By Blaidd Drwg
The WBC’s 2013 edition has had its share of surprises. The group stage of the Far East bracket went mostly according to plan, with Netherlands, Japan and Cuba advancing to the knockout stage. The mild surprise was that the 4th team to advance was Taipei rather than Korea, but it wasn’t as earth shattering as what happened in the North American bracket. It was generally assumed that the US and Mexico would advance out of Group D and it would be a dog fight between Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela for the 2 spots in Group C. Well the Dominican and Puerto Rico advanced (with Venezuela basically looking inept despite what essentially amounted to an all-star lineup) but the shocker came out of Group D, where Italy, easily the worst team in the group, knocked off both Mexico and Canada to advance along with the US, who survived an early defeat to Mexico to win its last 2 to advance.
How shocking was Italy’s feat? Their lineup consists of only 2 guys who are every day MLB players – Nick Punto and Anthony Rizzo. Their two most productive hitters, Chris Colabello and Anthony Granato are effectively career indy minor league hitters. Their “best” pitcher is Brian Sweeney and the staff includes such notable names as Dan Serafini, Jason Grilli, Tim Crabbe and Pat Vendette (whose chief claim to fame is that he is ambidextrous). There is a really good chance that they are pretty much going to be 2 and out in the knockout round. This team is just not very good.
Speaking of the knockout round, that is done in the Far East (it hasn’t started yet in North America since the finals are in the US, it gives those teams time to adjust to travelling half way around the world). In a huge shocker, Cuba was eliminated by Netherlands. The Dutch team isn’t bad, but what is shocking is that they managed to eliminate Cuba by beating them twice in the knockout round, with the second time in a come from behind win. It made me start to wonder if all of the defections over the last few years from Cuba have finally started taking its toll on that country’s team.
I still don’t have a great deal of interest in watching the WBC, but at least there were some interesting stories this year.