Monday, March 13, 2017

US starts fast vs. Canada to book Round 2 ticket

Throw out all the tiebreaker scenarios. Team USA is moving on.
The Americans' mission was clear after the Dominican Republic outlasted Colombia, 9-3, in extra innings: Win and get in to Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic. A focused Team USA squad did just that by defeating Team Canada, 8-0, on Sunday at Marlins Park in Miami to punch its ticket to the second round in San Diego. The victory left the Americans with a 2-1 record in Pool C, good enough to claim a Pool F matchup against the Pool D runner-up Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET (6 PT) at Petco Park (live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
"The expectations for Team USA are high," said manager Jim Leyland, "and I tried to downplay that, but it's a thrill to get out of here. It wasn't easy, to be honest with you. But when you look at it, we won two good games and we lost one tough game where we had a good lead. So, I'm very pleased with the performances and I'm excited to move on."
The U.S. got to business straight away Sunday, scoring three runs in the first and tacking on four more in the second to take a commanding 7-0 lead. Nolan Arenado delivered the big blow with a three-run homer in the second, and Buster Posey also homered as part of a three-RBI day.
That was more than enough offense for U.S. starter Danny Duffy, who struck out seven over four dominant, scoreless innings. U.S. pitchers dominated overall from the first pitch to the last Sunday, striking out 15 batters to tie the single-game tournament record. That total had only been accomplished twice before, by Mexico in 2006 and Japan in 2013.
The loss left Canada winless in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, meaning it will need to qualify the next time the tournament is held. The Canadians have yet to advance to the second round of the Classic in four attempts.
"We came up on the short end and it's unfortunate, but the guys are not going to change," Canada manager Ernie Whitt said of his club. "They're still great, quality people that we have in this system. I can't thank those guys enough for giving up their time and coming and trying to help out and play for their country."
Duffy dominates: Featuring one of the biggest fastballs of any left-handed starter in baseball, Duffy simply overwhelmed a lethargic Canadian lineup. The Royals ace threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 14 batters he faced, while generating 11 swinging strikes and allowing just one fly ball in fair territory. Duffy left the game with 63 pitches on his ledger, two below the first-round minimum, and he will remain with Team USA to potentially start again in Round 2.
"Every time I go out there and toe the rubber, I just try to keep it simple and as vanilla as possible," Duffy said of his approach. "The punchouts will come when you get them 0-2, 1-2, and just don't play around too much. I just try to give my team as many outs as possible."
Arenado breaks out: Arenado proved Sunday that he could only be held down for so long. His second-inning homer broke an 0-for-9 streak to begin the 2017 Classic, though he did make a major contribution by beating out a dropped strike three against Colombia on Friday. Facing reliever Andrew Albers with two on and one out, Arenado jumped on a first-pitch slider and elevated it to deep left-center for a slump-busting three-run blast.
Arenado's homer was a no-doubt barrel according to Statcast™, leaving the bat with a 104 mph exit velocity at a launch angle of 23 degrees and traveling a projected 404 feet. That was a more familiar feeling for Arenado, who led the Rockies with 43 barrels in 2016 en route to pacing the National League in home runs and RBIs for the second consecutive season. Arenado's blast gave the U.S. an early 6-0 advantage that it would not relinquish.
Posey tacks on: The U.S. still held a comfortable 7-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh when Posey added a powerful dose of insurance. With one out and the bases empty, Posey lifted a 1-2 fastball from Canada reliever Jim Henderson up and over the center-field fence.
It takes serious power to homer to that part of cavernous Marlins Park, but Posey's bop fit the bill. The ball left his bat with a 105.2 mph exit velocity and 27 degree launch angle, a barrel according to Statcast™, and traveled a projected 425 feet. That would have qualified as Posey's longest homer last season, and the second-longest for the Giants catcher dating back to the beginning of the Statcast™ era in 2015.
"This is probably the best, other than getting drafted and getting called to the big leagues, this is by far the best moment in my career. There's nothing better than playing in this and the atmosphere, I never been a part of anything like this." -- Arenado, on getting a taste of playoff-like energy in WBC 2017 for the first time in his Major League career
Though the U.S. had to fight to advance through Pool D, the performance of its starters should give the Americans some confidence heading to San Diego. The trio of Chris ArcherMarcus Stroman and Duffy scattered just five hits over 12 2/3 scoreless innings in the first round, striking out 14 batters while not issuing a single walk.
Team USA: The Americans will switch coasts for Pool F, beginning with a matchup against the Pool D runner-up Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET at Petco Park in San Diego. Who exactly that runner-up will be is still to be determined: Venezuela and Italy will play a tiebreaker to decide that spot on Monday at 9 p.m. ET at Estadios Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. Watch both games live on MLB Network and MLB.TV.

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