Team USA Players Who Must Step Up ASAP to Win the 2013 World Baseball Classic

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIMarch 12, 2013

Team USA Players Who Must Step Up ASAP to Win the 2013 World Baseball Classic

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    If it weren’t for a couple of stars under-performing, USA would’ve cruised to the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

    But those players didn’t live up to expectations and the United States was nearly eliminated from contention—which would’ve forced them to play in the qualifying round at the next WBC.

    Thankfully, players like David Wright—who went 5-for-11 with four runs and five RBI in three games—stepped up when his team and country needed him, leading USA to victory against Canada on Sunday. Things won’t get much easier as the second round of competition is bound to be more competitive.

    USA will be playing in the Miami, Florida bracket with Italy, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In order to advance to the semifinals, USA will need more help that some players provided over the last week. If that happens, there’s no reason why the United States can’t go all the way to win its first WBC.

    But for that to happen, here are the players that need to play considerably better going forward.

Brandon Phillips, Second Baseman

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    Brandon Phillips is one of the top second basemen in Major League Baseball. He’s a three-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove recipient and has received Most Valuable Player Award votes in two seasons. He’s also a staple in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup.

    It made plenty of sense when manager Joe Torre asked him to be on Team USA. Phillips told Barry Bloom of MLB.com that he was proud to get the call:

    “I’m very excited to represent the country and wear the red, white and blue,” Phillips said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since 1996, and I was a batboy in the Olympics. I looked up to Jacque Jones, Troy Glaus, all those guys who represented their country. It’s just an honor to go out there and do that.”

    But Torre didn’t pick Phillips because he would be proud to play. He picked him because he felt that he could compete at a high level against international competition.

    And so far, Phillips hasn’t really produced.

    Starting in all three games for USA, Phillips is just 3-for-14 with two runs. But most of Phillips’ success only came in one game, USA’s second, playing against Italy. There, he went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI.

    If Phillips continues to play poorly, like he did in USA’s other two pool play games, he could end up losing his job. Torre could decide to reverse his role with that of Ben Zobrist, who has been coming off the bench. Phillips needs to get his bat going quick.

Eric Hosmer, First Baseman

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    Eric Hosmer is one of the rising stars in Major League Baseball playing on Team USA has already gotten him a lot of attention. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played too well when the spotlight has been on him.

    Hosmer played in all three Pool D games, slotted in the lineup in a different spot each game. Not just where he hits, but how he hits has varied as well. In 13 at-bats, the Kansas City Royals first baseman only has three hits.

    Hosmer went 1-for-4 with an RBI against Mexico in the first matchup for USA, but stranded four baserunners. He went hitless in four at-bats the next game. Most recently, he had a nice game, driving in three runs while going 2-for-5 in the victory over Canada.

    But Hosmer has somewhat of an excuse for not playing up to par through the first round at the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t expected to be on the team at all. In fact, he was a late replacement after New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira got injured and needed to be replaced.

    Hosmer was one of several candidates that could’ve replaced the switch-hitting slugger, but he ended up getting the job. He has plenty of potential, but really needs to find his stroke sooner rather than later.

    Manager Joe Torre could go with catcher/designated hitter Joe Mauer at first base and play either J.P. Arencibia or Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate instead. Hosmer has to hope that his most recent performance has given him a couple more games as the starter. 

Giancarlo Stanton, Outfielder

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    Giancarlo Stanton is one of baseball’s most feared hitters and is also the lone soldier remaining on the roster of the Miami Marlins. Many of his former teammates were traded throughout the winter and he’ll now be fending for himself.

    Stanton, who regularly plays in Marlins Park, will get the chance to play at his home stadium a little bit early this year. But that’s because of the play of his teammates and not him. Stanton was a non-factor during Pool D play.

    Stanton went hitless in seven at-bats in two games, sitting on the bench for the third. Manager Joe Torre decided against playing Stanton in the must-win game versus Canada. He’s only touched first base twice, though that happened courtesy of a pair of walks.

    Despite Stanton’s struggles thus far, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that he will be in the lineup in USA’s second-round opener against Puerto Rico on Tuesday. This is likely because Stanton should feel much more comfortable at home rather than away in Arizona, where USA played its opening-round matchups.

    Stanton already is getting a lot of attention back in Miami after he hit a batting practice home run that shattered a fan’s car windshield. Team USA has to hope he clubs a home run or two in the second round of the WBC.

Shane Victorino, Outfielder

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    Coming into this year’s World Baseball Classic, there had only been six players who had represented the United States four years prior. Newly signed Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino was one of them.

    Victorino had a very busy offseason. After his contract expired with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he had to find a new team. Boston would sign him to a two-year deal, but then he had little time to form relationships before he left to join USA camp with even more new teammates. The speedy outfielder was honored to play for Team USA, as he told Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston.

    “To represent your country is something you dream of as a child,” said Victorino. “Putting on a USA jersey, I never thought growing up in Hawaii I’d wear a USA jersey and put on No. 50, to represent my state. I’m excited to wear 50 again. I’m pumped.”

    Victorino hasn’t gotten as much playing time as some of the other players on the year’s team. He only has six at-bats to his credit, but take into consideration that he really isn’t a starting outfielder compared to the other names on the roster.

    Even still, Victorino hasn’t played well for USA yet. He only has one hit in those six opportunities and he’s struck out three times. As one of the key players coming off the bench for manager Joe Torre, Victorino needs to be more consistent and more reliable when his name is called.

R.A. Dickey, Starting Pitcher

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    R.A. Dickey had quite the breakout season in 2012, taking home the National League Cy Young Award. That certainly helped his case to get onto the 2013 USA World Baseball Classic team, not to mention that he was deemed the starter for the team’s first game of the tournament.

    Dickey, who pitched for the New York Mets last year but was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter, has had a lot of success recently with his knuckleball. That pitch, though, didn’t fool the Mexican hitters like it’s fooled so many MLB hitters in the past.

    Dickey was tagged with the loss against Mexico, serving up four earned runs on six hits through four innings of work. That was the only appearance the right-hander made during Pool D play and it definitely wasn’t a good one.

    As starting pitcher in this type of tournament, Dickey isn’t going to get many chances to redeem himself. All of the pitchers on USA are getting opportunities to throw while spring training is going on in Florida and Arizona. If USA continues to win, he’ll probably get two more starts—figuring one in the second round and then another either in the semifinals or the finals.

    But USA won’t be going anywhere unless Dickey regains command of that knuckleball. The hitters that he faces are only going to get better. They’ll knock it out of the park if he misses a spot badly.