Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ban the Warriors


Danville, Kentucky -- Thomas Jefferson, the father of enlightenment liberalism, once wrote: "it is not by the consolidation or concentration, of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected." Indeed, America has long grappled with the problem of power being concentrated in the hands of an elite few, preventing many honest Americans from sharing in the bounties of our great nation. President Andrew Jackson, hater of paper money and the plundering financial barons, recognized this problem and rightly vetoed Congress's attempt to re-charter the Second Bank of the United States in an effort to restore economic independence to the common man. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew this, and rightly cracked down on the Wall Street marauders responsible for the Great Depression, re-distributing wealth from the rich few to the hard-working many. President Donald J. Trump will soon follow in this great tradition, and is on the precipice of launching a fierce attack on entrenched oligarchy and corporate globalist robbery like no President ever before.


Folks, the NBA should take a page from Jefferson, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Trump's book. It is not by the consolidation or concentration, of players, but by their distribution that good basketball is effected. Despite boasting more exciting superstar players than ever before, NBA basketball has never been less compelling. A historically good (but historically choke-prone) 73-win Golden State Warriors team added Kevin Durant last off-season. The Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely cruised to the NBA finals, facing no real competition en route to winning their conferences. In the NBA, the rich keep getting richer. Next season the arms race will continue once the Cavaliers inevitably acquire Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. It's time to stop this madness before it spirals out of control, and the NBA becomes a two-tiered league of contenders and D-League wannabes.

President Obama's greatest mistake, other than attending an Ivy League school and being a weak-kneed liberal, was that he didn't break up the big banks after the 2008 financial crisis. Bernie Sanders knew this, and would've won the 2016 Democratic Nomination with this argument had George Soros and Debbie Wasserman Schultz not rigged the game to stop him. It's time for Adam Silver to do what Obama couldn't: break up the big teams, the teams that have become too big to fail. Redistribute the wealth by putting Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets as punishment for betraying Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. End the concentration of the league's premier talent in two teams, or basketball's inequality crisis will escalate until upward mobility for weaker teams is extinguished. The fate of the game of basketball is on the line.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Return of the Pelf


Danville, Kentucky -- A man cannot undo his mistakes. He can only learn to live with them. This is the lesson taught to us when we wake up on a Sunday morning with aching, heavy limbs and a throbbing migraine, with vodka sweats oozing out of our pores after a night of sorrowful drinking alone. This is the lesson taught to us when the dream of NAFTA withdrawal -- the dream of undoing the foolish trade policy mistakes of Clinton and Bush -- recedes further and further into the realm of fanciful and wishful thinking. This is a lesson the Detroit Tigers must learn after foolishly parting ways with Mike Pelfrey, electric right-handed pitcher and ground-ball artist.

The Tigers cannot now undo the mistake of unconditionally releasing Mike Pelfrey; he has been signed by the Chicago White Sox, who will happily throw him out on the mound every fifth day on the Tigers' dime. The Tigers may deeply regret this move. A White Sox rotation anchored by Mike Pelfrey and James Shields would've been quite formidable in 2010. Pelfrey will join a White Sox team that is already off to a surprisingly strong start, thanks to Detroit Tiger turned Tiger-killer Avisail Garcia, a man on a mission to exact revenge against the team that traded him at the 2013 trade deadline. Pelfrey and Avisail will find common cause in their efforts to avenge the team that said they were no good. Fangraphs keeps calling Garcia a major regression candidate, but the eye-test says he has turned a corner. Avi is seeing the ball well; he has confidence at the plate and appears to have changed his swing approach in the off-season. The Tigers dismiss the newly-stacked White Sox at their own peril, especially since they offloaded known clubhouse cancers Chris Sale and Brett Lawrie.

The Tigers must learn to live with their mistake to put Pelfrey in the hands of a hated divisional rival. They have, to a degree. They sport a winning (11-10) record. Yet their bullpen remains a bigger, stinkier, hotter mess than the Creamy Jalapeno Wings at Chili's.


The Tigers bullpen bungles high-leverage situations like Paul Ryan bungles Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts. They could really use a guy like Pelf right now; who can wiggle his way out of jams by inducing double-plays. Unfortunately, the Tigers will now be paying Pelfrey to turn those double-plays against them.

The circumstances are cruel; Pelfrey will face off against Matthew Boyd, the handsome young man who out-pitched him for the final rotation spot back in spring training. Pelfrey doesn't have Boyd's boyish good looks or disappearing change-up, but he does have pluck born from years of major-league experience.


