Projected Team Mexico

Batting Order

3B Jerry Hairston Jr.: Long time major leaguer. Played with the Dodgers this season hitting .273 with 4 HR and 26 RBIs in 78 games. Hairston competed at the 2009 WBC where he hit .286 over 4 games.

OF Scott Hairston: Brother of Jerry, hit .278 in the 2009 installment of the WBC. Had a bounce back year with the Mets hitting a career high 20 HR and 57 RBIs, while having an average of .263.

1B Adrian Gonzalez: A perennial all-star. Spent the season between the Red Sox and the Dodgers. Hit .299 with 18 HR and 108 RBIs this season. He will be relied on heavily in Mexico is to advance out of their pool.

C Rod Barajas: A very effective, defensive catcher. Has bounced from team to team over the past couple of years. Hit .206 with 11 HR and 31 RBIs with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

SS Luis Cruz: Played well for the Los Angeles Dodgers this year hitting .297 with 6 HR and 40 RBI in just 78 games.

OF Karim Garcia: Pedro Martinez’ favourite player is still a big player in Mexico where he hit .334 with 22 HR and 80 RBI.

DH Jorge Guzman: The powerful lefty hit .292 with 21 HR 86 RBI while playing with Veracruz in the Mexican league.

2B Edgar Gonzalez: Older brother of first-baseman Adrian. Has played all over including in Korea. He hit .273 in the 2009 WBC and is a career .255 hitter in the bigs. Unlike his brother he can provide some speed on the basepaths.

OF Leonardo Heras: Played in Mexico this season where he hit .323 with 24 HR and 64 RBI. Helped Mexico to a silver medal at the 2011 PanAm games.

Pitching

SP Luis Mendoza: Spent his season with the Kansas City Royals going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA. He split time between the bullpen and as a starter and could have the same role with Mexico.

SP Miguel Gonzalez: The righty just finished his first year in the MLB with a solid 9-4 record. He also sported a 3.25 ERA. Gonzalez also has big game experience from pitching in the Bronx against the Yankees in this year’s playoffs. He went 7 innings, allowing only one run.

SP Oliver Perez: Perez had a 2.12 ERA out of the bullpen for Seattle this year, although in past years he has been predominately a starter. He has started 195 games over his big league career and started 2 games for Mexico in 2009, where he was 0-1 with a 9.45 ERA.

RP Rodrigo Lopez: Spent his season with the Cubs where he sported a 5.68 ERA. Has played in both previous WBCs.

RP Fernando Salas: Came into this year as a potential closer for St. Louis after having 24 saves in 2011. He had a bit of a setback year, saving 0 games, while having an ERA of 4.30. However, he could be put in as the closer role for Mexico

RP Alfredo Aceves: Had a very up and down season as the Red Sox closer. He saved 25 games, but blew 8 games. He finished the season with a 5.36 ERA. He could be the closer but will most likely be used as a 7th inning man, or to get out of jams.

RP Miguel Ruiz: He led the Mexican league in 2012 with a 2.42 ERA. Will be used out of the bullpen in middle innings.

RP Jose (Miguel) Ramirez: Put up a 9-2 record with a 2.53 ERA in the Mexican league. Could be used in long relief situations.

RP Adrian Garza: Had an ERA of 2.37 while saving 23 games in Mexico. Could be used as the set-up, or 7th inning guy.

RP Marco Estrada: Spent the season with the Milwaukee Brewers posting a respectable 3.64 ERA while going 5-7. He could be a valuable asset if Mexico finds themselves in jams.

Bench

C Roman Solis: .283AVG, 6HR, 40RBI with the Indianapolis Indians.

INF Alfredo Amezaga: .274AVG, 6HR, 42RBI with the Iowa Cubs.

INF Jorge Cantu: N/A

C Carlos Rodriguez: .296AVG, 32HR, 94RBI with Rieleros de Aguascalientes.

OF Mario Valenzuela: .357AVG, 22HR, 77RBI with Mexican del Pacifico
Hopefuls

Jaime Garcia: His year ended early in the playoffs with a hurt shoulder but Jaime put up a record of 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA during the regular season. Pitching has always been Mexico’s weakness so adding an arm like Garcia to the rotation would go a long way.

