BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—With unlikely heroes Nelson Cruz and Erick Aybar, the first-ever World Baseball Classic meeting between the United States and the Dominican Republic did not disappoint.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd of 34,366—the fourth largest in Marlins Park history—the Dominicans defeated the Americans, 3-1, to clinch a spot in next week’s WBC semifinals in San Francisco.
The U.S. will play Puerto Rico here Friday night. The winner of that game also advances to San Francisco. [...] Continue Reading »
The Netherlands got reinforcements for its bid to win the 2013 World Baseball Classic, adding No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to its roster for the semifinals.
Both Jansen and Profar were on the Netherlands' provisional roster in January. They replace pitcher Jonatan Isenia, out with an elbow injury, and Yurendell DeCaster (leg). Both players are significant upgrades, with Profar providing power and athleticism in the middle of the diamond. He'll play second base, teaming with shortstop Andrelton Simmons, shifting Jonathan Schoop to third base and giving the team an incredibly athletic infield.
Jansen, who played catcher for the Dutch in 2009 before converting to the mound, gives the team a power arm at the back of the bullpen to complement 7-foot-1 Loek Van Mil.
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—David Wright met with the media during Thursday night’s game and reported that he has sore ribs—not a bad back.
“For about a week now, I’ve had some discomfort in my rib area,” he said. “Every time I go in and get treatment for something like that, the team finds out about it, which is correct.
“Between USA Baseball and the Mets, they decided to put me out of the lineup today.”
Wright will leave for Port St. Lucie, Fla., after the game to be examined by the Mets' team doctors on Friday:
“I’m optimistic they will allow me to come back and rejoin the team,” Wright said. “I wanted to play tonight, but I understand the decision that was made by the Mets and USA. I’m disappointed. I think that goes without saying. I completely understand the direction that they’re going.”
MIAMI—Third baseman David Wright, Team USA’s MVP so far in this year’s World Baseball Classic, has been scratched due to a sore back.
He will be replaced at third, by Willie Bloomquist, who bats ninth.
Wright has 10 RBI in four WBC games. His status beyond tonight has not yet been disclosed.
Power hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who had been scheduled to hit seventh, will now bat in Wright’s five hole. Stanton certainly has the power to make a positive out of a negative.
MIAMI – Advantage, USA?
The retractable roof at Marlins Park has been closed due to windy conditions and temperatures that could dip—brrrrrr—to 54. (Hey, that’s cold for Miami!)
The closed dome figures to help R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, judging by his 2012 numbers. He had a 1.22 ERA in domes (five game, 37 innings) and a 3.02 ERA outside.
Catching Dickey tonight will be J.P. Arencibia, who also caught the National League Cy Young Award winner in last week’s loss to Mexico. Dickey allowed four runs in four innings–in a dome, for what it’s worth.
Dickey and Arencibia both live in Nashville, and the catcher has caught him four times.
“Every time you catch him, it’s a new experience because you never know what will happen with the knuckleball,” said Arencibia, who played his high school ball at Miami’s Westminster Christian. “His numbers in a dome are unbelievable, but it’s a small sample size.”
Official minor league transactions, conveyed to us by Major League Baseball, for the period Feb. 26-March 8.
Signed: RHP Josh Booty
It's official: The Diamondbacks actually signed 37-year-old Josh Booty to a minor league contract after he won the MLB Network reality series competition "The Next Knuckler." Booty made the majors as a third baseman with the 1996-98 Marlins and apparently still had his rights controlled by Miami (see below).
Signed: 2B Tucker Nathans (Newark (Cam-Am))
Boston Red Sox
Signed: LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith
Optioned to Double-A: LHP Drake Britton
Drake Britton faces charges of driving under the influence, reckless driving and property damage following his arrest in Estero, Fla., in early March. The Red Sox optioned him to minor league camp the following day. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Italy spent much of the World Baseball Classic’s second round leading. But instead of a 2-0 record, the Italians are leaving Marlins Park winless.
Puerto Rico rallied to defeat Italy, 4-3, in front of 25,788 fans Wednesday night, putting up three runs in the eighth inning against four pitchers.
Italy was eliminated. Puerto Rico, aided by sloppy Italian defense, will play another elimination game Friday night against the USA-Dominican Republic loser. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—What Team USA and the Dominican Republic are hoping to develop, starting with Thursday’s WBC showdown, Italy and the Netherlands already have – a fierce rivalry based on repeated confrontations in international baseball.
Italy had long been the most dominant team in European baseball, but the Dutch have been coming on of late in larger-scale international events.
