The 2013 World Baseball Classic hasn't been short on drama, and Pool 2 has plenty of intrigue left ahead of the semifinals.
After an opening loss to Mexico in Round 1, the United States has roared back, culminating in an offensive explosion in its most recent contest against Canada that resulted in a 9-4 victory. The Americans now take on the Dominican Republic on Thursday. The loser faces an elimination matchup with Puerto Rico.
Whichever team loses this impending game, though, has a shot at redemption with a victory over the Puerto Rican squad.
Here are predictions as to how the rest of Pool 2 will play out.
Game 4: USA 8, Dominican Republic 6
R.A. Dickey got tagged for four runs and six hits in four-plus innings in his first outing, as his typically fantastic command on the knuckleball wasn't quite up to snuff.
With many MLB stars in the Dominican lineup, it's hard to imagine that Dickey will get out completely unscathed. However, Dickey gives the United States a big edge on the bump as the NL Cy Young Award winner, as opposed to his counterpart Samuel Deduno.
Although he posted a 4.44 ERA this past season, something Deduno didn't do was give up an exorbitant amount of home runs—10 in 15 starts. Other than David Wright, no one on the star-studded American club has managed to hit it over the fence in the WBC.
That should indicate that the United States is due to light up the scoreboard with a power barrage, and Dickey should bounce back from his disappointing performance against Mexico.
Expect the Dominican Republic to mount a comeback charge, with an elimination game looming the next day. It will be too little, too late, but this clash of powerhouse baseball teams should be highly entertaining.
Game 5: Dominican Republic 8, Puerto Rico 2
Two consecutive disappointing outings in which the Dominican Republic had to come from behind to defeat Italy 5-4 and the above loss to the United States will result in some frustration being taken out—in a good way.
Considering several marquee players have yet to step up, such as Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Santana, the Dominican Republic hasn't quite shown what it can do when everything is truly clicking.
This will mark the beginning of the Dominicans' breakout.
ESPN Stats & Info points out how stark of a contrast Robinson Cano's hot streak is compared to his showing for the New York Yankees in the most recent playoffs.
Cano is likely going to have an off-day at some point, and it will be up to his phenomenal teammates to pick up the slack.
With the likes of Miguel Tejada, Jose Reyes and Nelson Cruz in the lineup, there shouldn't be too much of a problem plating runs. Look for a fast start for the Dominicans, as they easily dispose of upstart Puerto Rico.
Game 6: USA 9, Dominican Republic 8
This rematch will be a fantastic precursor to the championship round, as the Dominican Republic will be eager to exact revenge for its prior loss to the Americans at Marlins Park.
After the aforementioned victory over Canada, Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun discussed how important the increased time together has been for the American team, as reported by Stan McNeal of Sporting News:
Now that we’ve been together for 10 days or so, everybody is a lot more comfortable with each other...Personalities are starting to come out more and the chemistry and camaraderie definitely changes from Day 2 to Day 10.
Saturday's prospective rematch will give the United States even more time to bond, and Joe Torre's bunch will have had a day to rest after three momentous victories.
That said, this will be a hotly contested battle. The winner gets the advantage of playing the Netherlands in the semifinals, while the loser must face the only champion in WBC history—Japan.
No matter the outcome of this game, don't be surprised if these two perennial contenders meet for a third time in the Classic's final chapter.