I must confess, I didn’t come to the World Baseball Classic with much enthusiasm, but I left it a thorough convert to its charms. Obviously, it would be ideal to find a less uncomfortable spot during the year to put it, but March baseball has never been this much fun. Team USA put the exclamation point on an outstanding tournament by trouncing Team Puerto Rico for its first WBC championship, behind the brilliance of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman.
Stroman spun six shutout innings and didn’t allow a hit until the seventh, while Ian Kinsler and his teammates built an insurmountable 7-0 lead. The Tigers’ second baseman crushed a two-run shot early to get the party started, and also kicked off another two-run rally in the fifth inning. But the story of the tournament was Team USA’s pitching.
All throughout the tournament, Team USA’s pitching was outstanding, particularly the starters. Stroman redeemed himself in spectacular fashion after an outing last week in which he allowed six consecutive hits and four runs in the first inning. He, Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, Drew Smyly, and Tanner Roark combined for a 1.25 ERA in the tournament.
The Texas Rangers’ closer, Sam Dyson pitched a scoreless seventh. Team USA then piled on with an add-on run in the eighth to lock the door. Philadelphia Phillies’ side-arm stylist, Pat Neshek, came on to wrap the eighth inning. White Sox’ closer, David Robertson, locked things up in the ninth to secure the victory.
A particularly cool feature of this triumph, at least for Tigers’ fans, was the sight of Jim Leyland, managing, presumably, the last game of his life. The skipper was rewarded. He’ll go out in style as manager of the first Team USA to ever bring home the WBC trophy.
Team USA loves its weird eagle statue. pic.twitter.com/unvhRh4vSZ— Jon Tayler (@JATayler) March 23, 2017
Congratulation must also go out to everyone who competed in the tournament. The level of play was outstanding for games in mid-March, and the passion on display was absolutely infectious.
Also, if you thought Marcus Stroman was strong on Wednesday night, just check out his father.
Friendly reminder that the father of Marcus Stroman can probably rip your arms right off your body if he felt like it. pic.twitter.com/eFv6KekQnS— Mike Oz (@mikeoz) March 23, 2017
One subject always prominent in international baseball, is the contrast in styles between how different countries play the game. The New York Times explored the topic on Wednesday. Of course, this can gets problematic when players take it upon themselves to enforce their own unwritten rules. Particularly as MLB looks to continue to grow internationally—while continuing to draw enormous amounts of baseball talent out of Latin America—squelching the way other countries play the game is unproductive, and frankly, weak. The Tigers’ own shrinking violet himself, Ian Kinsler, couldn’t avoid weighing in.
Kinsler, in discussing the cultural differences, talked about how American kids are brought up in the game a certain way, whereas players in Latin America grow up playing a more expressive style of baseball. It was easy to see a subtle rebuke there. Of course this set the internet aflame briefly, coming right before the championship game. Kinsler had to clarify for ESPN, that he was comparing the two styles, rather than critiquing them, or disparaging other countries’ style of play. Personally I’d say both sides can learn something from the other, but play however you play best.
But of course, controversy can only fuel a legendary troll like Ian Kinsler. And it didn’t take him long to take over the game on Team USA’s behalf.
Just ask Chris Sale about his binoculars.
Emotional Ian Kinsler will make sure you see his homer pic.twitter.com/Bgb41zmhi2— Detroit Tigers Fans (@DTigersFanss) March 23, 2017
Kinsler’s Tigers teammates were watching, and they were impressed.
Kins!!!!!!!!— Dominic Ficociello (@DFicociello25) March 23, 2017
Daniel Norris’ van didn’t make the trip to Lakeland this year, but Daniel is making new friends at camp and learning skills and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Dear Shags, having a blast at baseball camp. Really happy to be here. Learning something new everyday. It's good to see my old friends. I've been making new friends too. We are all working really hard. I have a feeling it's gonna be a good summer. See you at the end of October. Miss you. Sincerely, D.
In the fifth inning of the championship game, Joe Jimenez was brought on to bail Team Puerto Rico’s starter, Seth Lugo, out of a no-out jam. Jimenez allowed an inherited run before escaping the inning, but it was on a ground ball that Francisco Lindor snared too deep in the hole to get an out.
Jimenez has shown some of the inconsistent command that concerns the Tigers in the WBC, but he’s also shown the outstanding stuff that makes him a prime candidate for a call-up this season. While other guys have been practicing their new trick pitch in Lakeland, Jimenez has spent the past two weeks working with Yadier Molina and competing for his country in games that matter. That experience should serve him well.
AL Central notes
The Minnesota Twins top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios, had a brutal debut in 2016. The 22-year-old compiled an 8.02 ERA in 58 1⁄3 innings. However, based on his performance in the WBC championship game for Puerto Rico, it’s best not to write him off too soon.
Jose Berrios last pitch slider that struck out Ian Kinsler broke almost 2ft at 82 MPH... That's ummm pretty ridiculous— Daren Willman (@darenw) March 23, 2017
Jeff Sullivan on the amusing futility of pitchers trying to hit off of Noah Syndergaard. It’s also “bold” prediction season. Michael Baumann on Corey Seager and why he’s on track to outpace Alex Rodriguez. Terry Francona is reborn is Cleveland, and we should be worried about this. Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan trolls an imposter.
Zach Britton explains the curveball grip he uses on his freak sinker, but not really. Felix Hernandez is doing everything he can to stave off Father Time. Clayton Kershaw’s peak may still be ahead of him, which is frightening. And RO Baseball looks at Statcast’s new catch probability metrics to see how much a player’s defense is affected by his supporting cast.