After the Houston Astros dis–hey…stop laughing…it really happened–dismantled the Texas Rangers last night at Minute Maid Park, we had our first full day of baseball today.
Naturally, ESPN kicked it off with proof that they are extremely stubborn as a network, pitting C.C. Sabathia and the hobbled Yankees versus Jon Lester and the completely average Red Sox.
There were so many amazing moments in a long day of ball that it was hard to narrow down to just five. But here is our best shot at it. This is what we do at Three Up, Three Down. We write stuff on baseball-related activities for your enjoyment. So, enjoy!
5. Justin Jacks One
Welcome to Atlanta, where the playa’s play and Upton hits bombs like every day. No disrespect to Freddie Freeman, who also went mammo today, but this Justin Upton blast was put in orbit. And it’s not just a top moment because of the distance–the Braves outfield is the most freakish in baseball, and this is just the first sampling. The Braves faithful have been waiting for this moment since the original trade was made, and the little bro definitely didn’t disappoint.
4. Brewers Bailed Out
One of KP’s least favorite memories of the 2012 season was any blown save by John Axford and Co. If you see our tallest group member, give him a hug. Because Axford was at it again on Opening Day, giving up a no-doubter with two outs in the ninth to the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler, which tied the game. Fortunately for Milwaukee and the home fans, the Rockies pitching staff is deplorable and Jonathan Lucroy was able to score a walk-off sac fly and bail the bullpen out.
3. Bryce Decides Twice is Nice
If there was any debate that last year’s NL Rookie of the Year would suffer from a sophomore slump, he killed it quick. In his first two at-bats of the 2013 season, Bryce Harper absolutely crushed two Ricky Nolasco pitches and put them in the right field bleachers. I’m not buying that his second one has landed yet. In fact, it might currently be traveling over the Atlantic Ocean. Keep an eye out for it. The 20-year-old phenom is on pace for 324 jacks this year.
The late Cardinals legend and Hall of Famer Stan Musial is being honored by the team with a cool, classy patch (pictured to the right) on their left sleeves in 2013. But the Arizona Diamondbacks, who hosted the Cards on Opening Day, pulled off a fantastic move by paying homage with a video tribute to Musial between innings. Unfortunately, I don’t have video for you, but the gesture itself was a true act of sportsmanship and remembrance of one of the greatest hitters and humans the world has ever seen.
1. Kershaw Goes Krazy
Let me set the stage: The defending champions travel to their heated rival’s new stadium and face their fancy new team in a battle between two of the best pitchers in the league. A pitcher’s duel turns into a one-man show as Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not only throws a complete game, four-hit shutout, but hits a go-ahead home run that breaks a scoreless tie in the eighth inning. Unbelievable. And in a game that began with a well-choreographed first pitch skit from Dodgers heroes Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser. I have to take a second to brag, as humbly as possible. I tweeted THIS about five minutes before magic occurred. Of course it was a coincidence but it makes me believe in fairy tale endings, and reinforces our love of this magical sport.
Buckle up, baseball fans. This was just day one. Only 161 more regular season games to go! Vote below on which one of these moments should have been in the top five, or comment about any moments we missed!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Ah, baseball season. We move along to the N.L Central to try and organize what most people call “the worst division in baseball.” As of the last four or five years, the N.L. Central breaks down to a three horse race, with two of the horses being a bit stronger. I’m of course referring to the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers. The Pirates and Cubs would like to join the party, but it’s going to take quite the miracle for that to happen. Let’s get to looking at the teams.
Projected Order of Finish: Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs
Why the Reds could win the N.L. Central: The Cincinnati Reds have quietly turned into a National League powerhouse. Behind their two All Stars Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, it’s hard to count them out at any point in the season. If they can stay healthy and get a boost from 2012 rookie standout Todd Frazier and their off-season acquisitions of Shin-Soo Choo and Jonathan Broxton, it could be a long season for the rest of the N.L. Central. They also manage to shorten every game to 8 innings as Aroldis Chapman throws fire and leaves batters shaking in their shoes as triple digits consistently hit the radar gun.
