Team USA's best assets are outfield and relief pitching
The World Baseball Classic has been going all week. But for many here in the good ol' USA., the tournament really kicks off Friday when R.A. Dickey takes the ball for Team USA against Mexico as part of Pool D play. They'll follow with matchups against Italy on Saturday and Canada on Sunday. For those who aren't up-to-date on the U.S. roster, here's a breakdown of each position.
Ross Detwiler, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland, Ryan Vogelsong
Dickey and Gonzalez are a terrific one-two punch. Both were finalists for the NL Cy Young, and Dickey took home the award. Vogelsong isn't a bad No. 3, but the same can be said about his status in the Giants rotation. Holland and Detwiler leave much to be desired compared to the bevy of talented American arms not on this team. Maybe pitching coach Greg Maddux can throw on a jersey.
Jeremy Affeldt, Heath Bell, Mitchell Boggs, Steve Cishek, Tim Collins, Luke Gregerson, David Hernandez, Craig Kimbrel, Glen Perkins, Vinnie Pestano
At least Team USA has a strong group of relievers in case things get hairy for the back end of the rotation. Affeldt, Boggs, Cishek, Gregerson, Hernandez, Perkins and Pestano each had an ERA under three last year and shouldn't cause too much chaos. Ninth-inning leads should lead to nearly automatic wins with Kimbrel, the best closer in baseball, on the mound.
J.P. Arencibia, Jonathan Lucroy, Joe Mauer
Mauer had the highest on-base percentage (.416) last season. Lucroy is a good hitter, and Arencibia has the most power of this bunch. The problem here is defense. Mauer isn't the same fielding catcher he once was, and the other two aren't known as strong defensive backstops. It might have been wise to carry a defensive specialist just in case.
Willie Bloomquist, Eric Hosmer, Brandon Phillips, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright, Ben Zobrist
Wright is likely the best hitter in the unit, but Phillips and Rollins are still solid players in their own right. The versatile Zobrist and Bloomquist give manager Joe Torre plenty of options for defensive shifts. Hosmer stepped in to replace the injured Mark Teixeira this week, which wasn't a bad choice on late notice. Not a lot to worry about here.
Ryan Braun, Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Shane Victorino
By far the strongest asset on Team USA. Braun already has an MVP Award in his trophy case. Jones finally stepped up as a legitimate star last season for Baltimore. For those still unfamiliar with the 22-year-old Stanton, this could be his time to showcase his prodigious power. Victorino as the fourth outfielder is fine, but the top three are stellar.
Venezuela, D.R. teams are stacked
Team USA failed to finish better than fourth in the first two iterations of the World Baseball Classic, proof enough that the tournament features strong teams from all around the globe. Here's a look at some of the 2013 competition's strongest-looking clubs.
Reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera leads a star-studded infield (Elvis Andrus, Pablo Sandoval). Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies anchors the outfield, while Anibal Sanchez is the ace of a staff that could have included Felix Hernandez, who passed due to ongoing contract negotiations.
The winner of the first two WBCs will be playing without Ichiro Suzuki, who declined a roster spot, for the first time. Power-hitting catcher Shinnosuke Abe is the reigning MVP of Japan's Central League as well as the team captain. Former major leaguer Kazuo Misaki is the only name most Americans might be familiar with.
Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Edwin Encarncion make for a scary-good infield. The D.R. balances a talented lineup and strong pitching with starters Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez plus one of 2012's most successful closers, Fernando Rodney.