Pool D: Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico.
Pool D Preview:
2006 Result: The DR went 3-0 in Pool D, continuing into Pool 2, where they went 2-1 (they were considered the winners of Pool 2, having won the head-to-head with Cuba). In the semi-finals, the DR lost to Cuba, 3-1, who it had previously beat in Round 2, 7-3. Bit of trivia: the Dominican team, despite boasting Jose Reyes and Willy Taveras stole only 6 bases, (in six games), while getting caught 4 times. (The Japanese stole 13, getting caught only twice).
2009 Outlook: The DR still looks good, even if a couple of recent drops have dropped my estimation of their chances in this thing. They're missing Francisco Liriano and Albert Pujols from the 2006 classic, but the addition of the Wagon and Johnny Cuest makes the Liriano absence forgettable. Pujols isn't so easy to replace. Fortunately, A-Rod is about as spectacular. Unfortunately, the Yankees may ask him to stay home after they learn more about this cyst in his hip. The Mariners have already kept Beltre at home, which is a sad loss for the Dominicans (he went 6 for 20 in 2006, with four home runs. That's a lot!) Juan Cruz has also opted out after signing his contract with the Royals. As well our two pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez and Pedro Martinez should both have a positive impact. (But man, they're going to let a lot of guys on base - Jimenez and Volquez were both in the top 5 BB's allowed in the NL in 2008). In the pen, Jose Arredondo was pretty good for the Angels this last year and Carlos Marmol was really good. Jose Reyes, David Ortiz, and Hanley Ramirez all should be good as well, but honestly, the outfield is offensively pretty null. They're still probably the class of this Pool, and have a good chance to make it to the final round as well. Although there's plenty to love about the pitching, it is kind of shallow on the relief side, and the talent is coming from a lot of youngsters. In one game, I really think a team like Japan could out pitch them in late innings.
2009 Players to Watch: Besides Volquez and Cueto (I'll be watching while holding my breath), we've also got Pedro Viola in the fracas, who is 25 and a LH relief pitcher. (In 2008, he had great K numbers in AA Chattanooga, but...you know...Chattanooga...)
Of course there's also Mr. Havoc himself, who will get plenty of playing time - but last year he stole once and got caught once in his seven games. To be fair, that means he ran 50% of the time he got on base.
Lastly, there's A-Rod, who may not play, but I'll just say this. Although the arguments of late on redreporter that A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to play for the DR (after playing for the US in 06) were good, compelling arguments, let's just think about how much we're going to hear terrible arguments about it everytime he comes to the plate during the WBC. Great.
2006 Result: The Netherlands went 1-2 in Pool C, which did not qualify them to move on to Round 2, but they did post a nice 10-0 win against Panama, called after 7 innings.
2009 Outlook: The Netherlands might win against Panama again, but that's about it. Of course, that was mostly with the help of a no-hitter by Shairon Martis (a Nationals prospect, who was 19 at the time. Martis won't participate this year, and neither will fellow Nationals prospect Rogearvin Bernadina (who, evidentally, scouts say plays like Willy Taveras). Jair Jurrjens, who was 3rd in last year's NL ROY voting, also won't be playing. This is too bad, because it would've been fairly amusing to see the Netherlands with a half decent rotation (with Rick VandenHurk - nicknamed "The Holland Hammer" and "The Incredible Hurk", so you KNOW he's good, right?) There are a lot of young MLB prospects on the Dutch team, but they're not of an extremely high quality.
2009 Players to Watch: We've got two prospects pitching for the Netherlands. We drafted Juan Carlos Sulbaran, age 19, in the 30th round of the 2008 draft, and this'll be our first good look at him. Alexander Smit has been around longer (and, as some of you have noticed, has an official website! ). We claimed him off waivers from the Twins in 2007, and in 2008 he three 111 innings for High-A Sarasota, with a 3.87 ERA
Sidney Ponson has a fairly lengthy, though not impressive, major league career, is unsigned, and is hoping to pitch his way into a job in the classic.
