Baseball is supposed to be America's pastime. Yet for the third time in as many tries, the United States has failed to make it to the championship round of the World Baseball Classic. This was supposed to be the best team America put forth in the event thus far, so what went wrong?
First, the arrogance of the American audience to just assume that this team would cruise to a victory because it has the most star players is ridiculous. If you follow Major League Baseball, then you know that the best team on paper rarely wins the World Series.
But that is just one piece of the puzzle that the United States team is trying to figure out right now. Here is what happened to America in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Bunting for no good reason
Joe Torre is a far more revered manager than a lot of his tactical decisions should warrant, going back to his time with the New York Yankees.
The World Baseball Classic saw Torre take all of the advantages the United States had over every other team in this event, then do his best to negate them with boneheaded decisions. Obviously, the most controversial aspect of Torre's job during this event was all the bunting he insisted on doing.
The dumbest use of the bunt was in the United States' game against Canada, when the team put the first two runners on base in the second inning and had Adam Jones, who hit 32 home runs for Baltimore last season, lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Most of the time, bunting is a waste of time, but it was especially dumb here for three reasons. First, as mentioned, Jones is coming off a season in which he hit 32 home runs. Second, Jones never bunts with the Orioles.
Third, and most importantly, Jones was bunting in the second inning of a scoreless game with two runners on and no one out. Instead of possibly putting together a big inning and getting Canada on the ropes early, the U.S. failed to score a run.
Torre's decision to constantly bunt actually inspired a Twitter trend known as "Buntrage." Amanda Rykoff of ESPNW.com posted her displeasure at what she was seeing during these games, using the new hash-tag trend.
Amanda Rykoff @amandarykoff
So much #buntrage. So much #RISPFail. It's just like the regular season!2013-3-10 20:30:30
Poor lineup construction
Anyone who has ever seen Giancarlo Stanton swing a bat knows that he can hit in the middle of any lineup, even one that features the considerable talents of Ryan Braun, Brandon Phillips, David Wright and Joe Mauer.
Yet here is where he hit in each of Team USA's six games in the World Baseball Classic (in chronological order): seventh, sixth, eighth, fifth, fifth. Stanton also sat out one game.
It should also be noted that Stanton was only moved up for the last two games because David Wright injured his back and could no longer play in the event.
Stanton was just one piece of the puzzle. Jimmy Rollins and his .316 on-base percentage last season were hitting at the top of the lineup. Shane Victorino got to play a lot more than any rational thinking person would have expected him to.
Why not hit Joe Mauer first? He is a great leadoff candidate, as he has patience, doesn't hit for a lot of power and has one of the best swings in baseball.
Just because Mauer doesn't hit leadoff for Minnesota, while Rollins does hit leadoff for the Phillies, doesn't mean you can't do what is best for the team.
I understand Torre has an obligation to the big league teams whose players need work, but that doesn't make up for some of the boneheaded lineup decisions he made.
Aside from the bunting and the weird lineups, the United States never got the pitching it expected. It is hard to predict what pitching is going to be like at this time of year, because they are still trying to get in game shape and work on different mechanical things.
So when you see R.A. Dickey give up six hits and four runs in four innings to Mexico, or Craig Kimbrel give up two runs (something he didn't do in 2012 with Atlanta) in the ninth inning of a tie game against the Dominican Republic, or Vinnie Pestano walk in a run with the bases loaded, it should not come as a complete shocker.
Yet, you see the names of these pitchers and what they are capable of at their peak, and wonder what went wrong.
Not all of the pitching was bad, as Gio Gonzalez looked strong in his start against Puerto Rico. Dickey came back with a strong start against the Dominican Republic. Ryan Vogelsong was solid in his two starts.
But the United States could never put it all together on the mound to make a deep run in the World Baseball Classic.
All of this adds up to an earlier exit from the World Baseball Classic than anyone associated with Team USA was expecting.