Yovanni Gallardo: Gallardo never seems to want to play for his birth nation. He did move to the US early in his life but is eligible to play for Mexico. He sported a 16-9 record with a 3.66 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. Having Gallardo would give Mexico that ace they desperately need.

Jorge del la Rosa: del la Rosa is a career 54-51 pitcher in the big leagues. He doesn’t have swing and miss stuff but will eat up innings and provide solid starts or long relief.appearances.

Joakim Soria: After missing the entire 2012 campaign with injury, it is unlikely we will see Soria come March. Historically players who miss large chunks of the previous season do not play in the WBC because their MLB team does not allow them to. If Soria does get the O.K then it will be a huge boost for the weak Mexican pitching staff.

Projection

Mexico has advanced to the second stage in both prior World Baseball Classics. If they are to do it again they will need better pitching then they did in 2009. Over 6 games they let up an average of 8.67 runs. This included letting up a record 22 hits to Australia in their tournament opener. They will most likely be placed in a pool with Canada, USA, and Italy. The big game will come against Canada. If they can find a way to win that then they should be looking at their third straight second stage. The offense should be there for Mexico but the defense and pitching is VERY suspect. If Mexico can convince Gallardo, or hope Jaime recovers quickly, then they may have a shot.

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Projected Team Canada

Batting Order

3B Brett Lawrie: Plays all out, all the time. Batted .273 with 11 HR and 48 RBI in 125 games with the Toronto Blue Jays. Will provide that hockey-esque intensity that he has become loved for.

OF Michael Saunders: The 6’4 outfielder batted .247 with 19 HR and 59 RBI for Seattle this season.

1B Joey Votto: A perennial all-star with the Cincinnati Reds. Votto batted .337 with 14 HR and 56 RBI in only 111 games.

DH Justin Morneau: Former MVP has had concussion issues the past few seasons but was very effective this year batting .267 with 19 HR and 77 RBI for the Minnesota Twins.

C: George Kottaras: Was a role player with the Oakland Athletics this year hitting .211 with 9 HR and 31 RBI

OF Oscar Tavares: This is a long shot but the #86 ranked prospect is eligible to play for Canada. He batted .321 with 23 HR and 94 RBI in AA this season. He is also known for his above average speed.

OF Jason Bay: Has hit 20 or more HRs in 6 of his 9 MLB seasons but has not been effective since joining the Mets in 2010. Hopefully a change of scenery can get him back to his former self.

2B Pete Orr: Career journeyman spent most of his time in AAA this season hitting .258 with 4 HR and 33 RBI. He had an average of .315 over 35 games in the MLB this season.

SS Jonathan Malo: Played for Canada at the WBC qualifier in September and is known for his excellent defense. He is one of very few natural SS that Canada has. Won’t do much (if anything) with the bat but will supply great defense up the middle.

Pitching

SP Scott Diamond: The potential ace of the rotation went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA this year with the Twins.

SP Jeff Francis: This would be the 2nd WBC for Francis. He went 6-7 with Colorado this season. Could also see him coming out of the bullpen and someone like Andrew Albers take his spot in the rotation.

SP Shawn Hill: Helped Canada in the qualifier. Pitched in AAA Las Vegas going 9-2 with a 4.52 ERA over 15 starts. Had a 1-0 record in a brief stint with Toronto this season.

RP James Henderson: The 6’5 righty spent most of the season with the Nashville Sounds ins AAA, racking up a 4-3 record, with 15 saves and an ERA of 1.69. He got called up in September, where he posted a 3.52 ERA with 3 save. Could be used as the set-up man.

RP Phillippe Aumont: Spent most of the season with AAA Lehigh going 3-1 with an ERA of 4.26 and saving 15 games. Would be his second WBC and is known for getting out of a bases loaded, no out jam against the USA in 2009. Could be used as the set-up man or closer.

RP Chris Leroux: The 6’6 righty went 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA this season in AAA. This would also be his second WBC.

RP Scott Mathieson: Spent the season in Japan with Yomiuri Giants going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 10 saves. Would be his 2nd WBC.

