Saturday, March 21, 2009

Handicapping the WBC Final 4

Tonight and Sunday are the World Baseball Classic semi-finals. Korea and Venezuela mix it up first, followed by the U.S. and Japan Sunday night. Both games are at Dodger Stadium.

ESPN's experts made their picks today. Four of six selected Japan.

Roy Oswalt will pitch for the U.S. against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Oswalt is 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA during the classic. Dice-K has been almost unhittable so far. He is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, including a win over Cuba.

It will be a tall order for the U.S. to knock Dice-K around. And there is no real pitch count in the semis. Up to 100 pitches are allowed now. I think Japan wins, but it's a close game. Oswalt will pitch well. Maybe a 3-2 or 4-2 final.

The WBC finals on Monday will be all Asia. Korea should get past Venezuela. As the U.S. proved, the Venezuelan bullpen is suspect.

In the finals, Japan v. Korea should be a great game. The teams split their four previous meetings in the WBC, but I think this time Korea wins it. Both teams play small ball, but Korea also has some power. A timely home run will be the difference.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fixing the World Baseball Classic

Even T.J., a self-proclaimed detractor, now has offered a WBC fix. Suddenly, with the U.S. still in contention and the games unusually exciting, it's worth saving.

I have argued from the beginning of the tournament that the WBC was a good idea. The U.S. needs to embrace the game on a world stage. It is not an exhibition, but the ultimate determinant of superiority.

T.J. is right, though. The WBC suffers because of one big problem: the date. America is not in a baseball mood in March. We are longing for our office pools and 12-hour TV-watching sessions to find out who wins the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

If you play it in March, it interrupts Spring Training and the players are out of shape. If you play it in November, after the World Series, the players are burnt out.

Jayson Stark of ESPN offered an interesting idea in this column. He said start the tournament with a qualifying round after the regular season or a some other time, but play the semi-finals and finals during All-Star weekend. An neat idea that definitely would put the best baseball players in the world on the biggest stage.

I agree with T.J. that single-elimination is not the way to determine a baseball champion, which is the flaw in Stark's plan. Playing the finals during All-Star week would not allow more than a few games. But I propose a best of three series in the finals. That would make the tournament similar to the NCAA baseball tournament. A seven-game series in either round would take too long, especially if played in the middle of the baseball season.

I'm not sure expanding the tournament is the way to go just yet. We saw how well the Netherlands played, but look how bad South Africa played (They were outscored 22-4). Panama didn't score a run in the whole tournament. China's pro baseball league plays 21 games a year. Let the game take hold in the fringe countries first, like Australia, where the fans think the players should be using flat bats and a pitcher is a bowler.

We're building something here. It's going to take a while before it's right. The Super Bowl took a couple years to catch on, as did the Ryder Cup and even the Olympics. It just takes a little time.