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Chris Davis Is Blasting Off

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chrisdavis

As a sports fan, growing up in Corpus Christi was pretty rough. The only local sports team was a minor league hockey team called the Ice Rays and the only high school talent was in baseball. The pro teams that the city is geographically tied to are solid, but my family forced them on me so much that I found it impossible to root for the Spurs and Cowboys. Only the Astros, led by my favorite player Jeff Bagwell, captured my fandom, but it didn’t take me long to abandon them for the Rangers once the Killer B-era had come and gone.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the city finally had a real team to call it’s own in the form of a minor league baseball team. Nolan Ryan’s son paved the way for the team, as the Round Rock Express became the Astros’ triple-A affiliate, opening the door for the Corpus Christi Hooks to replace them as the double-A affiliate. I was actually the first fan ever to attend a Hooks game and I remember being confused by all of the photographers snapping my picture as I had my ticket scanned at the gate.

Even though this was a very dry stretch in the history of the Astros farm system, I still had fun going to games to see the young talent that the Athletics and Rangers had in their system. The 2008 season was my favorite because the Frisco RoughRiders were featuring prospects Elvis Andrus and Chris Davis.

One summer night I moseyed my way down to the front row seats by the visitors’ on-deck circle despite having a $5 general admission ticket meant for the outfield berm. This particular seat was right in between the homeplate netting and the visitor’s dugout, so I was literally within arm’s reach of the players.

Andrus was the player that I had heard the most about, but Davis had made me a fan with his previous displays of power against the Hooks. Now, back then I was much more an autograph seeker than a journalist¹, but for whatever reason I decided to ask Davis a couple of questions the next time he was on-deck. Amazingly, instead of pretending all of the chatter in the crowd was white noise, Davis responded when I asked him when he would be in the majors.

“Soon,” he said with a smirk.

There was some more small talk throughout the night, but all I can remember is him hitting a homerun onto an empty right field berm to clinch the game. It didn’t take much to win me over as a fan back then, so Davis immediately became one of my favorite players. I had to have him on every one of my fantasy teams, I made my 24th AIM screename in his honor (DavisChris19) and I had no problem proclaiming to anyone that asked (and those who didn’t) that he was going to be the next big thing in Texas.

Unfortunately for Davis, his time with the Rangers made him out to be the best example of a AAAA player. He showed great power during his three major league stints with the Rangers (80 games in 2008, 113 games in 2009 and 45 games in 2010), but he always ended up back in triple-A because he wasn’t getting the bat on the ball. My excitement each time Davis arrived to the majors was culled each time he departed back to Round Rock. Any time he was in the minors, Davis was good for a .325+ average and double digit jacks, but his sky high strikeout rates made him a tough player for the Rangers to keep in the line-up.

In 2011, with Mitch Moreland assuming the first base role, the Rangers decided to part ways with Davis, packaging him with pitcher Tommy Hunter in exchange for Koji Uehara, who provided them with solid bullpen work for two seasons. It was a sad day for me, watching my favorite team trade away one of my favorite players, a player that I still had faith in.

The trade turned out to be bittersweet. Though the Rangers had given up on him, he was finally going to get a chance to play everyday for a team that was not relying heavily on his development into a star. There was tremendous pressure on Davis to be a star in Texas, particularly when they had Justin Smoak and Moreland behind him and getting better. In Baltimore, he was simply a power hitting first baseman with a chance to stake his claim as a major league regular for a team that wasn’t expected to be good.

And that is what he did last season. In 139 games and 562 plate appearances, Davis hit 33 homeruns, slugged .501 (29th in baseball) and posted a .231 isolated slugging percentage (19th in baseball, just ahead of Albert Pujols). He also hit .270, his highest average since he hit .285 in his hot rookie stretch with the Rangers in 2008 (80 games). Davis still posted a horrid 30.1% strikeout rate (fifth worst in baseball), but a team finally gave him a shot to stay in the line-up in spite of his whiffing, and he repaid the Orioles by blasting the 10th most homers in baseball and producing 2 WAR (wins above replacement).

And now, just four games into the 2013 season, Davis is already halfway to the career best 2 WAR mark that he posted last year. That’s because Davis has started off this season on a tear unlike any other in the history of baseball. Davis is 9-of-15 at the plate (.600 average) with four homers and 16 RBI to start the season. He has homered once in each of the Orioles’ first four games, making him the fourth player in MLB history to do so alongside Willie Mays, Mark McGwire* and Nelson Cruz**. His 16 RBI put Davis in a category all by himself as that is the most runs batted in for any player in the first four games of a season.

Adding to the value of this red hot streak has been the timing of Davis’ hits. With the Orioles up one in their season opener against the Rays, Davis blasted a three-run homer in the seventh to give them a much needed cushion in a three-run win. In the rubber match of that series, Davis delivered a two-run homer in the second inning to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and then broke the 2-2 tie in the 6th inning with a two RBI double. Yesterday, in the eighth inning, after Adam Jones tied the game at 5 with an RBI single, Davis stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and cracked a game-winning grandslam.

I’ll spare you the notes about sample size and sustainability and note that I understand that four awesome games doesn’t mean much if the rest of the season goes poorly. But that doesn’t mean that this incredible run, which you can actually date back to the end of the regular season last year, isn’t a significant event for Davis that signifies a new chapter in his career, specifically the fact that he has pounded outside pitches this season, something that had previously been a weakness. At the age of 27, Davis may very well be hitting his peak, and with tweaks to his plate approach, he can easily be one of the game’s premier sluggers.

Davis’ approach at the plate will be something to monitor over the next few weeks. If there is even a mild reduction in his strikeout rate, there’s reason to believe that he’s turned a corner. For a player that has gone through a lot to get to this point – where all the headlines are about him and everyone of his at-bats is must see TV for any baseball fan – you know he is has worked for that to be the case.

“There were times when it was really hard to go out on a baseball field and grind out four at-bats. But you learn from that,” Davis told the Baltimore Sun after yesterday’s game. “You remember that. And it keeps you humble. That’s one of the big things in this game. You can be as hot as wildfire one minute and cold as ice the next minute. You’ve just got to ride out the highs and grind out the lows. I think a lot of things that happened to me when I was younger, my hot start with Texas as a rookie [in 2008] and then struggling and going back and forth, I just really learned a lot about myself. Not only as a player but as a person.”

So: Is this historic run by Davis another quick peek at his potential with a long valley soon to come, or has Davis overcome his existential lows and developed into a top notch player that will get used to extended periods of success rather than failure?

I’m not sure, but I think we’ll know soon.

And I, like always, will be rooting for Davis to have finally arrived for good.


1. Had I known anything about journalism that year, Davis likely would have been my first professional interview. Instead, I took up sportswriting in 2009 and Rangers’ first base prospect Justin Smoak was my first interviewee (check out that camera work!). Return

* denotes steroid user.

** denotes accused steroid user.

Projecting the Four Major Awards of 2013

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Because the baseball season is officially getting underway on Monday, this is the perfect time for me to lay out some predictions. Today I am going to talk about my predictions for the four major award winners.

American League Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

King Felix will only turn 27 in a few days, but it feels like he has been around Major League Baseball for a very long time. Part of that is that he made his debut at 19, but it also feels like a long time because he has spent most of that time the spotlight.

He already captured his first Cy Young Award in 2010 when he posted a remarkable 2.27 ERA. In the American League, that is flat out ridiculous.

While last year was not quite as strong, one particular thing that stood out to me was the fact that he led the American League with five shutouts. In my mind, shutouts are indicative of dominance, and that might forecast great things for this season.