Why the Reds wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If Frazier collapses, Choo doesn’t pan out and Chapman isn’t as effective this year, things could derail quickly in Cincinnati. Not to mention the fact that Bruce and Votto are only getting older. It’s hard to see all of that happening, but hey, you never know. Their starters are also not all perfect. Mike Leake and Homer Bailey are spotty at best. Really though, worst case scenario for the Reds is probably taking 3rd in the Central.
Why the Cardinals could win the N.L. Central: I’ll be honest, every time I look up and down the Cardinals lineup it scares the bejeezus out of me. Each and every one of them can change a game with a single swing of a bat. That alone makes them scary. Not to mention they’re only two years removed from a World Series Championship. Pitching staff? Solid. Relievers? Battle tested, but can be shaky at times. It’s as simple as that.
Why the Cardinals wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: If they get off to a slow start while missing Furcal, Freese, Motte, and Carpenter, the Reds may be too far ahead to catch them. They’re defensively worse off without Furcal and Freese. No doubt. Things can get shaky down in St. Louis, but I don’t think that Matheny or the Cardinals’ front office would let that happen for too long before making changes.
Why the Brewers could win the N.L. Central: As a Brewers fan, I always think they could win the N.L. Central. Is 2013 their year? They’d most likely need a lot of things to go their way, but certainly aren’t far off from making a good run. In fact, they’re about a good bullpen and decent pitching staff away. Blowing an incredible amount of leads in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, the Brewers could have easily made the playoffs last year if that didn’t happen. Braun, Weeks, Hart, and Ramirez will be the main driving forces for the offense while Gallardo and recent acquisition Kyle Lohse will have to maintain their composure on the hill. Anything can happen, they could play like they did in September last season, or they could play like they did in April last year. Time will tell.
Why the Brewers wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The other side of things is clearly the Brewers first half of the season for them last year. The bullpen and pitching staff hardly got much of an overhaul by only adding Lohse and Gorzelanny. It’s their biggest weak spot and the biggest difference between the Brewers finishing above .500 or falling into the depths of the Central. Another huge factor will be if MLB finds Braun guilty of something that earns him a 50 game suspension. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, so that’s probably a long shot.
Why the Pirates could win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. Then again, McCutchen is certainly going to try and carry this team to victory. A.J. Burnett got comfortable last season, and N.L Central veteran Wandy Rodriguez will bolster their rotation a bit, but that’s about where it stops. Gaby Sanchez will provide some pop, Garrett Jones will try to play like he’s still young, and Russell Martin will load the back end of the lineup. It could happen.
Why the Pirates wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: The Pirates won’t win the Central. Plain and simple. A team that hasn’t finished over .500 since 1992 and things probably won’t be changing this season. They lack a lot of fire power on both sides of the ball. Their bullpen is weak, they don’t have another big bat to help McCutchen, and just don’t have the overall makings of a winning team. I’d love to see 81 wins happen for them…it’s just not going to be 2013.
Why the Cubs could win the N.L. Central: Whaddya know. Another team that won’t win the Central. The Pirates have been bad, but the Cubs have been worse the last few years. They’ll try to hone their young talent this year led by 2012 standout Anthony Rizzo. Starlin Castro also provides some excitement at shortstop and certainly helps make watching a Cubs’ game bearable. I don’t want to say it can’t happen, but Theo Epstein will have to keep on chugging to turn this team into the next Red Sox.
Why the Cubs wouldn’t win the N.L. Central: Because they’re the Cubs. History gives you every reason why they wouldn’t win the Central. They have an unproven lineup, an unproven and extremely shaky rotation, not to mention Carlos Marmol is known for putting runners on base late in games. Hopefully they can get some AAA guys up and let them get a taste of the big leagues and maybe see what their future will hold. Until then, the rest of the Central thanks them for the wins.
Jay Bruce, Joey Votto – Reds
Matt Holliday – Cardinals
Ryan Braun – Brewers
Andrew McCutchen – Pirates
Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro – Cubs
Johnny Cueto – Reds
Adam Wainwright – Cardinals
Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse – Brewers
A.J. Burnett – Pirates
Rookie of the Year
Wily Peralta – Brewers
Shelby Miller – Cardinals
Gerrit Cole – Pirates
Who do you think wins the N.L. Central? Can the Cubs or Pirates salvage a winning season? Let us know in the comments!
