Having major league talent on your roster doesn't assure a team of victory in the World Baseball Classic—just ask Miguel Cabrera and Team Venezuela, eliminated from advancing to the second round after dropping its first two games in Pool C—but it certainly helps.
Some MLB players have risen to the occasion, putting forth outstanding performances and guiding their respective national teams to success and a shot at WBC glory.
Others, not so much.
As the opening round winds down, let's look at how the 25 best players in this year's tournament have fared.
*All World Baseball Classic statistics courtesy of WorldBaseballClassic.com.
*All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .429/.500/.714, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 R
Carlos Beltran's RBI double off Spain's Yoanner Negrin in the first inning of Puerto Rico's opening game keyed the host nation's three-run inning, which was more than enough runs to take down Spain, 3-0.
He'd add another two hits against Venezuela, a 6-3 victory that guaranteed Puerto Rico a spot in the second round.
While many fans were surprised that Beltran and company were able to take down Miguel Cabrera and the mighty Venezuelan squad, the All-Star outfielder was not, as he told MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo:
I think Venezuela has a great team, and obviously their roster is basically all big leaguers. But we are not surprised with the victory. Maybe some of fans were because they think baseball is characterized by the roster, and it's really not so. Baseball is characterized when you go out onto the baseball field. The best one that plays wins, and we did a great job.
Considering that Puerto Rico has advanced past the first round in each of the three World Baseball Classics held so far, perhaps we shouldn't be as surprised by the team's success—and Beltran's play—after all.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .375/.444/.500, 1 2B, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 R
Ryan Braun hit a couple of long foul balls against Italy in the United States' second game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but the player who has driven in 223 runs for the Milwaukee Brewers since 2011 has yet to notch even a single RBI thus far.
While he's left four batters on base—all coming against Italy, including grounding into a double play in the top of the first inning with Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips on base—Braun has still put together a solid performance for Team USA.
That said, Braun needs to start delivering with runners in scoring position if the U.S. is to have a chance to challenge for the championship.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .000/.333/.000, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 R
People not familiar with the Cleveland Indians wouldn't know that Asdrubal Cabrera was an All-Star shortstop based on his performance at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Cabrera has failed to record a hit through two games, reaching base twice on a pair of walks against the Dominican Republic in Venezuela's losing effort to open its WBC campaign.
Against Puerto Rico in a must-win game, Cabrera was completely ineffective, striking out twice. When he did get on base, courtesy of being hit by a Nelson Figueroa pitch, Cabrera made the unwise decision to try to score on Pablo Sandoval's RBI double and was thrown out at the plate to end the third inning.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .143/.333/.143, 2 BB, 1 K
When looking for a reason why Venezuela struggled in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, most eyes will fall squarely on the broad shoulders of the reigning American League MVP, Miguel Cabrera, widely considered to be the best baseball player on the planet.
Miggy has been invisible through two games, managing only a meaningless first-inning single against Nelson Figueroa and Puerto Rico on Saturday. Venezuela lost that game, 6-3.
Cabrera was expected to carry Venezuela to the promised land.
Instead, Venezuela will finish the 2013 World Baseball Classic without advancing to the second round for the first time in history.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .600/.600/.900, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R
If Robinson Cano hit like this in the postseason, he might have more than one World Series ring to show for his efforts since becoming the starting second baseman for the New York Yankees in 2005.
Cano has been nothing short of spectacular for the Dominican Republic, driving the ball with authority all over the field. Were Edwin Encarnacion at the top of his game, Cano would certainly have scored more than a pair of runs, considering how often he has found himself on base.
WBC Stats: 1 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4 IP, 6 H, 2 K
R.A. Dickey was part of the United States contingent that took home a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, winning each of his starts against international competition.
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner wasn't able to repeat that success in his first start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, getting knocked around by Mexico in a 5-2 defeat in front of a pro-Mexico crowd at Chase Field in Arizona.
Now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dickey was shaky in both of his spring training starts before joining Team USA, allowing five earned runs and eight hits over five innings of work.
Both the United States and the Blue Jays need Dickey to get his game back on track if either has a chance of making a run at a championship.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .143/.300/.143, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 4 SO, 2 R
The powerful bat that Edwin Encarnacion swung for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012 has been nowhere to be found through his first two games in the WBC.
Aside from a sacrifice fly in the second inning of the Dominican Republic's 9-3 victory over Venezuela, the 30-year-old first baseman has been a non-factor.