And yes, Bert Blyleven is the pitching coach.
2006 Result: Panama was 0-3 in Pool C. Other than the aforementioned loss to the Netherlands, they did take eventual 2nd placers Cuba to extra innings (losing 8-6 in 11 innings) and lost to Puerto Rico in a close 2-1 match.
2009 Outlook: Not great. Much like the Netherlands (and about half of the other teams in this tournament), Panama has a chance to maybe win a game, but in general, is not good. There are a couple major leaguers on the team, like Braves relief pitcher, Manny Acosta, and sometime-Rockies-closer, Manny Corpas, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, and Carlos Lee.
2009 Players to Watch: Hmmm, did you guys know Bruce Chen was from Panama? That's kind of cool.
Also, Paolo Espino is an interesting pitching prospect in the Indians system. He spent part of 2008 pitching relief in A ball, and struck out 48 in 37 innings. Luis Durango is also a nice left field prospect for the Padres, and Ruben Tejada is a strong defensive infielder with the Mets
Lastly, Arquimeses Nieto wins the first Andromache's Favorite Name in the WBC award. Hurrah!
2006 Result: Puerto Rico won all three of its Pool C games, and beat Cuba 12-2 in 7 innings. They didn't fair so well in Pool 2, being inched out by the Cuba, shut out by Venezuela, but winning 7-1 against the DR.
2009 Outlook: Puerto Rico is clearly going into Round 2 this year, and will hope to do better at that stage of the competition than in 2006. Their big problem is going to be pitching. The starting rotation consists of Javier Vasquez, Ian Snell and Jonathan Sanchez, but won't include Joel Pineiro - so he quit. Which is really mature Jo-el. There are some decent relief pitchers in the mix (JC Romero, Javier Lopez), but their rotation is iffy enough that I don't know if it'll be good enough. Puerto Rico also has some strength in their lineup with Geovany Soto, NL ROY, at catcher (AND Yadier Molina AND Ivan Rodriguez. Did you know that Posada is also from PR? So much catching...), Carlos Beltran. Alex Rios, and Bernie Williams out of retirement. I don't see Puerto Rico doing very well in the later rounds, but if they got some good starts out of their rotation, they might have a chance of advancing to the finals.
2009 Players to Watch: I kind of like the Royals' young shortstop, Mike Aviles, who was pretty good last year, though who knows how long it'll last. (I thought it was interesting that Aviles, supposedly average to below-average in the field, actually had a 32.0 UZR/150 in his 700 innings as shortstop last year. Admittedly, I don't know a lot about UZR - can anyone tell me what's going on here?) But he's 5'9" and is described as "stout". I dunno if I'd say that - but he's definitely built more solidly than shortstops in general, I suppose. He was one of the college seniors that the Royals gave a $1000 signing bonus to (the players drafted next to him got about 130,000) and in 2007, when he needed to buy a car - he bought a 2001 Maxima with over 100,000 miles on it.
There's also our old friend Felipe Lopez, who is now with the Diamondbacks. Sigh.
Closing Notes: Ok, so I've made a lot of weird judgments on how good these teams will be, but at the end of the day it is baseball, and you only have to win 6 games to win this thing. So most of these teams could pull an upset, and at least three or four teams have a really strong shot to win.
Canada 6 Blue Jays 4
Votta, strangely, went 0-4 with a walk, and grounded into a double play.
Dominican Republic 10 Florida Marlins 1
DR getting off to a good start. Jose Reyes was 2-5 with a triple and a SB. Volquez and Pedro Viola each pitched 2 innings. Volquez struck out two but allowed one run on a HR to Jeremy Hermida, while Viola allowed no runs with a BB and a K. Rafael Perez (CLE) pitched two hitless innings with 3 Ks.
