WBC Baseball Picks and Odds: Mexico at United States
by Alan Matthews - 3/8/2013
The United States begins its World Baseball Classic pool play on Friday night at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, against Mexico. The Americans were the slight WBC betting favorites entering the tournament, but one could argue that's no longer the case.
Already without probably the five best American pitchers alive in Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Jered Weaver and David Price, Joe Torre's Team USA club lost one of its top hitters, first baseman Mark Teixeira earlier this week. The Yankee will miss the next 8-10 weeks -- just the latest blow to injury-ravaged New York (even GM Brian Cashman is hurt), which will open the regular season without eight of its Top 10 home-run hitters from last season. Teixeira strained his right wrist while swinging off a tee Tuesday before a Team USA exhibition against the White Sox.
Teixeira was replaced by Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, which seems like a major downgrade. Hosmer is still considered one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. He showed that by finishing third in the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year voting by hitting .293 with 19 homers and 78 RBI in 128 games. The sophomore slump definitely grabbed hold of Hosmer in 2012 as he hit .232 with 14 homers and 60 RBI in 152 games. He didn't even reach the Mendoza Line (.200) until late May and slugged a terrible .359. Hosmer's.663 OPS ranked as the second-worst among batting title-eligible first basemen in any season since the 1994 strike. Hosmer has been hot in limited action this spring with Kansas City.
Mexico at United States Betting Story Lines
Team USA also recently lost a key reliever from the roster as Cleveland closer Chris Perez had to pull out with a right shoulder strain. He saved 39 games for the Tribe in 2012 and probably would have been Team USA's No. 1 set-up man ahead of the Braves' Craig Kimbrel. The irony is that Perez was replaced by Arizona's David Hernandez. He was one of the NL's best set-up men last year with a 2.50 ERA in 72 appearances. Hernandez, born in Sacramento, was originally on the roster of Team Mexico. But Hernandez was informed late last week that he was generationally too far removed from a Mexican-born ancestor: Team Mexico requires a grandparent born in Mexico in order to compete for the national team. In Hernandez's case, only his great-grandparents were. It's curious that Hernandez was told around the same time Perez was dropped from the Team USA roster.
The starting pitcher Friday for the Americans will be reigning NL Cy Young winner and new Blue Jay R.A. Dickey. All starters are on a 65-pitch limit in the first round of the WBC. It will be interesting to see how Team USA catcher J.P. Arencibia, also of the Jays, handles a knuckler in his first meaningful competition. Washington's Gio Gonzalez is the acknowledged ace of this staff, but he won't join the team until the next round should it make it. Torre's lineup Friday is expected to be: SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Brandon Phillips, LF Ryan Braun, DH Joe Mauer, 3B David Wright, 1B Hosmer, RF Giancarlo Stanton, CF Adam Jones, C Arencibia.
Team Mexico lost 6-5 on Thursday to Italy in its opener as Giants closer Sergio Romo, a stud in last year's playoffs, blew a save by allowing two ninth-inning runs. Veteran Rodrigo Lopez started for Team Mexico. It will start Brewers All-Star Yovani Gallardo on Friday. Gallardo had been bothered by a mild right-groin strain but pitched a scoreless inning for Mexico against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. He may not be able to go the full 65 pitches, however. Mexico has a pretty good bullpen led by Romo. The only star-caliber player among the Mexico position players is Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had two hits Thursday. Jorge Cantu, a long-time major-leaguer, had three RBI. The team is managed by Rick Renteria, a bench coach for the Padres.
The USA is home for this one but the designated road team on Saturday against Italy (Ryan Vogelsong starting for USA) and Sunday against Canada (Derek Holland) to complete Pool D play. It would be a massive upset for the Americans not to advance to the second round at Marlins Park in Miami. The farthest the United States has gone is the semifinals in 2009.
Mexico at United States Picks and Betting Predictions
At BetOnline, the USA is -290 with Mexico at +245 and the total at 9. The runline is Mexico +1.5 at +140.
The Americans went 7-7 during the first two World Baseball Classics, so they are far from a sure thing here. And it probably will be about a 50-50 split in terms of fan support. Mexico hasn't been a slouch in this event, advancing past the first round in both tournaments and eliminating the USA in the second round of the inaugural 2006 event. Team Mexico is 5-8 in WBC play overall.
Much like in hockey, I will often try to lean on an underdog in baseball whenever possible. The Americans' lineup is way better, clearly. But assuming Gallardo can go four innings or so, Mexico's solid core of major-league relievers could shut down the USA if they aren't worn out from Thursday's action. Pitchers are usually ahead of batters this time of year as it is. You never know if Dickey's knuckler will be hanging in the zone more often than not. I would take Team USA on the moneyline, but the now-desperate Mexicans on the runline as well as the under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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