Barely more than 24 hours into the World Baseball Classic and we’ve got our first team set to advance, and it’s one no one would have expected: Team Israel, which upset South Korea yesterday, walloped Chinese Taipei 15-7 today and is sitting pretty.
Maybe we all undersold Israel’s chances. Because it’s functionally a team of Jewish-Americans, it’s filled with a bunch of career minor leaguers, many with MLB experience. Israel got multiple RBIs from Ike Davis, Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Freiman (most recently in the Red Sox organization), and Tyler Krieger, a young fourth-round draft pick for the Indians. These are all guys good enough to play pro baseball, and that’s not nothing.
Lavarnway put things more or less out of reach with a two-run dinger in the third:
Israel then added insult to injury by plating three on this Keystone Kops error in the seventh:
With the win, Israel is 2-0 in pool play, and it’s hard to see that not being enough to advance. Here’s the bracket; the top two teams from each four-team pool will move to the second round. (You would expect a very good Netherlands team, populated largely by Aruban major leaguers, to sweep its games, and it’s a safe bet that Chinese Taipei, the true minnow of this group, will lose its remaining matchups.)
Korea, at 0-2 after being shut out by the Dutch today, needs a miracle to advance, and their first-round elimination would be a real surprise. (They were eliminated in pool play last year despite going 2-1, and medaled in the 2006 and 2009 WBCs.) But this was not as strong as team as in years’ past, with a number of the best KBO players missing the tournament with injuries, and the best Korean MLBers skipping it altogether.
If there’s a real knock on the WBC, it’s that the world’s true best players aren’t necessarily participating. This probably hits Team USA the hardest—the rotation of Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, and Danny Duffy pales in comparison to what might have been if the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, and Chris Sale had elected to play. But it also opens up the field for unexpected successes and potentially deep Cinderella runs.