-Kurt Peter (@FalconKP)
If you missed our most recent podcast, which officially kicks off-season number two for Three Up, Three Down, then you’re tacky and I hate you. Also, you can find the aforementioned work of art right HERE.
The majority of this episode was dominated by the five guys at 3u3d taking their hypothetical bets on whether to go over or under the Vegas betting lines for team wins this season. After the first two divisions (the AL West and NL West, respectively), had been discussed, it was noted that I had picked nine of the first 10 teams to outperform the betting line.
When all was said and done, 20 of my 30 decisions went in the positive direction. Apparently, nobody is going to lose any games this year.
But in all seriousness, there are a lot of very good teams this year. I believe 11 of the 15 National League teams could finish above .500 in 2013, and there is an argument to be made for 13 of the 15 in the junior circuit, too. Of course, that won’t happen. This won’t stop me from invoking another one of the podcast’s favorite pastimes, “DEFEND YOSELF,” and explaining why I picked certain “tweener” teams to go over the line this year.
For context, there will be only a handful of teams selected here. I think it’s a safe bet that the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, and Colorado Rockies will go under. Similarly, it’s safe to say that both Los Angeles teams, the San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and Detroit Tigers will go over.
That leaves me with 18 teams to choose from, 13 of which I said would go “over” the total set by Vegas for wins. I’ve chosen the five most controversial picks of mine and explained further, below. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to pry that golden jock off last year’s winner, KP, and I’ve got goggles and gloves at the ready.
Feel free to rip me a new one in the comment thread, and VOTE in the poll at the bottom! For a full list of everyone’s picks, go HERE.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (Line: 82.5 wins)
Enough with this two-horse division race crap. The more we ignore the venomous snakes lying in the grass, the more their bite will hurt. Yes, they got rid of Justin Upton this winter which significantly depleted their power. Except that they still have Jason Kubel, added Cody Ross, and can expect even more production from Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero. We know the bullpen is solid, and bringing in Brandon McCarthy makes the rotation sneakily, ridiculously dangerous.
When you have three candidates fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation who are all number three’s on most staffs, complaints will be at a minimum. Adding McCarthy and Martin Prado were two of the more underrated moves of the off-season, and when all is said and done, the D’Backs will not only destroy that 82.5-win line, but they might settle closer to 90.
2. Kansas City Royals (Line: 78.5 wins)
My man-crush team tried really hard to put together a pitching staff this winter that would make my Wild Card prediction not look so foolish in 2013. I was burned last year by the Royals, but I’m sticking with my guns this season. James Shields is the ace they’ve been missing since whatever they had in Zack Greinke back in 2007, and they’ve added so many arms that last year’s number-one starter might not even make the Opening Day rotation. Frankly, I’m insulted by the below-.500 projection from Vegas, and I pledge never to give them my business again (straight up LIE).
I don’t need to tell you about the offense, but I will. Especially Billy Butler. Because I think I’m in love with the man. Anyone who can hit .300 consistently on a diet of what I presume is strictly tobacco, PBR, and steak deserves a couple MVP votes every year. And Butler’s young, talented supporting staff is chock full of breakout candidates like catcher Salvador Perez. This applies to almost every batter in the lineup. Almost. Because Jeff Francoeur still starts for KC. There’s no fixing that.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (Line: 86 wins)
Contrary to popular belief, I did not pick the Cardinals to win over the allotted 86 games because my girlfriend loves the team more than Barney Stinson loves suits. I can think for myself, guys! I realize Chris Carpenter is out for the season, and likely for his career, that Jason Motte, David Freese, and Rafael Furcal are injured, and that Grandfather Beltran could kick the bucket any day now. But I’ll take a banged-up Cardinals team to contend over many teams, and here’s why.
Not only is St. Louis likely the most well-coached and well-run organization in the National League, but the depth of their farm system is preposterous. If Beltran does go down, MLB’s number three overall prospect Oscar Taveras is there to pick up the slack. If the starting rotation struggles, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha ride to the rescue. Matt Adams can take over if Allen Craig has to cover second base duties in the event of a true disaster. A dynamic offense, a great bullpen, and good starting pitching makes me a believer.
