Saturday, March 9, 2013

For USA, the heat is on

If you're a big follower of the World Baseball Classic, you can't help but have that "Here we go again" feeling after Friday night's game.

Even without big names like Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp, the US is still considered one of the strong favorites to take home the WBC title.  And just like the previous couple of tournaments, they find themselves searching for answers after another disappointing performance.

This time it was to Mexico, as the Dodgers' duo of Adrian Gonzalez and Luis Cruz drove in all five runs, and R.A. Dickey never was able to get on track in the 5-2 loss.  Mexico evens up their record at 1-1 after suffering their own letdown against Italy the day before.  As for the US, they find themselves in a must-win situation against Italy on Saturday with an 0-1 mark.

Manager Joe Torre had to like his chances coming into Friday's game, as the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Dickey took the mound.  Mexico countered with the Brewers' Yovanni Gallardo, who came into this one with a sore groin.  Even at full health, it would still be an advantage for the US.

On the very first pitch of the game, Eduardo Arredondo singled into center as a sign of things to come.  Romiro Pena followed with a double, and runners were in scoring position.  Cruz and Gonzalez had productive outs by getting both runners in, and the US was already in a hole at 2-0.

Things didn't get much better from there, as the US went down in order in the first, and then David Wright grounded into a double play the next inning.  After Arredondo against singled leading off the third, Gonzalez cranked a two-run shot to dead center that held up on replay to make it 4-0.

It's not that the US didn't have chances to score, they just did jack squat with them.  They managed to get one back in the fourth, as Jimmy Rollins singled leading off, and Wright hit a two-out RBI single to make it 4-1.  Mexico got that right back in the fifth on another sac-fly RBI from Cruz.

In both the fifth and sixth, the US wasted more opportunities to score by putting two runners on with less than two outs.  They did cut the deficit to 5-2 in the eighth, as Ryan Braun's bloop double leading off led to a bloop RBI single by Eric Hosmer.

The question of the night seemed to be whether the Giants' Sergio Romo would be used after blowing a save on 26 pitches against Italy the night before.  It looked doubtful, but with their backs against the wall, there he was in the ninth.  There was no drama, as Adam Jones, Jonathan Lucroy, and Rollins went down quietly.

As was pointed out in the game by announcers Matt Vasgersian and Jim Kaat, the US is in a bit of no-win situation.  If they win, they're supposed to.  If they lose, it's a big disappointment.  After watching them leave eight on base, six of them with two outs in scoring position, and have their ace get roughed up in only four innings of work, it's definitely a disappointment no matter how you slice it.

So now the pressure is on.  If the US can beat a hot Italy team and take care of an inferior Canadian team on Sunday, then this game is forgotten.  If they fail to even advance to the second round, that would not be pretty.  It's hard to say how ugly it would get considering how this tournament isn't held in the same regard as the Olympics, but since there is no Olympic baseball anymore, maybe it is a big deal.  Who knows.

All the US can do is relax and play.  I can't imagine a lineup featuring studs like Braun, Wright, Joe Mauer, Brandon Phillips, and Jones will be shut down like this again.  Italy and Canada don't have nearly the pitching to throw at them like Mexico can.  As long as these guys don't try to hit a home run every at-bat and do the little things, they'll be fine.

If they do fold under the pressure of a must-win game, it's another bad chapter in the WBC history for the United States.

No comments: