The 2017 World Baseball Classic is well underway, and the biggest story so far revolves around Team Israel. This is the first time Israel has qualified for the WBC, and they’ve made the most of it so far by sweeping through their first-round pool and advancing at the expense of perennial contender South Korea.
Even better, Team Isreal’s offense is currently powered by a trio of players with strong Oakland A’s ties — current minor league catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and former A’s first basemen Ike Davis and Nate Freiman.
Lavarnway led the way in the first round as Israel topped Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands, and the catcher was rewarded with the MVP Award for the whole four-team pool. The 29-year old was signed by Oakland this winter as a minor league free agent, and he’s expected to serve as veteran depth in Triple-A Nashville to start the season.
Israel’s second-round action is already nearly complete, as they beat Cuba but got smoked in their rematch against the Netherlands. They’ll play Japan in their final pool game, and they’ll have to hope for a win coupled with a Netherlands loss against Cuba in order to move on to the semifinals (Netherlands holds the head-to-head tiebreaker).
Through five tournament games, the numbers look like this:
Ryan Lavarnway: 7-for-15, 1 HR, 1.312 OPS
Ike Davis: 7-for-13, 3 XBH, 1.493 OPS
Nate Freiman: 5-for-18, 2 HR, 1.125 OPS
(Sam Fuld: 4-for-22, .432 OPS)
A’s minor leaguer and East Bay native Joey Wagman also made an appearance in the first round, pitching one inning against the Netherlands and allowing one run on a hit and a walk. (The hit was a double by Jurickson Profar.)
Mexico out, D.R. breezes on
The A’s have two other players in the WBC. Jake Sanchez made a pair of quality relief appearances for Team Mexico, but it wasn’t enough as the squad was barely knocked out of the first round in a razor-thin decision.
In Sanchez’s first game he was handed a two-on, no-out jam, and had to face Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Carlos Beltran, and Yadier Molina; he escaped with just one inherited runner scoring. In his next outing, he inherited an identical jam, allowed Ender Inciarte and Robinson Chirinos to reach base (and one inherited runner to score), but then retired Jose Altuve and Martin Prado (GIDP) to end the threat. Dude faced eight batters, all MLB regulars, six of them All-Stars, and did pretty well.
The pool was won outright by Puerto Rico, but Italy, Venezuela, and Mexico all beat each other to finish at 1-2. With no team holding head-to-head supremacy, a tiebreaker game was needed, but only two teams could play. Mexico drew the short straw due to a microscopic margin in the “runs allowed per defensive inning” metric.
Italy and Venezuela are playing right now for the last spot in the second round. The winner will join Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, in a pool that starts Tuesday evening. (Update, 9:30 p.m.: Venezuela won the tiebreaker game.)
The A’s also have one player on Team D.R. — non-roster relief pitcher Cesar Valdez, signed as a minor league free agent this winter. Valdez pitched once in the first round, against Colombia, going 1⅔ innings and allowing one run. In his first frame he opened with a HBP but erased it with a GIDP from MLB player Giovanny Urshela, and in his second inning he recorded two quick outs but then gave up a walk and an RBI double. Still, his team wound up winning in extra innings en route to an undefeated first round.
And that’s all the players the A’s have in this tournament, after the rest of their contingent dropped out for various reasons (Sonny, Khrush, Hendriks, Axford, Casilla). Team USA did just fine without Sonny in the first round, edging Colombia and crushing Canada but falling to the Dominicans.
Other than Lavarnway, the other Pool MVPs were Manny Machado (D.R.) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh (Japan). The fourth Pool MVP hasn’t yet been announced since the pool isn’t finished, but for now I’ll go out on a limb and guess Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico).
Key games coming up
Italy vs. Venezuela
Day/Time: RIGHT NOW
Stakes: Winner moves on to 2nd round
Update, 9:30 p.m.: Venezuela defeated Italy, 4-3
Israel vs. Japan
Day/Time: Wed., 3 a.m. PT
Stakes: Israel must win or go home (also need Netherlands loss)
Winner of ITA/VEN Venezuela
Day/Time: Wed., 6 p.m. PT
Stakes: First game of 2nd-round pool play