4. Seattle Mariners (Line: 77 wins)
I’m higher on the Mariners than most of their own fans. Right, right!? No? Marijuana-is-legal-in-the-state-of-Washington joke? Fine, whatever. That brilliant line still holds true, because I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the M’s top .500. By a couple of games, even. For the first time in years, they have an offense capable of supporting the always-strong rotation, and I can’t understate the value that two bats like Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales bring to the heart of the order.
Let’s say, in a worst-case scenario, that some of the young talent (Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, for example) don’t pan out. Well, they can still count on the return of Franklin Gutierrez, and the impending arrivals of Nick Franklin at shortstop and Mike Zunino behind the dish. In short, Seattle is a time bomb waiting to explode all over the AL West, much like the A’s did in 2012. The farm system is overflowing with Major League-ready talent, and ace Felix Hernandez pretty much guarantees them a win every fifth day. Be optimistic, Seattle. Your time is coming.
5. Philadelphia Phillies (Line: 84.5 wins)
Really? The Phillies’ clubhouse may double as a nursing home, but those are the most wise, shuffleboard-dominant, sexually active old men at (Senior) Citizen’s Bank Park. Just in case that comparison went over your head, I’m stating that the Phillies are old and injury-prone in general, but still have a talent-laden roster. Look at who the Phillies are returning from injury in 2013, and tell me they aren’t going to improve by at least four games on their 81-win campaign a year ago.
The heart of the order is back in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard–both of whom can still crush–and Roy Halladay will rejoin Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the most fearsome rotation this side of Washington D.C. I know what you’re thinking: But Jeremy…Halladay is struggling SO much this spring! Yeah, well Lonnie Chisenhall is also hitting over .400 this spring. Whoop-de-doo. The Doc is back in town, and he’s helping bring Philly closer to 90 wins than that lowly 84.5.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Y’all Gon Make Us Lose Our Minds! Upton here! Upton here! Well, Uptons in Atlanta, but the Three Up, Three Down crew breaks down the trade that puts the brothers together. We also talk about Chris Carpenter with special guest Kelsey Shea, where the free agents will end up, and dabble in this years 2013 Fan Cave talk. I mean, c’mon, that’s what brought us all together in the first place! Go Vote!
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Yesterday, our Major League Baseball family lost two of its greatest members: Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. Here, we pay tribute to the Hall of Fame player and manager, respectively, for their contributions both on and off the field to this great sport we all love. Our condolences to their families, friends, and Cardinals and Orioles fans everywhere.
Jeremy on Stan Musial: I was at dinner with my girlfriend (the biggest Cardinals fan in the world) tonight when I got the text that Musial had passed away. Immediately, I was torn — do I tell her? Ruin our date night? After letting the shock subside, I made the right choice. I told her what happened, and held her hand as she sobbed in the middle of the restaurant. Stan the Man wasn’t just a great baseball player. He was a legendary hero both on and off the field. Baseball fans everywhere, especially Cardinals fans, have reason to be devastated this weekend. What we’ve lost with Musial is above the diamond, above the dirt, above the balls and bats and gloves. We’ve lost perfection. The perfect player and person and everything that is right about baseball. As former commissioner Ford C. Frick coined about Musial, …”here stands baseball’s greatest warrior. Here stands baseball’s greatest knight.” Though undervalued as a player, Musial will never be forgotten as a man. And even though, as my girlfriend said through tears, “I feel like I lost a family member. Like baseball died tonight,” the game will live on because of men like Musial. A man who gave his heart and soul to every blade of grass, grain of dirt, and loyal fan that he touched along the way. Rest in peace, Stan.
Bryan on Stan Musial: There are few baseball players that would elicit the type of response upon their passing the way Stan Musial has. The short list would include Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Yogi Berra. Stan “The Man” embodied the city of St. Louis and was the greatest player to ever play for one baseball’s greatest franchises. He was the model of consistency with 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road in his career, plus a 24-time all-star, three-time MVP and World Series champion. However, Musial was more than just a Hall of Famer on the field, he was a Hall of Famer off it. The honor that shows how truly amazing “The Man” was is being bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When Musial became just the 8th baseball player to receive the honor, President Barack Obama said “Stan remains to this day an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.” Stan Musial may be one of the most underrated baseball superstars of all-time, but when I one day teach my future children about the game, “The Man” will be high up on the list of players I would like them to follow in the footsteps of off the field. For Cardinals fans, he’ll always be at the top.
