Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.
United States of America
We are reaching the final stretch in our 2009 World Baseball Classic preview series. Three teams to go, starting with Team USA.
The USA was slotted to Canada, Venezuela and Italy in Pool C of the World Baseball Classic, playing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. They open the tournament against the hosting team on March 7th. With a win over their North American counterpart Team USA likely will face Venezuela on Sunday, March 8th for the second match. If everything goes as expected, they will advance into the second round at the Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida, playing against the two best teams from Pool D, which consists of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands.
Recent Tournament History
In 2006 the American team didn’t took the World Baseball Classic serious enough and what followed was a disappointing, if not even embarrassing result with a eighth-place finish. They reached the second round after victories against Mexico (2-0) and South Africa (17-0), and a loss to Canada (6-8). They led off the next phase with a 4-3 win against Japan, which later won the WBC. However they were defeated by Korea (3-7) and Mexico (1-2) in the last two matches and got eliminated.
As consequence USA Baseball put more effort in the selection of their national teams in the following years, which rapidly translated into success on the international baseball level. First they won the Olympic Qualifier in Cuba. In the 2007 Baseball World Cup a team led by Evan Longoria, Jeff Karstens and Andy LaRoche won the title, ending a nine-tournament winning streak of Cuba. In the Beijing Olympics last summer the USA lost the semi-finals against their Cuban rivals, taking home the bronze medal. They are in second place in the IBAF World Rankings.
Tuesday, March 3:
USA – New York Yankees
Wednesday, March 4:
USA – Toronto Blue Jays
Thursday, March 5:
USA – Philadelphia Phillies
Team USA uses the Spring Training facilities of the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Florida to finish up training camp before the start of the 2009 WBC.
We already talked about the missing superstars like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira or Ryan Howard, who are skipping the tournament. Alex Rodriguez decided to play for the Dominican team. But still the final roster features some of the best players in the world, although three of the final roster will miss the WBC due to injuries.
The outfielders Grady Sizemore (sore left groin) and Brad Hawpe (laceration at left pinkie) were hurt during the first exhibition games in Spring Training and will be replaced on the roster. Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Adam Dunn of the Nationals will replace the two outfielders. On Sunday closer Joe Nathan of the Twins announced that he will not pitch for Team USA, because of a sore shoulder.
Especially the last name hurts them, as the bullpen was considered a strength for the team. Even without Nathan there are six former or current Major League closers on the team with Jonathan Broxton, Brian Fuentes (skips first round due to family issue), Matt Lindstrom, J.J. Putz, B.J. Ryan and Brad Ziegler. Also aboard are the top setup-men J.P. Howell and Scot Shields. Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Jeremy Guthrie and Ted Lilly will provide first-class starting pitching.
The offense didn’t lack big-time players also. The infield will be formed by shortstop Derek Jeter, American League MVP second baseman Dustin Pedroia, first baseman Kevin Youkilis and third baseman David Wright. Infielders Mark DeRosa, Chipper Jones and Jimmy Rollins are also on the roster. Besides Victorino, Ryan Braun and Curtis Granderson will patrol the outfield. Chris Iannetta and Brian McCann provide some power from behind the plate.
“I think the U.S. is the team to beat.” This said manager Davey Johnson a couple of days ago in a conference call. He succeeds Buck Martinez as the skipper in the World Baseball Classic, after serving as a coach three years ago. Johnson also managed the American national team in the 2007 Baseball World Cup and in the Olympics last August. He also has brought big names to his coaching staff. Marcel Lachemann, Reggie Smith, Mike Schmidt, Barry Larkin, Bill Ripken and Mel Stottlemyre will serve as assistant coaches in the WBC.
Despite or because of the disappointing inaugural edition of the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is considered as one of the main favorites to win the tournament this March. The team has a chip on its shoulders and knows that they have to win it all, erasing the bad memories of 2006. Johnson emphasizes that they are better prepared than three years ago and take the tournament seriously. The selection process of the roster wasn’t easy, as so many stars declined an invitation. However they put together a good team, which is definitely capable to win the title. The only question is, if they are able to call up their full potential. The next four weeks will tell.
Photo: © IBAF, www.ibaf.org