On March 8, the United States will begin play in the third edition of the World Baseball Classic, a global tournament that is baseball’s version of the World Cup.
In 2006 and 2009, the first two editions of the Classic, the Japanese team claimed the title, with the Americans being eliminated in the second round of pool play in 2006 and in the semifinals in 2009. This fact is concerning, given that we Americans invented baseball. Shouldn’t we be able to beat the rest of the world at our own game?
In 2013, the United States is back with a star-studded roster that could achieve that very goal. Sure, some of the top stars have declined the chance to focus on preparing for the upcoming Major League Baseball season, but there is no shortage of big names. The starting rotation features Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer and 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Texas Rangers southpaw Derek Holland, Atlanta Braves righty Kris Medlen (who won 12 straight games as a starter in 2012), along with a pair of Washington Nationals: left-handers Gio Gonzalez (who won 20 games in 2012) and Ross Detwiler.
That rotation is pretty solid. Let’s check on the starting position players: New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, New York Mets third baseman David Wright, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Again, no slouches there. All-Stars abound, up and down the lineup.
Joe Torre, who managed the Braves, Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to a combined 15 playoff berths, takes the helm of the American team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Adding one of the all-time greats to the American dugout only provides leadership that was suspect at times during the previous classics.
The pool in Phoenix that the United States opens play in features the Americans squaring off against Mexico, Canada and Italy. Yes, Italy. We don’t know yet if Mario Balotelli is available as a pinch runner. While the Mexicans and Canadians certainly have talent, the United States should cruise into the second round. There, they will run into some serious talent – the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and/or Venezuela. However, with pitching depth, the United States holds the key to the finals in San Francisco.
That is where the change comes. This year, the USA is more motivated, more determined and more talented. The United States is tired of losing and knows that 2013 is their only chance in four years to claim the win.
I believe this is the United States’ year to finally beat the Japanese and bring home a title. As I said, the World Baseball Classic is a tournament, so raw talent offsets chemistry. The World Baseball Classic replaces spring training for the players participating, so they will be playing at game speed. Being able to play every game on their home turf is another advantage for the Americans. The Japanese will have to make a flight from Tokyo to San Francisco for the final round, while the Americans will only have to come from Miami.
However it turns out, the 2013 WBC is bound to be exciting. The United States plays Mexico on March 8 at 9:00 p.m. in Phoenix on MLB Network to open the tournament.