Italy has won 10 European Championships, including the two most recent titles, in 2010 and 2012.
The Netherlands won four straight from 1999 to 2007, reached the second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won the 2011 World Cup in Panama and has already made it to the WBC semifinals.
Italy is still alive in the WBC quarterfinals, but the Italians are in serious trouble. They face Puerto Rico tonight at 7 in an elimination game for both teams. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Four scoreless innings, four wasted opportunities—two for each team.
That’s the story so far in this World Baseball Classic second-round elimination game between Puerto Rico and Italy.
Puerto Rico’s best chances came in the first and fourth innings. In the first, Angel Pagan was stranded after he led off with an opposite-field double to left.
In the fourth, Puerto Rico wasted a first-and-third opportunity with one out. Mike Aviles popped out, and Alex Rios hit a slow roller to short and was thrown out on a nice play by Anthony Granato.
Italy’s threats were in the second and third innings. In the second, Michael Costanzo pulled a line-drive double that short-hopped the fence in the right-field corner, But he failed to advance.
In the third, Chris Denorfia hit a one-out double over the head of left fielder Eddie Rosario. He was stranded when Anthony Rizzo and Alex Liddi both hit hard outs to second base and left field, respectively.
MIAMI—It was a case of great athletes watching great athletes.
Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano were among a handful of Dominican players who went from beating Italy Tuesday afternoon at Marlins Park to watching the Miami Heat defeat the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
Thursday night at 7, it will be back to serious business for the Dominicans, who will have their first-ever World Baseball Classic matchup with Team USA.
The Americans will throw reigning National League Cy Young R.A. Dickey against Reyes, Cano and the rest of that powerful Dominican lineup. [...] Continue Reading »
SURPRISE, ARIZ.–It’s too early to accurately project minor league rosters. Injuries and decisions on big leagues jobs will cascade down through farm systems.
But at the Rangers/Royals complex you could see the foundations of what should be two of the most talented teams in low Class A–or really anywhere in the minors.
A Rangers intrasquad game Tuesday morning was a cavalcade of prospects. Outfielders Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson and Jairo Beras, third baseman Joey Gallo, catcher Jorge Alfaro and shortstop Luis Marte were some of the big names in the lineup. First baseman Ronald Guzman would have joined them if he had not been sidelined by an injury.
You could see most of them head to low Class A Hickory when camp breaks at the end of the month. As another Rangers minor leaguer said while watching Alfaro jog the bases after a home run during the game, ”Our Hickory team is going to be sick.”
At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Marte is good-sized for a shortstop. But playing with a group that includes the 6-foot-5 Beras, 6-foot-5 Gallo, 6-foot-4 Mazara and 6-foot-4 Brinson, Marte looked tiny. [...] Continue Reading »
By WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—The stage is set for Team USA vs. the Dominican Republic.
Dominican manager Tony Pena repeatedly has referred to the United States as the favorite in this four-team WBC second-round Pool 2 at Marlins Park.
On Tuesday night, the Americans lived up to that hype, defeating Puerto Rico, 7-1, before an enthusiastic crowd of 32,872. Puerto Rico now plays Italy at 7 p.m. Wednesday in an elimination game.
The U.S. and the Dominicans will match up Thursday night at 7, and the winner of that game is guaranteed a trip to the semifinals that begin Sunday in San Francisco.
Team USA got five RBIs from David Wright and one each from Joe Mauer and Adam Jones. It was a close game, 4-1, until Wright’s long fly to right-center field barely eluded the grasp of his ex-Mets teammate Angel Pagan, resulting in three runs.
It was the third time in the game Wright hit with the bases loaded. He had a run-scoring groundout and a run-scoring single in his two other chances.
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Before Tuesday’s game, Dominican manager Tony Pena talked about the “hole” in his starting pitching rotation and his confidence in his bullpen, loaded with strong arms.
As it turned out, the bullpen produced 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, playing a key role in a come-from-behind, 5-4 win over Italy in the opener of the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
Jose Cedeno, Lorenzo Barcelo, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney provided the one-hit relief in front of a pro-Dominican crowd that—complete with drums, horns and vuvuzuelas—was announced at 14,482. Strop got the win, and Rodney got the save. Nelson Cruz provided the game-winning hit with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth to break a 4-4 tie.
The Dominicans, who fell behind, 4-0, in the top of the first inning, got back in the game with solo home runs by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano (featured here) and then took over with a three-run seventh inning. [...] Continue Reading »
BA correspondent Walter Villa checks in all week from Pool 2 in Marlins Park:
10:28 PM: MIAMI – Puerto Rico starts the seventh inning trailing the U.S., 3-0, and manager Edwin Rodriguez is probably grateful it’s not any worse.
