Saturday, March 16, 2013

USA , WBC, OUT

Team USA shortstop Jimmy Rollins makes a play in
the ninth inning Friday against Puerto Rico.
Team USA was eliminated Friday from the World Baseball Classic. This is the third WBC, and the United States has never made it to the final round.

Some followers of the game regard this with apathy; an international baseball tournament held in the middle of spring training doesn't ring their bells.

Some regard it with anger. Team USA's failures, as they see it, are the result of apathetic players — a lack of stars on the roster, a lack of passion among those who do play.

The rest of us take it as another example of the wonderful randomness of the greatest game on the planet. The best team doesn't always win a series, much less a game, and the WBC format doesn't leave much room for error.

I see no reason to question the effort or commitment of the players on Team USA's roster. David Wright resisted Thursday when the Mets pulled "Captain America" out of the tournament, but the word Friday out of New York was that the third baseman (whom the Mets owe $138 million) is likely to open the season on the disabled list. This is hardly evidence of lollygagging.

Was the roster as deep as it could have been? Of course not, and particularly among the starting pitchers. It would be easy to compile a more imposing USA rotation than R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong, Derek Holland and Gio Gonzalez: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, James Shields, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Steven Strasburg, CC Sabathia ... none of them were there.

But none of the men who agreed to take the ball for Joe Torre is dreck. Dickey won the Cy Young last year, Gonzalez won 21 games, Vogelsong and Holland are rotation fixtures for World Series teams. The two starters who stifled the American lineup the last two days — Sam Deduno for the Dominicans on Thursday, Nelson Figueroa for Puerto Rico on Friday — are non-roster invitees who aren't particularly likely to win major-league jobs.

The USA didn't have the best starters eligible to play for it, but you'd have a hard time finding the game where it didn't have the better starter anyway. Randomness. On Thursday, Deduno pitched better than Dickey; on Friday, Figueroa pitched better than Vogelsong. It happens.

As for the position players ... as I said here earlier in the week, I think playing time is a factor. There aren't a lot of true stars who are going to come sit on the bench for two weeks. And so it happened that Willie Bloomquist, overachieving utility player, wound up starting on Thursday at third base when Wright was pulled; he took an oh-fer and was charged with an error.

That said, I don't quite understand how it happened that Eric Hosmer wound up the regular first baseman after Mark Teixeira's injury took him out off the roster before the games began; certainly Prince Fielder, Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche or even Nick Swisher (just going off the top of my head) would have been more logical choices than a guy who hit .232/.304.359 last season. (Some of them would have been more logical choices than Teixeira, for that matter.)

But Hosmer was invited, and Hosmer said yes, and as I see it any blame goes to the people who selected and played him, not to Hosmer.

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