Let’s take a look at how it went down at Arizona’s Chase Field on Wednesday.
The Mike Trout Game
After his third strike, I started imagining Mike Trout doing a wrestling-style promo where he says something like “just in case you forgot who the hell I am…” The best position player in the world was the best player in this game.
Trout tripled off the center field wall in the first inning but was stranded at third base. In the next at-bat, he singled home Mookie Betts with two outs for the game’s first run. The next time it was the top of the fifth with the USA trailing 2-1. The runners were in second and third place. Yep, Trout did it again.
It’s also worth mentioning that in the bottom of the third, Colombia had already scored two runs, and Meibrys Vilora sent a rocket to right-center that could have added another run. Instead, Trout ran it down for the final out of the inning.
Trout went 3 for 4 with a triple and all three USA RBI. If there was such a thing, he would have been the unanimous MVP of the game.
We should point out that Mookie Betts did his job getting on base twice ahead of Trout, scoring two of the three USA runs. Give Betts credit, but this game was mostly about Trout carrying the USA offense.
The US fell behind again
The USA finished pool play 3-1, but fell behind in three of its four games. The only exception was when the USA scored nine runs against Canada in the first inning. By advancing to the quarterfinals and possibly beyond, the U.S. will face much tougher competition, and it would be necessary for them to stop playing from behind.
The offense was lacking
There were definitely some loud outs and foul balls. Betts and Nolan Arenado both hit home run foul balls down the left field line. Arenado’s inning-ending double play in the first inning was well hit. Arenado and Kyle Schwarber both flew out to the warning track. Betts and Trea Turner streaked sharply to left field.
All of this is to say that the offense probably collectively swung the bats better than three runs on seven hits sounds.
Still, it was just three runs on seven hits against a pitching staff with hardly any major-league caliber talent. The only extra-base hit was Trout’s triple.
We’ve watched baseball long enough to know that it’s not a game of small samples, and we shouldn’t make any sweeping judgment based on said samples. To say that USA’s offense is bad or even mediocre when it’s actually loaded would be foolish. Still, this is a tournament with small samples, and to name just one example, Japan has barely been challenged. The USA is not playing to its potential on the offensive end, except for the one huge contest against Canada. Maybe that will change next round.
Merciful start for Kelly, but the bullpen delivered
The major weakness for Team USA heading into the World Baseball Classic was not really discussed. That’s the starting pitching. Diamondbacks righty Merrill Kelly is 34 years old and has never been an All-Star, and he got the ball in a game the USA really needed to win. In three innings of work, he coughed up two runs on four hits and two walks against just one strikeout. It was not a strong performance. Then again, he wasn’t crushed either, and the US certainly should have provided more support.
As for the line of replacements that followed Kelly, they were mostly great. Kendall Graveman gave up a single but erased it with a pickoff to end his scoreless inning. Daniel Bard worked around a walk. David Bednar and Jason Adam were excellent. Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly closed the door.
Next to the US: Venezuela
Venezuela won 4-0 in its pool, beating Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Israel and Nicaragua. Venezuela’s roster includes a lot of familiar names, such as Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuña, Miguel Cabrera, Salvador Perez, Anthony Santander, Luis Arraez, Andrés Giménez, Eugenio Suárez, Gleyber Torres and, well, you get the point. They are loaded.
Adam Wainwright, who started the USA opener, is expected to get the ball back on the mound, but nothing has been made official yet.