Jose Reyes and the Dominican Republic are hoping for better results this time around.
After finishing the 2009 tournament in ninth place, the Dominican Republic heads into the 2013 World Baseball Classic looking for redemption.
For as much quality major league talent as the Caribbean nation has produced over the years, the fact that it has failed to advance to the final round of previous World Baseball Classics is well, surprising to say the least.
With 17 active and two former MLB players on the roster, along with eight minor league prospects—all led by a former American League Manager of the Year in Tony Pena—the Dominican Republic enters opening-round play with an excellent chance of improving its all-time 6-4 record in the WBC.
Let's take a look at the squad that Pena has assembled and what it is up against.
Miguel Cabrera and Team Venezuela await the Dominican Republic.
|Dominican Republic Opening Round Schedule|
|DATE/TIME (LOCAL)||DATE/TIME (ET)||MATCHUP|
|Thursday, Mar. 7, 7:30 p.m.||Thursday, Mar. 7, 6:30 p.m.||Venezuela vs. D.R.|
|Saturday, Mar. 9, 12:00 p.m.||Saturday, Mar. 9, 11:00 a.m.||D.R. vs. Spain|
|Sunday, Mar. 10, 7:30 p.m.||Sunday, Mar. 10, 7:30 p.m.||D.R. vs. Puerto Rico|
The Dominican Republic is in Pool C with Spain, Venezuela and the host nation, Puerto Rico, and these first-round games will be played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.
Of the three other teams that the Dominican Republic shares Pool C with, it has only faced one previously, defeating Venezuela 11-5 in the first game of Pool D play in the 2006 WBC.
From that game, only one player remains on the Dominican Republic's roster: Edwin Encarnacion, who will be playing first base this time around, a spot previously held by Albert Pujols and David Ortiz.
Should the Dominican Republic get past Venezuela in its opening game, there is a chance that the squad could run the table in Pool C play, with Spain posing little-to-no threat and Puerto Rico having a solid offense but a very shaky pitching staff.
Of course, advancing out of the opening round is only part of the battle.
The second round would likely see manager Tony Pena's team facing off against Team Canada, Team Mexico or Team USA at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida.
Robinson Cano leads a potent Domincan Republic offense into the WBC.
|Francisco Pena||23||R||New York Mets|
|Carlos Santana||26||S||Cleveland Indians|
|Erick Aybar||29||S||Los Angeles Angels|
|Robinson Cano||30||L||New York Yankees|
|Edwin Encarnacion||30||R||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Leury Garcia||21||S||Texas Rangers|
|Hanley Ramirez||29||R||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Jose Reyes||29||S||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Miguel Tejada||38||R||Kansas City Royals|
|Nelson Cruz||32||R||Texas Rangers|
|Alejandro De Aza||28||L||Chicago White Sox|
|Melky Mesa||26||R||New York Yankees|
|Ricardo Nanita||31||L||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Moises Sierra||24||R||Toronto Blue Jays|
The strength of the Dominican squad is primarily in the lineup—specifically the infield, which is comprised of MLB All-Stars around the horn.
You've got Edwin Encarnacion at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Jose Reyes at shortstop and Hanley Ramirez manning the hot corner.
There isn't another team in tournament with an infield as potent as what the Dominican Republic is rolling with.
Consider the numbers that the fearsome foursome put up in 2012:
That's an impressive collection of talent, that has power and speed as well as the ability to get on base.
Carlos Santana behind the plate and Nelson Cruz in right field both add additional pop to an already powerful lineup, while center fielder Alejandro De Aza gives skipper Tony Pena options: Should he bat De Aza second, behind Jose Reyes, or ninth, in front of his speedy shortstop?
I'd imagine that he'll opt for the latter, giving the Dominican Republic two speedsters at either end of the lineup, and someone for Reyes to drive home with one of his shots to the outfield gaps.
The most interesting decision that faces Pena is who he should give the bulk of the playing time in left field—Toronto's Moises Sierra or the New York Yankees' Melky Mesa. Both made their major league debuts in 2012, and while Sierra has more experience and is a better fielder, Mesa has more pop in his bat.
With the Yankees needing to replace Curtis Granderson in their lineup for at least the first month of the season and Mesa being one of the candidates, it would be surprising if Pena didn't take the opportunity to get Mesa as much playing time as possible so that he and the team can keep evaluating him.
Edinson Volquez must be better this time around for the Dominican contingent.
|Santiago Casilla||32||R||San Francisco Giants|
|Juan Cedeno||29||L||New York Yankees|
|Samuel Deduno||29||R||Minnesota Twins|
|Octavio Dotel||39||R||Detroit Tigers|
|Kelvin Herrera||23||R||Kansas City Royals|
|Fernando Rodney||35||R||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Wandy Rodriguez||34||L||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Atahualpa Severino||28||L||Washington Nationals|
|Pedro Strop||27||R||Baltimore Orioles|
|Jose Veras||32||R||Houston Astros|
|Edinson Volquez||29||R||San Diego Padres|
If there's an area of weakness on the Dominican roster, it is the starting rotation.
While both Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez have had success at the major league level, both are middle-of-the-rotation arms on a contending team.
Volquez, who possesses electric stuff, has terrible command of his pitches and was terrible outside the confines of Petco Park, the biggest "pitcher's park" in baseball, posting a 5.60 ERA and 1.65 WHIP on the road.
Rodriguez has become more of a finesse pitcher than a power one, with his 6.1 K/9 rate in 2012 being the lowest since his rookie season of 2005 and significantly lower than his career mark of 7.4. The good news is Rodriguez is lined up to face a light-hitting Spain team where that shouldn't be an issue.
The bad news is that after Volquez and Rodriguez, the cupboard is pretty bare for Pena to choose from.
Sam Deduno, with 15 career major league starts under his belt, is in line to be the third starter for Tony Pena's squad. While he's had some success (his career 4.36 ERA isn't terrible), Deduno walks nearly as many batters as he strikes out.
That's a problem, especially if Deduno is called on to face Puerto Rico.
If I'm Pena, I'm going with Volquez against Venezuela, Deduno against Spain and Rodriguez against Puerto Rico.
If the starters can give the Dominican Republic some length, the bullpen is stacked and ready to close out games.
Santiago Casilla, Octavio Dotel, Kelvin Herrera and Pedro Strop are four outstanding setup men, while Fernando Rodney is coming off of one of the best seasons any closer has ever had.
If the Dominican Republic can get out to an early lead, opposing teams will have a very hard time catching up against a formidable bullpen.
The good news is that the Dominican Republic will put forth a much stronger showing in 2013 than it did in 2009. The oddsmakers seem to think that as well, evidenced by the team's 7-to-2 odds of winning the entire tournament (via Bovada.lv).
I'm picking the team to run the table in Pool C play and advance to the second round of the tournament in Miami.
But Team USA will put an end to the Domincan's dreams of a WBC championship at that point.
While the Dominican Republic has one of the most potent lineups of any team playing, it simply doesn't have the starting pitching necessary to make a deep run in the tournament.
That will ultimately be its undoing, for as we know, pitching wins championships.
Had Johnny Cueto or Alexi Ogando chosen to pitch in the tournament—or even Bartolo Colon and Ubaldo Jimenez—I could see the team advancing to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
But without the quality depth in the starting rotation that it needs, the Dominican Republic will be hard pressed to get past Team USA in Miami.