In looking at the regulations for the tournament, I noticed that there is a mercy rule in place, meaning that if one team is ahead by 15 runs after five innings or 10 runs after seven innings, the game will be called. Keep that in mind in reading what I'm about to say.
A week from Friday, the United States will take on the South Africa team. Who, you may ask, is on this squad? Check out the ESPN.com WBC page and click on the South Africa flag in the lower right corner. The page reminds me of one of those NFL Films episodes where they're highlighting the season of a team like the 1998 Cincinatti Bengals; it's an awful team but they have to try to shed some positive light on it. South Africa's "ace" is Barry Armitage, a relief pitcher from the Royals' organization who pitched in Double-A last year. Another player highlighted as one of South Africa's top three is Paul Rutgers, who plays for Beloit in the Twins' system. He hit .230 in Single-A last year. The other player showcased on the page is Donavon Hendricks, and under his name are the phrases, "Quality Innings" and "A Workhorse." Hendricks, who will turn 20 in nine days, posted a 6.99 ERA in rookie ball in the Braves' organization last year. Sounds like the kind of "quality innings" the Twins were getting from Joe Mays last year.
Anybody see that mercy rule coming into play in that game?
As for the tournament in general, I initially felt like the Dominican Republic would be unbeatable; there is an obscene amount of Major League talent from that country. However, their players have been dropping out like flies. It appears that Manny Ramirez won't play, and neither will Aramis. Robinson Cano pulled out. Alex Rodriguez is playing for the USA instead of the DR. Pedro Martinez will not pitch until after the first round, and maybe not at all. There are still a lot of great hitters - like Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz - but they're certainly not unbeatable.
My early favorite is Venezuela, mostly because of their pitching. Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Freddy Garcia, and Carlos Silva are all terrific starting pitchers, and there are tons of great bullpen arms including Francisco Rodriguez. Guys like Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, and Carlos Guillen should provide sufficient offense to carry that team.
I'm excited to see how this thing goes. It seems Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is not. In an interview yesterday with USA Today, Steinbrenner ONCE AGAIN reiterated his feelings about the the tournament:
"I'll go on the record and predict somebody's going to get hurt badly in this damn thing," he said.
"I'm worried sick for (Commissioner) Bud Selig. I'm worried for baseball and worried for the whole thing. Somebody's going to get hurt and hurt some team. Baseball didn't need this. It's disrupting spring training.
"Some young people in baseball have sold Selig on it."
Young people? Oh no! God forbid any youth should be infused into the game you love, George. I'm sure if you had your way, pitchers would still be throwing 40 complete games per year and the league would still be hitting .240 as a whole.
Old $teinbrenner has already been very vocal in his opposition to the tournament, and has pretty much scolded his players for participating. He needs to stop whining.
I've had my issues with Selig over the years, as have most Twins fans no doubt. But he has done some great things for the game. A lot of people were against interleague play when it was introduced, but I really think it's been a good thing for the game. The WBC could be similar.
It may be the case that someone is going to get hurt. Maybe a big-time player, and maybe a bad injury. But if this thing ends up significantly raising worldwide support and awareness of baseball, it'll be worth it. Let's give a shot.
And George... shut up.
I came across a promising new blog, titled On Baseball. A very young site, but I like where it's headed. Good analysis of baseball (with an emphasis on the Twins), from experienced and knowledgeable writers. Plus it sounds like they will frequently be critiquing other blog entries from around the Web, which hopefully will open my eyes up to some great new writing.
Good luck guys!