World Baseball Classic 2013: Full Pool 2 Preview, Predictions for Top Stars

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

World Baseball Classic 2013: Full Pool 2 Preview, Predictions for Top Stars

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    In the blink of an eye, the first round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic has come and gone.

    While the teams that comprised Pools A and B are already well into second-round action, those squads that landed in Pools C and D now head to Miami in advance of their games starting on Tuesday.

    Three teams expected to make it this far—the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the United States—have moved one step closer to a World Baseball Classic championship, bringing with them rosters full of MLB All-Stars.

    Then there's Italy, the country shaped like a boot that kicked, clawed and fought its way to Miami, shocking the baseball world in the process.

    With the action set to resume in less than 48 hours, let's take a look at what lies in store for the bottom part of the bracket in Round 2.

     

    *All World Baseball Classic statistics courtesy of WorldBaseballClassic.com.

    *All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Schedule and Viewing Information

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    The second round of the World Baseball Classic is played under a modified double-elimination format.

    Whichever teams lose their opening games at Marlins Park in Miami still have a fighting chance to advance to the semifinal round, but it will require a three-game winning streak to accomplish the feat.

    As with the qualifying and opening rounds of play, all of the action will be streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on the MLB Network.

    Here's how Pool 2's schedule works out:

    GAME DATE/TIME (LOCAL) DATE/TIME (ET) MATCHUP
    1 Tuesday, Mar. 12, 1 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 12, 1 p.m. Italy vs. Dominican Republic
    2 Tuesday, Mar. 12, 8 p.m Tuesday, Mar. 12, 8 p.m Puerto Rico vs. United States
    3 Wednesday, Mar. 13, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mar. 13, 7 p.m. Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser
    4 Thursday, Mar. 14, 7 p.m. Thursday, Mar. 14, 7 p.m. Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner
    5 Friday, Mar. 15, 7 p.m. Friday, Mar. 15, 7 p.m. Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser
    6 Saturday, Mar. 16, 1 p.m. Saturday, Mar. 16, 1 p.m. Game 5 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

     

    Click here for the official tournament bracket and here for a full schedule of events.

No. 1 Seed: Dominican Republic

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    Opening Round Record: 3-0

    Team Batting: .324/.419/.476, 10 XBH (3 HR), 19 RBI, 19 R

    Team Pitching: 3-0, 2.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 27 IP, 22 H, 11 BB, 26 K

     

    Once the Dominican Republic dispatched the Miguel Cabrera-led Venezuelan team with relative ease in its opening game of the tournament by a score of 9-3, it was evident that this squad had a chance to do something special.

    A 6-3 victory over Spain only reinforced that notion.

    While Puerto Rico gave the Dominican Republic all that it could handle, taking a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning of the opening round's final game, Robinson Cano's mighty bat and the rest of his teammates were simply too much to handle, beating the host nation by a score of 4-2 and running the table in Pool C play.

    A date with Italy awaits on Tuesday, and with all due respect to the upstart Italian squad, the only way the Dominican Republic loses that matchup is if it beats itself.

     

    Batters To Watch

    Robinson Cano (3 G, .600/.600/1.000, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R)

    Swinging the bat as well as any player left in the tournament, Robinson Cano has been the total package for the Dominican Republic through its first three games of the WBC.

    Not only is Cano driving the ball with authority, he's also provided outstanding defense up the middle, pairing with shortstop Jose Reyes to make some truly memorable plays.

    Whether it's Italy, Puerto Rico or the United States, there isn't a pitching staff left in the tournament that seems capable of slowing down the best second baseman on the planet.

    Expect Cano's incredible hot streak to continue.

     

    Hanley Ramirez (3 G, .111/.385/.444, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R)

    While he's drawn four walks and is yet to strike out, Hanley Ramirez continues to struggle against all competition in the WBC.

    Without a hit in his last six at-bats, Ramirez was replaced at third base in the fifth inning of the Dominican Republic's game against Puerto Rico by Miguel Tejada—yes, that Miguel Tejada—who proceeded to go 2-for-2 with a double.

    Returning to Miami, home to Ramirez for six-and-a-half years, might be exactly what he needs to get back on track.

