ITALY – The United States will have the inside track to the championship game when the final round of the 2009 IBAF Baseball World Cup gets underway Tuesday in four scenic Italian cities.
Team USA (9-1), which went unbeaten in the second round with a perfect 7-0 record, will carry an unblemished 3-0 mark to the next round while the remaining teams in its group all have identical 1-2 cards. A pair of wins in their four upcoming games against Pool F teams will force Australia, Canada or Taiwan to go unbeaten to possibly deny the Americans a berth in next Sunday’s title matchup.
All teams that advanced to the final round carried over their record from the second round against the remaining three qualifiers from their respective groups. This three-game record will be combined with the four games in the third round to determine the final seedings in both pools.
POOL F OUTLOOK/STANDINGS
1. NETHERLANDS (2-1)
There’s nothing fancy about the Dutch who rely on a solid brand of good pitching, steady defense, and timely hits to subdue opponents. The Dutch have been a consistent bunch with a reliable group of arms and a better hitting lineup than advertised. But to get to the finals, Europe’s top team must slow down the high-powered offensive attacks (Australia, Canada, and USA) awaiting in Pool G.
2. PUERTO RICO (2-1)
How long will the mojo last? Puerto Rico has enjoyed a stellar tournament and rose to the occasion against both the Cubans and the Dutch in two well-played outings. I believe in miracles, but I remain unsold on this hitting lineup and the pitching depth. A pair of wins will not be easy, and three wins is simply asking for too much.
3. CUBA (2-1)
You just do not bet against this group in international tournaments. Period. But…on the other hand…the evolution of baseball around the world means even the Big Red Machine cannot take tournament gold for granted, anymore. I still think Cuba reaches the title game against the Americans. However, I refuse to bet my lunch money.
4. VENEZUELA (0-3)
Please tell me that Dirimo Chavez will be playing shortstop in the Italian Baseball League next season. These bashers might not have a chance to win a medal, but can you say “spoiler?” Expect a few high-scoring affairs from this group in the final round.
POOL F STANDINGS
POOL G OUTLOOK/STANDINGS
1. UNITED STATES (3-0)
While the Dutch and Cubans will be scratching and clawing for the top seed in Pool F, Team USA will enjoy a two-game lead in their group with four games left on their slate. A win against Venezuela on Tuesday should allow Eddie Rodriguez the luxury of having more than a few “fresh” arms for Sunday’s Gold medal encounter.
2. AUSTRALIA (1-2)
It’s a good bet that the Aussies will remeber the name Trevor Plouffe long after this tourney is over. The American shortstop dealt Australia’s title chances a severe blow with two late RBIs in Monday narrow loss to Team USA. It’s not impossible for the Aussies to reach the Gold medal game, but even winning three of four games against Pool F seems unrealistic.
3. CANADA (1-2)
The Maple Leafs have been fun to watch with their high-scoring lineup, and remain a dangerous foe for Cuba and the Dutch. However, good pitching usually tops good hitting and the Canadians are about to get a huge serving of impressive arms.
4. TAIWAN (1-2)
The stigma associated with losing to China may finally be forgiven. This youthful but talented Asian squad might be overmatched in a game or two this round, but Taiwan is capable of dealing a major setback to one of the three Pool F Gold medal aspirants.
POOL G STANDINGS
FINAL ROUND SCHEDULE:
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
Cuba (F) vs Australia (G)
Puerto Rico (F) vs Canada (G)
United States (G) vs Venezuela (F)
Netherlands (F) vs Chinese Taipei (G)
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
Canada (G) vs Venezuela (F)
Australia (G) vs Netherlands (F)
Puerto Rico (F) vs United States (G)
Chinese Taipei (G) vs Cuba (F)
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
United States (G) vs Cuba (F)
Chinese Taipei (G) vs Puerto Rico (F)
Canada (G) vs Netherlands (F)
Venezuela (F) vs Australia (G)
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
Cuba (G) vs Canada (F)
Venezuela (F) vs Chinese Taipei (G)
Australia (G) vs Puerto Rico (F)
Netherlands (F) vs United States (G)
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
Pool F 4th Place vs Pool G 4th Place (7th-8th Place Game)
Pool F 3rd Place vs Pool G 3rd Place (5th-6th Place Game)
Pool F 2nd Place vs Pool G 2nd Place (3rd-4th Place Game)
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
Pool F 1st Place vs Pool G 1st Place (Championship Game)
Photo courtesy of Marco Vasini/IBAF
Marvin Moore is a former European coach and Managing Editor at BaseballdeWorld.