It won't be easy for Pelfrey to return to Comerica Park, the stadium where he was regularly greeted with groans, hisses, boos, and obscenities. Pelf is a man of steel, and won't let the cool reception he inevitably faces shake him. With ice blood in his veins, Pelfrey will twirl ground-ball after ground-ball, doubling up plodding sluggers like Victor Martinez and Alex Avila with ease. Pelf has pitched well in Comerica Park as a visiting pitcher before. As the ace of the Minnesota Twins in 2015, Pelf turned in some of his finest performances against the Tigers:


That being said, Pelf will have his work cut out for him. The Tigers offense is not at full strength with Miguel Cabrera and JD Martinez missing in action, but Jim Aducci and John Hicks are just as dangerous in their own wily, gritty way. 
When Pelf returns to the Motor City for his first game as an opposing pitcher since his untimely release, I predict a strong effort. Pelf will labor through 5 innings of 2 run ball, the only runs coming off a mistake pitch to the red-hot Tyler Collins. The Tigers have already made the mistake of releasing Pelfrey; the worst mistake they could make now is to underestimate him.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Royal Rematch: The Giants Return to Kansas City


Danville, Kentucky -- There is no feeling more disturbing than the familiar becoming foreign. I think it was the spring of 2009. I was exhausted after a long day of working at the tire factory, and eager to go home and recuperate. But when I got home, the fridge was empty. I had eaten my last pepperoni Hot Pocket® for breakfast. Grudgingly, I went back to my car and headed to a nearby McDonald's.

McDonald's is great because it's familiar. McDonald's is a pillar of stability in a fragmented world torn asunder by the forces of globalization, the decline of the conventional nuclear family, ideological polarization, and forcible secularization. The connective glue that once held society together has disappeared. All the old institutions that once gave a man certainty -- the church, the union, the Blockbuster video store -- are all gone. Yet, a man can find comfort in the knowledge that at McDonald's, you can get the same burger in Danville as you can in Marmet, Flint, Bakersfield, and Deerfield. Or you could, at least.

That evening in the spring of 2009, I walked into McDonald's; but I didn't recognize what I saw. Apple slices. Side salads. Carrots. Parfait. Cucumbers. Sandwich wraps. Oatmeal. It dawned on me how long it had been since I had last been to a McDonald's. In a few short years, McDonald's went from being an unabashed all-American staple, to a weak-kneed Panera-wannabe. McDonald's was great because it had a formula: tasty food served quick for a cheap price. It wasn't healthy, but that wasn't the point. In attempting to cater to health-conscious liberals, McDonald's forgot what made them great.

No thanks, McCommunists.
Folks, for a while it looked like the Royals forgot what made them great as well. I felt a similar sensation -- that disconcerting vibe when something familiar feels foreign -- when I watched the 2017 Kansas City Royals. The 2015 World Champion Royals were great because they played their brand of baseball. They stole bases. They bunted. They played great defense. They made productive outs. They did the little things. They went to third base on a single. They put up runs without hitting dingers. It was Royals baseball, and they were proud of it.

The 2017 Royals had an abysmal 2-6 start because they forgot this formula. They were without Jarrod Dyson, the teams's swaggering id, and one of their primary threats on the base-paths. They uncharacteristically signed Brandon Moss, a lumbering slugger who had previously been their sworn enemy as an Oakland Athletic and Cleveland Indian. They traded elite closer Wade Davis for some kid from the Cubs who hits dingers and can't play defense. Their once invincible bullpen was a shadow of its former self, giving up runs in bunches in the late innings. The Royals looked out of their element, like a fruit salad at a burger joint. Until one man stepped in.

With two dominating starts, Jason Vargas got the Royals back on the winning track and stopped their season from being smothered in the cradle. So far this season Vargas has been the unquestioned ace of the Royals staff, besting even the beastly Danny Duffy. His most recent start -- a 7.2 inning, 8-strikeout, 4-hit performance against the Oakland Athletics -- not only put an end to a horrific losing streak; it put Vargas firmly in the Cy Young conversation. That's no small feat for a man recovering from Tommy John surgery. On a pitching staff that is now full of mercenaries like Ian Kennedy and Chicago Cubs castoffs, Jason Vargas is an anchor of familiarity, a reminder of the glory days when guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen were mainstays of the Royals rotation.

