Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Putting The USA's WBC Run Into Context

No matter what the USA does on Tuesday in their semifinal matchup against Samurai Japan and whether they go on to win the tournament or not, I think it's fair to say that this United States team deserves a lot of credit.

If they lose to Japan, the national media will likely fail to give them any credit and I myself don't like their chances after Jim Leyland has told Chris Archer to stay home but nonetheless, this team has done a lot. What they have done is raise the level of USA national teams in major international tournaments. As I said before the tournament started, the USA never really had much success in international competition and there's no doubt that merely a semifinal appearance has already raised the average just a little bit.

Yes, the United States has progressed to this place in the World Baseball Classic before, but that run was much different than this version. In 2009, the US benefited from a softer road to the Championship Round after the Dominican Republic was eliminated by the Netherlands in the first round.

The 2009 squad was also mercy rule'd by Puerto Rico but then they recovered by later eliminating that same Puerto Rico team with one of the more memorable moments in WBC history with David Wright's walk-off that cemented his status as "Captain America." It was also hard to take that team seriously when manager, Davey Johnson was a slave to his players' MLB executives, which indicated that the US considered winning a secondary goal.

This team has done all the opposite, they've put together a much stronger squad, Jim Leyland has played the best players for the most part which has upset Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, they survived a brutal Pool E to get to Los Angeles, and most importantly: the USA stars have done some memorable things whether that's Giancarlo Stanton's rocket against the Dominican Republic or Adam Jones robbing Manny Machado in the same game.

It's one thing to compile a group of stars, it's another to see them perform and for the most part, they've done that. We can't predict what will happen in the next WBC, but maybe in four years time, players like Mike Trout will decide to join the USA and maybe MLB executives will finally start to relax their collective stance on the tournament.

Now let's talk about their victory on Saturday night that eliminated the Dominican Republic. I don't think anyone would argue that it was USA Baseball's biggest win since David Wright's walk-off in 2009, but let's also remember that David Wright's walk-off took place in a half empty, Pro Player Stadium (now a football stadium with a roof). Not to mention the fact that the only people watching that game were the ones who had MLB Network and not many people had that channel in their cable bundle in 2009 as opposed to 2017.

Saturday night's victory took place in front of a sold out, partisan USA crowd at Petco Park. Plus, this Dominican squad was arguably the tournament's most talented team and were the favorites to repeat as champions. So with all that in mind, I think it's fair to say that the victory went even further. I'd say that the victory against the Dominican Republic was the biggest one for an American national team since the 2000 Olympics Gold Medal game where Tommy Lasorda's squad took the gold medal against a heavily favored Cuban team. It was in that game where Ben Sheets pitched a complete game, 3-hit shutout to win gold for the United States. If the US go onto win the tournament, that victory will probably surpass the gold medal victory since it will probably be more memorable and improve the popularity of the WBC in the USA.

On the other hand, this team is in a tough spot because if the US win the tournament, you'll have people who'll say, "Well, of course they won." but let's not let that ignorant school of thought dictate the talking points about this American team. Either way, I'm happy to say that I was wrong about the United States in this tournament and I'm looking forward to an epic matchup between the USA and Japan on Tuesday night where I'll be in attendance and struggling with divided loyalties between my country of birth and pride in NPB as a whole.


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