National League Cy Young Award: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels posted a career-high 17 wins last season while compiling a 3.06 ERA. Unfortunately, that was only good enough to grab eighth place in Cy Young voting.

However, the Philadelphia Phillies had a difficult season last year, and if he had more run support, maybe that record would have been even better. It might not have changed the voting, but it does make me think that he can hit 20 victories this season.

If he can step up and be the ace of the rotation, don’t be surprised to see him in serious competition for this award one more time.

American League MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Pulling off back-to-back MVP awards would be impressive, and Cabrera has the bat to do it. He is one of the best hitters in baseball today, and as the voters proved last year, prowess at the plate is the most important factor in this voting process.

In every complete season he has ever played in, he has hit at least .292, 30 home runs and driven in 103 runs. Why should that trend change this year?

I would like to say that Mike Trout will have another amazing season and take the award, but I think that he might experience a little sophomore slump and come up a bit short again.

National League MVP: Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

I have always been convinced that Justin Upton has some of the best all-around talent in Major League Baseball. Obviously, it was not working out quite as well as it might have with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so maybe a change of scenery will be helpful.

In his best season of 2011, he hit .289 with 31 home runs, 88 RBI and 21 stolen bases. I would not be surprised to see him improve on those numbers a little bit and pull off a 30-30 season.

The Atlanta Braves are hoping to make some major steps this year, and Upton, along with his brother, has an excellent opportunity to be a part of this process.

Hanley Ramirez to Miss Eight Weeks with Torn Thumb Ligament

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The Los Angeles Dodgers received some bad news this past week. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez tore his right thumb ligament in the final game of the World Baseball Classic according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and is expected to miss two months.

As one of the most talented all-around players in baseball, Ramirez was looking for a big return to prominence in 2013. Last year, he hit .257 with 24 home runs, 92 RBI and 21 stolen bases. While that is obviously a solid campaign, he is a career .298 hitter. If he could get his average back up to that level, there is no reason that he could not reach 30-30 in a complete season.

Last year, once he was traded to the Dodgers, he did hit .271, so that is a good indication that perhaps he will be able to get on base more once he returns to the field.

Of course, opponents of the World Baseball Classic are going to try to use this as evidence as to why we should eliminate the competition. While that argument may or may not be valid, the point remains that the Dodgers need some type of answer at shortstop.

According to that same article by Gurnick, Luis Cruz or Dee Gordon are expected to fill in until Ramirez returns.

Cruz, a high average, low power hitter, was expected to start at third base this season anyway, so if the Dodgers decide to shift him to shortstop for the time being, the essence of the Los Angeles lineup would not be that much different.

Gordon on the other hand would provide something substantially different. As a shortstop who hits like Juan Pierre, he seems to be most comfortable running the bases. Last year, even though he only hit .228, he stole 32 bases. Much of his playing time disappeared when Ramirez arrived last season, but now he may have an opportunity to prove himself once again.

Whichever option the Dodgers choose, being without All-Star Hanley Ramirez will leave a big hole in the middle of the lineup. It will be interesting to see how to adapt as the season is almost ready to begin.

Kyle Lohse Needs to Get Back on the Field

in MLB by
Kyle Lohse

How many pitchers do you know who finish seventh in the Cy Young voting while compiling a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA?

Those numbers look like they belong to a top of the rotation ace, and on some level you would be right. However, on another level, it is hard to be at the top of the rotation when you don’t have a team.

Kyle Lohse had an amazing season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. He posted career-bests in nearly every major statistic and seemed to be in a prime position to cash in on a huge paycheck over the winter.

He is still unemployed right now.

His agent, Scott Boras, is well-known for getting his clients great contracts, but right now, it seems as if his demands of a three-year deal are getting Lohse several looks, but apparently no major offers according to Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports.

You have to wonder if it might not be a bad idea to look for a one-year contract.

While it would not provide the long-term security that I am sure Lohse would prefer, it would keep him pitching in baseball, and if he was able to put together another very strong season, maybe the market would be more generous.

Another interesting option would be to try to develop a deal full of performance incentives. Obviously, this would be much more risky, but it could pay off if he puts up another great season. In this type of a situation, both parties are receiving some of what they want.

Lohse would have a job first of all. As a baseball player, I am sure that he wants to get out there and actually play. However, while he is playing, he wants to earn a lot of money. With this type of a system, he would be able to make a lot of money if he plays well. Since I assume that he assumes that he will play well this season, he would make a lot of money.

From the team perspective, the risk would be minimized in this situation. If he performs well, they may have to pay him a lot of money, but they would have gotten a return consistent with what they paid. If he failed to impress, the damage would be minimized.

I think that the most important thing for Lohse is to get back on the field, so if a different type of deal can get it done, I think he needs to make a move.

Captain America

in MLB by
wright2

At this point, it feels like David Wright has come to plate without the bases loaded fewer times than he has with the bases loaded during the World Baseball Classic.

We all know what happened when Wright hit with the bases juiced against Italy earlier in this year’s tournament (a game-winning grand slam) and when he hit with the bases loaded against Puerto Rico in the second round of the 2009 WBC (a walkoff single), and Wright would add to his highlight reel of at-bats with the bags filled with his American teammates last night.

Puerto Rico would be the victim again, with Wright punishing them in a new way each time he stepped to the plate. Wright would bat with the bases loaded an incredible three times in this game, and every one of those at-bats was preceded by a Joe Mauer walk.

Wright’s first bases loaded opportunity came in the third inning. Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun both singled with one out and Mauer drew the first of three walks to bring Wright to plate. Wright didn’t get a basehit, but his grounder was sharp enough to force Aviles to make a diving stop, preventing the double play ball and giving Team USA a 2-0 lead.

A similar sequence of events would occur in the fifth inning. Jimmy Rollins began the inning with a single and was bunted over by Phillips. Then Braun reached on a rare passed ball on a strkeout; Braun swung and missed on high cheese, but Yadier Molina didn’t get his glove up to stop the ball, which subsequently hit the homeplate umpire in the fact and bounced to the back stop.After the obligatory Mauer walk, Wright stepped to the plate and lined one into right for his second RBI of the night.

Now, at the time, the net of these two bases loaded situations, which both came with just one out, was only two runs, which continued the disturbing theme of Team USA’s lack of success with runners on base. But Wright would not finish the night without getting an extra basehit with the bases jacked.

In the bottom of the eighth, right after Puerto Rico scored their first run of the game to make it 4-1, Rollins and Braun singled to start the inning and Mauer worked a walk on a nine pitch at-bat to bring Wright back to the plate. Off the bat, it looked like Angel Pagan would be able to track the ball down in centerfield for an out, but Pagan ended up a few feet short and the ball fell in between he and Alex Rios in right field for a bases clearing double that all but cinched the game for Team USA, who won the game 7-1.

Wright now has a tournament leading 10 RBIs after his 5 RBI performance in this game, and nine of those runs batted in have come with the bases loaded. I talked about Wright being the face of Team USA baseball in my recap of the Team USA-Italy game and he continues to show that he is deserving of that moniker. I am also starting to like the Captain America nickname that Wright has gotten over the past few days, and I’m sure that Joe Torre has seen some Jeter-esque qualities from Wright in the clubhouse, too. And don’t say that your heart doesn’t melt anytime MLBNetwork cuts to Felix, a disabled Iraqi war veteran that Wright has befriended ever since the 2009 WBC, in the crowd.

Gio Gonzalez was light’s out for Team USA. (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

While Wright anchored the offense in this game, Gio Gonzalez did a hell of the job on the mound for Team USA. I was a bit worried during the first round of this tournament, specifically after their loss to Mexico, that Team USA would be eliminated from this tournament without their best pitcher getting on the hill.

