WBC Pool D Preview from The Sports Network
By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's safe to say the United States has been a pretty big disappointment in the first two World Baseball Classics.
They once again enter the tournament with huge expectations. But, this time they may be warranted as they enter the event with perhaps the best team they have had. Manager Joe Torre's squad starts their journey towards a championship with a Pool D matchup against Mexico on March 8.
Despite being heavy favorites the first two times around, the U.S. has never reached the final, losing in the second round in 2006 and in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium in '09.
This time it's championship or bust, as Torre has an All-Star caliber player at almost every position with what seems like a terrific mix of seasoned veterans and young, up-and-coming stars.
Torre, who hasn't managed since leading the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, will have just four players back from the 2009 team: shortstop Jimmy Rollins, right fielder Shane Victorino, left fielder Ryan Braun and third baseman David Wright.
Also on the team will be first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Brandon Phillips, catcher Joe Mauer, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
"I'm just so excited to be part of this year's team," said Teixeira, who played on Team USA in the inaugural Classic in 2006. "In 2006, I was just a kid. I was 25 years old on the first World Baseball Classic team, looking at guys like Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- some of the greats of the game. I was actually in awe my first time around. Now I'm coming back. I'm the only guy left from the 2006 team. I'm one of the veterans now."
Jeter, of course, will sit out this event as he recovers from a broken foot he suffered in last year's American League Championship Series.
NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey highlights a starting staff that will also include Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland and Ryan Vogelsong. The group could have been a real strength had Justin Verlander opted to participate, but he stated early on he would sit this one out. Still, it is one of the better staffs in the tournament.
Starters, of course, are restricted to 65 pitches in the first round, 80 in the second and 95 in the semifinals and finals. A starter must take four days off if he throws more than 50 pitches.
Closer Craig Kimbrel anchors the bullpen which will also feature Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Luke Gregerson, Heath Bell, Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, Jeremy Affeldt, Tim Collins and Mitchell Boggs.
The bench will include Victorino, plus Ben Zobrist and Willie Bloomquist of the D-backs in the infield. The backup catchers are Jonathan Lucroy and J.P. Arencibia, who has been working with Dickey learning how to catch his knuckleball since the two will be teammates in Toronto this season.
"With this year's club, I knew what I needed to do," Torre said. "(Just about) every single player on this list, I talked to personally. Every single one of them is excited about the prospects of representing the USA in this Classic and that makes me excited. I managed a long time and I played a long time, we have a lot of ability but the thing that sets us apart is the desire and determination and pride you take in playing this game of baseball and I sense that from the guys on this club."
This time around in Round 1, each team will play the other three teams in their pool once. Teams will be ranked by winning percentage in Round 1, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to Round 2, where the teams from Pools A and B (in Pool 1) and the teams from Pools C and D (in Pool 2) will compete in a double-elimination format.
The top two teams in each pool of Round 2 will enter a four-team single- elimination Semifinals. The four qualifying teams will cross over for the Semifinals, with the winner of each pool playing against the runner-up from the other pool.
In the Final, the Team with the higher winning percentage of games in the Tournament shall be the home team. If the Teams competing in the Final have identical winning percentages in the tournament, then WBCI shall conduct a coin flip or draw to determine the home team.
Let's take a look at the rest of Pool D:
MEXICO: If you are looking for a sleeper in this tournament, look no further than Mexico. The Mexican team has gotten out of pool play in each of the first two World Baseball Classics and could do so again. Manager Rick Renteria's lineup is built around first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, while Yovani Gallardo holds it down on the mound. And for good measure Sergio Romo will be closing games. The team took a bit of a hit, though, when infielder Danny Espinosa announced he would be skipping the event. Depth is a problem, but Mexico could still come out of this pool. Still, former major leaguers Jorge Cantu and Karim Garcia both know how to hit big league pitching.
CANADA: Team Canada's hopes took a step in the right direction when former National League MVP Joey Votto was named on the final roster. Ernie Whitt's club has some solid talent including Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie and John Axford. Pittsburgh Pirates fans may want to pay special attention to this club, as one of their top pitching prospects, Jameson Taillon, is expected to be one of Canada's top arms in this tournament. Canada has failed to get out of the first round in the first two tournaments, but did beat Team USA in 2006. Canadian baseball is on the uptick, though, as the team finished third in the 2011 World Cup and won gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
ITALY: The real underdog in this pool is Italy. Marco Mazzieri's club does have some major league talent, highlighted by Anthony Rizzo and Alex Liddi, who played for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and is the first Italian-born and developed player to play in the Major Leagues. The Italian team is somewhat decorated. They have won back-to-back European Champions and have won 10 European titles overall, finishing first or second in 25 of their 32 appearances. Italy has also qualified for the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics, and finished third overall in the last Intercontinental Cup in 2010. Italy has won a game in each of the first two WBCs.
02/22 13:22:40 ET