Rodriguez’s pitchers have so far kept Giancaro Stanton in the park, even though the Marlins slugger who belted 37 homers in 123 games last year is 2 for 3 and has twice made hard contact.
Stanton is hitting eighth in the USA lineup, which seems astonishing when you consider the tape-measure home runs he hits. But Rodriguez, a former Marlins manager, is not fooled.
“I managed him in rookie ball and in the big leagues, so I know him well,” Rodriguez said before Tuesday’s game. “They’re batting Stanton eighth, and that means we have a tough task ahead of us. Hopefully, he comes on with nobody on base, and we can pitch around him.”
8:14 PM: MIAMI—While the U.S. and Puerto Rico have taken the field for Game 2 of the WBC's second round at Marlins Park, pitchers have been announced for each of the four teams’ next games.
All four are righthanders. Alessandro Maestri will pitch for Italy; Samuel Deduno (Twins) for the Dominicans, Giancarlo (Carlos) Alvarado for Puerto Rico and R.A. Dickey for the USA. Maestri and Alvarado both pitch in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league.
Meanwhile, throwing out the first pitches Tuesday night were former catcher Pudge Rodriguez, representing Puerto Rico, and Andre Dawson for Team USA.
MIAMI—It seemed inevitable . . . and now it has happened.
The potent Dominican Republic offense has surged ahead of Italy, 5-4, after 7½ innings.
The Dominicans, who fell behind 4-0 in the top of the first inning, got back in the game with solo home runs by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano and then took over with a three-run seventh inning.
The tie-breaking hit came off the bat of Nelson Cruz—or what’s left of his stick, which was shattered. Half of the bat went to third base, but the key part of the equation—the ball—landed safely in right field for a run-scoring single.
The Dominicans are now three outs away from going 1-0 in the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
MIAMI—Jose Reyes is dialed in.
The Dominican Republic trails Italy, 4-1, after three innings in the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park. But a comeback appears very possible if not probable due to the firepower the Dominicans possess in their lineup.
Leading the way is shortstop Jose Reyes, who pulled a 1-2 pitch for a home run down the line in right field in the third inning. It is 335 feet to the pole, and Reyes’ line shot smacked off the Miccosukee sign, about 35 feet up.
Reyes just missed in the first inning. He flied out to the corner in right field, pinning outfielder Mario Chiarini up against the fence.
While both teams already had clinched spots in the World Baseball Classic semifinals, Japan wrapped up an undefeated run through Pool 1 by beating the Netherlands 10-6 Tuesday in Tokyo.
The Dutch played shorthanded again thanks to injuries to outfielders Wladimir Balentien and Roger Bernadina, as well as versatile veteran Yurendell DeCaster. None played Tuesday, and key defenders in catcher Dashenko Ricardo (Giants) and shortstop Andrelton Simmons (Braves) came out of the game early, after Japan had taken an 8-0 lead in the second inning.
Simmons homered to lead off the game, but Japan batted around and then some in the second. Veteran catcher Shinnosuke Abe, playing DH due to a lingering knee injury, hit a pair of home runs in the second inning for Japan, which scored just 13 runs in the first round but 30 in the second, including 26 runs in a pair of victories against the Dutch. [...] Continue Reading »
In 2009, the Netherlands was the World Baseball Classic's Cinderella, upsetting the Dominican Republic twice and reaching the second round.
But the Dutch have topped themselves in 2013.
Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons tied the game with a two-run homer in the eighth, and Kalian Sams' sacrifice fly in the ninth inning provided the winning margin as the Netherlands upset Cuba for the second time in Pool 1, winning 7-6 to join Japan in advancing to the World Baseball Classic semifinals in San Francisco. The loss eliminated Cuba, which after finishing second in the '06 WBC was bounced in the second round for the second straight Classic. [...] Continue Reading »
The proliferation of advanced analytical tools in the past decade has enhanced the enjoyment level of baseball for many fans. Yet one overlooked aspect of the data explosion is the benefit derived by major league clubs, particularly in the fields of player development, advance scouting and performance forecasting.
Research presentations and panel discussions at last week's SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix fully illustrated, in particular, the harmonious relationship between data collection and analysis, traditional scouting and player development. All endeavors strive to predict players' future value by weighing many inputs and assessing the probability of various outcomes.
Baseball America reported from the Analytics Conference, focusing on presentations and discussions with obvious currency in the field of scouting and player development, and this blog post collects all the links in case you missed them the first time.