But now it looks good that Torre saved Gonzalez for this all-important round two opener against a good Puerto Rico team. Gio had great break on his two-seam fastball and his curveball in this game, and he was tremendous when locating his fastball. He went five strong innings for the Americans, striking out five while only giving up three hits (no walks) in front of his hometown fans.

Gonzalez gave up a one-out double to Carlos Beltran in the top of the fourth, but got Yadier Molina and Mike Aviles out after that in order to get out of the inning unscathed; his at-bat against Aviles was particularly impressive as he worked back from down 3-0 to get him to flyout. Gio would strike out two batters in the fifth to complete his outing, handing the ball over to the bullpen after working the best game so far for any of Team USA’s starters.

The bullpen did it’s just protecting the lead. A combination of Jeremy Affeldt, Vinnie Pastano, David Hernandez and Craig Kimbrel finished the final four innings, allowing just three hits while walking none. Steve Cishek was the only one to allow an earned run in this game.

Cishek started the eighth inning but hit Jesus Feliciano, the first batter he faced. At the time it was a 4-0 game and apparently Torre wasn’t prepared to let Puerto Rico touch up the side-armer. Hernandez came into replace him and immediately gave up a double to Eddie Rosario, putting two runners in scoring position for Puerto Rico with no outs, but he was able to get out of the inning only allowing one run on a groundout from Pagan.

Team USA’s hitting was encouraging in this game, even if Wright brought in five of their runs and the team ended up leaving a ton (23) of runners on base. Giancarlo Stanton finally got on track after going hitless in his first seven at-bats of the tournament. Back in the comfortable comforts of his home ballpark, Stanton had a pair of hard hit singles and walk in four plate appearances, and he had a run saving grab right field to close out the fourth inning.

The one weak spot of the line-up for Team USA has continued to be first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was a late addition to the team when Mark Teixeria was ruled out with an injury, so you can understand him not being in the right state of mind yet, but I wonder if Torre should make a change for Team USA’s upcoming game against the Dominican Republic.

Hosmer was 1-for-5 last night with a team high six runners left-on-base and three strikeouts. Hosmer is now 4-for-18 in the tournament with five strikeouts, and he is not a great defensive first baseman. If I were Torre, I think I might shift Mauer over to first for a game, putting Jonathan Lucroy, who has two hits in his five ABs in this tournament, into the line-up.

Team USA’s matchup with the Dominican Republic on Thursday will be huge, as the winner is guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals in San Fransisco. Team USA could still make it to the Bay Area if they lose to the DR by beating the winner of tomorrow’s elimination game between Puerto Rico and Italy (I’m picking the Italians in another upset), but it sure would be nice to get a leg up on the Dominicans early.

R.A. Dickey will be back on the mound for Team USA, and how the Dominican Republican handles his knuckleball approach will be the story of the game. The Domincan Republic’s line-up is just as stacked as Team USA’s is, featuring superstars like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Santana. Even a past his prime Miguel Tejada is hitting well for this team.

Team USA figures to have the advantage on the mound in this one, as Wandy Rodriguez is the projected starter for the Dominican Republic. They have a solid bullpen, but their depth doesn’t compare to Team USA’s, so the fact that they had to go to five different relievers against Italy today hurts them more than it does the American squad.

It will be interesting to see how Team USA comes out against the Dominican Republic. It took their backs being up against the wall in the first round for the Americans to punch their ticket to the next destination. Will they wait for the same pressure in Miami or will they add San Fransisco to their itineraries a game early?

Jonesing For More

in MLB by
jones

It may have taken them a full 25 innings to come alive, but the Team USA batters picked a fine to come alive in this year’s World Baseball Classic. It took a 3-2 deficit to Canada with just six outs left in the game for the Americans to finally feel the pressure, but they responded to it extremely well, rallying to outscore Canada 7-1 in the final two innings of the game, punching their ticket to Miami with a 9-4 win that got them the number seed in Pool D.

Team USA’s usual suspects in this tournament were responsible for the comeback. Joe Mauer and David Wright started off the top of the eighth inning with a single and a walk for Team USA, setting the stage for a big inning. Almost every other time this had happened before, the Americans would have found a way to end the inning without a run scored. A pop up here, a strike out there; anything they could do to leave runners on base, they’d do.

But things changed this time around, even if there was a brief moment of utter disappointment that made me doubt Team USA’s chances. When Ben Zobrist bunted the ball into the air for the first out of the inning, I got the feeling that it just wasn’t in the cards for the United States this time around. But then Adam Jones stepped to the plate, and he would be the hero of the day.

Jones got down 0-2 in the count but got a slider out over the plate from Jimmy Hinderson, and he drove deep into the left center field gap. With pinch runner Willie Bloomquist and Wright running to start the play, both came into score easily as Jones went into second with a go-ahead 2 RBI double. Following an Eric Hosmer strikeout, Shane Victorino picked up his first and only hit of the first round, and it was a big one, a looping single into left that plated Jones to give Team USA a 5-3 lead.

As was the case all day, Canada would just not go away. Joey Votto, Michael Saunders and Chris Robinson all singled in the bottom of the eighth inning to load the bases with one out. Then Adam Loewen grounded out to second, bringing in a run on the fielder’s choice. Luckily for Team USA, their bullpen and the flexibility of their relief arms allowed for Joe Torre to go to Steve Cishek in a crucial situation (bases loaded with two outs and a run one lead) to get the job done.

Team USA would blow it open in the ninth, finally showing us a consistent display of the offensive prowess that we all expected from them in this tournament. Brandon Phillips started off the ninth inning with a double and was brought in by Jonathan Lucroy on a single two batters later. Wright worked a walk and Zobrist collected an infield single to load the bases for Hosmer, who blasted one deep into center field for a three RBI double. When Hosmer, the guy who had left more than 10 batters on-base in his previous tourney at-bats, got a big hit, you knew the tide was starting to turn.

With a five run lead in the ninth, there was no doubting that Team USA would win the game, especially with Craig Kimbrel, the game’s best closer, coming on to pitch.

Derek Holland was alright for the Americans, but he was unable to reverse the eerily consistent trend that developed over the course of the weekend for Team USA’s starters; each one of them gave up a pair of runs in the first two innings and then settled in to pitch a decent game. The best part about what Team USA’s starting staff did was that they prevented the need for Torre to use Gio Gonzalez in any capacity, which will allow Gonzalez to pitch in the first game of the second round against Puerto Rico.

Team USA may not have played a lot of impressive baseball over the weekend, but the important thing is that they finally broke through when it mattered, allowing them an opportunity for a fresh start in Miami.

They’ll be facing off against much tougher competition down there, as their game tomorrow will come against a Puerto Rico team with several MLB players like Angel Pagan, Mike Aviles, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and J.C. Romero, but I believe that Team USA has the best team remaining in the tournament (the Netherlands eliminated Cuba this morning). The Dominican is scary, with Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Carlos Santana, Hanley Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacio and Nelson Cruz in the line-up and Octavio Dotel and Fernando Rodney on the mound, but if Team USA’s hitters are ready to play, their line-up is every bit as good as the Dominican’s, and their pitching staff is much deeper.

They may have scared us with their lack of offensive production over the weekend, but if their last two innings against Canada are any indication, Team USA may just be getting started in this World Baseball Classic.

Liveblog: Team USA vs Canada

in MLB by
holland

Join Mark Travis as he liveblogs Team USA’s first game of the World Baseball Classic against Canada!

Mark Travis - 6:27 PM ET

Kimbrel closes it out with a perfect ninth, including a pair of strikeouts. Team USA takes the game, 9-4, and Pool D to advance to Miami for round two.

