The World Baseball Classic began this past weekend, but Team USA will not play its first game against Mexico until Friday.
The game will be an early test for the Red, White and Blue, as they will face Milwaukee Brewers' ace Yovani Gallardo and a lineup that features Dodgers' All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
The Americans are the favorite to win the pool, but an early loss could deter them from doing so. Pool play consists of only three games, so a loss right off the bat would be bad for the United States.
If it happens, it may be a setback, but not a deathblow. The other two teams in Pool D, Canada and Italy, are far from baseball powerhouses. Team USA should be able to easily advance out of the pool, but a loss to Mexico would surely worry American fans and put pressure on the players.
Mexico will also be a good test for the U.S. players. This is the first live game action many of them will be seeing besides spring training. Going up against Gallardo is not the best way to start the tournament, but it should provide them a litmus test of where they stand entering the tournament.
A win over Mexico would go a long way for Team USA. R.A. Dickey will be taking the mound when the U.S. squares off against Mexico on Friday. After him the rotation is thin, putting even more importance on this game. Washington Nationals' star Gio Gonzalez is the No. 2 starter, and despite his talent, he remains young and lacks experience pitching in big game situations. Dickey, too, lacks big game experience, but the 38-year-old veteran should be able to handle the pressure.
The major advantage the United States has over Mexico is their lineup. While Mexico has Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the order, they lack any other impact hitter. The U.S., on the otherhand, has a crowded lineup littered with All-Stars.
Led by 2011 MVP Ryan Braun and 2009 MVP Joe Mauer, the U.S. has the deepest lineup in the tournament. David Wright and Mark Teixeira also give the Americans veteran leadership as well as solid middle of the order bats. Youngsters Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Jones are the newcomers who will be featured in a lineup that features both speed and power.
While the lineup is deep and talented, many of the players in it lack experience. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Mark Teixeira have all won World Series rings, but other than that no one else has much playoff experience. It will be a question of how the U.S. handles the pressure cooker of tournament play and if this lineup can jell together.
Facing Mexico in the first game will give American fans a good understanding of how the lineup and defense will mesh together. Manager Joe Torre is one who certainly lacks no big game experience. His ability to manage the young personalities of Team USA will be one of the determining factors of how far this team can go in the tournament.
First up is Mexico. A win over the team that eliminated Team USA from the first World Baseball Classic would do a lot for the confidence of the Americans.
In the end, Team USA is too deep for Mexico. Even with Gallardo pitching, the U.S. lineup should be able to get on base and score some runs. Coming out of the gate their bats could be a bit cold, but with R.A. Dickey on the mound he should be able to limit the damage the Mexican lineup can do. If they are able to prevail, Team USA will have an easy road to the second round of the tournament.