Thursday, March 05, 2009

Batter up: World Baseball Classic, Pool C

The 2009 World Baseball Classic officially began in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Most teams, including those from North America, get started on the weekend. (Where were you on March 8, 2006, when Canada beat the U.S.?)

Next up: a preview of Pool C (Toronto): Canada, the U.S., Italy, and Venezuela.

  • Opener: Saturday, March 7 vs. Canada (2 pm ET)
  • WBC 2006: Went 3-3 in group play: lost to South Korea and Canada, split with Mexico, and beat Japan and South Africa. And in a devastating blow to their opponents' chances at easy wins, 2006 manager Buck Martinez has been replaced with the competent Davey Johnson. (In a devastating blow to their own, Ernie Whitt remains with Canada.) Johnson said the team is better-prepared this time. There's no indication that he wanted to finish that sentence with "because Buck isn't around." However, there is no indication that it's anything else.
  • Players to watch: Tons. RHP Roy Oswalt (Astros), RHP Jake Peavy (Padres), RHP J.J. Putz (Mets), C Brian McCann (Braves), 3B David Wright (Mets), 1B Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox), SS Jimmy Rollins (Phillies), OF Shane Victorino (Phillies), OF Curtis Granderson (Tigers), SS Derek Jeter (Yankees), 1B Adam Dunn (Nationals)
  • Who's missing: Two top relievers, Joe Nathan of the Twins and B.J. Ryan of the Blue Jays, and Brad Hawpe of the Rockies (116 career OPS+)
  • Pitching: Peavy and Oswalt are better than most teams' 1 and 2. In the major leagues. Peavy, the expected starter against Canada, also breezed through a March 1 outing: 33 pitches in three innings. They also have Ted Lilly (Cubs) and Jeremy Guthrie (Orioles), so that's four big-league starters (four more than some teams). Brian Fuentes (Angels) is out for at least the first round for personal reasons, but if he makes it back, he's one of the best out of the 'pen. Putz had some troubles against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, whereas Lilly apparently did not, for what that's worth.
  • Hitting: On paper, devastating. You can see the list of hitters they have. The worst lineup would have Chris Iannetta (104 career OPS+) and Mark DeRosa (118, 102, 108 the last three years). It remains to be seen whether they'll all show up 100%, and whether any of them will blow off the game and go spent $26 on mineral water at Harbour Sixty.
  • Fielding: You know and I know and Jimmy Rollins knows that Derek Jeter will play shortstop. This is not perfect, but not devastating. Other than that, Dunn should be kept out of the outfield, and Chipper Jones away from third (especially with Wright around).
  • Predicted Round 1 finish: First
  • Tournament potential: This would be a 90-win team in MLB. Semifinals are almost a certainty. Once there, Cuba or Japan have the ability to stop them.
  • Opener: Saturday, March 7 vs. Italy (8 pm ET)
  • WBC 2006: Didn't advance past Round 2. They beat Italy, Australia, and Puerto Rico, then lost to Cuba once and the Dominicans twice. Only one of those teams is in this pool and they won't matter much.
  • Players to watch: RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners), RHP Francisco Rodriguez (Mets), RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners), OF Magglio Ordonez (Tigers), RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners), OF Bobby Abreu (Angels), 3B Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners), RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
  • Who's missing: Freddy Garcia and Kelvim Escobar and Carlos Zambrano, all starters, some better than others.
  • Pitching: It's all about King Felix. Not having anyone behind him hurts. If they have to rely on the new, slimmer Carlos Silva, Venezuela may not advance past Round 2.
  • Hitting: Abreu and Ordonez highlight this major-league lineup. There are no holes as long as Cesar Izturis is a gloveman and a gloveman only.
  • Fielding: Cabrera has seen better days, even though he's just 25. But with Marco Scutaro and Melvin Mora, they have the infield covered and some of the outfield as well. Endy Chavez is pretty good in CF and he'll have to cover for Abreu in right. Carlos Guillen, a former shortstop and first baseman, apparently won't play unless he's in left field. On balance, their D is good but not great.
  • Predicted Round 1 finish: Second
  • Tournament potential: Not quite the semi-finals. They have five or six stars, a great supporting cast, but not enough pitching talent to do any real damage.
  • Opener: Saturday, March 7 vs. USA (2 pm ET)
  • WBC 2006: Where to start? They nearly lost to South Africa (South Africa (South Africa)) when Paul Quantrill forgot how to pitch. Adam Stern torched the Americans to give the team hope, then a pitcher whose name we are not allowed to speak shut them down in their last-hope game against Mexico. They were the only 2-1 team not to advance to Round 2 thanks to a pretty questionable tiebreaker system that is fortunately well in the past this time around.
  • Players to watch: C Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin (Dodgers), OF Jason Bay (Red Sox), 1B Joey Votto (Reds), 1B Justin Morneau (Twins)
  • Who's missing: Someone with more than five major-league starts. Jeff Francis, Erik Bédard, and Rich Harden are all otherwise occupied.
  • Pitching: Scott Richmond and...anyone? Well, Richmond has good control. Unfortunately this sometimes means "good control down the middle of the plate." Vince Perkins will start the second game: he's a former Blue Jay minor leaguer who once had potential but has missed a lot of time due to Tommy John surgery. Chris Begg is a longtime international rep who pitched well in Beijing and might get a start. Phillippe Aumont is intriguing, if only because of his age. The bullpen is full of names you don't know, but bullpens can be built that way and still be effective. Jesse Crain will be relied on for a lot. Steve Green has the U.S. game from 2006 to warrant attention in late innings. The other guys are in their mid-20s and still in Single-A or Double-A, so there's not much to say.
  • Hitting: You know Morneau. Votto came second in Rookie of the Year voting in the N.L. last year and is another bopper. Aside from the four hitters above, Adam Stern and Pete Orr bring enthusiasm if not big-league bats and Mark Teahen can hit if not field. (Stubby Clapp, due respect, is fast approaching the Rheal Cormier Memorial Interchange on the You Haven't Played Pro Ball In How Many Years? Expressway.)