My recap will be up by tomorrow.

Mark Travis - 6:18 PM ET

After Canada closed the gap to one in the eighth, Team USA puts together a four run ninth inning highlighted by Lucroy’s RBI single and Hosmer’s three RBI double. Now the Americans take a 9-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth with the best closer in baseball – Craig Kimbrel – coming to the mound.

Mark Travis - 6:16 PM ET

Eric Hosmer finally comes through with runners on base with a monster three run double to left center that puts the United States up 9-4. Can’t say enough about the resolve and fortitude that Team USA showed throughout the night. They’ve scored seven runs in the past two innings and come through in every big moment.

Mark Travis - 6:11 PM ET

Zobrist hits a chopper to third and is able to beat the throw out at first. The bases are loaded now with just one out and Jones at the plate.

Mark Travis - 6:06 PM ET

A walk to David Wright will end Mathieson’s night, with Brewers closer John Axford trotting in to take the mound against Ben Zobrist and Adam Jones. They will bat with two runners on and out out.

Mark Travis - 6:02 PM ET

After Braun struck out, Lucroy singled into right field to drive home Phillips, increasing Team USA’s lead to 6-4. Team USA’s bats have come alive in crucial situations late in this game. Perhaps they just needed their backs to really be against the wall.

Mark Travis - 5:59 PM ET

Phillips drills one into center field for a double to start off the top of the ninth inning here for Team USA. With a team as resilient as Canada, some insurance runs wouldn’t hurt, even if Kimbrel is good as their is at shutting the door.

Mark Travis - 5:55 PM ET

Smith hits a slow chopper to second base and Phillips throws him out at first. Team USA takes a 5-4 lead into the ninth, with Phillips, Braun and Lucroy due up at the plate and Craig Kimbrel set to close out the ninth.

Mark Travis - 5:52 PM ET

Tim Smith, a lefty, pinch hits for Iorg to face Cishek.

Mark Travis - 5:51 PM ET

Cishek comes and intentionally walks Pete Orr to load the bases with two outs.

Mark Travis - 5:48 PM ET

Another long at-bat for Canada nets a positive result. Loewen grounds out to Phillips, but Votto comes home to make it a one run game. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Torre is going back to the bullpen to get Steve Cishek.

Mark Travis - 5:44 PM ET

Canada’s catcher Chris Robinson singles off Hernandez into right field on the 10th pitch of that at-bat. The bases are now loaded for Loewen with one out.

Mark Travis - 5:38 PM ET

Hernandez strikes out Morneau, but Saunders puts down a surprise bunt down the third baseline that goes for a basehit. Canada now has two runners on and one out, but they did just waste their best hitter’s at-bat by having him bunt.

Mark Travis - 5:35 PM ET

Votto starts off the inning with an infield single to Rollins. Rollins’ throw was too wide for Hosmer and Votto would have beaten a good throw anyways. Canada is already threatening to even this one out.

Mark Travis - 5:33 PM ET

Righty David Hernandez replaces Bell on the mound for Team USA and he’ll have to face lefties Votto, Morneau and Saunders for team Canada. Jonathan Lucroy is the new catcher for the Americans as Bloomquist has been taken out after pinch running for Mauer.

Mark Travis - 5:31 PM ET

Rollins flies out to right to end the inning, but not before Team USA puts three runs on the board and takes a 5-3 lead as we head to the bottom of the eighth. Heath Bell was really good in the seventh and could return here for another inning. The big news is that Team USA is finally in a position to put in closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.

Mark Travis - 5:28 PM ET

Canada has pulled Henderson in favor of Scott Mathieson. He’s facing Rollins now with two outs.

Mark Travis - 5:25 PM ET

Hosmer strikes out swinging but Victorino loops one into left to score Adam Jones with two outs. Clutch, clutch hitting from Team USA here in the eighth inning.

Mark Travis - 5:21 PM ET

Adam Jones comes up huge! He laces a double into the left center field gap, which plates Bloomquist and Wright to give Team USA a 4-3 lead, their first of the game. Jones is now on second with one out with Hosmer and Victorino due up.

Mark Travis - 5:18 PM ET

Zobrist fails horribly at executing a bunt, popping it up the catcher in foul territory for out number one. Team USA really needs Adam Jones to be clutch here.

Mark Travis - 5:17 PM ET

David Wright takes four straight balls and now Team USA has two runners on and no outs (again!). Willie Bloomquist has come in to pinchrun for Mauer as Zobrist comes to the plate.

Mark Travis - 5:15 PM ET

Mauer gets things started on the right foot in the eighth for Team USA with a single up the middle.

Mark Travis - 5:14 PM ET

Jim Henderson is on to face Mauer, Wright and Zobrist for Canada.

Mark Travis - 5:10 PM ET

Bell works a perfect seventh inning for Team USA, but now the offense needs to come through. They only have six outs left to keep their hopes of advancing in the WBC alive.

Mark Travis - 5:03 PM ET

Phillippe Aumont gets out of the jam for Canada by getting Braun to ground out to third. Team USA is down to six outs. It looks like they’ll be ousted in the first round by Canada.

Mark Travis - 5:01 PM ET

Phillips does the worst possible thing, popping up to second base. Now there are two outs for Ryan Braun, who has a chance to leave his mark on this tournament.

Mark Travis - 4:59 PM ET

Team USA has something brewing here in the seventh. Eric Hosmer led off the inning with a single and just went first-to-third on a single by Jimmy Rollins. Phillips is up with two runners in scoring position as Rollins steals second.

Mark Travis - 4:51 PM ET

Perkins strikes out Orr, but Team USA is down once again with only nine outs of baseball left.

Mark Travis - 4:49 PM ET

Perkins allows Loewen to single to right field, scoring Votto from third to give Canada a 3-2 lead. There are two outs in the inning as Pete Orr steps to the plate.

Mark Travis - 4:45 PM ET

Looks like Torre made a mistake with this one. Votto led off the inning with a walk and Morneau singles through the first base hole opened up by Hosmer holding the runner. Saunders is about to do damage.

Mark Travis - 4:42 PM ET

Whoops. Looks like Glen Perkins is the choice for Joe Torre. The lefty is one of Team USA’s “inning starter” relievers and he’s got a big responsibility here trying to get Votto, Morneau and Saunders out. Heath Bell is now warming in the pen for Team USA, as well.

Mark Travis - 4:39 PM ET

Another solid inning from Molleken. Zobrist reached on an infield single, but that came with two outs and Team USA wasn’t able to put any runs on the board. We move to the bottom of the sixth now where Affeldt will face Canada’s fierce trio of Votto, Morneau and Saunders.

Mark Travis - 4:32 PM ET

Holland starts the fifth for Team USA and he gets his second straight strikeout, a flyout from Gillies and a groundout to cap off his game. He went five innings, retiring his last seven batters in a row. As has been the case with all of Team USA’s pitchers, Holland got touched up early but settled in and did a good job. It looks like Jeremy Affeldt will replace Holland in the sixth.

Mark Travis - 4:25 PM ET

Rollins and Phillips move to 0-for-6 on the day and Braun pops up to second on the first pitch of his at-bat. That’s a perfect inning of relief for Canada’s Dustin Molleken.

Mark Travis - 4:18 PM ET

Holland put together a solid fourth inning, retiring three straight Canadian batters. Team USA will have the top of the line-up at the plate to begin the fifth inning.

Mark Travis - 4:12 PM ET

Hosmer lines out and Victorino strikes out, but Team USA has tied the game at two, which is a start. Holland could go a couple more innings now as he is at 45 pitches, but I don’t think he has pitched very well today. Leaving him out there when he’s hanging his slider could lead to more easy runs for Canada. I’d consider going to the bullpen early here if Holland doesn’t cruise through the inning.

