Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Go US and A!
Baseball season is just around the corner, but this year we will get an early treat. With players just starting to get going in Spring training games, we will get a taste of playoff level intensity in March this year with the World Baseball Classic. With the rosters finalized today, the championship is clearly Team USA's to lose. Hopefully, this year they will not disappoint and win the WBC with the stacked roster that they have.
The first thing that stands out to me about the U.S. roster this year is pitching. They have two aces at the front of their rotation in Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt. I'd say the next team with two pitchers anywhere near in skill to those two would be team Venezuela with Carlos Zambrano and "King" Felix Hernandez, but we all know how shaky those two can be. The only other major league star pitchers on anyone else's roster are Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan (or Nippon as they say in Japan) and possibly Edinson Volquez of Domincan Republic. The U.S. is very lucky to have two bonafide stars willing to pitch in the WBC this year. Moreover, their bullpen is stocked with some of the best firemen in baseball like Joe Nathan, Jon Broxton (unless he is facing Matt Stairs), Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz and B.J. Ryan. No other team's bullpen can match up to this, and it could make for several 5 or 6 inning games. Therefore, in terms of pitching, I would say that team USA has a significant edge over the other teams. However, there are always players on the other teams that come out of relative obscurity to surprise everyone.
When it comes to hitting, every team has its bright spots. The Dominican Republic has by far the best infield in the WBC with A-Roid, Jose Reyes, Hanley "The manly" Ramirez, David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada (pronounced "Tuh-jay-duh") all on the roster. Their outfield is rather shallow and pedantic though with only an aged Moises Alou, Willy Taveras and Jose Guillen as headliners. Team Canada could put together a nice little lineup with Russell Martin, Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, Mark Teahan and Matty Stairs launching them deep into the Spring air; and Puerto Rico aka "Boriqua" has some talent with Carlos Del-"got it", Carlos Beltran and Alex Rios in the heart of the order. Again though, I think it is Team USA that has the best lineup from top to bottom. Brian McCann is a huge addition to the team at catcher, the infield is loaded with Kevin Youkilis, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, D. Wright, Dustin Pedroia and Chipper Jones all vying for time, and the outfield is very strong with "The Hebrew Hammer" Ryan Braun, Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson. In every aspect of the game, I would say that the U.S. has the most talented team in the WBC.
The problem comes with unity. In the 3 major sports where athletes can also compete internationally (baseball, basketball, hockey), the U.S. almost always trots out a team that is just as talented as the others. The problem is that none of them are used to playing together. USA basketball struggled mightily until Coach K formed the team years in advance so that the group could get used to playing together, and finally they captured the gold medal again in 2008. In 1980, Herb Brooks watched as the NHL All-Stars were demolished by the U.S.S.R. in a exhibition game, only to beat the Commies with his group of college players who had been practicing together for months and were practically a family. The United States team in the WBC is a group of individuals. They will be forced to compete as a team in a week or so, even though none of them are familiar with each other unless they were teammates in the MLB. Meanwhile, teams like Cuba or China probably have a core group of players who have played together for years and know each other very well. This could prove to be the demise for Team USA. However, if they can put their differences aside in the interest of team and country, I don't see any way that they can be stopped. If all goes well, come March 23rd "USA!" chants will be raining down like a Bruce Springsteen concert at Gillette Stadium.
Gold: United States
Bronze: Dominican Republic