Folks, some familiarity is just what the Royals needed. Thanks to Vargas, the Royals are looking like their old selves, having clawed back to the .500 mark after that awful start. That momentum is a good thing, as the San Francisco Giants -- their rivals from the 2014 World Series -- come to town for some inter-league action. On Wednesday, Mr. Vargas will square off against Madison Bumgarner, the man who single-handedly thwarted the Royals' World Series hopes that autumn. Although Bumgarner's reputation as a postseason God was tarnished this past fall when he ran into the Cubs buzz-saw, nobody in Kansas City has forgotten what he did in 2014: 3 games, 20 innings, 1 run.


Vargas doesn't usually crack baseball's list of dominant lefties: Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, David Price, etc., etc. After a couple more starts and a chance to prove himself against a hated rival, that will change. And when it does, the league better watch out.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

TWTW's 2017 March Madness Preview

Danville, Kentucky -- It's that time of year again, folks. The time of year where kids leave it all on the court. The time of year when boys become men. The time of year where my panicked wife frantically calls the police for information about my whereabouts after my phone dies while watching basketball at Buffalo Wild Wings for days at a time. It's March Madness time, folks.

Unlike Rachel Maddow, I won't waste your time with a twenty-minute buildup culminating in nothing. I'll cut right to the chase. Here are the games to watch during the first round of this year's tournament:

Maryland (6) versus Xavier (11)


Folks, I'll be upfront that I have a slight bias for the Musketeers, a scrappy team hailing from Cincinnati. But this game has huge upset potential. This Maryland team is soft; softer than the mushy interior concealed within every terrapin's protective shell. This is to be expected from Maryland, a soft state. I once spent a night at the Caroline County Department of Corrections for using non-standard crabbing technology in violation of state regulations. Maryland's crabbing scene isn't the only thing that's overrated: their basketball team has had some bad letdown losses to the likes of Penn State and Nebraska. The Musketeers will get it done.


Michigan (7) versus Oklahoma State (10)

This is another intriguing can't miss game. Brad Underwood is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Michigan, on the other hand, is the school that passed on the blue collar fierceness of Rick Pitino en route to irrelevance for most of the 2000s. Stillwater is a much tougher town than Ann Arbor. Take the upset, folks.


Cincinnati (6) versus Kansas State (11)



I'm taking K-State here folks. Don't get me wrong - I'm a Cincy man through and through; the city that brought us Pete Rose, the best chili on the planet, and Neil H. McElroy, the Defense Secretary under President Eisenhower. But K-State has so much momentum after falling just a point short of winning the Big 12 tournament when nobody expected them to. Don't best against momentum, folks.

Dayton (7) versus Wichita State (10)

This is the crowned jewel of first round match-ups during this year's tournament, featuring two of my favorite teams. Wichita State and Dayton are teams that love to beat Ohio State; both of them handed the Buckeyes shocking Ls in 2013 and 2014 respectively. I have nothing but respect for Dayton; it's a great area, with one of the best Taco Bell restaurants I've ever been to - this place was clean as a whistle. But pick the underdog here, folks. Not that Wichita should be underdogs; they've been criminally under-seeded by the crooked NCAA elites that want to lock out small schools from the competition. The Shockers are a team that could run the table at this tournament.

Teams to Watch:


West Virginia: The Mountaineers are a team on the upswing, fresh off of an excellent Big 12 tournament where the 'experts' thought a Kansas Jayhawks victory was a fait accompli. This team plays with such tenacity, using the full court press for entire game to grind down the willpower of their opponents. I think this is the year they make a deep run. They say the Appalachian mountains are alive with the sound of coal mining once more, folks. They're bringing home some hardware this March too.

Purdue: Purdue is another blue collar team that is going to turn some heads. This is the school run by Mitch Daniels; former Republican governor of Indiana who handed over control of the state to our current Vice President, Mike Pence. The Boilermakers are not to be trifled with.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not the End of the Line: Omar Infante for Tigers Opening Day Center Fielder


Danville, Kentucky -- It's easy to forget what a marvel trains are. Before Al Gore's internet, before Dwight Eisenhower's interstate highways, before Henry Ford's Model-T, only railroads connected Americans to one another. America's system of rail transportation has roots dating back to the First Transcontinental Railroad of the 1860s, a marvelous but loose network of train tracks that connected the country's breadbasket to the western frontier and the still fledgling settlements on the Pacific coast. Before the dawn of the railroads, America didn't have time-zones. Life was isolated, parochial, and pastoral. The emergence of railroads made every corner of the continent accessible and revolutionized our way of life.