Mark Travis - 4:08 PM ET

Jones laces one into centerfield and it’s caught, but it’s deep enough to get right home from third on the sac fly. Zobrist is on first with one out now as Hosmer comes to the plate.

Mark Travis - 4:07 PM ET

Zobrist puts down a perfect punt down the third base line and the poor throw by Green not only allows Zobrist to reach first safely, but Mauer comes around to score the first run of the game for Team USA. Now there are runners on the corners for Team USA, a club full of power hitters that can only play small ball.

Mark Travis - 4:06 PM ET

Wright works a walk out of a 3-2 count to put a pair of runners on base with no outs for Zobrist. We’ve seen this move before; can we please flip the script?

Mark Travis - 4:02 PM ET

Mauer gets Team USA off to a good start in the top of the fourth with a strong single into right field. Mauer has been great in the WBC so far.

Mark Travis - 3:59 PM ET

The white hot Saunders skies one to center for out number three. Mauer, Wright and Zobrist are due up for Team USA, and it’s about time they put some runs on the board.

Mark Travis - 3:57 PM ET

Ben Zobrist made a diving grab but the ball popped out of his glove when he brought it up to show it the umpire. Luckily for Team USA, Votto thought Zobrist caught it, allowing Zobrist to throw him out at second for the the second out of the inning.

Mark Travis - 3:56 PM ET

Holland walks Votto with one out, allowing Morneau and possibly Saunders (the best hitter in the tournament right now) to come up to the plate.

Mark Travis - 3:51 PM ET

Nothing doing for Team USA in the third inning. Rollins struck out on three pitches, Phillips grounded on the first pitch and Braun somehow struck out looking after being up 3-0 in the count. These kind of innings are unacceptable for such a talented team, particularly when going up against an inexperienced kid like Taillon.

Mark Travis - 3:44 PM ET

Holland gets Gillies to ground out to second base. Saunders brought in two with his homer but Team USA kept a pair of runs from scoring by getting three straight outs. But yet again, the offense is put in a pressure filled situation of coming back in a must-win game. Given the way they have been producing in this tournament, they will need a massive change in order to pull this one out.

Mark Travis - 3:41 PM ET

Holland gets a big strikeout on Iorg. Gillies is back up at the plate with two out and two on. Team USA needs to get out of this with as little damage as possible.

Mark Travis - 3:38 PM ET

Team USA pulls the infield in and Holland induces a grounder to third. Wright does a solid job checking the runner at third and getting the first out of the inning at first. Still two in scoring position for Cale Iorg.

Mark Travis - 3:36 PM ET

Adam Loewen singles on a liner to left and gets to second on an error by Victorino. Two runners in scoring position now for Canada with no outs. Holland should get pulled soon.

Mark Travis - 3:34 PM ET

And now Brandon Phillips misplays a grounder, putting another Canadian on base with no outs. This may escalate quickly, and guys may start getting killed with tridents.

Mark Travis - 3:34 PM ET

And Saunders continues scorching the earth. Holland foolishly hung a slider to the most dangerous hitter in this tournament and Saunders blasted it to right field for a two-run homer. Team USA is in an early hole yet again, and their chances for a win are looking grim.

Mark Travis - 3:32 PM ET

And Morneau laces Holland’s sinker over Zobrist’s head in right field for a lead off double for Canada. I highly doubt they will end this inning without a run.

Mark Travis - 3:30 PM ET

And Victorino grounds out on the first pitch to end the inning. Team USA cannot buy a run. They are now 4-of-29 with runners in scoring position for the tournament.

Morneau and Saunders are due up for Canada.

Mark Travis - 3:29 PM ET

Team USA keeps finding new ways to get non-productive outs with runners on base. Hosmer grounded sharply to third and Wright mistakenly took off, allowing Canada to trap him in a run down on the third baseline. Now there are runners on first and second with two outs for Victorino.

Mark Travis - 3:27 PM ET

Adam Jones bunts the runners over, putting two runners in scoring position for Eric Hosmer, who has struggled with runners on base in this tournament.

Mark Travis - 3:26 PM ET

A high infield fly by Ben Zobrist got lost in the sun and shadows by Canada’s infield defenders and it drops out of the glove of Green. Zobrist makes his way to first on the error. Two on and none out for Adam Jones.

Mark Travis - 3:25 PM ET

Well what do you know, David Wright, the face of Team USA baseball, doubles into left center to start off the second inning for the Americans. He smoked the first pitch of the at-bat and is now 5-of-10 in the tourney.

Mark Travis - 3:22 PM ET

Interesting to see that Ben Zobrist and Eric Hosmer are the only players on the field for Team USA that don’t have gold gloves. Zobrist has been good defensively wherever Joe Maddon has put him over the past few years, but Hosmer is one of the worst fielding first basemen in the league.

Meanwhile, Holland goes 1-2-3 for Team USA, which is the first time in the tournament that their starting pitcher didn’t give up a first inning run. Hopefully this allows Team USA to get on the board first for the first time in the tourney.

Mark Travis - 3:18 PM ET

Holland was solid last season but gave an awful 1.64 homeruns per nine innings. His fastball got pounded last season, but he’s got nice command, decent velocity and a nasty strikeout pitch in a slider.

Mark Travis - 3:15 PM ET

Braun’s single and steal don’t net a run for Team USA as Taillon gets Mauer to ground out to Pete Orr.

Due up for Canada: is Tyson Gillies, Taylor Green and Joey Votto. They will face off against American left-hander Derek Holland.

Mark Travis - 3:12 PM ET

After getting Rollins and Phillips out, Ryan Braun laces a first pitch fastball from Taillon into left for a single. Braun then steals second.

Mark Travis - 3:11 PM ET

Taillon was the second overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft and the Pirates signed him for .5 million. He has an electric fastball that can get up to 98 MPH and generally sits in the 94-96 range. His curveball is his best breaking pitch and he can get it up to 84-86 MPH. When he is snapping off the curve effectively and locating his fastball, he can be light’s out.

Mark Travis - 3:08 PM ET

We are getting close to first pitch for this matchup between Team USA and Canada!

The Americans are the visitors and will be batting first. A couple of changes have been made to the line-up for todady’s do-or-die game. Ryan Braun is now DH’ing instead of playing the field, shifting Joe Mauer behind the plate and inserting Shane Victorino into left field to take his place. Ben Zobrist is also in the line-up today as the right fielder, replacing Giancarlo Stanton. The line-up is Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips, Braun, Mauer, David Wright, Zobrist, Adam Jones, Eric Hosmer and Victorino.

These guys will be facing off against top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon.

Wrighting The Ship

in MLB by
wright

The only positive memory for the United States of America in the brief history of the World Baseball Classic occurred during the second round of the 2009 WBC . Team USA was up against Puerto Rico, a team that had beaten them 11-1 in their prior meeting, for a chance to advance to the semi-finals.

Team USA faced a two run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning, but immediately began a rally, with Shane Victorino, Brian Roberts and Jimmy Rollins all getting on base. With one out, Kevin Youkilis was walked to bring in a run, and then, down one with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, just like you dreamed about when you played in your backyard as a kid, David Wright stepped to the plate. Wright proceeded looped a single into right fielder, plating the tie and game-winning runs that gave the Americans a chance to medal.

The situation wasn’t quite as dramatic last night. This time around, it was just the fifth inning of a first round game against a team with no tangible reason to win, but there was still a lot at stake for Team USA. Down 2-1 to an undefeated Italy team with a loss to Mexico plopping them down in the standings and an offense that was 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position at one point, Team USA once again leaned on David Wright to deliver.