RP Andrew Albers: Started the final game in the qualifier for Canada in September. Spent the season in AA going 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA.

RP John Axford: Was a setback season for Axford who had 46 saves in 2011, but could only manage 35 this year while blowing 9 saves. He still throws in the mid to high 90s so he is the front runner for the closing role.

RP Jesse Crain: Went 2-3 with a 3.44 ERA with the White Sox this season. This would be his 3rd WBC.

RP Scott Richmond: Spent most of the season in AAA Las Vegas going 11-7 with a 5.61 ERA. Would be his 2nd WBC.

Bench

3B Taylor Green: .273AVG, 7HR, 29RBI with the Nashville Sounds.

OF Adam Loewen: .227AVG, 8HR, 26RBI with the Buffalo Bisons.

OF Rene Tosoni: .224AVG, 4HR, 23RBI with the New Britain Rock Cats.

INF Mark Teahen: .260AVG, 3HR, 63RBI with the Syracuse Chiefs.

1B Jim VanOstrand .310AVG, 10HR, 30RBI with the Harrisburg Senators.

C Mike Nickeas: .174AVG, 1HR, 13RBI with the New York Mets.

Hopefuls

Ryan Dempster: Dempster has never played in the WBC. His presence on the mound would give Canada that much needed ace. He went 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA while splitting time with the Cubs and Rangers. Having him on the bump come March would be great news for Canadians.

Russell Martin: Martin caught 1133 innings this year and by the end of the playoffs was a broken man. He has played in the WBC in the past (2009), but may need the extra rest this time around. Having that one more big bat in the lineup would be nice.

Erik Bedard: Bedard is in between teams right now and may not be interested in the WBC. He pitched at the 2006 WBC for Canada but has not donned the maple leaf since. Another arm for Canada would be good news. He went 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA this past year but still bolsters a career 3.85 ERA.

Projection

Canada will most likely be placed in a pool consisting of USA, Mexico and Italy. They will be in tough in this pool. Canada will have a very solid offense with Joey Votto leading the way. Canada’s 1-through-5 in the lineup is quite strong while the rest has potential. If Canada can get timely hits and run the bases well they should be able to put up runs. The problem comes with the pitching. With Dempster and Bedard both doubtful, Canada’s starting pitching is not very strong. If the starters can keep them close heading into the middle innings, Canada’s strong bullpen should be able to take them the rest of the way. Canada will be heavily favoured against Italy, and an underdog against the USA so it may come down to the game against Mexico to see if they advance to the second stage for the first time.

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Chinese Taipei Advancing

Chinese Taipei has advanced to the World Baseball Classic with a convincing 9-0 win over WBC rookies New Zealand. Chinese Taipei dominated start to finish throughout the qualifier going 3-0 while outscoring their opponents 35-0. Every facet of the game was on point for the host nation. Taipei averaged 11 hits over the three games, while only making one error on defense. Taipei was always the favourite to win the pool, but no one thought they could breeze through it as easily as they did. Manager Chang-Heng Hsieh hopes this success will continue on into March. This in-game experience will be good for the club and acts similarly to spring training. The qualifier gave them three competitive, meaningful games to see how certain players will perform under the pressure of a WBC. It also gave the young players, like 18 year old Jen-Ho Tseng, a small taste of what playing in the Classic is truly like.

Chinese Taipei will play in their third World Baseball Classic come March. Much like Canada, Taipei was upset in their second game of the 2009 installment of the classic. This meant they had to earn their way back in via this week’s qualifier, where they lost a tough 4-1 decision to the 18th ranked Chinese squad. Taipei has an overall record of 1-4 in previous WBCs and will be looking to improve on that mark.

Taichung, Taiwan is a host city for the main event where it will host Group B. Taipei and the World Baseball Classic avoided a potential embarrassment by having the host country qualify. It is safe to say that Taipei will be placed in that division which is filled with South Korea (4th), Netherlands (6th), and Australia (12th). With Chinese Taipei being the 8thranked team in the world, this will be a very interesting pool and one to keep an eye on. As we have seen in past WBCs, anything can, and will happen.

The lone qualifier yet to be determined is the one currently being held in Panama City. Brazil is awaiting the winner of Colombia and Panama for tomorrow’s final.

