USA Is Just Not As Invested In the WBC As The Rest Of The World
This is not meant to be critical of players or their patriotism. It isn’t. Players, especially pitchers, have a certain shelf life, and no one should tell them to risk everything for a one month international competition. Perhaps Noah Syndergaard put it best when he said, “I’m a Met. Ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or the World Series playing in the WBC.” (Abby Mastrocco, nj.com).
If you go down the line, you will probably hear similar responses from the other players that did not play. The problem is most of them are American.
The reigning Cy Young Award winners are Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. Neither are pitching, but to be fair Scherzer was slated to pitch before he suffered an injury. The runner-ups were Jon Lester in the NL and Justin Verlander in the AL. They aren’t pitching either. Third place? Kyle Hendricks and Corey Kluber respectively. The two pitchers who started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series aren’t on the USA roster. Dig deeper. The best pitcher in baseball right now is Clayton Kershaw. He’s not on the roster. The best clutch pitcher in all of baseball right now, if not all time, is Madison Bumgarner. He’s not on the roster.
This speaks to the absolute depth of the starting pitching among Team USA. Arguably, the crop of starting pitchers on the USA roster right now is their 7th best option. Maybe even worse. And yet, they pitched brilliantly. Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, and Danny Duffy went out there and pitched as good as or better than any of the aforementioned pitchers would have pitched in that spot.
But then comes the bullpen. As loaded as the USA is in the rotation, they should be just as loaded in the bullpen. Zach Britton is coming off a historically great season, but much like the AL Wild Card Game, you are not going to see him pitching against a foreign opponent. Addison Reed, a pitcher coming off a season with a 1.97 ERA isn’t on the roster. It could be argued Wade Davis is the best closer in all of baseball, and yet, he isn’t on the roster. The closest USA comes to having a terrific closer on the roster is Mark Melancon, who is on the provisional roster.
I kept thinking about all the aforementioned pitchers while Tanner Roark, a pitcher who wouldn’t make a squad of the best American born pitcher in the National League East, was getting tattooed by the Dominican Republic. Oddly enough, it was the one pitcher for USA you trusted the most, Andrew Miller, the one who definitively belonged on the roster, was the one that ultimately blew the save.
Sure, you could have hoped USA scored more runs after jumping out to a 5-0 lead. You could argue that the best young players in the game Mike Trout and Bryce Harper went to Spring Training instead of competing in this event. You also wonder how much of an impact USA not bringing their best players had an impact on American born Manny Machado playing for the Dominican Republic. You wondered a little more as he hit a Tanner Roark ball nearly out of the gigantic Marlins Park.
Personally, I was wondering what the heck Jim Leyland was doing with his lineup. Two of the better hitters on the team, Andrew McCutchen and Daniel Murphy, were stapled to the bench while Eric Hosmer was batting fifth. Mind you, Hosmer could very well be the worst hitter in that lineup. He’s certainly the bottom two or three on the roster. These are the things that happen when you name Leyland manager instead of giving the chance to Willie Randolph, a man who has had success at the major league level and in international play.
Seriously, aside from Buster Posey and perhaps Nolan Arenado and Ian Kinsler, you could argue the best USA players and coaching staff stayed home. This is why USA has not won a WBC to date, let alone appear in a final. And yet, in some strange way, it speaks about how much better USA is than the world in baseball.
In Olympic basketball, USA brings its best players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and yet, the team has to sweat it out to win Olympic Gold. In hockey, Canada is absolutely stocked top to bottom. Arguably, the team it leaves home would win Olympic Gold, and yet each Olympics teams constantly push Canada. In the WBC, USA isn’t sending near its best, and they are having to play tougher games than expected.
Teams like Colombia try to keep their hopes alive with a gutsy performance from Nabil Crismatt. Puerto Rico’s ace is Seth Lugo, a pitcher who can’t even find his way onto an All-American Mets starting rotation. Israel has transformed Josh Zeid, a pitcher the Mets would not re-sign to a minor league deal, into their version of Andrew Miller.
USA may not have their best, but they have players like Adam Jones who well up with pride putting on the uniform and representing their county. This is a roster full of players that are easy to root for and are good enough to win the WBC. As an American and as a baseball fan, I’m happy these players chose to play, and they deserve to win it all because even though they might not be the best American players, they are the best team in the WBC.