PHOENIX (CBSSPORTS.COM) – Team USA is missing maybe the best five American pitchers — Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver — as it tries to buck its stunningly mediocre World Baseball Classic record and win in the sport America invented.
But say this for this team: They brought a group with an uncommonly patriotic bent. The 27 guys who agreed to play for Joe Torre’s team are a supremely focused, determined and even personable group that is talking a great game on the eve of the third WBC event.
“Write this, ‘We didn’t come all the way here to (bleepin’) lose,'” USA outfielder Adam Jones said.
Torre and his veteran group of coaches, including longtime right-hand men Larry Bowa and Willie Randolph, are impressed by the competitive attitude shown by a group led by David Wright, Joe Mauer, Jimmy Rollins and other country-first guys. Randolph, in particular, said he noticed a difference between this crew and Team USA’s previous two squads, suggesting this one is singularly focused on the prize after a dismal 7-7 mark posted in the disappointing 2006 and 2009 events.
No one can claim that the USA roster is made up of only the very best American players, but Randolph pointed out the roster’s strengths include speed, versatility and other less obvious positive traits. Ben Zobrist gives any team options. Giancarlo Stanton can put a scare into any opposing pitcher.
Torre talked up the table-setting Rollins and Brandon Phillips. Jonathan Lucroy, a .300 hitter, was the ninth-place hitter in one of the exhibitions. The strong and crazy-deep 10-man bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel at the end, would be the envy of any manager.
In a short few days, the staff and its players have bonded. Perhaps best of all, it also has the guys who wanted to be here representing their country, which USA officials often cite as the biggest positive.
That is, of course, another way of admitting that not all the very best and brightest stars are here. In particular, the starting pitching is solid but less than glittering.
Verlander and Kershaw are said to have shown interest in playing, but Kershaw had a hip injury late last season that allowed the Dodgers to discourage him, and Verlander’s extra October innings delayed his training start, eliminating him.
Team USA retains outward confidence. But there’s concern that Team USA has a bull’s-eye on its back. And there’s more concern that many of the top starters aren’t here.
“The other teams want to beat the piss out of the U.S.,” one USA official said. ‘”Until we win, we’re not going to get all our (very) best players to come.”
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