This week, has been a fun, but largely unsurprising round of international baseball, but as of this morning, half of the teams have been officially eliminated, leaving us with two final games to determine which two teams will go on to the World Baseball Classic in the spring. Israel and Spain play in Jupiter, FL at 5:00 this afternoon, and Canada and Germany will face off Monday in Regensburg at 1:00 PM ET, 7:00 PM local time.
Israel vs. Spain
Israel has kicked ass in Qualifier 1, led not-that-surprisingly by the hot bat of Nate Freiman. Freiman is a 25-year-old prospect in the Padres organization, who may be a little old for his league to numbers this season to be that impressive. But his power has been improving steadily; it wasn’t particularly convincing during his 2011 stint in the CAl league, which is famously hitter friendly, but has survived and looked pretty legit in 2012 in the the AA Texas league. It was certainly on display this week, as Freiman clubbed 4 home runs in Israel’s two games. Without his power, Israel’s 4-2 win over Spain looks unlikely, and their 7-3 win over South Africa gets a lot tighter, as well.
Israel’s pitching has been good, all-around, with the leading light being Justin Schumer (a 24-year old Giants prospect in A+), who pitched 5 2/3 innings against Spain, which is hard to do under a hard 85 pitch limit. More importantly, perhaps, Brad Ausmus/the pitching coach’s usage of the pitching staff has been great,
Spain has been a little more of a surprise – but proved this week that their passport-y roster of minor leaguers and former minor leaguers is almost definitely better than South Africa’s young team. Spain did impress in the European Baseball Classic this year, but they’ve backed that up this week, trouncing both France and South Africa. Spain has gotten solid hitting all up and down their lineup – though mostly singles, Rafael Alvarez has gotten on base 50% of his plate appearances, and Barbaro Canizares has been impressive, going 5-15 with 1 home run. Their pitching has also been pretty good – and held Israel to four runs when they faced off – which is a lot better than South Africa could manage. Spain’s problem probably comes on defense. All three runs scored by South Africa yesterday were unearned, as was 1 out of Israel’s 4 runs.
Israel probably has the advantage here, if not on talent, then on rest. They’ve had a day off, which is especially good for the pitching staff, especially in terms of the rules which limit pitch counts and pitching appearances. Spain may have had an easy day against South Africa yesterday, but they still used three pitchers, and eliminated at least one from appearing in today’s game. Israel will start Eric Berger, who did a great job in 3 innings against South Africa in Israel’s opener, where Spain is going with Eric Gonzalez who has not yet pitched in the Qualifiers. Gonzalez was not great in the EBC, probably because he was facing two of the better teams in that tournament – Italy and Germany.
Canada vs. Germany
Canada and Germany have been out aggressively proving that they are the class of this group. Every game that either team has played against Great Britain or Czech Republic has ended in a mercy rule win. Yikes.
Canada started by mercy ruling Great Britain in the opener, and then beat Germany in a high-scoring, but full 9 inning game. The Canadian squad has scored 27 runs in two games, led by Tyson Gillies, a Phillies prospect, who is 6-10 in the tournament, with 1 BB, a double, a triple, and a home run, and Jimmy van Ostrand, who has nearly matched Nate Freiman, going 5-10 with three homers.
Germany has had similar luck against both Great Britain and the Czech Republic, winning by identical scores of 16-1. (Thanks, mercy rule!) Matt Weaver is just 22, and struggled a bit for the Braves A+ team this year, but has been a star this week, going 5-11 with a walk, a double, and 2 homers. Also, Kai Gronauer has walked 5 times in 13 plate appearances.
Obviously both teams have also had great pitching: except against each other, so you can guess that it’s not really that Canada and Great Britain have great pitchers, so much as Great Britain and Czech Republic do not have good hitters. For Canada, Shawn Hill was really excellent against Great Britain, and Jamie Richmond was one of the few pitchers who was good against Germany. Various German pitchers have shut down the lesser offensive forces in the group, but none of Germany’s pitchers were very good against Canada in their matchup, but Luke Sommer was probably the least bad.Unfortunately, the pitch limit rules will make several pitchers from both teams unavailable.
On paper, I think Canada has the advantage, and I do think they have the better team on better rest. However, the previous score of 16-7 says more that a pitcher implosion is possible at any time, than “Canada played way better than Germany.” Of course, it’s one game, and if the WBC has taught me anything, it’s that Canada and Germany could meet on Monday and end up in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel, as well.
I think this has been a great week of competition, and I think any of these teams would do a great job in the tournament in the spring. I’m probably rooting for Canada and Israel, just for the potential of seeing guys like Kevin Youkilis or Joey Votto in competition, but I’d enjoy seeing Spain or Germany there, as well.