And that’s what he did.

Adam Jones and Jonathan Lucroy walked to start off the inning for the Americans, with Jones being brought in to tie the game on a line drive single by Brandon Phillips two batters later. After Ryan Braun struck out with runners on the corners, Joe Mauer drew a walk from Matt Torra to load the bases for Wright.

When Wright got down in the count 1-2 and with two outs already recorded, it appeared as if Team USA would squander away another prime opportunity to put runs on the board. But then Torra hung a change-up right over the heart of the plate and Wright really got a hold of it, planting it into the stands deep in left center field for what turned out to be the game deciding grand slam.

Wright may as well be considered the face of American baseball. He’s one of only five players to return from the 2009 team (Braun, Victorino, Rollins and Heath Bell are the others), he’s easily the most vocal player when it comes to the importance of and how meaningful the WBC is and he’s a tremendous player. He is one of the few guys that genuinely understands how much it means to compete for Team USA and he clearly takes pride in his opportunity to do so.

Braun, Buster Posey and Mike Trout were the only American born position players that produced as well or better than Wright last season, and when you consider the circumstances that each guy was in, Wright’s season becomes even more impressive. He produced 7.8 WAR last season, the second highest tally of his career and the fifth highest in baseball. That total came together because of a sweet .306/.391/.492 slash line, 140 wRC+ (this means he produced 40% more runs than league average) and some gold glove caliber defense at the hot corner.

In 2012, Wright rebounded from a poor 2011 campaign during which he was hampered by a stress fracture in his lower back, and if the WBC is any indication, he’ll continue to produce as one of the top players in baseball this season, fresh off signing a huge contract extension with the Mets this summer.

Wright’s grand slam gave Team USA their first lead of the tournament and there was a sense around the lockerroom after the game that that blast would loosen up the other guys who were perhaps trying too hard to be the first one on the team to homer. But, at the end of the day, we knew it was going to be Wright that went yard first, right?

Team USA never relinquished the 6-2 lead that Wright’s blast established.

Ryan Vogelsong, who gave up a run in each of the first two innings, settled down in the third and fourth but was taken out of the game in the fifth after allowing a single to Anthony Granato. Italy wouldn’t get much of anything going after that, though, as Jeremy Affeldt came in to relieve Vogelsong, getting out of the inning with a strikeout and a pair of grounders. Then Joe Torre went to his throwback closer for the evening: Ross Detwiler.

The tall left-hander, who starts for the Washington Nationals, was asked to finish out the game when he came in to start the 6th inning, and he did so effectively. Detwiler went four innings, surrendering only two baserunners (one hit and one walk) while striking out four and earning the save. Detwiler threw 51 pitches, but he started the final at-bat of the game with 49 tosses under his belt, which means he won’t have to rest three additional days for surpassing 50 pitches.

I thought Team USA played really well in this game, but that doesn’t mean that they need to correct a couple of glaring errors that have hurt them critically so far.

First of all, it would be nice for the Team not to start every game in deficit, which has been the case in the first two games. Both R.A. Dickey and Vogelsong eventually calmed down, but Team USA needs Derek Holland to start the game calm  to allow their offense some room to breathe and to get on the board first.

Of course, it’s hard for you to count on the offense to build a lead when they have been so putrid with runners in scoring position. Team USA has left a ridiculous 41 runners on in their first two games, with Eric Hosmer (7 LOB) and Brandon Phillips (8 LOB) being the worst offenders.

Rollins and Braun have been solid for Team USA so far. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In lieu of the offense’s struggles to start this tournament, I have enjoyed the work of Braun and Rollins in this tournament. Rollins is tied with Wright for the team lead in hits with four and Braun leads the team with a pair of runs scored. Rollins has done a good job setting the table for the team, but as we’ve covered, that hasn’t mattered much because of their horrific situational hitting.

The Americans will be going up against a 21-year old with no major league experience in Jameson Taillon today, so they will need to be very aggressive out of the gate against the youngster. Team USA can’t afford to have a lackluster outing at the plate today, because Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders are all serious offensive threats. Saunders has been particularly good, going 6-for-7 so far in this tournament with five RBI and nine total bases in two games.

Votto, Morneau and Saunders are all lefties, though, and Team USA does have a southpaw on the hill for this one. Saunders actually hit lefties better than righties last season, but Votto and Morneau both saw the ball worse against their own species.

Team USA was playing for their tournament lives yesterday, and Wright’s heroics will allow for Team USA to be in another do-or-die situation when they take the field against Canada later today. With a win, they punch their ticket to Miami to face off against the Dominican Republic and/or Puerto Rico. With a loss, the players head to spring training a couple of weeks earlier than expected, and with a failure label next to their names.

So, which will it be? The downfall of America’s pastime or the rise of baseball’s much needed symbol of hope?

Knuckle Sandwich

in MLB by
mexico

Fresh off of an upset loss to a surprisingly competitive Italy team, Mexico came into last night’s game against Team USA in a must-win situation, as a second straight loss to begin pool play would spell early elimination for them. They had prepared accordingly, even if they weren’t expecting that loss to Italy, by saving staff ace Yovani Gallardo for their matchup against the Americans.

And in a game that was decided in the early innings between each side’s best starting pitcher, Gallardo put Mexico in a tremendous position from the get go, while Team USA ace R.A. Dickey doomed the Americans from the start.

It didn’t take long for Mexico to touch up Dickey, as their speedy leadoff hitter Eduardo Arredondo, who had a tremendous game, hit the first pitch (a knuckleball) of the game into center field for a hit, which was followed by second baseman Ramiro Pena double to right. Though Dickey was able to retire Mexico’s 3/4 combination of Luis Cruz and MLB stud Adrian Gonzalez, both had productive outs, putting the first two runs of the contest on the board for Mexico.

Arredondo singled again in his second at-bat, which was a nine pitch battle that featured eight knuckleballs and even an eephus offering per MLB’s GameDay app. Arredondo got into a 1-2 hole but worked a 3-2 count patiently and laced one to left to set the table again for Mexico. It looked like Dickey would be able to escape the inning unscathed after he got a pair of fielder’s choice ground outs to put two outs on the board, but then he offered up a flat knuckler that Adrian Gonzalez clobbered to right center field, squeezing the ball ever so close to the yellow line for a two-run homer.

Team USA wouldn’t touch up Gallardo until the fourth inning when Jimmy Rollins singled and Ryan Braun walked, which forced Gallardo out of the game. Luis Mendoza came into replace Gallardo and gave up an RBI single to David Wright, but was able to prevent further damage by getting Eric Hosmer to ground out to the mound with two outs.

Even then, I’m not entirely sure that Gallardo couldn’t have worked his way out of that jam himself had he not been sitting at 49 pitches as Joe Mauer came to the plate. Gallardo’s exit with fewer than 50 offerings means that he can pitch in Mexico’s second round opener if they advance from their pool, whereas he would have had to wait four days to pitch again if he had gotten past the 50 pitch threshold.

Gallardo finished with 3.1 innings of solid work with just two hits and one earned run allowed, which is the WBC equivalent of a quality start, while striking out four and only walking one. The mechanically flawed righty has struggled with walk and homer issues in his career, but he didn’t let that effect him in what was likely the biggest game of his life. His command was very solid and the only player he walked was his Milwaukee Brewers teammate Ryan Braun, who Gallardo probably had a subconsciousness fear of after watching him mash the ball up-close for so many years. Gallardo said it was an honor and a dream come true to defeat Team USA soil and he earned every bit of it.

