Expectations are high as the United States prepares for the third World Baseball Classic. Team USA is hoping to avoid the same fate as the first two tournaments, when it was unable to earn a spot in the top three despite plenty of hype.
While the roster as a whole is strong and definitely capable of making a run toward the championship, a couple key players will likely decide exactly how far the team goes. Depth is great, but every team needs a few players it can lean on in key moments.
With that in mind, let's take a look at three players on the American squad who have plenty to prove during the event. If they can match or exceed expectations, the United States should be in line for a long stay in the 2013 WBC. For the complete roster, click here.
Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter. His OPS is more than 100 points less in April than any other month despite his various attempts to change his preparation. It raises questions about his ability to help the United States win games so early in the process.
The other worrisome fact is that he's coming off the worst season of his career. His on-base percentage was down nearly 40 points from his career average and most of his other numbers followed suit. So the New York Yankees' first baseman is hoping for a big bounce back.
That's exactly what the United States will need from him. He's one of the biggest power threats in the lineup and, if he's unable to showcase any pop, the American team will be forced to manufacture a lot of runs. It's tough to win a tournament that way.
Braun has been posting monster numbers ever since winning Rookie of the Year in 2007. He's hit over 200 home runs in his first six seasons and sports elite stats across the board. Unfortunately, he's been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past year.
Which of these players is most important to Team USA?
Most recently, he was one of the names linked to the Biogenesis of America investigation. It puts a massive amount of pressure on his shoulders to keep playing at a high level as the media scrutiny begins to reach a fever pitch.
The United States' outfield is one of the main reasons its a top contender in the tournament. Braun, along with Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Jones, make up a dangerous trio. But if Braun isn't slugging, the lineup is nowhere near as explosive.
In many ways, the World Baseball Classic will be a good test run for Dickey. After winning the Cy Young Award last season with the lowly New York Mets, he's now expected to be the ace of the staff for both the United States and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Both those teams have more promising outlooks than the Mets, which means there will be plenty of heat on Dickey to have another big year. He went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while striking out nearly a batter per inning last season.
The American pitching staff features a tremendous bullpen, highlighted by Atlanta Braves shutdown closer Craig Kimbrel, but the rotation isn't as strong. That means Dickey must put the team in position to win each time out for the United States to have a chance at the title.