Friday, March 13, 2009

What You Need To Know About The World Baseball Classic

If you're a typical baseball fan, you've glanced at the ongoing World Baseball Classic with some mild interest. It sure can't compare to the excitement of Opening Day for your hometown club, but it's way more amusing than typical Spring Training action. These games certainly count for something, and there's the added element of national pride.

Problem is, the whole thing is fucking confusing. Why did the U.S. play Venezuela again Wednesday night? Didn't we already win our pool? And most important, if this tournament is supposed to showcase the finest players from all the baseball-playing countries in the world, why in the fuck is LaTroy Hawkins allowed anywhere near a mound?

All your WBC head-scratchers solved, after the jump...


This relic of slow-pitch softball tournaments and children's soccer shootouts is the reason for the perplexing first-round schedule. Every nation, from the mighty Puerto Ricans to the lowly South Africans, had to lose twice to get sent home. This was the reason the Americans had to take on Venezuela one more time (they lost, meaning a quarterfinal opener against Puerto Rico instead of the Netherlands).

The double-elimination format in pool play is a change from the round-robin arrangement in 2006. No one liked that--too many pools were bound up with tied teams and the tiebreakers always came down to run differential. And run differential is about as fun to talk about as your whore mom. So I suppose this is an improvement?

Not really--it's actually quite misleading. By calling the first round "double elimination" you might think that the Netherlands (who lost twice to Puerto Rico) and Mexico (who lost to both Australia and Cuba) would be history, right? Wrong. Both finished second in their pool and get to move on to the quarters.

But, thankfully, the first round is over. Eight teams are moving on to Miami and San Diego, where they'll face off in...another double elimination pool format.


Glad you asked. First and foremost is the United Fucking States of America, the country that invented the game and hosts its premier league. It's about God damned time we did something other than suck spectacularly at international baseball.

We Americans have a deep and tremendously versatile bullpen as our greatest strength. That's a good thing, because the starting staff is shaky at best. Roy Oswalt is the guy you want out there, but he's not yet in shape for the season and probably couldn't go 6 innings if he wanted to (the 70-pitch limit from Round One has been expanded to 85 in this stage). Jake Peavy, for all of his greatness, is an awful big-game pitcher. I've come to this conclusion. Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie are filler.

The USA has been blessed with a pretty fine offensive showing this far, with Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn--yes, Adam Dunn--providing the stiff wood. The shortstop platoon of Jeter and Rollins is fantastic, David Wright and Ryan Braun are playing well (although Braun is awful defensively, Jesus) and the gritty Mark DeRosa, who was grittily added to this team to add to its grit quotient, provides needed grit.

The weak link to this point has been manager Davey Johnson, who appears to have not seen a baseball game since 1986. I'm not sure he's aware that you need to get relievers up in the bullpen before bringing them into a game. Best case scenario for the U.S. would be a "family emergency" that drew Davey away from the team for a few days. Bingo! Barry Larkin, you can't possibly be any worse.

As for the rest of these squads, let's just say the Americans will have to earn it. Venezuela and Korea are deep and dangerous. Mexico could beat anyone, but they're most likely doomed outside their home stadium. Cuba is, as always, a mystery. They're loaded with amazing 45-year-old communist ballplayers you've never seen before. Japan, the defending champs, are the grand masters of the international game. They pitch, field, and situationally hit with precision and economy and a five-star crash test rating.

As awesome as the Japanese appear, however, I'm convinced that the supreme overlords of the World Baseball Classic are the diamond titans from Puerto Rico. Look at this roster. LOOK AT IT! Okay, perhaps it's only mesmerizing for a true Latino baseball geek, but trust me. They're stacked. Unlike the vanquished Dominicans, however, these cats actually play together as a team. Bernie Williams is there, for Pete's sake, and he's retired from the game. Pudge Rodriguez doesn't even have a job and he is mashing. They're loving this tournament, and I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't take it.


I've heard it called a fluke, and I've heard it said that it's the reason this tournament is an illegitimate joke. The DR dropped not one but two games to the Netherlands in Round One and they're out. It's about as wacky and stunning a development as you could concoct on a bucketful of psillocybin mushrooms, and it really happened. I'm here to say it was not a fluke, and that no one is to blame but the Dominican players--not the tournament, not the format, not the venue.

The DR has the greatest collection of superstar baseball talent on Earth, even missing A-Rod, Pujols and Manny. There are 20 future All-Star selections on that roster, and at least two or three guys who are headed to Cooperstown someday. They laid a massive egg in the first game against the Dutch, allowing three unearned runs in the first and committing catastrophic baserunning blunders late. Still, after a rout of Panama, they were in position to avenge that boner and make the quarters, yet they failed to score a single run for 10 innings. After capitalizing on a Dutch defensive miscue in the 11th, the combination of Carlos Marmol's hanging sliders and Willy Aybar's hands of stone handed the Netherlands a second win on a plate. Embarrassing. Holland can't stay around very long (they can't score), but it's a great story. Hell, this guy's their pitching coach:


Netherlands-Venezuela starts the second round tomorrow at 11 am Mountain on MLB Network, followed by United States-Puerto Rico at 6. On Sunday, those same times see Japan and Cuba in a 2006 final rematch on ESPN2, followed by Mexico and Korea.

And after that, double elimination chaos. Good luck keeping up.


Puerto Rico is not a country.

Half of the Caribbean is crazy about baseball: Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela and the Dutch Antilles. The rest is oblivious: Jamaica, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Belize, Bahamas, Haiti. I was in Costa Rica for my honeymoon and wanted to watch the All-Star Game, and no one in that country has ever heard of baseball. The island of Hispaniola is half Dominican Republic, perhaps the most densely-concentrated baseball factory ever, and half Haiti, where three MLB players have been born in history. Weird.

Seriously, LaTroy Hawkins?


Cecil said...

Yikes, good call on Puerto Rico.