    In 52 career games at Marlins Park, Ramirez owns a .313/.387/.492 slash line with seven home runs and 34 RBI.

    Look for him to get going against Italy and keep that momentum through the second round of the WBC.

     

    Pitchers To Watch

    Edinson Volquez (1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 1 IP, 1 K)

    The ace of the Dominican pitching staff, Edinson Volquez was limited to one inning of work due to a rain delay in his only start of this year's WBC against Venezuela.

    The good news, of course, is that Volquez needed only 11 pitches to get through Venezuela's first three batters, a trio of All-Star infielders in Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera and Miguel Cabrera, retiring Andrus on strikes while inducing fly-ball outs by both Cabreras.

    Over the course of his career, Volquez has had a tendency to struggle with his command, walking nearly five batters per nine innings of work. Regardless of the competition he faces, Volquez must stay in control of his pitches.

    That the second round of action is being played in a pitcher's park—Marlins Park had a home run park factor of 0.72 last season, the fifth-lowest in baseball, according to ESPN—works in his favor.

    I expect Volquez to attack the Italian lineup from the onset, firing strikes and daring batters to try to hit his stuff.

     

    Fernando Rodney (3 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 2.1 IP, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-for-2 SV)

    When we looked at Fernando Rodney this past weekend, I gave him a grade of A although he walked in a run against Spain, noting that his issues were command-related but his stuff was good.

    Against Puerto Rico, Rodney proved that assertion was correct, as he worked a perfect ninth inning for his WBC-leading second save of the tournament.

    Now back in a groove, look for Rodney to continue shutting down the opposition if and when he's called upon by manager Tony Pena.

No. 2 Seed: United States

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    Opening Round Record: 2-1

    Team Batting: .297/.358/.387, 8 XBH (1 HR), 16 RBI, 17 R

    Team Pitching: 2-1, 3.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 27 IP, 25 H, 8 BB, 22 K

     

    Sure, we could call the United States' 2-1 record in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic a success, but for a team comprised of major leaguers, we have yet to see Team USA assert its dominance over the competition.

    Joe Torre's club has allowed the opposition to stay in games. That's simply too dangerous a game to play, especially against a Puerto Rico squad that brings with it an impressive collection of All-Star bats in the lineup.

    While Eric Hosmer and Adam Jones took some of the run-producing burden off David Wright's shoulders, the lineup needs to begin producing far more consistently with runners on base.

     

    Batters To Watch

    David Wright (3 G, .455/.571/.818, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R)

    Franchise players put teams on their backs and carry them to victory.

    David Wright continues to prove that he is indeed a franchise player.

    His fifth-inning grand slam against Italy propelled Team USA to victory in a must-win game, and he continued to rake at the plate in a similar situation against Canada, going 1-for-2 with three walks and three runs scored.

    Last season, Wright took a liking to the cavernous outfield at Marlins Park, hitting .371 with a double, home run and six RBI in the nine games that the Mets played on the road against Miami.

    Despite having not appeared in the postseason since 2006, Wright understands that with each successive round, the competition will only become more intense, as he told MLB.com:

    "It's not going to be easy. It's only going to get tougher from here." - David Wright: atmlb.com/10ATa6I

    — MLB (@MLB) March 11, 2013

    With the way he's swinging the bat, there's no reason to expect Wright to slow down against Puerto Rico.

     

    Giancarlo Stanton (2 G, .000/.222/.000)

    With the exception of a pair of walks, Giancarlo Stanton has contributed nothing to the effort for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, finding himself on the bench for the team's must-win game against Canada.

    Heading to his home park in Miami, where he's a career .304 hitter with 16 home runs and 48 RBI over 68 games, anything short of Stanton reaffirming his status as one of the brightest young stars of the game would be a major surprise.

    The scene is set for Giancarlo Stanton to introduce himself to the rest of the world. Expect that introduction to be an explosive one. 

     

    Pitchers To Watch

    R.A. Dickey (1 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4 IP, 6 H, 2 K)

    The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner got rocked by Mexico in his first WBC outing, continuing his struggles from earlier in spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he allowed five earned runs and eight hits over five innings of work.

    But there's good news, sort of.