Thankfully for Encarnacion, his teammates have picked up the slack, making his lack of production far less of an issue than it could be.
WBC Stats: 1 G, 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K
Playing in a league with pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg, it's easy to overlook Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo.
After watching him shut down the United States in Mexico's 5-2 victory on Friday, it won't be that easy anymore.
Gallardo needed only 37 pitches to get through the first three innings, erasing Joe Mauer's leadoff single in the second inning by getting David Wright to ground into a double play.
Gallardo likely could have gone deeper into the game, approaching the WBC limit of 65 pitches for a starter, but as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan noted, the Milwaukee Brewers put a strict 50-pitch limit on the ace of their staff.
While Mexico won't be advancing to the second round of the WBC, Gallardo's performance was not to blame.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .429/.714/.857, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 6 BB, 1 SO, 2 R
If an MVP award were handed out for the first round of WBC play, Mexico's Adrian Gonzalez would garner serious consideration.
After accounting for three of Mexico's four runs through three innings against the United States, the Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman never saw another pitch to hit, being walked in each of his next three plate appearances.
His six walks lead all batters in the tournament. While Mexico's tournament run has come to an end, Gonzalez did everything he could to keep the underdogs alive.
Dodgers fans may want to send thanks to former Colorado Rockies All-Star outfielder Larry Walker, who is serving as the batting coach for Team Canada.
As a bench-clearing brawl ensued between Mexico and Canada, Walker went out of his way to protect the All-Star, as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan reports via Twitter:
Larry Walker said he pulled Adrian Gonzalez out of the way of the brawl. "You're too important to the game," he told him.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 10, 2013
WBC Stats: 2 G, .125/.125/.125, 2 SO
Like his teammate Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez has failed to produce at the plate for Venezuela, managing only one hit in eight at-bats. He's a big reason why one of the favorites to win the World Baseball Classic did not advance to the second round of play.
While there's no denying that Gonzalez is a supremely talented player—a five-tool player, for sure—that he's struggled outside the confines of Coors Field shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
In 68 home games last season, Gonzalez posted a .368/.437/.609 slash line with 13 home runs and 58 RBI. In 67 games on the road, he wasn't even close to the same player, posting a .231/.301/.405 line with nine home runs and 27 RBI.
Unless the 2016 World Baseball Classic is going to be played at Coors Field, Venezuela may want to think twice about inviting CarGo to take part in the fourth edition of the tournament.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .167/.375/.167, 2 BB, 2 SO, 1 R, 1-for-1 SB
While Adam Jones hasn't done much with the bat for the United States, he got things started for Team USA against Italy in the fifth inning with a leadoff walk, eventually scoring the game-tying run before David Wright put the Americans ahead for good with a grand slam shortly thereafter.
Despite his rather poor numbers at the plate—and misplaying a fly ball in the bottom of the second inning that wound up sailing over his head for a RBI double and a 2-0 Italy lead—Jones has put his athleticism and speed on display, making big plays on balls that most other outfielders couldn't reach.
As Comcast SportsNet's Andrew Baggarly notes, Jones is a special player, regardless of what the numbers say:
Who did the Mariners get for Adam Jones, again? Erik Bedard? Heathcliff Slocumb? Either way, a bad deal. What a talent.— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) March 10, 2013
It's only a matter of time before the balls that Jones hits start finding something other than the opposition's gloves.
*For the record, Jones was one of five players (other notables include George Sherrill and Chris Tillman) who the Orioles received from Seattle in exchange for Bedard. A bad deal for Seattle indeed.
WBC Stats: Not available
Much to the relief of its opponents, the United States and manager Joe Torre have yet to call on reliever Craig Kimbrel in the World Baseball Classic.
Arguably the best closer in the game, Kimbrel, 24, has been as close to Mariano Rivera-esque as a pitcher can be. He has a 1.61 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over the past two seasons while averaging three walks and nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings of work.
If and when Kimbrel gets into a game, the United States will expect nothing but a dominating performance from one of the younger members of the squad.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .375/.444/.500, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 R
One of the most prolific hitting catchers in baseball history, Joe Mauer came through in the clutch twice for the United States against Italy in a must-win game for the Americans.
Mauer got Team USA on the board in the fourth inning with a RBI double, cutting Italy's 2-0 lead in half. But it was his plate appearance in the following inning that made all the difference.
