The United States is an international baseball powerhouse, but it has yet to post an impressive finish as the World Baseball Classic. Now, a few of the game’s biggest stars will try to change that.
In 2006, the Americans failed to get out of the second round. The team fared better in 2009, but lost to Japan in the semifinals.
The team is set to kick off the 2013 tournament against Mexico on Friday. With a roster full of MLB All-Stars, manager Joe Torre certainly has the talent to hoist the trophy in San Francisco later this month.
Here are the players who will be most important to USA Baseball’s chances at victory.
R.A. Dickey, RHP
Torre has selected Dickey as the ace of his staff, and the knuckleballer will need to be on top of his game in this tournament.
Dickey is unhittable when he gets his signature pitch over the plate, and he did this with astonishing regularity last season en route to his first Cy Young award. He won 20 games with the New York Mets in 2012 and posted an impressive 2.73 ERA.
But his ability to throw the knuckleball for strikes sets him apart from every other pitcher in the tournament and makes him the Americans' greatest weapon.
When Torre needs a win, Dickey must be on the mound, and if the 38-year-old can continue pitching like he did in his last campaign, the Americans will contend for their first WBC championship.
Ryan Braun, OF
It will be important for Dickey to set the tone early, but ultimately, the pitchers will be kept on short leashes in this tournament, especially in the early games.
The Americans need an offensive player to come out and dominate from the start of the competition. With fewer superstars on the roster and an emphasis on each player having a role, Braun will need to take his place as the team’s premier hitter.
After turning in two fantastic seasons in which he batted well over .300, stole over 30 bases and hit over 30 home runs, the Americans will need his all-around offensive talents to carry over to the international competition.
For the United States to avoid disappointment, Braun must play like he has for the Brewers in recent years.
Brandon Phillips, 2B
While Braun’s contribution will come at the plate, Phillips can make a massive difference for this team both offensively and defensively.
The two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner is a fantastic all-around player who will be crucial to USA Baseball’s campaign at the World Baseball Classic.
With each game likely to feature several pitching changes, the defense will need to stay focused and consistent. Phillips will need to turn in a few fantastic plays in the infield.
But this does not mean he can relax at the plate, and he must consistently get on base and show off his speed. The Americans are using a different strategy this year, and it will work out if Phillips, Braun and Dickey can turn in excellent tournaments.