    Dickey has made three career starts at Marlins Park, going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, striking out 15 batters in 21 innings of work.

    The bad news, of course, is that Dickey won't face the Marlins.

    He won't pitch against a Puerto Rico lineup that features Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, who own a combined .250 batting average against Dickey with a double, home run and six RBI. That honor falls to Gio Gonzalez, who will make his 2013 World Baseball Classic debut.

    I don't expect Dickey to throw the ball as well as he did for the New York Mets in 2012, but a solid outing, one that keeps the score low and the United States in position to win, is in Dickey's future.

    If, for whatever reason, he's not up to the task, Team USA is in some trouble.

     

    Ross Detwiler (1 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 4 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 1-for-1 SV)

    Recording a four-inning save is unheard of in today's game, yet that's exactly what Ross Detwiler did for the United States in its 5-2 victory over Italy, needing only 51 pitches to get through the four innings of work.

    Detwiler's ability to give manager Joe Torre length out of the bullpen will once again prove to be invaluable, whether against Puerto Rico or in the United States' second game in Miami.

    With solid career numbers at Marlins Park—three earned runs and six hits allowed over 7.2 innings of work—another solid outing is a reasonable expectation for the 27-year-old southpaw.

No. 3 Seed: Puerto Rico

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    Opening Round Record: 2-1

    Team Batting: .239/.321/.348, 7 XBH (1 HR), 11 RBI, 11 R

    Team Pitching: 2-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 27 IP, 24 H, 5 BB, 21 K

     

    Puerto Rico has struggled to put runs on the board, entering the second round of play with the lowest run total (11) of any team still playing in the World Baseball Classic.

    As a matter of fact, three teams eliminated in the first round—Mexico (13), Venezuela (17) and Canada (18)—outscored the Boricuas, who simply have not been able to get the ball to drop in for a hit.

    Yet the team has done just enough offensively, while catcher Yadier Molina has guided a relatively mediocre pitching staff to allowing only three runs while scattering 12 hits over the team's first two games—both wins.

    While Molina's guidance behind the plate remains invaluable, Puerto Rico needs more out of its offense if it is to have a chance of taking down the United States and moving one step closer to a semifinal appearance.

     

    Batters To Watch

    Carlos Beltran (3 G, .273/.333/.455, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R)

    A solid start to the 2013 World Baseball Classic came to an abrupt halt against the Dominican Republic, as Carlos Beltran failed to reach base and heads to Miami on a down note after Puerto Rico dropped the final game of the opening round by a score of 4-2.

    Beltran has had success at Marlins Park, going 6-for-15 with four runs and three RBI in four games as a visitor with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The All-Star outfielder will get back into a groove against the United States, recording another multi-hit game and giving Puerto Rico a chance to take down Team USA on its own turf.

     

    Mike Aviles (3 G, .333/.333/.667, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 R)

    He's about as far from a superstar as you can get, but soon-to-be 32-year-old infielder Mike Aviles has been the big bat in Puerto Rico's lineup thus far.

    Aviles has accounted for more than half of Puerto Rico's run production, more often than not by way of sacrifice flies. He does the little things that teams need to win, and he'll continue to do just that in Miami.

     

    Pitchers To Watch

    Giancarlo Alvarado (1 G, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP, 4 IP, 1 H, 1 HBP, 4 K)

    Puerto Rico's ace was nearly perfect against Spain in his first start of the tournament, throwing four innings of one-hit ball and putting his club in a position to win, all any manager asks of his starting pitcher.

    A 12-year minor league veteran who bounced around, spending time in five different major league organizations, Alvarado never made it to the big show and spent the last three years pitching in Japan's Central League.

    Nobody expects Alvarado to repeat the success he had against Spain when he takes the mound against the United States, but a solid three to four innings of work that keeps Team USA from breaking the game wide open isn't setting expectations too high.

     

    J.C. Romero (1 G, 6.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 K)

    You need to go back to 2008 to find a season when J.C. Romero pitched to an ERA below 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.40, as it's been years since the 36-year-old left-handed reliever has even been close to effective.

    Yet with his wealth of big-league experience, Romero knows how to get major league batters out.