• Research Confirms Hard-Throwers' Advantage. Analysis of a batter's point of contact, as measured by Hit f/x, tells us a lot about his expected power output.
• Observations From Day One Of The SABR Analytics Conference. Pitchers Javier Lopez and Brandon McCarthy discuss the role of detailed analytical information in major league clubhouses. [...] Continue Reading »
Apparently it will never be easy for Team USA.
Just five outs away from elimination, the U.S. rallied for three eighth-inning runs to take the lead over Canada. The U.S. then survived a bases-loaded bottom of the eighth before finally putting the game away in the ninth with a bases-clearing Eric Hosmer double. The 9-4 final score does not really explain just how tense an affair it was for USA Baseball which trailed for much of the game and didn't take its first lead until the eighth inning.
The U.S. now joins Italy in moving on to the second round in Miami. The U.S. will face the loser of Sunday night’s Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic game. It’s a step toward the U.S. team's goal of moving on to the finals in San Francisco, but more than anything it avoids a nightmarish exit.
"It would have been embarrassing to me," U.S. second baseman Brandon Phillips said. “If we would have lost, we wouldn’t have done our job. We want to be the first American team to win the World Baseball Classic.” [...] Continue Reading »
PHOENIX—The first event of Day Two of the SABR Analytics Conference gathered three of the game’s youngest general managers for a panel discussion with moderator Brian Kenny. Jon Daniels of the Rangers, Jed Hoyer of the Cubs and the recently-promoted Rick Hahn of the White Sox discussed everything from the place of analytics in the game to the importance of scouting to future areas for competitive advantage.
Hahn said the White Sox employ five full-time data analysts, Hoyer said the Cubs plan to hire six, and Daniels, GM of the two-time American League champions, said Texas has no one dedicated solely to the job of analyst.
"We’ve talked about adding a full-time data analyst," Daniels said, "but for now we’re pretty organic in the way our front office functions. We want people to think outside the box and be fluent in different areas.
"We don’t have one guy locked in a back room building a database."
Daniels said all Rangers acquisitions must be vetted by scouts, from minor league free agents and waiver claims to $100 million decisions like Yu Darvish in 2012.
"We had 40 in-person looks at Darvish in Japan," Daniels said. "We watched every start on video and had 12 different guys see him." [...] Continue Reading »
There are few tougher jobs in baseball than serving as the Team USA manager for the World Baseball Classic. Venezuela manager Luis Sojo may argue that point these days, but few managers are ever presented with the Hobson's Choices that Joe Torre faces.
The first job of a Team USA manager is to ask, plead and if necessary cajole players to agree to play in the World Baseball Classic. Once that's done, you then have to go back and promise their teams that you'll take good care of them. Pitchers won't be overused and players won't sit on the bench for the whole tournament, returning to their teams behind on their timetable of getting ready for the season. Putting the best lineup on the field sometimes is a secondary concern.
That's the explanation for Team USA's lineup for its Sunday game against Canada. In a must-win game where the winner advances to the second round, Torre had to shuffle things up. Ben Zobrist starts in right field. Ryan Braun gets to rest his legs by playing at designated hitter. And Shane Victorino gets his first start of the tournament in left field.
The odd man out–Giancarlo Stanton. [...] Continue Reading »
If Mexico pitcher Arnold Leon had been pitching in a regular season big league game when he plunked Canada's Rene Tosoni, he'd have some free time coming up and it would be hitting his paycheck. The same could likely be said for Tosoni, Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz (who was seen obviously telling Leon to plunk Tosoni) and others.
But a dirty little secret of the World Baseball Classic became apparent on Saturday night. World Baseball Classic, Inc., the company created by Major League Baseball and the Players Association to run the tournament, needs the players more than the players need the tournament. So after watching a brawl that saw three brushback pitches, fists flying and players thrown to the ground, no real punishments were levied. [...] Continue Reading »
The U.S. can breathe a sigh of relief.
It hasn't qualified for the second round or anything like that yet, but by beating Italy 6-2 Saturday at the World Baseball Classic, Team USA avoided embarrassment. When this is all done, they can ask their big league teammates from Venezuela how an 0-2 start feels. The U.S. win also gave mathematicians everywhere a respite. Sunday's Canada-USA game has the simplest of formulas to determine who advances–whoever wins moves on to the second round in Miami.
"It was nice to know if we won tonight's game we control our destiny. This way if you win it you earn it and if you don't, you don't," U.S. manager Joe Torre said. "At least with Canada winning today was huge for me. We don't have to be checking numbers or anything like that."
