The WBC is now underway for the fourth time. What has become the premier international baseball competition has already included drama in opening pool play games of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Team USA won their opening game on Friday night in dramatic fashion. The Americans downed Colombia by a 3-2 score on Adam Jones‘ walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning.
That victory and a 1-0 start in the standings was vital. In addition to Colombia, the Americans opening pool play includes the always tough Canadians, as well as the defending WBC champions from the Dominican Republic.
The United States will now meet the Dominicans in a battle of behemoths on Saturday evening at 6:30pm. The game will be televised on the MLB Network.
The USA will then wrap pool play with a Sunday 7pm game against Canada, also available on MLB Network. If the US wins both games, they advance to the second round. If they win just one, they likely still advance. Lose both, and they will likely find themselves in a tie-breaker game on Monday evening.
2017 TEAM USA ROSTER
The American teams have found little success thus far in the World Baseball Classic. Only the 2009 team has been able to reach the semi-finals. But this time around, the team appears strong, versatile, and deep enough for a long run.
The pitching staff has been an Achilles heel for the Americans in the past. This time around, the starting group is led by Chris Archer, J.A. Happ, Danny Duffy, Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly, and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer.
The Team USA lineup is once again loaded with offensive firepower. The starting outfield has Adam Jones flanked by Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, with Christian Yelich in reserve.A strong bullpen contingent features Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Jake McGee, Brett Cecil, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, and Mychal Givens.
On the infield, the US will start Paul Goldschmidt at 1st base, Daniel Murphy at 2nd, defensive whiz Brandon Crawford at shortstop, and Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. Backups include veterans Eric Hosmer, Ian Kinsler, and Josh Harrison and young Alex Bregman.
The Team USA catching will be handled by a pair of all-stars in Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy. This is an extremely athletic lineup that can do it all on a baseball diamond.
Unfortunately for the Americans, having a ton of talent has not always been enough. The fact is that everyone is not at their peak in these early weeks of spring training. Also, a number of top American talents are not here, including the likes of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. And, of course, the US is just one of at least a half-dozen truly talented teams in the tournament.
A look back at how Team USA has fared in the first three versions of the World Baseball Classic demonstrates how difficult the challenge to win has been.
2006 TEAM USA
This inaugural version of the team was loaded with big name superstars. 36-year old Ken Griffey Jr was joined by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones,Chase Utley, Mark Teixeira, and more.
However, the pitching staff, while talented, was not the equal of that group of bats. The rotation was led by Roger Clemens, Al Leiter, Jake Peavy, and Dontrelle Willis. The bullpen contingent included Brad Lidge, Todd Jones, and Joe Nathan.
Managed by Buck Martinez, the Americans were upset by Canada in pool play, but advanced thanks to a tie-breaker. But the tie-breaker was their enemy in the second round, where losses to Mexico and South Korea allowed Japan to move on. The Japanese would then capture the championship.
2009 TEAM USA
At ages 34 and 36 respectively, Jeter and Chipper were back to lead the USA bats under skipper Davey Johnson. Other big name position players included Jimmy Rollins, Evan Longoria, and David Wright.
If anything, the pitching staff seemed weaker than the initial group, with only Peavy and reliever Scot Shields making a repeat appearance. This time around the staff also includedRoy Oswalt, but roster selection was on a deep bullpen.
The US again advanced out of pool play. In the second round, the team suffered their most embarrassing defeat, an 11-1 “mercy rule” shellacking at the hands of Puerto Rico. However, the Americans bounced back, again meeting the Puerto Ricans in the qualifying round.
In that qualifier, the US rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the bottom of the 9th for an emotional 6-5 walkoff victory that moved the team into the medal round. There they bowed out to Japan in a 9-4 loss.
2013 TEAM USA
The last World Baseball Classic saw Joe Torre take the helm of the American team. Wright, the 2009 hero, was back. So were Rollins and Shane Victorino. But a new era of young bats moved into the lineup, including Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, and Adam Jones.
On the mound, Team USA brought their least impressive pitching group to date. Starters included R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland, and Ryan Vogelsong. Bell returned in the bullpen, which was bolstered by the addition of Craig Kimbrel.
Once again, the USA advanced out of pool play despite losing a game. The Americans began a tough second round with a big 7-1 win over Puerto Rico. But the two teams would ultimately engage in a rematch in order to advance into the medal round.
This time the Puerto Ricans bolted to a 4-0 lead, and held on for a tight 4-3 win thanks to clutch relief pitching by J.C. Romero, eliminating the Americans once again.
Can the 2017 version of Team USA finally win a first-ever World Baseball Classic medal for the country who claims the game of baseball as our National Pastime?
This latest version of the squad appears to have the talent, versatility, and depth in the lineup and on the mound to beat any team. But there are once again a number of talented national teams competing, and winning in the WBC will once again prove a difficult challenge.