Folks, in the summer of '75, there was nothing better than hopping aboard a train and seeing how far it would take you. One hot, smothering day in July of that summer, I was feeling particularly defeated. The bitter taste of the Watergate scandal was still depressing my spirits. An oppressive tax code and restrictive land use ordinances were hindering my dream of opening Danville's first ever combination sports bar and daycare center. I needed to see the world beyond my humble Danville abode. I longed for the sense of adventure that my ancestors must've had as they broke fresh ground in the New World and explored the vast and uncivilized frontier lands. So I headed down to Louisville's historic Union Station. I took a train to St. Louis. Then Fort Worth. Then El Paso. I took train after train after train till I ended up in Salt Lake City, Boise, and finally Reno.

Several hundred dollars worth of train tickets and a few weeks later, there were no more trains left to ride. No more sights I hadn't seen. Unlike my ancestors who were lured out west by the promise of unexplored land and new challenges to conquer, by 1975 all the blank spaces on the map had been filled in. I didn't find adventure or new beginnings out west; all I found was a gang of bikers that jumped me and left me for dead in the desert after a misunderstanding over gambling. I can still feel the coarse sand in my beard and the midday sun beating down upon me as I laid there in Nevada's barren wastelands, my face in the dirt. I can still smell the scorched dusty earth. I can still taste the sand. It tasted like the end of the line.


Many folks are saying that Omar Infante has reached the end of the line as well. The thirty-five year old second baseman from Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela certainly seems to be past his prime, a relic of a bygone era of baseball, an anachronism like the idea of riding trains in 2017. He has had a storied career. Since making his debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2002, he has played every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base. He's been an AL Champion four times: with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012, and the Kansas City Royals in 2014 and 2015. He's had a 7 RBI game, been a postseason hero, spun gem defensive plays, and done everything else under the sun. But last season he was unceremoniously cut by Kansas City, seemingly marking the end of the line for him.


But it wasn't to be the end for Omar. Al Avila's Detroit Tigers have brought Mr. Infante's career full circle by giving him a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, and one last opportunity to prove he belongs in the majors.

Omar has risen to the occasion, folks. He sports a massive .400 batting average so far this spring. Earlier today he netted a pair of doubles and RBI while turning several eye-popping defensive plays in the field. Omar's efforts to revive his career haven't gone unnoticed.






In spite of Omar's monstrous spring training output, the Tigers won't commit to giving him a roster spot for the regular season. That's a mistake, folks. The Tigers need to think outside the box. Mr. Infante is thinking outside the box. He suggested that he'd like to play center fielder for the Tigers.
The organization should take him seriously and give him a chance. Their season depends on it.

The Tigers' infield is set: future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is a fixture at first base. Gold Glove winner Ian Kinsler will be the starting second baseman. Defensive specialist Jose Iglesias will be the starting shortstop, while up-and-coming slugger Nick Castellanos mans the hot corner.

The Tigers' center field situation is much less clear. Anthony Gose struggled in Double-A last year after being demoted for a clubhouse incident with Toledo Mudhens manager Lloyd McClendon. Tyler Collins has had unfortunate incidents of his own, and has not set himself apart in spring training. Recent acquisition Mikie Mahtook has had an abysmal spring training, sporting a .074 batting average. Youngster JaCoby Jones holds the most promise but probably needs some more seasoning in Triple-A.

Omar, on the other hand, is major league ready right now. Omar's offensive explosion in spring training has laid to rest fears that his bat won't play. His glove will play in center field too. He has a total of 609 major league innings played in the outfield under his belt, including 182.2 innings in center field. Even the most ardent stats-lover would have to acknowledge Omar is the man for the job:

[source: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/i/infanom01.shtml]

He's never committed an error in center field. His fielding percentage in center field is a perfect 100%. Folks, that's a track record that none of the Tigers' other center field options have.

Omar is the center field solution the Tigers didn't even know they had. Omar's veteran presence, playoff experience, smooth glove and hot bat would solidify the Tigers' center field situation and give the team certainty heading into the regular season. Louisville's Union Station has laid dormant for several decades, but it's clear that this is not the end of the line for Mr. Infante. It's up to the Tigers to let Omar aboard, lest he ride off into the sunset with one of their competitors.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Only World Baseball Classic Preview You'll Need - Part II


Danville, Kentucky -- Welcome to Part II of my power rankings of all 16 World Baseball Classic teams. You can read part one here. I'll cut to the chase, folks. These are the bottom eight teams. Some are worse than others. All are worse than America. Without further ado, here they are:

9. Korea


Korea has an exciting team, folks -- and not just because these players were born and raised in the shadow of a nuclear-armed madman. Although doubts remain as to whether North Korea has ICBM technology capable of striking the mainland United States, there can be no doubt that the Korean national team is stacked with power. Korea has one of my favorite players in the whole world, folks: Dae-ho Lee, native of Busan, South Korea and former Seattle Mariner. Dae-ho showed some real pop last year with the Mariners, hitting 14 bombs with 49 runs driven in.

