Monday, March 23, 2009

The Weekend That Was: The WBC

Was the WBC low on your sports priority list this weekend?  Apparently it was for Team USA as well.  Playing with a deliberately short-handed roster, a pitching staff which we know isn't anywhere near the best this country can offer, and a manager who last made a meaningful contribution to the game back in 1986, Our Team stumbled through Our Game like a bunch of kids who didn't know which field the game was on.  

The result was a 9-4 loss to Japan, an elimination in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, and a Korea-Japan final which should leave USA Baseball red faced and ashamed.  It wasn't that they lost the game. The greatest baseball team in the world, in a one-game winner-take-all matchup against any other random team of qualified professionals, isn't much of a favorite.  The problem was that the team which took the field with USA across their chests was far from the best team in the world, for reasons which at least partially boggle the mind.  

The team was clearly, unsurprisingly, but sickeningly, unprepared.  When did Team USA players start prepping this offseason?  The broadcast team (Joe Morgan was SO awful yesterday, btw, but that's another story) was fawning over Roy Oswalt, because he actually bothered to throw five times to his local JUCO team while training this offseason!  Meaning that Jake Peavy was not, because Roy was "farther along", that's why the semi-hittable righty was getting the ball in an elimination game over a healthy and well-rested Jake.  

Injury after injury, all of the predictable, spring-training, "side pull"-type, knocked players off the USA roster.  After all, you've gotta be careful, these guys have a REAL season to get ready for, starting in April.  When the call went out for replacements, some guys (like Baltimore's Brian Roberts) jumped in, while others (like Derrek Lee) demurred.  But after Chipper Jones and Kevin Youkilis were taken off the team, USA Baseball only bothered to replace Chipper (with Evan Longoria), but just left the other roster spot empty.  

Ken Rosenthal, in an excellent column which heaps a lot of the blame on Davey Johnson, breaks down a key decision that wasn't made in the game:

With one on and two out in the sixth, Johnson allowed Curtis Granderson, a left-handed hitter, to face the same lefty. Pinch-hitting in that spot would have carried consequences, forcing the defensively challenged Dunn to remain in right field the entire game. But why was Victorino the only outfielder on the bench?

Because the Team USA braintrust had declined to replace the injured Kevin Youkilis with another position player for the final round, choosing only to summon Longoria in place of Chipper Jones.

The addition of Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore would have given Johnson the flexibility to hit Victorino for Granderson and go with a late-inning outfield of Ryan Braun in left, Sizemore in center and Victorino in right.

(sound of tires screeching)

WHAAAAT?  Grady Sizemore was available?  Who cares that he wasn't on the bench in the 6th, why wasn't he the STARTING CF FOR THE WHOLE DAMN TOURNEY??  Anyone going to stand up and argue that Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino add up to more than the 5-tool Sizemore?  

The entire roster construction is where you need to start when evaluating what went wrong.  OK, Bob Watson can't force the country's top pitchers, like Tim Lincecum and C.C. Sabathia, to commit to their countries.  He can't single-handedly change the culture of baseball in our country, where March is for prep and the big games are played in the fall.  But if you're not going to do a serious enough evaluation to get the best possible willing players onto your roster, then it's time to go.  Is the best USA bullpen really one that contains John Grabow and Joel Hanrahan?  Just asking.  

And is the best USA defense one that has Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins in the same lineup, but it's JETER who gets to wear the glove?  Davey Johnson managed his roster like an All-Star team the whole time, acting deferential to the players, promising that one would get 3 at-bats and then the other would come in, etc.  If the manager doesn't take the job seriously and manage to win, no matter how much the players care there will be a filtered effect.  Like Jeter being allowed to get out there and make an error which turned a 2-run game into a 5-run game.  

Hopefully this latest smackdown, getting thoroughly outplayed by Team Japan, will provide USA Baseball with the same wakeup call the USA Basketball team received through a series of Olympic and World Championship embarrasments.  They finally had their pride injured to the point where they got angry, knuckled down and committed to being great.  What resulted was the 2008 Olympics, one of the greatest basketball performances I've seen in my life, and a carryover effect which has led to a terrific NBA season.  Nobody is crying right now that Kobe and Lebron got too much work in the summer.  They are maintaining their elite play.  

This needs to be the same blueprint for USA Baseball.  Put someone in charge-RIGHT NOW-who will start recruiting and planning for 2013.  Force the players to make a multi-year commitment to the team, including agreements as to when team workouts will start in the winter of 2012.  So many of the players talked about this being the biggest thing they've ever done in their career, the most exciting tournament they've ever played...well, time to start acting like it before you get there, not just when it's time to dogpile after a walkoff win.  

Or, just half-ass it like this year and get ready for Opening Day.  Just a couple of weeks away, ya know.  

No comments:

Post a Comment