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Brazil Turning Heads

After yet another upset victory, the surprising Brazilians have improved to 2-0, and will now play for a berth in the World Baseball Classic. This is coming after a convincing 7-1 win over a strong Colombian squad. Brazil and Colombia had 11 hits apiece, but it was the clutch at bats of Yan Gomes and company that helped Brazil go 5-for-17 with runners in scoring position.  Colombia had the opportunities to stay with Brazil but could only muster a measly 1-for-12 effort with RISP, while stranding a total of 13 runners.

It was a full team effort for Brazil. No one batter had more than one run batted in. Leonardo Reginatto, a Tampa Bay Rays prospect, led the way going 3-for-4 with 1 RBI and 4 total bases. It was another great team pitching performance as well with five Brazilian pitchers combining to only allow one run, while striking out 10. Pitching has been outstanding for Brazil in their two wins. They have allowed only 3 runs to solid offensive teams to start their WBC career.

One more win for Brazil could mean history. Coming into this tournament, not much was expected out of the WBC virgin Brazil. Now they are sitting 2-0 and awaiting the winner of tomorrow’s semi-final. They will play the winner of Colombia VS the winner of Nicaragua/Panama on Monday night with the fate of their first ever WBC appearance hanging in the balance. However, a similar story comes to mind from the Jupiter, Florida qualifier, where upstart Israel shocked the world with a 2-0 start, only to go on to lose the final in extra innings to Spain.

Brazil will be well rested and should have all of their pitching staff eligible to play. The big part of winning the first two games is not only the rest, but the one less game played allows more pitchers to be eligible within the rules of the WBC pitch count. Whoever Brazil plays they will have one less day of rest, and one more game played. This gives a large advantage to an already hot Brazilian team.

Look for Brazil to be competing in March with the best teams in the world.

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Can New Zealand Advance?

New Zealand is taking the world by storm. After dropping their much anticipated WBC opener to the host country, Chinese Taipei, the Kiwis have been on a tear winning two straight by a combined score of 22-8. The strong point of this team is their offense. They have racked up 26 hits and 22 runs over their last two games. However, their lone loss was a 10-0, mercy rule loss to the hosts. The good news is New Zealand has a chance to redeem themselves when they take on Chinese Taipei in a winner takes all game. This will be the finals of the fourth qualifier with the winner advancing to the World Baseball Classic.

This would be a historic win for New Zealand. Chinese Taipei is the heavy favourite and a perennial baseball powerhouse. Taipei is ranked 8th in the IBAF world rankings, whereas New Zealand are unranked. This is the first IBAF competition they have been a part of, but boy does it not show. The Kiwis have not looked fazed at all — if anything they are doing the intimidating. The Diamondblacks are taking a page out of their country’s rugby team playbook and performing the Haka before each game. The Haka is a war song of the Maori people of New Zealand and is designed to intimidate the opponents. Apparently it’s working.

http://web.worldbaseballclassic.com/wbc/2013/video/play.jsp?content_id=25487361&topic_id=31426364&c_id=mlb

However, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can celebrate. Taipei has dominated their two games so far, winning by a combined score of 26-0. New Zealand hung in the game for a bit, but an eight-run fifth by Taipei sealed their fate. New Zealand had chances to score early in the game but could not come through, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

Manager Andy Skeels, and former MLB shortstop Chris Woodward know that everything will need to go just right for New Zealand to advance. With 10,000 fans cheering against you it is tough to remain focused. Being the underdog, the Kiwis need to have picture perfect defense, and smart, disciplined at-bats. With the new WBC pitch count rule, it is essential to work deep into counts so that you get into the bullpen quick, as Taipei will be bringing their best. After only playing 2 games, and having a full day off yesterday, almost all of the pitching staff will be ready for manager Chang-Heng Hsieh.

Taipei is a very strong team. They have solid offense and great defense. This is a very tough spot for them to be in, however. All of the pressure of the home crowd, and being such a heavy favourite can take a toll on a team.  We saw it in Panama, where the heavily favoured host nation fell to the young guns from Brazil. Nonetheless, I believe Chinese Taipei will come out ahead, and advance to the World Baseball Classic, though it will be closer than many people outside of the Diamondblacks dugout will expect.