But the real reason to love Mr. Lee is his demeanor. He's always smiling; as a Mariner, he was truly a ray of sunshine in an otherwise perpetually overcast and grungy city. He's a jolly, rotund fellow, evoking a simpler era of baseball when sluggers like Babe Ruth crushed hot dogs in between innings in the dugout. I dare you to look at this man and not feel a warm, tingly sensation deep in your heart.


More importantly, he made his homeland proud, becoming an ambassador of the game and hero to Koreans everywhere. Thanks to Dae-ho, we have some of the greatest home run calls of all time.



(skip to 50 seconds)

Dae-ho represents everything that is great about the game of baseball. It breaks my heart that he has left the MLB and announced his intention to return to Korea's league. But I have to respect the man for loving his country. The fact that the Korean team also has Seung-hwan Oh -- aka the "final boss" -- is just a cherry on top. This Korean team could go places.

 10. Colombia



Don't sleep on Colombia, folks. Not that Colombia's amphetamine snorting population does much sleeping anyway thanks to abundant supply of narcotics. Colombia lacks the position player talent of the teams ranked higher than them here, but they can pitch. Although they often fly under the national radar, Colombians Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran are two of the most quietly brilliant pitchers in the MLB. I'll also be playing close attention to Colombia's Dilson Herrera, one of the prospects my Reds acquired in the foolish Jay Bruce trade.

But the real guy to watch on this squad is Yohan Pino, or as I like to call him, "Pino Noir," because his slider has more depth than the bitter notes of a fine red wine. Mr. Pino was an unsung hero in the Royals 2015 World Series championship. Yes, I know he got put on waivers mid-season. But before that he had an impressive 3.26 ERA and several excellent high-leverage appearances. Like Bernie Sanders after the DNC conspired against him, Pino spent 2016 watching all the action from the sidelines. But he recently signed a minor league deal with the Twins. I think he could go places. During the World Baseball Classic, we'll find out if he can. Because of their strong pitching -- led by Quintana, Teheran, and Pino -- this Colombia team has sneaky upside.

11. Japan



I'm not very high on Japan's team, but I'm obliged to mention that Japan's own Nori Aoki, Kansas City Royal turned San Francisco Giant turned Seattle Mariner turned Houston Astro, is a hell of a player. He's a world class talent. I love his swing. He won't hit for much power. But he can slap the ball all across the field and boasts a career .286 batting average in the MLB. It's a joy to watch him play. In an era where the nerds have decided that strikeouts don't matter and that batting average is irrelevant, Nori shows how valuable it is to have a guy that can put the ball in play. 

That being said, I'm down on Japan. The rest of the team outside of Aoki isn't particularly interesting. And as a country, Japan is adrift. Several weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Abe looked out of his element with a real leader like Trump.



The World Baseball Classic is about the talent on the field, but it's also about the intangibles, like the national mood of each respective country. With Japan's precious TPP trade deal recently killed by Trump, momentum is definitely against Japan. It's not happening for Japan this year.

12. Netherlands


On the surface, the Netherlands has quite a bit of talent. Although most of the team has names like "Stuifbergen," "van den Hurk," "Heijstek," or "Thijssen," the discerning baseball fan might notice a few big names. Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons and Kenley Jansen all apparently play for the Netherlands. But I'm not buying it. To illustrate why, let me point you to a map.





Yes, that's the Netherlands right next to Merkel's Germany and right across the European-body-of-water-I-learned-in-high-school-but-can't-remember from the lawless crime-hole Sweden. European social democracy has been a failure. The Netherlands national baseball team will be too. Next.

13. Canada



Canada is a team so pathetic they couldn't even persuade Joey Votto to take some time away from meaningless spring training games to stand around with a bat on his shoulder and try to draw walks on behalf of his country. Don't get me wrong. Canada has some interesting players. Like Braves slugger Freddie Freeman. Or 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau. There's also the intriguingly named Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey. But this is Canada, folks. A country that's perpetually second fiddle to the U.S.A. Not happening.