Coming off of a 5-2 loss to Mexico on Friday night, Team USA faced plenty of questions about what had gone wrong. Even without Justin Verlander, David Price and others, a team that features multiple all-stars and solid big league veterans at every position was knocked off by a Mexico team that had multiple minor leaguers in the starting lineup.
Losing to Italy, the surprise story of Pool D, would have been much worse.
The biggest moment of Italy's day came before they ever left the hotel. The 40 or so team members gathered in a large hotel room to watch the Canada-Mexico game. When Canada pulled away for a 10-3 win, Italy's spot in the second round was guaranteed.
Knowing that it had already qualified, Italy spelled some of its starters from the first two games and substituted liberally to ensure that everyone on the team got some World Baseball Classic experience. Italy played 23 of its 28 players on Saturday. Italy heads to Miami knowing that everyone on the team now can say they played in an World Baseball Classic game.
Even with all of that, Italy made life nerve-wracking for a while. Italy actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead on starter Ryan Vogelsong with runs in the first and second.
The U.S.'s hitting drought continued until the fourth when Joe Mauer doubled in Ryan Braun. But the game turned in the fifth. Brandon Phillips singled in a run to tie it 2-2. A Joe Mauer walk loaded the bases to bring David Wright to the plate.
If you're looking for a player who epitomizes the big league version of Team USA, Wright battles Jimmy Rollins for the title. He's vocal of his love of playing for Team USA and he was clearly upset by Friday's loss. Here he had a chance to provide the big hit the U.S. failed time after time on Friday night.
"Bo (hitting coach Larry Bowa) was begging for a soft single. I didn't say it but I was hoping for more," Torre said.
Wright crushed a Matt Torra pitch into the left field seats. Wright gave a skip as he watched the ball fly.
"You talk about being able to exhale, that was huge," Torre said.
"I enjoy this tournament. I think it's a great tournament," Wright said. "When you put that U.S.A. jersey on you get a bullseye on your back so it's a great atmosphere every time out. We want to represent the country well . . . I'm glad I could be a part of it."
Nearly as importantly for the U.S. as Wright's grand slam was the work of the bullpen. Ross Detwiler finished the game with four scoreless innings of relief for his first save at any level. Since only he and Jeremy Affleldt had to pitch in relief of Vogelsong, manager Joe Torre will have nearly his entire bullpen ready for Sunday's must-win game.
"This was our plan. We were going to use Detwiler to piggy back. I love the way he pitched," Torre said. "He was great. We were hoping for this result, obviously. Of course Affeldt did a great job of gluing both sides together."
Canada will send Pirates righthanded prospect Jameson Taillon to the mound against lefthander Derek Holland. Taillon has little experience above Class A, but he also has better stuff than almost any pitcher the U.S. has yet faced in this tournament.
11 p.m. ET: Updated with official MLB quote:
Team China entered the 2013 World Baseball Classic with a simple goal: don't finish last.
It wasn't about embarrassment. China knew that beating Taiwan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic ensured them a spot in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. With no currently active pro league in the country, a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic that would come with a third-place finish would do much to ensure that baseball in China would continue to grow over the next four years.
China achieved their goal. It took its lumps against Japan and Cuba in its first two WBC games to save its best pitchers to face Brazil. It worked as China beat Brazil 5-2. With relegation avoided, the Chinese players had tears streaming from their eyes as they ran onto the field. Part of the celebration Italy gave for its 2-0 start was the knowledge that it ensured Italy would be part of the 2017 WBC.
"Regardless of tomorrow that's a huge win for Baseball Canada," Canadian catcher Chris Robinson said as he explained that it meant Canada would avoid the shame of going through the qualifier like it did to get back into the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
They all may have celebrated a little too early. Even though players and coaches from multiple teams believe that the same rules that determined automatic qualifying for the 2013 tournament will apply to 2017, an MLB spokesman said on Saturday night that it wasn't the case. According to MLB the methods to determine who qualifies for the 2017 World Baseball Classic have not yet been determined so these games have no bearing on WBC qualification. That does not mean that they cannot be used as criteria retroactively.
"We have made adjustments to the WBC after each of the first two tournaments were completed. This is the first tournament where we had qualifiers and there may be changes made after evaluation," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. "It has yet to be determined and will be as we continue to make this tournament better."
Cynically, one cannot help but note that the U.S. has not yet ensured that they will not be relegated under the old qualifying rules. One also can't help but note that the headline on the China-Brazil game story at MLB.com says "Chang Helps China Stun Brazil: Earns '17 Berth."
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