This experience will still grow the sport in the island country. Baseball New Zealand was only established in 1989 and they have already made it to the finals of the qualifier. This can only help grow the sport in a powerful sports nation.

I, for one, am excited to see what the Diamondblacks can do in the future.

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New Zealand, Philippines Preview

The two 1-1 teams of the WBC’s fourth qualifier are set to meet in a elimination game. This is a very intriguing matchup between two countries who have never met in IBAF competition. Both nations are not considered baseball countries but are slowly developing talented players. New Zealand has three players currently playing professionally in the United States and the Philippines currently have no home grown talent, but 3 minor leaguers on their roster.

New Zealand was able to muster 6 hits against the mighty Chinese Taipei and then rack up 14 against the over powered Thai team. Capitalizing on opportunities was the Kiwis downfall in game 1, where they went 0-for- 6 with runners in scoring position. They seemed to have found their clutch bone, rebounding with a 7-for-21 effort with runners in scoring position against Thailand.

The Philippines on the other hand, was only able to get 1 hit against the host nation, and 12 against Thailand. In the opener against Thailand, 7 runners were able to reach on error. Thailand was actually winning the game until the 4th inning. They have had some consistency problems at the dish and have not been able to string together a lot of hits.

Pitching, as always, will be a big key to the game.  Both these teams have the ability to capitalize on mistakes.

The way the New Zealand team has looked so far, the edge has to go to them. Look for the Kiwis to win an offensive game.

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Further Expansion of the Classic?

With the way the qualifiers have been going so far, it is clear that baseball is becoming more and more of an international game. That said, there is still a large gap between the traditional baseball countries like the United States and Japan, and the countries where baseball is still growing, like Spain. The Spaniards became the first team to qualify for the 2013 Classic by beating another first time participant in Israel. In their pool was a two-time competitor in South Africa. Although South Africa has never won a game at the WBC, it was believed they would once again qualify. However, they went 1-2 and did not even make the finals. Their two losses came in the opener to Israel, a 7-3 loss, and a 13-3 defeat in the semis to Spain. These two inexperienced countries were able to knock around a two time competitor, showing that baseball is rising. With Brazil’s win last night it shows that the 28th ranked team can beat the 15th ranked team.

A way to further expand baseball world wide would be to have different tiers or divisions. The way it would work would be similar to the Internal Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) World Championships. In these tournaments, the top division consists of 16 teams. At the end of the tournament, the teams who finish 15th and 16th are relegated to the second division, also consisting of 16 teams, where the top 2 teams are promoted to the top division. This would create large, international tournaments that could grow the profile of baseball to be played in these growing countries. They in themselves are the qualifier.

An alteration to the IIHF’s version would be to demote the four last-place teams after the initial round robin. This would lead to more turnover, allowing more new countries to get a shot at the big stage. After the 16 countries are determined for next year, the IBAF can instantly know who will be playing in the ‘second’ division. The 12 teams who competed in this year’s qualifiers that did not advance to the WBC can take part, along with the next top four teams.  The IBAF has 74 ranked teams, and with the addition of the strong New Zealand team this makes 75. The top four divisions can consist of 16 teams, and the fifth division can consist of 11. Ideally five more countries will be able to field teams so there can be 5 equal divisions of 16 teams.

During 2016 (the next year to have a WBC) there could be five tournaments going on from November to March. Therefore, for the following WBC in 2019, there will be four different teams in the top division. This would help grow the game of baseball worldwide. Having a large tournament with the chances of advancing will allow the competition to be the best and will show the people of these smaller countries what a wonderful game baseball is.

This will also be better for countries with MLB players. Teams like Canada and South Africa were hurt by having the qualifiers in mid-September because they were not able to field their best team. Canada was without former MVPs Joey Votto and Justin Morneau and South Africa was unable to take their young prospects. Having one divisions tournament every month starting in November will accommodate everyone. This would mean that almost all major league players that play for their country would be playing in February or March, which is part of their normal routine instead of the middle of November.

Having these tournaments will not only bring more attention to the game, but also advance the sport across all continents.

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