14. China


To be honest, I know absolutely nothing about China's team. I think the Chinese Communist Party has more or less suppressed all information about their national team, which is par for the course with this authoritarian nightmare of a country that stifles freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas. I'll still put them ahead of Mexico and Australia because of China's sheer ruthlessness. 

15. Mexico



Mexico has some real gems on their team. Like Joakim Soria, the Royals' designated 8th inning guy and one of the best free agent signings Dayton Moore has ever made. There's also Sergio Romo, the scary-as-hell looking guy who recorded the final outs of the 2012 World Series for the Giants and for some reason got signed by the Dodgers. Did I mention that team Mexico has a lot Dodgers? Also on Mexico's team is the left-handed wunderkind Julio Urias and hitting guru Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it's just not Mexico's year. Not with The Wall on the way, along with punitive tariffs aimed at bringing back manufacturing jobs that Mexico stole via NAFTA. Next.

16. Australia


Australia occupies the last place spot in my power rankings. Look, I love Outback Steakhouse as much as the next guy. In fact, I've praised Outback's excellent Australian cuisine in glowing terms not once, but twice. This team has some pieces I like. Peter Moylan, the bespectacled ex-Royal with a slider juicier than Outback's QUEENSLAND CHICKEN & SHRIMP PASTA™, plays on this team. He had a 2-0 record and a 3.43 ERA last year with the Royals.


There is some fight in this team. Literally. Aussie Warwick Saupold of the Detroit Tigers organization got in a brawl last summer. We can assume this fight started when another bar-goer made an insensitive joke about Steve Irwin. 
But outside of Moylan and Saupold, things are looking bleak for Australia in my opinion. Countries that get on Donald Trump's bad side won't be long for this world, folks. The folks down under may serve Bloomin' Onions with the best of them, but they're bad allies and even worse at baseball outside of a few exemplars like Moylan. They're dead last, barring a miraculous effort to make amends with President Trump from Prime Minister Turnbull or a major splash like an official sponsorship from Outback.

CONCLUSION

There you have it folks. All 16 teams. Or rather, America and 15 losers. Enjoy the WBC, folks.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Only World Baseball Classic Preview You'll Need - Part I



Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, baseball is a uniquely American game: made for Americans, by Americans. Baseball is a game played in cornfields and on blacktops across our great nation; sometimes with sticks and stones where bats and balls aren't available. But like anything truly worth treasuring, it is the sacred mission of all Americans to spread the great game of baseball across God's green Earth. America saved Europe from the scourge of fascism and war. We brought capitalism to the satellite states of the Soviet Union that were trembling from behind the Iron Curtain. We guided Iraq along the path towards democratization. Now, thanks to the World Baseball Classic, America has brought the greatest game ever played to nearly every corner of the globe.

It wasn't an easy job, folks. The primary driver of historical development is the ongoing antagonism between the forces of capitalism and communism. Just as the battle between capital and labor for control of the means of production has animated all conflict since the dawn of industrialization, the battles between America and its socialist opponents like Cuba, Venezuela, and China will be the most fiercely contested match-ups of this year's World Baseball Classic.

In this article, I preview the 2017 World Baseball Classic and 8 of its 16 competitors. Lots of folks are dismissive of the WBC. Critics have a point: the field of teams is very limited. It is nothing short of a travesty that Max Kepler, the Minnesota Twins slugger who hails from Berlin, will not get to participate in this spring's events, due to the lack of a German national team. But let's be honest, the last thing Angela Merkel's re-election efforts need right now is for Germany to get embarrassed on the global stage by Trump's America.

It is also unfortunate that many national teams fail to entice their country's best players into playing in this globally significant event. There is no reason for so many great players to be sitting on the sidelines. The fire of patriotism does not burn brightly enough these days, folks. But until President Trump implements compulsory conscription of all eligible young men into the WBC, it's what we're left with. But folks, it ain't so bad. The competition looks to be stiff. Here are my power rankings of the top 8 World Baseball Classic teams:

1. The United States of America

I can't pick against the good guys this year. They have finally put together a team worthy of the red, white, and blue. The management will be top-notch, led by Jim Leyland, one of the wisest skippers in the game. This team can do it all. They can pitch. Led by Kansas City Royals ace Danny Duffy, a gnarly bearded man who embodies the pioneering spirit of the American frontier, this team will be able to hurl with the best of them.


They also boast Andrew Miller, the man who almost single-handedly won the World Series for Cleveland last fall. If I'm Leyland, I'm using Miller aggressively. No need to hold anything back: the pride of our country is on the line. Use the starting pitcher for 6 innings then immediately turn to Miller to close out the last three innings. If Miller is a true patriot, he should be willing to sacrifice the health of his elbow just as our men in uniform make sacrifices for our nation every day. Country first, arm health second.

