Wednesday, March 18, 2009


If I'm the only person in America banging the World Baseball Classic drum, so be it. I love this shit, I'm nuts for it, and last night's incredible comeback win for Team USA merely cemented my disturbingly inappropriate lust. That game was over, done, and I was mentally preparing myself to pull for Puerto Rico the rest of the way. They're really good, they're not run by socialist dictators like Cuba and Venezuela, and at the end of the day Puerto Rico is America. Like literally, they belong to us.

But then, in the bottom of the ninth, the gritty, speedy, pain-in-the-ass U.S. lineup pulled a miraculous victory from their ass. Our country may be broke and broken, our political system in shambles, our military might compromised, our way of life delegitimized. We can still beat a small, poor territory in baseball, though! Take that France.

So WBC baseball lives on for American fans, all six of us. Let's get into what lies ahead in this tournament, from tonight's bullshit "Pool Championship" to possible U.S. roster changes to this weekend's Final Four in LA, after the jump...

Throughout Team USA's games in the WBC, two weaknesses have emerged. One is that the starting pitching has been far below-average, and the other is that the Americans have been far too reliant on the long ball. Those two problem areas cost them an opening-round game against the Venezuelans, and they murdered the U.S. in their embarrassing mercy-rule blowout loss to Puerto Rico Monday.

The four U.S. starters (Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie) are all fine, but none are anywhere close to midseason form. Oswalt is the unquestioned ace at this point, and Lilly bounced back from a rough loss to Venezuela with a solid performance last night. Relievers Heath Bell and Jonathan Broxton spoiled the 3-3 tie they inherited from Lilly, however, and the U.S. found themselves down 5-3 headed to the bottom of the ninth.

When the Americans have won WBC games, they've typically scored via the home run. Adam Dunn and Kevin Youkilis have been notching taters at a healthy clip, and Jimmy Rollins and Brian McCann have gone yard as well. That's all well and good, because chicks dig the long ball, but the situation late last night in Miami dictated a small ball approach rather than waiting for a titanic blast. A series of U.S. batters--Shane Victorino, Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Youk and finally David Wright--ground out sustained at bats which loaded the bases, chased J.C. Romero, walked in a run and finally won the game.

USA Baseball has some decisions to make before Saturday's first semifinal at Dodger Stadium. Chipper Jones needs to be replaced due to his injury, and Evan Longoria is the only other pure third baseman on the provisional roster. Longoria's a nice player and contributes a lot of power, but I pray that manager Davey Johnson keeps him on the bench and leaves Wright on the field. I can't see Johnson ditching Peavy, even though he's killing his team, but why not lose Guthrie or Lilly for John Danks or Justin Verlander, both of whom are pitching well this spring?

If you're wondering why the U.S. plays again tonight, even though they're already ticketed for the semis, join the club. This game against Venezuela will determine the seeds for the Final Four, with the winner playing Saturday against the Pool 1 runner-up, the loser going Sunday versus the Pool 1 champ. Neither opponent has been determined, as Japan and Cuba play a knockout game tonight, the winner advancing to the Pool 1 finale tomorrow night.

Whom would I like the U.S. to face? Although I feel Japan's the best club in Pool 1, I think they're also our best matchup due to familiarity. Far fewer Koreans have made it to MLB, and Cuba is a closed baseball mystery. So root, root, root for the Japanese tonight. Oh, and hope Guthrie can limit Venezuela to less than a dozen runs as well.