Italy 6 Nationals 9
Ouch, Italy. The Nationals are....not good. A fellow named Valentino Pascucci who played for the Expos in 04 was 2-3 with a HR and a 2B.
Netherlands 4 Pirates 5
Ouch again. Gregory Halman, a Mariners prospect went 2-3 with a HR
Panama 2 Braves 11
Ouch thrice. For three throwing errors made by Panama fielders. Bruce Chen really got knocked around with 4 runs in 1.2 innings. But Braves pitching prospect Tommy Hanson had a nice outing.
Puerto Rico 2 Twins 3
Ian Snell looked good with 3 Ks in his 3 innings and only 1 hit. Felipe Lopez went 2-4.
Venezuela 5 Tigers 7
Kind of sad, considering that half the Tigers are playing for Venezuela. BTW, Dontrelle Willis walked three in three innings. Oh, how things stay the same.
United States 6 Yankees 5
The US didn't have any extra base hits, and had only 6 of them, compared to the Yankees' 13. Yet they won. That's offensive efficiency, right there.
Canada 2 Phillies 9
Votto was 0-fer again - it looks like his hot streak has cooled down a bit. All 5 of the Canadian pitchers allowed runs.
Dominican Republic 1 Orioles 6
Cueto got knocked up a bit - allowing a 3-run homer to Ty Wigginton
Italy 5 Marlins 1
Chris Denorfia was 2-3 with a triple and Dan Serafini struck out 5 in four innings.
Panama 9 Tigers 3
Paolo Espino struck out 4 in two innings, and allowed no hits.
United States 5 Blue Jays 6
Ted Lilly had a nice start, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 4 innings, but Putz came in with runners on and blew the save.
Venezuela 4 Astros 4 (Tied, after 9)
RamRam wasn't so good - allowing 2 runs on 3 hits in 2.2 innings.
South Africa 6 Angels 13
Ah, way to go South Africa for scoring 6 runs?
Mexico 19 Diamondbacks 4
Mexico got HRs from Amezega, Cantu, and both Hairstons. (Jorge can't hit a grand slam against Arizona...). Amezega added a double to his homer, and though he only had 2 hits, scored 5 times, by walking and reaching on error twice. Additionally, 6 of their 19 runs were scored against Brandon Webb. Jon Coutlangus made an appearance for Arizona in the 9th.
Netherlands 3 Reds 4 (F/10)
Not a lot of starters in the lineup for the Reds. The Holland Hammer lasted 2.2 innings, allowing 2 hits and 3 BB. Both Reds prospects with the Netherlands pitched 2 innings today: Smit allowed one run, but Sulbaran struck out 2 and walked one, without allowing a hit or a run. The Dutch, with 4 errors, should perhaps work on some fundamentals,
Puerto Rico 2 Rays 1
Not much offense, but Alex Rios hit a double and a triple, and of course the pitching really showed up for the Puerto Ricans. Jonathan Sanchez pitched three scoreless on one hit and 2 strikeouts, against a not unreasonable Rays starting lineup.
Not yet finished:
Australia v. Mariners
4:30 EST - Pool A - Game 1 - JAPAN v. CHINA
Ah, the first game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Red Reporter Ladies' favorite, Yu Darvish will be on the mound for heavily-favored Japan, facing off against Lu Jiangang, who, if you'll remember, I didn't mention when I previewed China. (He played on the NPB's Chunichi Dragons from 1999-2002, and has pitched on the Chinese League's Tianjin Lions lately, who are pretty good in their own league) In their last WBC meetup, Japan thrashed China 18-2 before the game was called on the mercy rule in the eighth. At this point, China's only hope is to take a page from Hippomenes' book and bring three live whales, hoping that the Japanese will leave their defensive positions to hunt them down and eat them on the field. (Sidenote: This is also a good way to beat the Norwegian hockey team). The winner will play the winner of the match between Korea and Chinese Taipei on Friday.