WBC 2013: Key Players to Watch on Final Day of Pool Play
Sunday will put a bow on Pool Play in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and spell the end for four teams as we move to the second round of the event with games starting in Miami on Tuesday.
However, before we look too far ahead, we wanted to put the spotlight on the players whose performance on Sunday will determine the fate of their respective teams. There are just three games left, two of them in Pool C.
We are going to look at one player in each game that has the potential to steal the show and make a huge mark on the World Baseball Classic as we move further ahead in the tournament.
Spain at Venezuela
Venezuela SS Elvis Andrus
What Venezuela can do that so few teams in this event can is put runs on the board in a hurry. It all starts at the top of the lineup with Elvis Andrus. He struggled against the Dominican Republic on Thursday, going 1-for-5 with just a single.
No one else in the Venezuelan lineup could find a groove, with Pablo Sandoval providing the only real spark with two RBI, and the Dominicans won going away, 9-3.
In a lineup that also includes Sandoval, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez and Asdrubal Caberera, scoring runs should not be a huge issue. But we have seen the difference a leadoff hitter can make for a team.
It also helps that Andrus can bring the leather, since he is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. The better the game Andrus has, the more likely it is that Venezuela will succeed in the World Baseball Classic.
Dominican Republic at Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic third baseman Hanley Ramirez
Which player needs to have the best game for his team to win on Sunday?
Even though it takes an entire lineup firing on all cylinders, which the Dominican Republic is right now, to score 15 runs in two games, one player can have a profound impact on everything around him.
Hanley Ramirez is hitting just .167 in the first two games of the event, but he has gotten on base five times in seven at-bats thanks to four walks. His one hit was a home run against Venezuela on Thursday.
Puerto Rico is not a strong opponent for the Dominican Republic anyway. The team doesn't score enough runs, and the pitching staff doesn't have the depth to contain the power of the Dominican lineup.
But Ramirez has been the straw that stirs the drink for his country so far in this event. When he is locked in, he can carry a team. We just haven't seen it on a big-league field for a long time.
United States at Canada
Canada starting pitcher Jameson Taillon
It is hard to single out pitchers in this event because the pitch-count restrictions are so severe they really prohibit things from getting too far out of hand before a manager knows he has to make a move.
Canada will pin its hopes of advancing to the second round on the 21-year-old Taillon, who is the Pittsburgh Pirates' No. 2 pitching prospect heading into this season. He has just 17 innings of experience at Double-A in his career.
But don't be fooled by Taillon's lack of experience; he has the talent to dominate a lineup on any given day. His biggest weakness is a lack of fastball command in the zone, which could be problematic against a potent United States lineup that features Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton.
If Taillon can put all of his stuff together for one (brief) start, he can get the United States back on its heels in the Pool D elimination game. If he struggles, Canada will have a difficult time battling back against a good U.S. pitching staff with Derek Holland taking the bump for Joe Torre.
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