Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC 2017 preview: Breaking down Team DR

How they fared in the past
The D.R. will enter this year's Classic riding a lengthy win streak of sorts. In 2013, it became the first team in the brief Classic history to win the title with a perfect record -- it finished 8-0 with a plus-22 run differential -- as the first champion from the Western Hemisphere. Cano, who went 15-for-32 over that stretch, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
It hasn't been all outstanding for the Dominican Republic, though. In 2009, the Dominicans didn't make it out of pool play after dropping two major upsets to the Netherlands. In the inaugural World Baseball Classic in '06, the D.R. won five of its first six games to reach the championship round, but it finished fourth after losing in the semifinals to Cuba in a game in which Bartolo Colon pitched six scoreless innings.
What they should do well
There might not be a more defensively athletic bunch in this year's tournament than the D.R., which as of now owns 11 Gold Glove Awards, including five from Beltre, who returns after missing the past two Classics. With Beltre at third base, Machado figures to be the starting shortstop, the position at which he was drafted and where he played 45 games in 2016 for the Orioles. Also contributing will be the athletic Pirates pair of Polanco and Marte, who make up one of the Majors' best outfields.
The Dominicans also boast power, with five players who hit at least 30 homers in 2016 -- not including Sanchez, who blasted 20 in just 53 games last year, or veteran power source Bautista.
Where they could struggle
If the postseasons of late have proven anything, showcased most notably in 2016, an effective bullpen can be the catalyst for a championship run in a winner-take-all format.
As of now, Betances is the only reliever committed to the D.R., and the hard-hurling Yankees righty seemed to be bothered by fatigue at the end of the 2016 regular season, posting an 0-2 record with a blown save and 9.64 ERA in his final 11 outings. While Betances should be fresh come spring, he'll need strong bullpen complements, as D.R. general manager Moises Alou acknowledged at the Winter Meetings.
"We have the offensive weapons and the starting pitching," Alou said. "Hopefully, we can put together the best bullpen."
Other relievers who could join the D.R. include Jeurys Familia and Alex Colome.
How far they could go
With wealth of power and defensive versatility, the Dominicans have to be considered a heavy favorite to repeat; however, the field figures to be far more evenly competitive. Team USA figures to take a major step forward in contending for its first WBC title, and Puerto Rico boasts some of the best young infielders. Venezuela can't be overlooked with its veteran experience, and Japan has won two of the three titles.
If the Dominicans can complement their remarkable offense with strong pitching, they figure to make a deep run once more.

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