Dickey, on the other hand, was not consistent in this game and he never seemed to settle in. His knuckleball didn’t appear to be getting the same amount of break that it did when he was in form during the regular season last year, and you have to question why manager Joe Torre would put Dickey on the hill in the opener against the best opponent in the pool knowing that Dickey was the player most likely to struggle out of the gate. I would have much rather seen Gio Gonzalez on the hill to face Mexico so you could have Dickey go up against Luca Panerati in a game that Team USA would be much more likely to win at the plate.

Instead Team USA was asked to win a game at the plate against Gallardo, and that is not something they were able to do yesterday.

Predictably, the Americans hit better after Gallardo had left the game, but they were never able to capitalize on their opportunities outside of a Hosmer RBI single in the eighth. Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Jones both walked to start off the 5th inning for Team USA and rus there would have been critical for their hopes. But instead of sparking a rally, Mendoza settled down, struck out J.P. Arencibia on a slider and then got Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips to ground out, efficiently getting himself out of the jam.

Team USA would get a spark going again in the sixth when Mauer and Wright had back-to-back singles with one out (Mauer went first to third on Wright’s base hit), but then Mexico put lefty Oliver Perez to face Hosmer, who had a shallow flyout to left that wasn’t deep enough to plate Mauer, and Jose Cobos to face Stanton, who put a charge into a ball that wound up on the warning track in deep center field.

Team USA had a pair of two out chances in the 7th and 8th innings that could have put them back in the game, but it wasn’t meant to be. Rollins’ two out double in the seventh was spoiled by a nasty sinker from Oscar Villarreal that got Phillips swinging to end the inning, and though Hosmer plated a run with a two out RBI single in the eighth, Stanton just missed for the second time on the night, and the two-run bomb that would have made it a one-run game fell harmlessly into Mexican right fielder Karim Garcia’s glove on the warning track.

There would be no ninth inning collapse for the second straight game for Mexico as Sergio Romo shut the door with a perfect 1-2-3 inning, preserving his team’s chances of advancing to round two.

Now Team USA’s next two games will played with the same pressure that was on Mexico last night. They know that another loss will seal their fate as a first round failure and an utter disappointment to the United States, a country that brands baseball as it’s national pastime.

I think you can take some positives away from the American hitters finishing the night with eight hits, and they won’t be facing any pitchers close to Gallardo’s talent level any time soon in their matchups against Italy and Canada. But still, their inability to come through with big hits against some of Mexico’s relievers is concerning, and you have to wonder whether or not the American hitters are as well prepared for these games as their opponents, which have rosters full of players that have been waiting for this moment for years.

Italy is already 2-0 with a massive run differential of +11, which means that, theoretically, a loss here wouldn’t mean so much as long as they don’t lose by more than five. But everybody wants to beat Team USA, so I doubt that the Italians will just roll over, particularly when these guys were expected to be 0-2 at this point and have enjoyed proving everyone wrong to this point.

Team USA will lean on Ryan Vogelsong, who was tremendous under pressure in the post-season, tomorrow against the aforementioned Panerati and they will definitely need more timely production from their line-up of all-star hitters in order to put themselves back in contention for one of the top two spots. Another thing that would help would be a Canada win over Mexico, preferably by three runs.

Liveblog: Team USA vs Mexico

in MLB by
dickey

Join Mark Travis as he liveblogs Team USA’s first game of the World Baseball Classic against Mexico!

Mark Travis - 12:41 AM ET

Team USA does nothing offensively in the ninth and falls in their WBC opener to Mexico, 5-2. With Italy already winning two games by a huge margin, Team USA will be all but eliminated unless they pull off a win against the Italians. Ryan Vogelsong is scheduled to be the starter for Team USA. Vogelsong was tremendous against the Tigers in game three of the World Series. Let’s hope he has a similar effort tomorrow.

Until then, have a good night.

Mark Travis - 12:19 AM ET

Stanton with another deep fly that falls short of clearing the fence. Team USA trips a run off of Mexico’s lead, but that may not be enough. One inning is left to play, and Mexico leads 5-2.

Mark Travis - 12:16 AM ET

Hosmer rakes one into the middle of that same trio of Mexican defenders for an RBI single, bringing the Americans within three with two outs in the eighth.

Mark Travis - 12:10 AM ET

Ryan Braun pops a flyball into shallow right center field and it drops down in between three Mexico defenders. Braun is on at second to kick things off in the bottom of the eighth.

Mark Travis - 12:06 AM ET

Cishek gets the job done by producing a shallow fly to left that wasn’t deep enough to get the runner home and a dribbler to Phillips. Six outs left for Team USA to erase a four run deficit.

Mark Travis - 12:03 AM ET

Cishek comes in and immediately intentionally walks Navarro to pitch with the bases loaded to Mexico’s bottom two hitters. It’s not likely to matter, but why not have a position player switch in and do that to avoid any pitch limit troubles?

Mark Travis - 12:00 AM ET

Tim Collins strikes out Garcia and in comes Cishek, who inherits a pair of baserunners in scoring position with just one out.

Mark Travis - 11:56 PM ET

Instead of Team USA scoring some runs late in the game in hopes of a comeback, it’s Mexico that is cooking up some more damage. Adrian Gonzalez walked to lead off the eighth inning and Jorge Cantu just doubled to left. Two runners in scoring position for Mexico with no outs and a 5-1 lead.

Mark Travis - 11:46 PM ET

Easy inning for Mexico’s newest pitcher Oscar Villarreal. Adam Jones grounded out to short, Shane Victorino pinch hit for Arencibia and popped up and after Jimmy Rollins gave Team USA their first extra base hit of the game with a double to right, Brandon Phillips struck out swinging. It’s looking like Team USA will start this tournament off with a crucial loss.

Mark Travis - 11:36 PM ET

After a fielding error was committed by Hosmer, Gregerson gets out of the inning by enduing a grounder to third.

Mark Travis - 11:27 PM ET

Stanton hits one hard to deep center but it’s not far enough; Giancarlo’s flyout ends the inning and the Americans strand two more runners, which is unacceptable when you are facing a four run deficit.

Mark Travis - 11:22 PM ET

Perez’s outing is over with after one pitch as Hosmer hits a lazy flyball to left. It doesn’t score Mauer but Wright advances to second on the throw. Now Mexico is bringing a righty in to face Stanton, who really needs to get a hit here with two in scoring position.

Mark Travis - 11:17 PM ET

Wright squeaks one through the middle of the Mexican infield and Mauer gets to third on the single. Runners on the corners and only one down for Hosmer here. Team USA really needs a run here, and Mexico knows this. Luis Mendoza is being taken out of the game after throwing 51 pitches (though he won’t be restricted on the 50-pitch limit because he started the at-bat below the 50-pitch threshold). Left-hander Oliver Perez is coming in to face the left-handed Hosmer.

Mark Travis - 11:14 PM ET

Mauer drops another hit into right field to give Team USA some life here in the bottom of the sixth inning. David Wright is up now and the Americans could really use something from him here.

Mark Travis - 11:07 PM ET

Pestano rids Mexico in easy fashion in the sixth, but it won’t matter much if Team USA doesn’t start putting runs on the board soon. Braun, Mauer and Wright are due up here for the Americans.

Mark Travis - 11:06 PM ET

Vinnie Pestano starts the top of the sixth on the mound for Team USA.

Mark Travis - 11:01 PM ET

Arencibia strikes out and Rollins and Phillips both ground out harmlessly. No runs despite having a pair of runners on to start the inning. 5-1 Mexico as we head to the 6th inning.

Mark Travis - 10:55 PM ET

Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Jones both work walks to start off the bottom of the fifth inning for Team USA, which puts two for J.P. Arencebia.