The U.S. team also boasts an excellent pool of position players. Eric Hosmer: the reigning All Star Game MVP. Matt Carpenter: one of the best looking guys in the game and greatest underdog stories around. Ian Kinsler: a gritty as heck guy who bruises and bleeds for his team. Daniel Murphy: a man unafraid of being politically incorrect, and precisely the kind of guy we want to represent the U.S. in the era of Trump. These are just a few of the All Star talents that in my opinion will put Uncle Sam's team over the top.

Player to watch: A.J. Ellis

Folks, I know Buster Posey is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and looks like he could play Captain America on the big screen. But the U.S. national team has a secret weapon behind the dish: A.J. Ellis, the man who was once Clayton Kershaw's best friend and personal catcher. Look for him to call a nice game and make some great blocks on pitches in the dirt if called upon by his country.

Player to ignore: Chris Archer



Folks, I was disappointed to see Chris Archer made the team. He's always been more style than substance. Instead of watching tape, he spends his free time tweeting at the Obamas. He spent all winter criticizing his own front office for not pursuing a more aggressive offseason strategy. Folks, nobody is more sympathetic than me on this front: the Tampa Bay Rays are indeed an incompetent organization who are squandering the prime years of their young players. But a young man should know not to attract attention from the crooked media by speaking out on these issues. The team needs a leader, not a whiner. Keep that stuff within the family, Mr. Archer.

2. Venezuela 


Folks, Venezuela has a scary team this year. They are America's greatest competition. The baseball genius of Jim Leyland is matched only by that of superstar shortstop Omar Vizquel, Venezuela's skipper. Their team is absolutely packed with talent: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Felix Hernandez, and many more. The baseball bonafides of this crew are beyond reproach.

But I can't pick this team over team USA. Venezuela's horrific experiment with socialism has wrought unimaginable suffering upon its people. Venezuela's economic success has proven to be nothing more than a mirage: the recent decline in international oil prices has been absolutely devastating to their resource-dependent economy. Their failure is our gain: Venezuela's hyper-inflationary turmoil ensures that baseball players bring their talents over to the United States as fast as they can.

There is an argument that Venezuela's team is more talented than America's, but there is no argument that the Venezuelan team's hearts are filled with more love of country than that of the American team's.

Player who might surprise you: Hernan Perez and Alcides Escobar

I have always been high on Hern, super-utility guy from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Detroit Tigers nearly ruined this 25 year old kid's development by rushing him to the major leagues in 2015. When they put him on waivers in the middle of the 2015 season, the Brewers snatched him up and haven't looked back. In 2016, little Hern hit 13 bombs with 50 RBIs and notched a whopping 34 stolen bases. Look for this kid to make an unexpected impact for the Venezuelans.


Alcides Escobar is another Venezuelan to watch. I know he's attracted lots of scorn lately, mostly from irate Royals fans who don't understand how the game of baseball is played.


If Omar Vizquel is half as sly as Mr. Yost, he'll bat Escobar first. I've already written about why, contrary to fangraphs, Escobar is the ideal leadoff hitter. With Escobar in the leadoff spot, the Venezuelan national team could become the most serious challenger to U.S. hegemony since the Soviet Union.

3. Israel


After 8 years of abandonment and betrayal by Obama and Clinton, things are looking up for the Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu knows he has a true friend in the White House these days. The Jewish state has a nice mix of fine young men playing for them, along with a new sense of confidence thanks to the imminent repeal of the awful Iran nuclear deal. Better yet, team Israel may actually stand a chance this year without Dartmouth nerd Brad Ausmus at the helm. This team is on the upswing, folks.

Player who might surprise you: Ty Kelly

Perhaps the greatest "Ty" in baseball since the legendary Cobb, Mr. Kelly is a truly underrated player. Ty Kelly is a toolsy utility guy from the New York Mets; a team that every bit as much of a staple of Jewish culture as pastrami and Seinfeld. With better defensive skills than an IDF officer, Ty Kelly is a slick defender anywhere on the infield or in the outfield. Mark my words, he will make more noise than one of Hezbollah's scud missiles with team Israel this spring.