With two runners on and two outs, Mauer worked a walk against Matt Tora, loading the bases and giving David Wright a chance to put the Americans ahead—something the third baseman accomplished with one swing as he cleared the bases.
Without Mauer's excellent batting eye and plate discipline, Wright would have never had a chance to play the hero.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .286/.375/.286, 1 BB, 1 SO, 1 R, 1-for-1 SB
Yadier Molina's value can't be measured by numbers alone.
One of the best catchers in MLB put on a clinic through two games of the World Baseball Classic, guiding a largely unproven and mediocre pitching staff to the lowest ERA (1.50) and WHIP (0.83) of the tournament and a spot in the second round of play.
Washington Nationals superstar outfielder Bryce Harper, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, could barely contain himself while watching Molina play:
Simply put, there is no way that Puerto Rico advances to the second round of the World Baseball Classic without Molina behind the plate, leading the way.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .714/.778/1.000, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R
After years of battling injuries and concussions, Canada (and Minnesota Twins) first baseman Justin Morneau is swinging the bat like he did when he won the American League MVP award back in 2006.
Morneau went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBI against Mexico in Canada's second game of the tournament, putting his team in position to advance to the second round with a victory against the United States on Sunday.
Most importantly, Morneau managed to stay out of the fracas that erupted between Canada and Mexico; a wise choice considering his long injury history.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .222/.222/.222, 1 RBI, 3 K, 1 R
With the United States trailing Italy 2-1 in the top of the fifth inning, Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips delivered a game-tying RBI single, scoring on David Wright's grand slam three batters later.
But it was with the leather, in the bottom of the sixth inning, that Phillips really made an impact.
Italy's Mario Chiarini hit a scorcher toward the hole between second base and shortstop. Phillips dove to his right and, from a sitting position, fired the ball to first base, nailing Chiarini to end the inning and keep momentum firmly on the side of the United States.
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has seen his fair share of outstanding plays over his career, was truly impressed by Phillips' effort:
Brandon Phillips, who lost Gold Glove to Darwin Barney, just made one of the best diving stops for an out I've ever seen. #wbc.
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 10, 2013
Phillips himself wasn't quite sure how he pulled the play off, as he explained to teammate Adam Jones on Twitter following the game:
Now, if only Phillips' bat would catch up to his glove, the United States would be in better shape heading into Sunday's crucial game against Canada.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .167/.500/.667, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 BB
Hanley Ramirez may only have one hit in six at-bats—a 404-foot blast to left field off Puerto Rico's Jhoulys Chacin that gave the Dominican Republic a 6-3 lead that it wouldn't surrender—but the Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman continues to get on base despite hitting the ball directly at defenders.
After a 2012 season that saw his strikeout rate increase to 19.1 percent and his walk rate drop to 8.1 percent—his worst numbers since 2007 (per FanGraphs)—that Ramirez has drawn a walk in nearly 50 percent of his plate appearances without striking out is nothing short of miraculous.
He's provided solid defense at the hot corner, and if he can keep this up, it's only a matter of time before the hits start falling and his numbers across the board become even more impressive for the Dominican Republic.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .444/.500/.444, 1 BB, 1 SO, 3 R
Against Venezuela, Jose Reyes was unstoppable, reaching base safely in each of his first four at-bats before finally recording an out with the game's outcome already decided.
While he failed to deliver a similar performance against Spain, Reyes' speed came into play in the top of the third inning with his team leading 2-0.
Reyes drew a leadoff walk from Spanish starter Yoanner Negrin, who proceeded to throw the ball away on a pickoff attempt. This allowed Reyes to advance to third base, where he'd be driven in by Robinson Cano on a RBI double two batters later.
It'd be nice if Reyes could launch a ball into a gap in the outfield and put his wheels on display for the world to see, but there's really nothing to complain about with his performance in the tournament thus far.
WBC Stats: 2 G, 0-0, 0.0 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.1 IP, 2 BB, 1 K, 1-for-1 SV
With two outs, the bases loaded and the Dominican Republic leading Spain by four runs, Fernando Rodney was called upon to close things out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
After walking Barbaro Canizares, forcing Engel Beltre in from third base, Rodney settled down, striking out Rafael Alvarez and clinching a spot in the second round of play for the Dominican Republic.
It is a bit concerning that Rodney, who walked only 15 batters in 74.2 innings of work for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012, has already issued two free passes. But the soon-to-be 36-year-old closer has yet to allow a hit—meaning his issues are a matter of command, not that his stuff simply isn't any good.