    The offence won't be a weakness, not with those four big hitters in the 2-5 spots and Matt Stairs somewhere else in the order. (Stairs should be higher and Martin should lead off, but it's Ernie Whitt.) The thing is, if there's one constant in Canadian ball, it's watching the many lefty hitters flail away against lefty pitchers. Get used to this.
  • Fielding: With Bay in centre and Stairs in right, Nick Weglarz better practice his long-distance running. (Votto can fake it out there, but Votto-Bay-Stairs is probably cruel and certainly unusual.) And as much as Adam Stern contributed in 2006, his bat doesn't justify his glove in a starting role. In the infield, they're not hurting up the middle with Martin, Orr, and Chris Barnwell.
  • Predicted Round 1 finish: Third, but an upset is possible
  • Tournament potential: If by some chance they advance to Miami, that'll certainly be it. Of the U.S., Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, how many could Canada realistically beat? If you didn't say "three" or "four" then there you go.
  • Opener: Saturday, March 7 vs. Venezuela (8 pm ET)
  • WBC 2006: Their only win came against Australia: lost to Venezuela 6-0 and the Dominican Republic 8-3.
  • Players to watch: 1B Frank Catalanotto (Rangers), OF Val Pascucci (Dodgers), 2B Davide Dallospedale, OF Mario Chiarini, M-A Dave Bidini (Peones)
  • Who's missing: Mike Piazza is coaching, not playing, this time. Maximiliano De Biase was recently one of the best hitters in the Italian leagues but doesn't appear to be on this roster. Other than that, it's not clear who could make the team competitive.
  • Pitching: Grilli's just a reliever, Mark DiFelice could probably soak up some innings, and any Blue Jays fan would love to see Lenny DiNardo on the mound against Canada. (You know, it would almost be better if the Italians brought over an entirely unknown group of hungry players from Serie B rather than populating the roster with these AAAA players.)
  • Hitting: Dallospedale and Chiarini are pretty decent hitters in Italy; no clue how much you discount that against these American and Venezuelan pitchers. At least Catalanotto, Pascucci, Chris Denorfia, and Nick Punto aren't pushovers. Pascucci was too early in the Expos system to be an Ottawa fan favourite, but too late to save the Expos, and he's actually a very good hitter for someone who's never been given a chance. But overall this doesn't seem like a great lineup.
  • Fielding: Outside of Dallospedale, not much is known of the Italian players. Joe Mazzuca, second baseman by trade, might have a spot in the infield, but he also may be behind Dallospedale and Punto. Catalanotto is best used at DH.
  • Predicted Round 1 finish: Fourth
  • Tournament potential: You have to ask?

No comments: