Gio Gonzalez and X-Factors for Team USA Winning 2013 World Baseball Classic
It might be difficult for fans of USA Baseball, but I implore you: Please stop humming the theme song to Mighty Mouse in your head.
While it's true that Gio Gonzalez is coming, it's foolhardy to think that he alone is going to save the day for the United States in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Not that the team necessarily needs saving. The roster that manager Joe Torre and Co. assembled has advanced to the second round of the tournament. They are now preparing to take on Puerto Rico at Marlins Park in Miami on Tuesday night.
But if we've learned one thing from following America's pastime, it's that you can never have too much pitching.
Gonzalez is certainly a fine addition to the mix for Team USA. But he alone isn't going to be the spark that ignites a fire under the keisters of a roster that has underachieved since the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.
He's merely one of the players who will be key if the United States is going to make a run at the 2013 WBC crown. Let's take a look at Gonzalez and the other X-factors.
While he started Team USA's first game of the tournament against Mexico, Joe Mauer or Jonathan Lucroy could get the starting catching nod over J.P. Arencibia.
That said, there's no reason he can't give Team USA productive at-bats as a right-handed bat off the bench.
Over the course of his two-plus years in the major leagues, the 27-year-old catcher has proven two things: He's a threat to go deep, and he doesn't walk. But simply putting the ball in play is the kind of production that manager Joe Torre and the United States needs him to provide.
If he can do more, terrific, but Arencibia needs to do more than swing and miss. That's what he did in his two at-bats against Mexico.
Gio Gonzalez finished third in the 2012 National League Cy Young Award voting behind Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey.
Making his first start in international competition against Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Gonzalez will see plenty of familiar faces staring back at him from home plate.
Five of the core bats in Puerto Rico's lineup—Mike Aviles, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Angel Pagan and Alex Rios—have faced Gonzalez a combined 56 times since 2008. They have posted a .217 batting average with a pair of doubles, a triple and a single RBI.
Of the group, Mike Aviles has had the most success, going 4-for-13 with a triple and an RBI.
But that group has also drawn more walks (10) than they've struck out (nine) against Gonzalez. He will need to limit the number of free passes he hands out if Team USA is going to keep Puerto Rico in check.
Eric Hosmer's bases-clearing three-run double off Canada's John Axford in the top of the ninth inning gave the United States all the breathing room it would need to close out the opening round of the WBC.
Joe Torre's squad needs more of that from the 23-year-old first baseman for the Kansas City Royals. While Hosmer is second on the team in RBI with four (trailing David Wright by one), he's managed only three hits in 13 at-bats, striking out twice.
That said, two of those three hits came against Canada, so it may be that Hosmer is finally beginning to get into a groove for Team USA.
With a powerful bat from the left side of the plate, the United States hopes that's the case. It needs the team's young stars to start producing on a more consistent basis.
The sparkle from of one of baseball's brightest young stars in baseball isn't as bright as it was heading into the WBC. Giancarlo Stanton has done little to help Team USA's cause aside from drawing a pair of walks.
Hitless in seven at-bats, Stanton found himself planted firmly on the bench in the team's must-win game against Canada to end the first round of play. He was replaced in the lineup by Ben Zobrist, who proceeded to go 3-for-5 while scoring the team's last run in a 9-4 victory.
The slugger broke a windshield with one of his mammoth home runs during batting practice at Chase Field in Arizona:
While that's impressive, Stanton needs to start hitting those shots after the umpire has uttered two words: "Play ball!"
With Team USA now playing its second round of games in Stanton's home park, the time has come for him to step up and put his awesome power on display for the rest of the world to marvel at.
There's a reason professional sports teams play better at home than they do on the road. Playing in front of a ravenous fanbase has a way of boosting a team's performance.
It may sound odd, considering that Team USA hasn't played a tournament game outside the U.S., but the home-field advantage hasn't been a factor yet.
While the United States is home to one of the more diverse populations on the planet, allegiances for many fans in the international tournament lie with their home countries first, their adopted nation second.
That will certainly be the case in Miami. Both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are sure to have significant support from both locals and fans visiting from out of town.
Even during the first round at Chase Field in Arizona, chants of "USA! USA!" after the team scored a run or made a big play were barely audible on the telecasts.
It's a small X-factor to be sure, but the more supportive the crowd is, the better for the American contingent.
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