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Will there be a double Dutch surprise in World Baseball Classic?

The Netherlands' upset of the Dominican Republic was the most stunning development of the first round. But getting to the semifinals presents a whole new set of challenges.

March 14, 2009|Kevin Baxter

Times staff writer Kevin Baxter looks at the World Baseball Classic as it moves to Miami and San Diego this weekend:

Surprise!

The Netherlands -- David beat Goliath . . . twice. The Netherlands, with one current major leaguer on its roster and a WBC-low .151 team batting average, knocked out a Dominican team that had 10 big league All-Stars.

The Dutch's one major leaguer: Pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who was 1-1 with a 7.71 earned-run average last season for the Florida Marlins.

Dominican Republic -- The pre-tournament favorite was supposed to have the WBC's strongest offense but an uncertain pitching staff. Instead, the Dominicans hit only .221 and their pitchers gave up only one earned run in 28 2/3 innings. One reason they went 1-2: six errors.

Italy -- Woe, Canada! The unheralded Italians eliminated winless Canada on its home tundra.

Star watch

Carlos Delgado and Ivan Rodriguez -- Together they carried unbeaten Puerto Rico to the Pool D title. Delgado tops the WBC in four offensive categories, including batting average (.833). Rodriguez, who is still looking for a big league job, was named the pool MVP after hitting .545 with two home runs and a team-best five runs batted in.

Ubaldo Jimenez -- Lost in the Dominican Republic's surprising exit was the performance of the Colorado Rockies right-hander, who struck out a WBC-record 10 -- of the 13 batters he faced -- against the Netherlands.

Jose Lopez -- The Seattle Mariners' All-Star infielder had seven hits -- six for extra bases -- in Venezuela's three games in Toronto. He led the Pool C champions with six runs and is second in the tournament with 15 total bases.

On the rise

Yoennis Cespedes and Frederich Cepeda -- The strength of the Cuban batting order -- leadoff hitter Cespedes, a 23-year-old outfielder, and No. 3 hitter Cepeda, a 28-year-old outfielder -- are a combined 13 for 25 with nine runs, five homers, nine RBIs and 31 total bases.

Jung Keun Bong -- A 28-year-old left-hander who had a short trial with the Cincinnati Reds five years ago, Bong, now with the LG Twins of Seoul, earned the victory in South Korea's Pool A win over Japan. He has pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in the tournament, allowing five baserunners.

Leon Boyd and Robbie Cordemans -- These right-handers anchor the back end of the Netherlands bullpen. They have combined to pitch 7 2/3 innings in five appearances, giving up one unearned run. Boyd earned a win and a save in two victories over the Dominican Republic.

On deck

The Netherlands' Cinderella story will take a twist in Round 2 should the Dutch (2-2) meet a U.S. team managed by Davey Johnson, who guided the Netherlands in the 2003 European championships and served as its bench coach in the 2004 Olympics.

Puerto Rico, which has already beaten the Dutch twice, and a Venezuelan team laden with big league stars are also in the bracket, which begins play at Dolphin Stadium in Miami.

In San Diego, defending WBC champion Japan has not yet locked in a starting pitcher for Sunday's game with Cuba, but it's unlikely to be 22-year-old phenom Yu Darvish. Darvish pitched two innings in Thursday's exhibition win over the Chicago Cubs and he was battered the last time he faced Cuba, giving up four runs in four-plus innings at the Beijing Olympics.

Cuba is out for revenge: the only other time it faced Japan in a WBC game was in the 2006 final, which the Japanese won. "It's a chance to get back at them, and this might be an anticipated final," Cuba Manager Higinio Velez said.

Whichever team wins Sunday won't have an easy route to the semifinals, though, since it will also have to contend with Olympic champion South Korea, which defeated Japan, 1-0, in the Pool A final after beating the Japanese twice in the inaugural WBC.

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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