Jeremy on Earl Weaver: The first time I ever heard of Earl Weaver, I was just a little kid. I’m far too young to remember his managerial days in person, but I’ve always been an avid baseball fan. And I distinctly remember owning an awesome book as a kid about bizarre baseball stories, and flipping to “Earl Weaver’s double heave-ho.” That, of course, referencing the doubleheader in which the hotheaded manager was ejected from both games — a feat Lou Piniella could only hope to achieve. Anger issues aside, Weaver will be remembered for his remarkable success as a big league manager: five 100-win seasons, four World Series appearances (one victory, in 1970), and a career .583 winning percentage that ranks first among managers since 1960. Widely credited for being a brilliant tactician, Weaver was far ahead of his time with defensive fundamentals and the preaching of patience at the plate — he changed the way baseball games were managed forever. Rest in peace, Earl.
Bryan on Earl Weaver: Is there a better known manager all-time than Earl Weaver? Weaver was a fantastic manager, but his penchant for arguing with umpires makes him a focal point of baseball lore. My dad has been an umpire for my entire life and would always tell stories of growing up watching Weaver berate umpires and getting ejected only fueling his rage more. One of my father’s favorite umpires Ron Luciano not once, but TWICE ejected Weaver BEFORE the game. In my time reading anecdotes about Weaver since his passing, I came across this 1982 Sports Illustrated article about the relationship between Luciano and Weaver. I’d encourage everyone to read it, to help get a grasp on Weaver’s shenanigans from the view of his biggest nemesis. Antics aside, Weaver was a great manager, getting the most out of his players , winning the 1970 World Series, and becoming beloved by the Charm City. The Orioles will never have a manager like Earl Weaver again, that’s for sure.
Two baseball icons that defined their cities got the call up to heaven. Each have their numbers retired. Each have statues outside their home ballparks. Each with Hall of Fame plaques hanging in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Each will be remembered by baseball fans forever. Thanks for the memories Stan and Earl.
In about six weeks, the World Baseball Classic will be upon us again and Team USA will look to win its first title in the competition’s history. They’ve got a good shot — manager Joe Torre released his roster on Thursday, and they are absolutely loaded.
Unfortunately for fans of Team USA, one glance at a few competing rosters will stop the celebration in its tracks. Can someone unseat two-time defending champions, Team Japan? Will Team USA improve upon their 4th-place finish in 2009?
We can’t predict the results down to the wire, but we’re here to do what we do best at Three Up, Three Down. We rank the rosters! So strap in, baseball fans, and see if your favorite team stands a chance:
**The “Stick to Soccer” Group**
Notable player(s): Barry Larkin, Manager (and Hall of Fame Reds SS)
International Baseball Federation (IBAF) Ranking: 20
Breakdown: Good thing for their dominance on the international soccer scene, because Brazil isn’t going anywhere in the Classic. Yan Gomes was the first Brazilian player to ever reach the big leagues, and the country itself only has 14 players signed to Major League contracts. How they will win: They won’t. Why they won’t: See “How they will win.”
Notable player(s): Bruce Chen, SP, Royals
IBAF Ranking: 18
Breakdown: The Chinese baseball team is a decade away from being a serious contender, but they are headed in the right direction. They’ve made steady improvements over international tournaments since a decent showing at the 2009 WBC, in which they eliminated Chinese Taipei. How they will win: Hustle, starting pitching. Why they won’t: Not enough of either.
Notable player(s): Paco Rodriguez, RP, Dodgers/Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers
IBAF Ranking: 16
Breakdown: I’m not sure what to think about Spain. They lack star power, but did knock off Israel and South Africa in qualifiers. The roster is dotted with promising Major League prospects, but I don’t foresee Spain winning more than a game, maybe two in the WBC. How they will win: Breakout tourney from Beltre. Why they won’t: Their Pool C competition is stacked (Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic).