Mark Travis - 10:42 PM ET

After a grounder moved him over to third, Arredondo scores on a sac fly by Luis Cruz, who now has 2 RBI on the day. It didn’t take long for Mexico to render Team USA’s one run spurt irrelevant, and now they’re up 5-1 in the fifth.

Mark Travis - 10:40 PM ET

Can we talk about how crazy it is for stars to be passing on the World Baseball Classic, even if their teams are pressuring them not to do it?

Really Justin Verlander, you don’t want to feel rushed in your preparation for this season? You are a freaking pitcher! You stand on a hill and throw a ball 100 times once a week! You’re telling me you can’t start loosening your arm two weeks earlier than normal? That’s a joke.

And I will never buy that playing baseball puts you at a significant injury risk, and it’s not like the guys that declined aren’t playing baseball anyways during Spring Training.

It’s funny looking at all of these guys say no to playing a handful of extra games for a variety of horrible reasons and then recalling my time covering Team USA Basketball these past few years. The difference in the competitive nature of those guys and baseball players is night and day, and they are actually playing a physically taxing sport where there are legitimate injury risks every time you play against athletic competition.

Last year, LeBron James played in 85 straight NBA basketball games at the highest level possible, secured an NBA title and still continued to work without more than a week break so that he could dawn the red, white and blue in the Olympics. Kobe Bryant nearly led the league in minutes in his 17th season, but instead of taking the summer off to rest the knees that bothered him all season, he worked his butt off to stay in game shape for Team USA, often times starting multi-hour training sessions at 4 AM to do so. But God forbid David Price throw 40 pitches a couple of times in early March.

It’s things like this that make it easy to understand why baseball has been surpassed by two sports as “America’s past-time” over the past decade.

Mark Travis - 10:38 PM ET

Arredondo with yet another leadoff hit, this one a liner down the line that gets him all the way to second for a double. Not the start that Team USA reliever Glen Perkins was hoping for.

Mark Travis - 10:34 PM ET

Hosmer grounds out to the pitcher to end the fourth inning, but Team USA got on the board with that Wright RBI single. Mexico leads 4-1 heading into the 5th.

Mark Travis - 10:33 PM ET

David Wright drops a single into right field, driving in Rollins and taking Braun to third. Wright’s RBI single puts runners on the corners with two outs in the fourth inning for Hosmer.

Mark Travis - 10:23 PM ET

After Jimmy Rollins began the inning with a single, Ryan Braun walked with one out to put two runners on and Gallardo, mostly due to pitch count (he’s at 49), is coming out of the game.

Mark Travis - 10:14 PM ET

Dickey works his first 1-2-3 inning of the night, but Mexico stills leads 4-0 as Team USA’s bats come to the plate in the bottom of the fourth.

Mark Travis - 10:06 PM ET

Arencibia strikes out to end an uneventful third inning for Team USA. Gallardo has three Ks now and Mexico will look to get its leadoff hitter on base for the fourth consecutive inning to start the fourth.

Mark Travis - 9:58 PM ET

Dickey gets out of the third, but only because of a diving stop by Phillips. Mexico is not fooled by anything Dickey is throwing at them. Team USA will face a 4-0 deficit as they come to bat in the bottom of the third.

Mark Travis - 9:56 PM ET

The hits keep on coming for Mexico. Now Jorge Cantu lines a basehit over Jimmy Rollins, putting a runner on first with two outs for MEX.

Mark Travis - 9:54 PM ET

Adrian Gonzalez just belted a homerun to right center field, giving Mexico a 4-0 lead over Team USA. What a horrid start for the Americans. Not sure why you put a 38-year old gimmick on the mount to kickoff the competition, but Joe Torre decided Dickey was the best option. If that’s the case, Team USA won’t be going very far in this tournament.

Mark Travis - 9:52 PM ET

Cruz beats out the fielder’s choice in the next AB, but what a play by David Wright snagging the ball on the third baseline and throwing to get Pena at second. That ball might have snuck through for an RBI double if it weren’t for Wright’s stellar defensive work.

Mark Travis - 9:50 PM ET

Ramiro Pena grounds slowly to second here and Team USA gets the lead runner out, but Pena is safe at first on the fielder’s choice.

Mark Travis - 9:49 PM ET

Arredondo lines another one into the outfield, this time to left, to put a runner on first to start things off for Mexico in the third inning.

Mark Travis - 9:43 PM ET

Hosmer put a charge into the ball but Edgar Gonzalez, brother of Adrian, is there for the out. The top of the line-up is due up for Mexico to start the third, and they still lead 2-0.

Mark Travis - 9:41 PM ET

And that baserunner lasted all of two pitchers. David Wright grounds into a 6-4-3 double play and now there are two outs as Hosmer comes to the plate.

Mark Travis - 9:40 PM ET

Mauer singles into right center on a jam shot that gives Team USA it’s first baserunner on the night.

Mark Travis - 9:37 PM ET

Dickey doesn’t allow the leadoff double to trouble him as he gets the next three Mexico hitters to go down, with the last one swinging through for a strikeout. Joe Mauer, David Wright and Eric Hosmer are due up for Team USA. Let’s see if the Americans can get something going here against Gallardo.

Mark Travis - 9:32 PM ET

Another strong start to an inning for Mexico. Karim Garcia doubles to lead off the second against Dickey.

Mark Travis - 9:27 PM ET

After getting Brandon Phillips to ground out, Gallardo gets his Milwaukee Brewer teammate Ryan Braun to flyout to deep right center. That’s a 1-2-3 inning for Mexico, and they still lead 2-0.

Mark Travis - 9:24 PM ET

Rollins had a solid at-bat, but Gallardo got him swinging on a fastball to start off his outing with a K.

Mark Travis - 9:21 PM ET

Let’s see if the U.S. can answer Mexico’s good start here in the bottom of the first. Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun are due up for Team USA.

Mark Travis - 9:19 PM ET

Dickey gets Jorge Cantu to line out to center, but this 2-0 deficit for Team USA comes as a surprise. I think Dickey’s 2012 campaign was a flash in the pan, but he should been able to handle this line-up.

Mark Travis - 9:17 PM ET

Adrian Gonzalez grounds out to give Dickey two outs in the inning, but it does cost him another run. 2-0, MEX.

Mark Travis - 9:16 PM ET

Dodger infielder Luis Cruz flys one out to right and it is deep enough to score Arredondo. Mexico takes a 1-0 lead.

Mark Travis - 9:15 PM ET

Ramiro Pena just laced a double over the head of Stanton in right field, putting runners on second and third for Mexico to start the game.

Mark Travis - 9:11 PM ET

Mexico’s centerfielder Eduardo Arredondo just hit the first pitch of the game into centerfield for a linedrive single.

Mark Travis - 9:10 PM ET

Team USA has a stacked line-up this season, though they did take a bit of a hit this week when they had to replace Mark Teixeira with Eric Hosmer, but they should be fine with a stud outfield cast featuring Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton and David Wright carrying the weight.

Mark Travis - 9:09 PM ET

Hello all!

I am excited to take in some baseball for the first time in 2013. We have a good matchup on our hands between R.A. Dickey and Yovani Gallardo tonight. Mexico is in a must-win situation having been upset by Italy yesterday after Sergio Romo, who closed out the World Series for the Giants, blew a one-run lead in the ninth. Italy run-ruled Canada 14-4 earlier today and now leads the pool at 2-0 with a +11 run differential. It’s hard to imagine them not advancing at this point, which means there is only one other spot up for grabs.

Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young winner that was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season, will have his unique knuckleball approach against a Mexico line-up anchored by Adrian Gonzalez and Jorge Cantu.

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