You can be sure that Rodney will work out the kinks before the Dominican Republic takes the field in the second round.
WBC Stats: Not available
Scheduled to start the final game of the first round for the Dominican Republic against Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Wandy Rodriguez told reporters that he's not at all concerned about the names that litter the host nation's lineup (h/t ASAP Sports):
Yes, I saw the lineup, Puerto Rico's lineup. It's a great lineup. But as I told you a little while ago, I'm going to always try to locate the pitches where I believe I should throw them.
That confidence needs to translate to quality innings if the Dominican Republic is going to run the table in Pool C and improve to 9-4 all time in the WBC.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .444/.500/.556, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 R
There's just something about the World Baseball Classic that appeals to Jimmy Rollins, the All-Star shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rollins, 34, has been the leadoff hitter for manager Joe Torre's squad and picked up a pair of hits in each of the United States' first two games. This puts the veteran in a class by himself when it comes to the World Baseball Classic, as USA Baseball made note of via Twitter:
— USABaseball (@USABaseball) March 9, 2013
Considering some of the players who have been on the American roster in each of the previous two World Baseball Classics, that's an incredibly impressive feat.
He'll need to continue swinging a hot bat if Team USA is going to put the struggles of the past behind them in 2013.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .000/.222/.000, 2 BB, 2 K
Giancarlo Stanton has yet to show the world the incredible raw power that he has in his swing, failing to record a hit in seven at-bats for the United States.
While he hasn't contributed much to the cause, Stanton did show improved plate discipline against Italy in his second game, working a 13-pitch walk against Brian Sweeney in the top of the seventh inning. Kansas City's Eric Hosmer failed to capitalize, fouling out on a pop-up to third base.
If the United States is going to make a serious run at a World Baseball Classic title, Stanton needs to start making opposing pitchers pay for throwing to him in the first place.
WBC Stats: 1 G, 1-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4 IP, 6 H, 4 K
With Italy leading 2-0 and on the cusp of blowing the game wide open, future first-ballot Hall of Famer and United States pitching coach Greg Maddux paid starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong a visit on the mound during the second inning of the United States' must-win game on Saturday night.
Whatever Maddux told Vogelsong worked.
The right-hander buckled down, worked out of a jam and eventually sent four consecutive Italian batters down on strikes, starting with the final out of the third inning.
Vogelsong wasn't great, but he did enough to keep the United States in the game—and that's all manager Joe Torre could ask from the No. 2 starter in his rotation.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .167/.444/.167, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 R
Joey Votto hasn't done much at the plate, but the perennial MVP candidate has shown his usual solid judgment for Team Canada through two games of the WBC.
Votto ignored a stop sign at third base and scored the opening run for Canada in the top of the first inning against Mexico. However, he gave a run back in the bottom of the inning on a throwing error while trying to turn a 3-6-1 double play, cutting Canada's lead to 4-1 in what ultimately was a brawl-filled 10-3 Canadian win.
Speaking of the brawl, it would have been easy for Votto, a physically imposing figure at 6'3" and 225 pounds, to get involved and start moving people out of the way.
Instead, Votto stood to the side, watching the chaos unfurl before him and not taking more than a step toward the action.
Both Canadian manager Ernie Whitt and Cincinnati Reds skipper Dusty Baker certainly breathed a sigh of relief once they realized that Votto wasn't involved, keeping the All-Star firmly out of harm's way.
That said, Votto needs to do more than be disciplined if Canada is going to make a deep run in the tournament. Hits from Votto—especially with runners on base—are needed for that to happen.
WBC Stats: 2 G, .444/.444/.778, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 R
Without David Wright's heroics, there's a good chance the United States' third game of the opening round against Canada would be for nothing more than bragging rights.
With the game tied at two with two outs, Wright sent Matt Tora's offering 410 feet into the stands in left-center field, giving the United States a 6-2 lead on what was only the second grand slam in World Baseball Classic history.
(Former Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek hit the first one, also for the United States, in the 2006 WBC against Canada).
Wright's play has apparently given Team USA catcher J.P. Arencibia some direction, as the 27-year-old backstop for the Toronto Blue Jays tweeted that he finally knows what—or rather who—he wants to be when he gets older:
The United States needs Wright to continue coming through in the clutch on Sunday night, as it faces a win-or-go-home scenario against Canada.
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