    Asking him to throw a full inning may be asking too much at this point in his career. Look for Puerto Rico to use him strictly in matchups, entering the game to face a single batter and then departing.

    It's not optimal, but that's the only way Romero is going to make a positive contribution to Puerto Rico's efforts.

No. 4 Seed: Italy

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    Opening Round Record: 2-1

    Team Batting: .336/.395/.467, 10 XBH (2 HR), 21 RBI, 22 R

    Team Pitching: 2-1, 4.85 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 26 IP, 29 H, 13 BB, 20 K

     

    Not even Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, playing for the Italian squad despite being born and raised in Florida, expected to still be participating in the WBC, as he told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune when he swung by Cubs camp to pick up some things from his locker:

    "I expected to be back in camp today (March 10). But that's the beauty of this game, on any given day, any given team can win. This is huge for the country of Italy."

    Win is exactly what this scrappy group did, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat Mexico, 6-5, and then putting up five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning against Canada to end that game prematurely, invoking the WBC's mercy rule in a 14-4 trouncing. 

    The team faltered against the United States in the finale, blowing an early two-run lead and losing 6-2, but by that point Italy's ticket to the second round of the tournament, for the first time in team history, had already been secured.

    Unfortunately for this group of upstarts, an All-Star-laden Dominican Republic squad awaits them in their opening game of the second round. Scrappy play and late-inning rallies may not be enough to get over the hump in this one.

     

    Batters To Watch

    Anthony Rizzo (3 G, .273/.385/.364, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R)

    If Italy is going to find success in the second round, its most talented player, Rizzo, must produce at a higher level than he did in the first round of the tournament.

    Rizzo has never faced Edinson Volquez, who is likely to get the start for the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Chances are Volquez won't give Rizzo anything that he can make solid contact with.

    I expect Rizzo to find himself on base quite often in this game—via the free pass. The best way to neutralize Rizzo's talents is to take the bat out of his hands. Pitching around him accomplishes that goal.

     

    Chris Colabello (3 G, .455/.455/.727, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R)

    Raise your hand if you knew anything about Chris Colabello before the World Baseball Classic started.

    Mr. and Mrs. Colabello, you can put your hands down.

    A 29-year-old infielder who spent the first nine years of his professional career playing Independent ball in the Canadian-American Association, Colabello finally latched on with a major league franchise in 2012.

    While Anthony Rizzo is by far the more talented player, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Colabello has been Italy's leading run producer after he hit .284 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats last season.

    That said, Colabello's success has come largely at the expense of pitchers who couldn't cut it in the major leagues—if they made it that far at all.

    Those expecting big things from him against the Dominican Republic are sure to be disappointed in the results.

     

    Pitchers To Watch

    Tiago Da Silva (1 G, 2.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K)

    While 27-year-old right-hander Tiago Da Silva didn't get an official start for Italy in the first round of the WBC, he was one of the biggest reasons that Mexico wasn't able to blow the Italians out of the park in the team's opening game of the tournament.

    Da Silva utilized a deceptive delivery and his changeup to keep Mexico's batters off-balance, something he'll need to do against the Dominican Republic if Italy has any chance of keeping the game close.

    As catcher Drew Butera told Baseball America's J.J. Cooper, Da Silva has the ability to frustrate the opposition:

    He has kind of a funky motion, and I think a little deception that helped him as well. He has a couple of speeds to his changeup. He has one that jumps at you and another one that's like a Bugs Bunny changeup. It just seems to never get there.

    Unfortunately for Da Silva, against a Dominican lineup full of major league All-Stars, deception and offspeed pitches will only take you so far.

    He may be effective for an inning or two, but sooner or later, the Dominicans' overwhelming talent will send those Bugs Bunny changeups into orbit.

     

    Jason Grilli (1 G, 0.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 1 IP, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 1-for-1 SV)

    Should Italy find itself with a lead late in the game, veteran reliever Jason Grilli has the ability to lock things down, regardless of the lineup he'll be facing.

    Grilli has flourished over the past two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching to a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings of work—including many of the bats he'd potentially face against the Dominican Republic.

    If Grilli gets into the game, he'll do his job and keep the Dominican Republic off the scoreboard.

    But that's a rather big if.