Notable player(s): Jason Grilli, RP, Pirates/Francisco Cervelli, C, Yankees/Nick Punto, IF, Dodgers/Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs/Chris Denorfia, OF, Padres
IBAF Ranking: 9
Breakdown: Not only did we miss out on a Hall of Fame induction for Mike Piazza, but he won’t be participating on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic either. Props to the Italians for back-to-back Euro Championships, but the competition is pretty weak over there right now. I think they will be humbled in the WBC. How they will win: Play with a chip on their shoulder. Why they won’t: Even the MLB-level hitters are thin.
#12: KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS
Notable Player(s): Jair Jurrjens, SP, MLB Free Agent/Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox/Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers/Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Orioles/Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves/Roger Bernadina, OF, Nationals/Andruw Jones, OF, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 7
Breakdown: The Dutch soccer team is one of my favorites to watch. And for the first time in recent memory, so will their baseball team. They just missed my “dark horse” cut, due to sheer overall talent of the rest of the field. But the Major League potential of some youngsters on this roster is extremely intriguing. They’ve won 20 of 32 Euro Championships ever played. How they will win: Infield of dreams breaks out. Why they won’t: Not all the youngsters will perform.
**The Dark Horses**
#11: SOUTH KOREA
Notable player(s): Jae Seo, SP, former Met, Dodger, Ray in MLB
IBAF Ranking: 4
Breakdown: I feel ridiculous ranking Korea this low, considering their past successes in the WBC. But, it’s the third time this tournament has been played and each team has scouting on the opposition now. I don’t think South Korea will sneak up on anyone this time around. How they will win: High on-base percentage, good defense. Why they won’t: Too much good competition.
Notable player(s): Peter Moylan, RP, Dodgers
IBAF Ranking: 10
Breakdown: There’s a handful of good Major League players (like A’s closer Grant Balfour) who hail from the land down under, but there isn’t a whole lot of MLB experience on this roster. Team Australia still has a shot at advancing, but they may have more trouble than in years past. How they will win: Pure grit. Why they won’t: Not enough runs, upstart opposition in Pool B.
Notable player(s): Jesse Crain, RP, White Sox/John Axford, RP, Brewers/Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates/Russell Martin, C, Pirates/Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays/Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
IBAF Ranking: 6
Breakdown: We all know that Canada produces some bona fide stars in MLB (Joey Votto, anyone?), but not all are present and accounted for on this roster, similar to Team Australia. They still have the talent to make a run with Lawrie, Morneau and Martin in the middle of the lineup though. How they will win: Dominant bullpen, good middle of the lineup. Why they won’t: Too much youth in the rotation.
#8: CHINESE TAIPEI
Notable player(s): Chien-Ming Wang, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 5
Breakdown: There’s a reason that Team Chinese Taipei is a top-five ranked country right now. But their proudest current professional representative (Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen) is not on the team yet. This team is still legit, and has a very winnable pool group. How they will win: Small ball. Why they won’t: Overall talent is lacking.
**The “Justtttt A Bit Outside” Group**
#7: PUERTO RICO
Notable player(s): Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals/Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals/Angel Pagan, OF, Giants/Mike Aviles, IF, Indians/Javier Vasquez, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 12
Breakdown: There may be no more high-ceiling-yet-average team in the WBC this year. Team Puerto Rico has finished fifth at both tournaments preceding this, and killed Team USA in 2009 before being ousted by them two games later on a walk-off hit. Even with players such as Molina, Beltran and Pagan, they won’t even be favorites in their own pool. How they will win: The Major League talent they have is relentlessly good. Why they won’t: Lack of depth in the rotation.