4. Italy

Italy is my dark-horse team for 2017. Italy is a country on a mission these days: a mission to escape the clutches of the treacherous European Union via an Italexit. I can't bet against the country that brought us Olive Garden, DiGiorno Pizza, and proto-Trumpist strongman Silvio Berlusconi. I know the Italian team isn't as stacked as some of the teams lower on this list. But they've got heart where it counts, namely in Drew Butera. Drew is the backup catcher for the Kansas City Royals, a World Series champion, and has James Bond levels of suave. His resume is impressive. Aside from admirably spelling Salvador Perez from time to time, he caught the game-winning strike from Wade Davis to clinch the Royals' first World Series win in two decades back in 2015. Not to mention, he might have the best hair in all the WBC.



5. Taiwan


Folks, I know I'm supposed to call this team "Chinese Taipei." But I won't. The Taiwanese deserve the right to organize as their own nation, the right of self-determination, and their right to independence from Chinese suppression. The Chinese think of Taiwan as a renegade province that will inevitably be absorbed back into the mainland, but Taiwan is its own democratic nation; it is a pinnacle of freedom in a sea of authoritarianism, a capitalist success story just a stone's throw away from the brutal communist Chinese regime.

Things were looking bleak for Taiwan prior to 2017. But with Trump having reversed the "One China" policy and the pro-secession DPP party now in charge, Taiwanese independence looks closer than ever. You can bet they'll be motivated to prove themselves at the WBC.

6. Cuba


You can always expect the Cuban team to be packed full of talent, folks. But they're always fighting with one hand tied behind their back because they won't allow defectors to play on their team. That means no Yasiel Puig, no Yoenis Cespedes, no Jose Abreu, no Kendrys Morales, no Jose Iglesias, no Aroldis Chapman and even more tragically, no eternally-smiling Brayan Pena. Hate to say it, but it's hard to see this team going anywhere until the Castro regime inevitably collapses under its own contradictions. But until then, they'll still be great entertainment. Keep an eye on Yoelkis Cespedes, a budding superstar and half brother of Yoenis. If he has half the swagger and arm-power of his brother, we could be in for a bigger treat than a fat, freshly rolled Partagas cigar, folks.

7. Puerto Rico


I like this Puerto Rican team quite a bit. They have a great mix of young kids and wily veterans. Any team would kill to have Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor on their roster; though I'd get more excited about Frankie if he hadn't taken sac-bunting out of his game last season. On the pitching side, they have exciting young closers like Edwin Diaz of the Mariners and Joe Jimenez, the Tigers' closer of the future and rare bright spot in a farm-system more barren than the Democratic Party's depleted bench. That being said, the Puerto Ricans also have some serious veteran presence: namely the eternally smooth pure-hitter Carlos Beltran and catching maestro Yadier Molina, one of the only men to wear a St. Louis Cardinals uniform I will ever respect.

But I can't get fully behind this team. Look, I love West Side Story and its bunch of salsa-dancing Puerto Ricans as much as the next guy. But their country is going bankrupt. It's like a miniature Greek debt crisis just a few thousand miles from Florida. Until Puerto Rico gets their fiscal act together, it's hard for me to take them seriously.

Player who could surprise you: Mike Aviles

Folks, I know lots of people were counting Mike Aviles down and out after the Atlanta Braves cut him last summer. But you can't keep a multidimensional guy like Aviles down for long. Look for him to prove his doubters wrong with team Puerto Rico this spring. Keep an eye out for his 80-grade batting stance. Unlike Lindor, this guy isn't afraid to lay down a wicket sac-bunt.

8. The Dominican Republic


I hate to put the Dominican Republic this low, because they have a hell of a team, folks. They can pitch. They can hit. And with Jose Bautista on their team, they could very well spark an international crisis if one of his bat-flips is poorly received in a foreign capital. They might have the best pitching of any team here, folks. What other pitching staff is led by Bartolo Colon and boasts such arms as Fernando Rodney, Edinson Volquez, and Dellin Betances? Not to mention they have mashers like Nelson Cruz and Adrián Beltré.

However, there are some serious headwinds facing the Dominican Republic's team. Johnny Cueto, one of the most electric pitchers around, might not be available to pitch for them. Losing Cueto would be the biggest blow taken by a Caribbean country since Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American war.


Other aspects of their roster worry me. Manny Machado and Hanley Ramirez are talented, but perhaps destined for some sort of dramatic incident that will distract the team and take their eyes off the prize. This team has too many hot heads for my taste. Not to mention they are carrying Carlos Santana: the OBP-obsessed base-clogger who strikes out like 11 year old Will Hart at a Danville Middle School dance. I can't believe in this team.


CONCLUSION

That's all for now folks. Stay tuned for teams 9 through 16!