Tuesday, March 03, 2009

World Baseball Classic

On Friday, I head to Toronto for Pool C of the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Call me crazy for choosing to go north to witness an international tournament that doesn't have too many people genuinely excited, when I could have gone south for Spring Training. But, for some reason, I'm quite interested in the concept of international play, and I'll also be meeting up with a couple of old softball teammates who have since moved out of town.

Pool C's entrants are the USA, Canada, Venezuela and Italy. USA is clearly the pool favorite, as well as co-favorites with the Dominican Republic to win it all, particularly due to the fact that Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano have bowed out of the competition and off of Venezuela's roster. Their starting rotation will likely consist of Felix Hernandez, Armando Galarraga and Carlos Silva or Ramon Ramirez, with Francisco Rodriguez holding down the back end of the bullpen. Venezuela's offense is looking fairly strong, powered by Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, in addition to Bobby Abreu, Melvin Mora, Jose Lopez, Endy Chavez and super-sub Marco Scutaro.

USA's roster has taken a few hits recently, but remains strong with starting pitchers Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie; and a deep, but not star-laden, bullpen of Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Putz, Scot Shields, Brad Ziegler, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Lindstrom and J.P. Howell. Offensively, the USA squad features several serious position battles: catcher (Brian McCann, Chris Iannetta); shortstop (Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins); and third base (Chipper Jones, David Wright); but have only four outfielders on their roster (Adam Dunn, Curtis Granderson, Shane Victorino, Ryan Braun), thus making utility man Mark DeRosa all the more important. I believe they use the DH rule in the WBC, making it likely that both Jones and Wright will be in the middle of the lineup together, making for a potent offensive attack that will also include Red Sox teammates Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Canada has some offensive star power, including first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Jason Bay, who team with catcher Russell Martin, first baseman Joey Votto, and outfielders Matt Stairs and Mark Teahen to make for a pretty solid lineup. They had better be able to score runs, though, as their team's pitching staff is unimpressive, with Scott Richmond (5 starts in 2008) and Mike Johnson (32 career starts from 1997-2001) being the only players on the roster with any experience as major league starters. Twins relief pitcher Jesse Crain will probably be there to close out a win over Italy, but that's about all the success this squad should expect to have.

The biggest names on Italy's roster are Frank Catalanotto and Nick Punto, so it will be interesting to see how competitive they are on the field. Most likely, they'll leave Toronto winless.

Two of the four teams from each pool will advance to the next round, so it's probable that we'll see the USA and Venezuela move on, but all it will take is one upset victory by Canada to put them in the mix. I suppose stranger things have happened.