Notable player(s): Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers/Luis Cruz, 3B, Dodgers/Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers/Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals/Sergio Romo, RP, Giants
IBAF Ranking: 11
Breakdown: In their pool, Team Mexico will have to deal with Team USA, but other than that they should be favored to top Team Canada and Team Italy to move on. They have a decent infield, top-of-the-line ace, and one of the best closers in baseball. How they will win: Adrian Gonzalez goes off, Gallardo is dominant. Why they won’t: Romo is neutralized unless they have a lead late.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 1
Breakdown: Don’t let the lack of notable players deceive you — this team is good. Really good. They have played in the IBAF World Cup 29 times and won 25 gold medals, finishing second the other four times. In the WBC, Team Cuba has finished second and fourth (which, at the time, was their lowest finish ever in international competition). They just can’t legally have players like Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes on their squad, otherwise they might be even better. How they will win: Hard-throwing starters, handful of five-tool prospects. Why they won’t: The top four teams are just too stacked.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 3
Breakdown: Again, don’t let the lack of Major League firepower fool you. Much like Cuba, Team Japan has been a hotbed for MLB stars over the years (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish). Even though none of them joined the fray in 2013, this team is stacked. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of future MLB players come off this roster after good WBC performances. After all, they are two-for-two in WBC titles up to this point. How they will win: Ichiro-style on-base scavengers, deceptive pitching. Why they won’t: Not having Ichiro and Darvish, among others, will end up costing Team Japan.
#3: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Notable player(s): Santiago Casilla, RP, Giants/Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers/Alexi Ogando, RP, Rangers/Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays/Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Pirates/Edinson Volquez, SP, Reds/Carlos Santana, C, Indians/Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers/Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees/Edwin Encarnacion, DH/OF, Blue Jays/Hanley Ramirez, IF, Dodgers/Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays/Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers/Melky Cabrera, OF, Blue Jays
IBAF Ranking: 13
Breakdown: The only reason Team Dominica is ranked so low by the IBAF is because all those notable players are stars in the big leagues, and don’t regularly compete internationally for their country. But now that the WBC has rolled around again, this is one unbelievably good team. My only concern is their starting pitching depth. How they will win: Scoring 15 runs per game (no…really). Why they won’t: Like I said, starting pitching depth. Will Volquez and Rodriguez be enough?
#2: UNITED STATES
Notable player(s): Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants/R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays/Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves/Kris Medlen, SP, Braves/Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants/Chris Perez, RP, Indians/Joe Mauer, C, Twins/Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds/Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies/David Wright, 3B, Mets/Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees/Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers/Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins/Adam Jones, OF, Orioles/Joe Torre, Manager
IBAF Ranking: 2
Breakdown: I didn’t even pick all the “notable players” I could have for this team. It’s Team USA’s equivalent of the MLB Dream Team, and Justin Verlander still is undecided as to whether he’ll join the rotation. This team is already a favorite with a balanced lineup and very strong pitching staff, but adding JV would be a coup. Check out fellow Three Up, Three Down host Bryan Mapes’ grades-by-position for Team USA. How they will win: Veteran experience, explosive pitching. Why they won’t: The bane of their existence, Team Japan, will come along eventually.
Notable player(s): Anibal Sanchez, SP, Tigers/Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners/Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MLB Free Agent/Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers/Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks/Salvador Perez, C, Royals/Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers/Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians/Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B, Tigers/Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants/Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants/Carols Gonzalez, OF, Rockies/Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks
IBAF Ranking: 8
Breakdown: The quantity of star power on Team Venezuela might not match up to Team USA or Team Dominica, but the quality is far and beyond. When you start your rotation with Hernandez and stack the middle of your lineup with the reigning Triple Crown winner between Gonzalez and Sandoval, you are a very, very scary team. Even though their WBC pool is very tough, it would be a momentous upset to not see Team Venezuela make moves in the 2013 tournament. How they will win: A large margin of victory. Against anyone. Why they won’t: Slumping hitters or being outplayed by one of the other favorites.
And that’s a wrap. This writer believes Team Venezuela is the team to beat, with Team USA, Team Dominica and Team Japan not far behind. But in all honesty, there are about 10-11 teams who could potentially take home the title in 2013. Root for your team and country to take home top honors, and stay tuned to Three Up, Three Down because we’ll have all your World Baseball Classic coverage.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
Three Up Three Down is back to break down all the postseason action! We discuss our favorite Division Series and who we think will take the Championship Series all the way to the World Series. Not only that, Mapes turns the tables in our “Defend Yo Self” segment where the guys back up their Rookie of the Year and Cy Young picks. Let us know what you think!
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