Team USA built to win this time around

Updated: March 15, 2009

Doug Benc/Getty Images

Jake Peavy and Team USA are more prepared for this World Baseball Classic.

TEAM USA BUILT BETTER

Experience seems to be paying off so far at the World Baseball Classic for Team USA, which avoided elimination with a 9-3 win Sunday against the Netherlands. First off, there is a difference between the makeup of Team USA between 2006 and 2009. I think the organizers were smart to think more about the chemistry in the clubhouse and balance on the roster.

The first team, back in 2006, was made up of the biggest names available -- Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, etc. If there was a question between two guys as to who would make the roster, it seemed like they went with the guy who would draw the most attention. They ended up with too many players at some positions and not enough at others. They were smarter about it this time around.

Another issue is the tournament schedule. I threw batting practice to Team USA every day back in '06. I put on the spikes and threw from the mound to any guys who wanted extra practice. I was a 49-year-old former big leaguer and I was laughing at them because their timing was so bad. I was breaking bats at will. They wanted me to try to get them out. They were trying to get themselves ready, but they were struggling with it and they knew it.

This time around, the players were notified that they were on the team earlier, which gave them a head start in their preparations. That was smart. Jake Peavy got going on his work a month earlier than usual to be ready.

The team had a meeting before the tournament started and Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Peavy all spoke. They all said pretty much the same thing: The only change they had was to match the other teams' intensity. They did that for the most part in the first round of the tournament.

I think interest in the tournament is only growing. The elimination of the Dominican Republic was incredibly painful for that country. That's how much this means to them. I think, though, that the success of the Netherlands was a plus for the tournament and the sport. The gap between the best and worst teams seems to be growing smaller. Any success by the teams from growing programs will help generate further investments in youth programs around the world. I think it could be years until we see the results of that, but it's coming.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 12 | March 11 | March 10 | March 9 | March 8 | March 5

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney examines the deep loyalty shown by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf:

I was a teenage nerd who spent way too much time playing baseball board games, looking at baseball cards and thinking about the upcoming baseball season. Part of my nerd-dom was that I couldn't go an hour without wearing the baseball cap of the team I worshipped as a kid, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I had Dodgers T-shirts. I had Dodgers plastic batting helmets. I had Dodgers stickers, Dodgers souvenir bats and posters of Dodgers. But mostly I had the Dodgers cap, with the interlocking L and A, my proudest possession, something I had bought from a vendor outside Fenway Park on one of those days when my parents released me from bale-stacking and cow-milking responsibilities.

I wore the cap in our hay fields, in our barn and in the woods. And, of course, I wore it to school. I had it on when I came through the front door at school one day when I was 15 years old, and it caught the eye of a gentleman -- he must've been in his 40s at the time -- who was sitting in the lobby. It was the fall of 1979.

"Are you a Dodger fan?" he asked. "I grew up a Dodger fan. I loved the Brooklyn Dodgers."

Whatever class I was supposed to attend immediately became of secondary concern to me. If you're from a town of 400 people in central Vermont, there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to talk with someone who might've seen your heroes. The man was waiting for his son to come down the hall, and he fought to keep up with my questions.

Did you see Pee Wee Reese?

Did you see Sandy Koufax pitch in Brooklyn?

Did you see Jackie Robinson?

What was Ebbets Field like?

He patiently and cheerily waded through all the questions. It was a conversation across generational lines that covered several prior generations, a conversation for which baseball is particularly well suited. In retrospect, it is clear that the man was as big a baseball geek as I when he was a boy, the kind of person who would wear his Dodgers cap everywhere he was allowed to wear it.

We must've talked about 20 to 30 minutes before I finally headed off to class. I had never met him before, I had never heard of him before, but it turned out that he was more involved in baseball than I knew. His name was Jerry Reinsdorf, and he's now the owner of the White Sox.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Peter Gammons notes that the AL East has become all about pitching:

There are variables in every case, such as the health of Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell, as well as B.J. Upton's left shoulder. But as we reach the Ides of March, it remains evident that the American League East has three teams that can think about winning 95 games for one major reason: pitching. It would be four teams and 90 wins if Toronto had A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. And it is pitching that has the Orioles thinking that in 2010 or 2011, they will be back in the high life again for the first time since 1997.

What the Yankees spent for CC Sabathia and Burnett has been well-chronicled, along with what it means to have Chien-Ming Wang make 30-something starts. And a full season for Joba Chamberlain and another one for Andy Pettitte. And unlike the past couple of seasons -- such as 2008, when seven pitchers made at least nine starts -- the Yankees have what seems to be championship depth because Phil Hughes has had an exceptional spring. They also seem encouraged that they can keep Chamberlain in the rotation because of the arms in front of Mariano Rivera: Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, et al.

For the rest of this entry from Peter Gammons' blog, click here.


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BREAKING DOWN TEAM USA'S WIN

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WBC HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: U.S. WINS

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Daisuke MatsuzakaDaisuke Matsuzaka can't lose at the World Baseball Classic. No, really, he can't. The Red Sox right-hander, pitching for Team Japan, improved his WBC record to 5-0 after combining with three relievers for a shutout in a 6-0 win against Cuba on Sunday in San Diego. "I knew Cuba was a good team, but particularly there was nothing I was too worried about," Matsuzaka said through a translator.
WORST
Chipper Jones• On Sunday, you had a choice among the injuries: Dustin Pedroia downplayed his. Manny Ramirez suffered his. And Chipper Jones (right) admitted he had aggravated his. All in all, it wasn't a good day for some of baseball's more recognizable names.

BREAKING DOWN JAPAN'S WIN

NUMBERS TO KNOW

The world champion Philadelphia Phillies lost left fielder Pat Burrell to free agency in the offseason, but replaced him with Raul Ibanez. While Ibanez (22 homers in 2008) doesn't have the power numbers of Burrell (33), he hits for a better average and drives in more runs.

Some might think that replacing the right-handed bat of Burrell with the left-handed bat of Ibanez could mean the Phillies would be vulnerable to left-handed pitching. Philadelphia's other two stars in the middle of the lineup -- Ryan Howard and Chase Utley -- are also left-handed. But Ibanez hit lefties better than Burrell did last season. He also hit first pitches and off-speed pitches better.


Ibanez Burrell
vs. lefties .305 .279
vs. first pitch .467 .294
vs. off-speed .272 .182

Ibanez would have ranked first among everyday Phillies in BA vs. first pitch and second in BA vs. off-speed pitches last season.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

JAPAN DOWNS CUBA 6-0

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