US faces new challenges in Miami's Pool 2
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Italy also vying for spots in semifinals
MIAMI -- Team USA survived a nervous three-game weekend in Phoenix and arrived overnight to join Italy, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Pool 2 in the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The U.S. is the top seed out of this bracket and will play Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday at 1-year-old Marlins Park. Italy plays the highly talented Dominican Republic at 1 p.m. ET.
The games will be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and ESPN Deportes. Tickets for all six games in the pool are available at worldbaseballclassic.com. Present a Grapefruit League ticket at the box office for either game on Tuesday and admission will be $5.
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Two-time defending Classic champion Japan and the surprising Kingdom of the Netherlands have already qualified in Tokyo Dome for the semifinals this coming Sunday and Monday at San Francisco's AT&T Park. The final game is scheduled for March 19. The two teams that win twice here in the modified double-elimination format will move on to San Francisco, the home of the 2012 World Series champion Giants.
As Team USA manager Joe Torre said about surviving the Arizona pool with a tough 9-4 win over Canada on Sunday, the competition here this week should continue to be "ferocious."
"At this point in time, you're getting the cream," said Torre before his team practiced with the roof open on a cool spring day at Marlins Park. "The teams that have gotten through the first round, which I guess is equivalent to the nail-bitter of a Division Series, have knocked some very good teams off.
"We're paying attention to what we do now. We come through this bracket and we'll be going to San Francisco, which is what our goal has been all along."
The Dominican Republic swept through its three games in Pool C at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and is the only undefeated team here. The other three teams went 2-1 in the first round. The Dominicans and the U.S. earned the top seeds in their respective brackets.
The double-elimination format of the second round is quite a bit different from the first round, where run differentials were employed to break any three-way ties. That's the reason why the Dutch and Chinese Taipei made it out of Fukuoka and Korea didn't when all three of those teams finished Pool A with 2-1 records.
In Pool 2 here, the two losers on Tuesday will play at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The loser in that game will be the first to have been defeated twice and thus eliminated from the tournament. The two winners from the opening day play on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET and the survivor of that game will be the first to secure a spot in San Francisco. On Friday at 7 p.m. ET, the winner from Wednesday will play the loser from Thursday to decide the second slot. The winner moves on and the loser goes home. And seeding for the semifinals will be determined when the two pool winners play at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The final game here is essential, because it will decide who plays the first semifinal game in San Francisco. Japan, the top seed from Tokyo, will play the second seed from here on Sunday. The top seed here will play the Dutch on Monday. The winners then play in the finals. All three games are 9 p.m. ET.
If any of the four teams win out here, that team will play every other day through next Monday. Another quirk is that one team could play as many as four games in this particular round and the first team eliminated will only play two.
Torre said the up-in-the-air schedule of games and opponents won't alter his starting pitchers, because of slotting and commitments to their Major League teams.
Therefore, Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who just joined the team, will start against Puerto Rico on Tuesday, with Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in the second game and Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong in the third, if necessary.
"That's our plan right now," Torre said. "Hopefully, it doesn't change. The only thing that would do that is if somebody says something doesn't feel right."
Starters can also throw as many as 80 pitches in the second-round games, 95 in the semifinals and final game, further changing the equation.
The goal now is for a berth in San Francisco. The U.S. made it as far as the semifinals in 2009, but lost to Japan at Dodger Stadium. The Dominican Republic didn't make out of the first round four years ago and Puerto Rico was eliminated in the second round. The Italians have never advanced this far in the tournament.
"It feels great to be here," Italian manager Marco Mazzieri said. "I think we had some great teams to play in Phoenix, so it's really not that big a difference here to play the Dominicans, Puerto Rico and possibly the U.S. again, because we can't worry about who we're playing. All we can worry about is ourselves and what we can do well. If you read those lineups, you get scared."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.