As of Monday afternoon, when I write this, the World Baseball Classic is down to two games and three teams. Puerto Rico is in the finals Tuesday, and the Netherlands will take on the Dominican Republic tonight for the opportunity face them.
Starting last night, the playoffs took on a “seventh game” intensity. No more pool play, one and done. Energy, excitement, with every decision possibly being the one that would influence the outcome. March Madness with bats and baseballs.
No one would have projected Puerto Rico in the finals if they were to look at the numbers. The Boricuas stand 12th in hitting with a batting average of .227, and a lowly OPS of .611. They stand seventh in runs scored with only 23 in seven games. Do the math – that’s slightly less than 3.3 runs per game.
How has Puerto Rico managed to make it to the finals? First of all, they’re ranked fourth in ERA, at 2.83. Secondly, they have the fourth-best WHIP. And in 70 innings, they have only allowed TWO home runs. Defensively, Irving Falu and third baseman Andy Gonzalez have put on a show. Yadier Molina has been, well, Yadier Molina. If he’s not the best catcher in baseball, he’s always in the discussion.
But more than the specifics of numbers and names, Puerto Rico is playing with incredible passion and pride, and doing the little things right. They’ve let the game come to them, and then they’ve handled the situation. I knew I wouldn’t make any predictions going into the Final Four. Get hot, get a little lucky, make a big play here or there, and you can put yourself in the finals. Then, it’s literally anyone’s ball game. Don’t think for a minute that it matters who the favorite team is in a single-elimination tournament. It’s more about opportunity and resolve.
Who will Puero Rico get? If I were a gambling man, and I’m not, I’d put a few dollars on the Dominican Republic. They have all the numbers, and many of the names. Robinson Cano leads the team with a .519 batting average to go along with and OPS of 1.407. Carlos Santana is hitting .313 and slugging .688. The club is averaging almost six runs per game
But the pitching is what everyone’s talking about . The Dominican Republic is second in ERA at 2.17, with a WHIP of 1.07. Wandy Rodriguez has an ERA of 0.96 as a starter. Pedro Strop is 3-0 with a WHIP of 0.43, and an ERA of zero. Then, closer Fernando Rodney has five saves and sports an ERA of zero as well. The Netherlands has its work cut out for them.
Unlike Puerto Rico, The Netherlands has given up the long ball to the tune of 12 home runs in 59 innings. They’re averaging five runs a game, but have given up 43 in seven games. Even so, it’s one and done tonight. I’m hoping it comes down to last-inning heroics.
It’s been a lot of fun watching the WBC. With so much national pride on the line, we’ve gotten some pretty good baseball and plenty of excitement. Yes, the United States bowed out early, and surely some have lost interest. But for true baseball fans, this has been great. It’s post-season energy and passion in March. You can’t ask for much more than that. And we’re going to be cheering for a lot of these guys when they play for our major league teams beginning the last day of this month.
In an aside, I have a little vested interest in the championship game, no matter who plays Puerto Rico. From 1999-2001 I had the opportunity to coach their third baseman, Andy Gonzalez. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest high school athletes I have ever seen. He was on a baseball team that made it to the final four, and he took home the big trophy in basketball. And more important than his ability on the court or the field, he was just a great kid. Quite the gentleman. Vamanos, Andy. Ole, ole, ole, ole!
Wayne Tyson was a high school and community college baseball coach for 26 years including six years at Florida Air Academy. His FAA team won the Florida Class 3A State Championship in 1998 and was runner-up in 1999, when the team included freshman Prince Fielder. Wayne currently writes for Cowbell Clankers, the Aerys Sports home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Follow him on Twitter @WayneTyson11.