Prior to the beginning of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, there was still a vibe that many American fans weren’t interested in the tournament. The US roster wasn’t sending out their best players at every position so what point was there to be interested? While it was a valid complaint, the USA roster was still rolling out a very good roster, a roster that just finished winning the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Along the way, the Americans had to take down the juggernaut Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals, the undefeated Japanese club in the semifinals and the undefeated Puerto Rican squad in the championship game. After clubbing 55 runs in the games prior to the championship game, Jays starter Marcus Stroman and the American pitching staff stifled the Puerto Rican offense, allowing zero runs and 3 hits while striking out 6 batters.There’s no doubt this tournament has opened the eyes of many fans across the world, including the USA, and why many American players may be signing up for the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
While the Americans didn’t roll out their best roster, they still put a great team on the field and we saw that this year. Deemed underdogs against the mighty Dominican Republic, who destroyed everybody in the 2013 WBC, the United States pulled off an epic win in a win or go home game last Saturday night at Petco Park. Everything about this game portrayed why this tournament is so fun and why many fans who don’t support it(yet) are missing out on awesome playoff style baseball. Giancarlo Stanton’s 117.3 mph go ahead 2 run home run brought Petco Park, and all Americans watching across the country, to their feet as the home country took the lead. Adam Jones’ home run robbery of fellow Orioles teammate Manny Machado later in the game, a ball that is a home runs 94% of the time based on exit velocity and launch angle, was one of the great baseball moments of the past 5 years.
On tuesday night, the Americans took down a Japanese team that has excelled in international play in recent years. Timely hits and a strong pitching performance allowed the American team to reach the championship game for the first time in the tournament history. This wasn’t a dominant performance but the USA squad grinded out a victory to move on for the chance to bring home the gold. On wednesday night, the American team took home the gold for the first time in the tournament’s history. Marcus Stroman shoved, Ian Kinsler homered and the rest of the team put on a show to defeat the Puerto Ricans 8-0. It was a fantastic moment for the host country and this success might bring a whole new wave on fans on board for the next tournament.
Throughout the tournament, there was plenty of chatter about the Americans not sending out their best roster. There’s a valid counterpoint to the United States sending out their best unit, however. This tournament is about showcasing baseball across the world, not just in America. If the American team was rolling out a team headlined by Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw and the best players at each position, it would no doubt be fun for one tournamnt. But how fun would the tournament be over the long haul if the USA was crushing every team? While small sample size rounds of the bracket means there isn’t any given for any games, it’s likely that the American team would win many tournaments. Here’s a fact: Major League Baseball gets to showcase how good Americans, as well as many other foreign players, are over a full 162 game regular season and a month of playoff baseball. The world is already aware of how good Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are. While other countries would certainly welcome trying to knock out a mega star-studded USA roster, it’s not likely that the other teams would keep up with a team that owns a dozen or so Hall of Fame talent players. Maybe this argument doesn’t hold up since other teams send their best rosters; why should the USA hold back? They could hypothetically send their best roster out and still lose. However, it’s likely that the USA squad would make deep tournament runs every WBC and make for less competitive baseball.
Regardless how how the USA team looks in the future, this tournament is fun for so many reasons. One fun aspect of the tournament is you can see where particular skill sets come from across the world. The Dominican Republic produces eye popping talent, with hitters owning prodigious power and pitchers throwing 98+ mph fastballs. Puerto Rico has produced some elite defensive talents, players who are savvy on the bases and hitters who have good approaches at the plate but also not owning world class power. The Venezuelan team has a nice blend of players, with an offense that is good and a pitching staff that is solid as well. Even the Netherlands team has shown a knack for producing above average players with the ability to make a lot contact at the plate. Japan, as usual, has pitchers with funky wind ups and 6 pitch repertoires and hitters with crazy aggressive approaches at the plate. America, even without their top tier players, show how deep the pool of talent in America is, throwing out above average-good players at every position across the roster and having enough star power to win games. This is an underrated aspect of the WBC that is probably one of the most fun parts of watching the tournament unfold.
If you’re a baseball fan who wasn’t completely caught up in the World Baseball Classic, you missed out. While the tournament has always been pretty awesome to watch, this 2017 version was a completely different animal. All of the big games were close and featured moments that will make the 2017 WBC an all time great tournament. Here’s to the next WBC tournament and hoping it can somehow top the one we just witnessed.