed a sweep of Pool-B on Friday with a commanding 7-1 victory over China.  In all, Japan outscored their three opponents by a 22-8 margin, and out-hit them by a 30-21 margin.

Cuba also handled China with the greatest of ease during their second match, limiting them to just one hit.  Cuban starter Bladimir Banos threw five scoreless innings of one hit baseball, allowing no walks and fanning four for the victory.  Banos turned back his first 13 batters faced until center fielder Shunyi Yang singled to right with one out in the fifth.

On Thursday, Australia took their turn posting their first victory in a romp over China.  Australia slugged nine hits, with six going for extra bases, and three of those going for home runs, en route to an 11-0 whitewashing.

Australia's victory set up a showdown against Cuba in the Pool-B finale with the winner advancing to Round Two.  Cuba would prevail, but just narrowly escaping with a 4-3 victory.  Australia took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth.  However, Cuban left fielder Alfredo Despaigne stroked a grand slam in the bottom of the frame (his second HR of the tourney).  Australia plated runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but could manage no more.  Cuban closer Miguel Lahera retired Australia in order in the ninth.  Australia actually out-hit Cuba by a 13-10 margin.

Cuba and Japan advance into Round Two.

POOL-C: Dominican Republic Begins Defense of Title
  • Colombia
  • United States
  • Canada              0-1
  • R. Dominicana  1-0
Pool Preview

Thursday's Pool-C opener offered no surprises.  The Dominican Republic jumped ahead of Team Canada in the second inning with a six hit barrage highlighted by a Welington Castillo home run.   With an early 4-0 lead, Dominican Republic never looked back.  With Jose Reyes on, Jose Bautista roped another home run to left in the sixth en route to a 9-2 Dominican victory.

  • Italy
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico
  • Venezuela

Holy Cow!  Did anyone catch what Italy did to Mexico?  Phil Rizzuto would have been proud.  The game was a back and forth affair to begin with, as the lead either changed hands or the game was tied on six different occasions.  Trailing 9-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, Italy reeled off five runs to complete a completely crazy comeback, and gain their first victory of pool play.  Italy hit four home runs in the game off a quality and deep Mexican pitching staff, and were 4 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  Italy stroked five hits, including three doubles in the ninth.  Right fielder John Andreoli knocked in the game's tying and winning runs with a single through the right side.

2017 World Baseball Classic: Pool D

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

POOL D @ Jalisco, Mexico
  • Mexico
  • Italy
  • Puerto Rico
  • Venezuela

This is the most competitive pool of Round One, in my opinion.  Many have Venezuela favored to win the entire Classic.  However, I hardly think Mexico and especially Puerto Rico are to be taken the least bit lightly.

After advancing to the second round in both the 2006 and 2009 Classic, Mexico failed to get out of the first round in 2013 after losses to Canada and Italy, thus forcing them to re-qualify last year.   Mexico received good news when first baseman Adrian Gonzalez reported for duty, and will have Khris Davis protecting him in the line-up.  Their pitching staff is well stocked with Joakim Soria, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, Oliver Perez, Sergio Romo, Jamie Garcia, Robert Osuna. Fernando Salas, Julio Urias, and Carlos Torres.

Can Italy repeat their second round appearance of 2013?  I don't think they have the pitching.  But guys like Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cecchini, Francisco Cirvelli, Rob Segedin, John Andreoli, and Daniel Descalso, are certainly going to try.

Puerto Rico fell to Dominican Republic in the 2013 Classic Final.  Alex Cora is trying to correct that.  Team Puerto Rico's general manager was the architect of the winter league LBPRC champion Criollos de Caguas, the architect of Puerto Rico's 2016-17 Serie del Caribe champions, and is now shooting for a World Baseball Classic title for the trifecta.  The team sports a balance between veterans and youth: Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, and Yadier Molina, along with T.J. Rivera, Edwin Diaz, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez.  On the mound, Seth Lugo, Giovanni Soto, Orlando Roman, JC Romero, Andrew Barbosa, Jose de la Torre, and Hiram Burgos, round out a representative staff.  Puerto Rico has as good a chance as any team in the tournament to win it all.

There's no getting around it ... Team Venezuela is stacked.  Felix Hernandez and Miguel Cabrera headline quite a list of team mates: Jose Altuve, Asdrubal Cabrera, Martin Prado, Carlos Martinez, Ender Inciarte, Carlos Gonzalez, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez ... you get the picture.  Needless to say, this team will hit and score plenty.  Venezuela has yet to reach the final four in three previous Classics, but this could very well be their year.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Israel and Netherlands Take Pool-A

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

Israel Sweeps Field;
Netherlands Advance.

Chinese Taipei Impressive in Defeat;
South Korea Heading Back to Drawing Board.


Wednesday:  For a second straight game Chinese Taipei's bid for an upset came up just short.  The Netherlands barely squeaked by Chinese Taipei in the late innings for a slim 6-5 margin of victory.   Left fielder Chih-Hsien Chiang's two run home run in the fifth helped Chinese Taipei build a 5-4 lead they would hold through the seventh.  But in the home eighth, Netherlands' Didi Gregorius doubled home Xander Bogearts with the game's tying run.  Then with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Taiwan walked Jurickson Profar with the bases loaded, thus handing Netherlands their second victory of pool play.  For Taiwan, their second defeat.

Netherlands 2-0 record assured them passage into the second round along with Irsael, but not before the two teams played for top seeding.  Israel jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back en route to a 4-2 victory.  Starter Jason Marquis was the first of nine Israeli pitchers to climb the hill against Netherlands, as all were assigned an inning apiece.

The previous Netherlands/Chinese Taipei outcome rendered the Pool-A finale between Taipei vs. South Korea meaningless with regards to standings.  Just don't tell that to the dismayed Koreans, whose 11-8 extra-inning victory over Chinese Taipei means they avoid needing to re-qualify for the 2021 World Baseball Classic.  In the mean time, the next four years will be spent pondering what went wrong.

Chinese Taipei proved a real pain in the backstop, didn't they.  Their 0-3 record aside, they proved competitive.  Despite getting outscored 20-32 through three games, that does not necessarily tell the story.  They generated seven runs from the sixth inning forward against Israel.  Their game against Netherlands was up for grabs right up until the ninth inning.  And their most recent match required eleven innings.

  Israel wraps up pool play with a stunning 3-0 record. 
Netherlands advances with a 2-1 mark.

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