One of these two teams was expected to be here and the other one wasn't. But that doesn't mean that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is going to be intimidated. Like Puerto Rico who also slew giants to get the final round, the Netherlands knocked powers Korea and Cuba out of the tournament and are looking for a third upset against the powerful Dominican Republic.
For the Dominicans, this game is personal as they were bounced in the first round of the 2009 WBC Tournament after they lost to the Netherlands twice. No one from either country has forgotten that. But back then the Netherlands were just a scrappy team of spare parts and Andruw Jones. Now they're an emerging baseball power with several top young players and Andruw Jones.
The winner of this game goes to the WBC finals tomorrow night to take on Puerto Rico. The game starts at 8 pm Central and is televised on the MLB Network.
Starting for the Dominican Republic is Padres right-hander Edinson Volquez. Volquez has not been very sharp in this tournament. He's made two starts although the first one really doesn't count, when he threw a scoreless inning against Venezuela before a 50 minute rain delay forced his removal from the game. In his second start, he got knocked around for four runs in 4.1 innings by Italy, including a three-run home run in the first inning by Chris Colabello.
Going for the Clockwork Orange is veteran Dutch pitcher Diegomar Markwell. Markwell was in the Blue Jays organization from 1997 to 2003 and has pitched on all three Netherlands WBC teams and their 2004 Olympic team. The 32 year-old Markwell has been very good in this tournament, going 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in two starts. Neither of the wins were cheapies, either, as the wins were over Korea and Cuba.
The starting lineup for the Netherlands is
Andrelton Simmons SS, Jurickson Profar 2B, Roger Bernadina, CF, Wladimir Balentien RF, Andruw Jones DH, Curt Smith 1B, Jonathan Schoop 3B, Kalian Sams LF, Dashenko Ricardo C
The Dominicans will counter with:
Jose Reyes SS, Miguel Tejada 3B, Robinson Cano 2B, Edwin Encarnacion 1B, Hanley Ramirez DH, Nelson Crus, RF, Carlos Santana, C, Moises Sierra LF, Alejandro De Aza CF
The Dominican Republic
How Did They Get Here? The Dominicans are the only undefeated team in the tournament, going 3-0 in both of the first two rounds. They beat Venezuela, Spain and Puerto Rico in the first round and Italy, the United States and Puerto Rico again in the second round. Only the game against Venezuela was really a blow out, however, and the Dominicans squeaked out narrow victories over Italy, the US and in the second Puerto Rico game.
Who are they? Did you see their lineup?
Strengths: Did you see their lineup?
Weaknesses: While the bullpen is very good, the starting pitching for the Dominicans has been shaky. The Netherlands will need to get to Volquez early if they are to win. The Dominicans are strong defensively up-the-middle, but their defense in the corners is questionable.
Player to watch: Robinson Cano has been crazy good this tournament and is the favorite to win tournament MVP. He's batting .519 and has hit two home runs.
How Did They Get Here? The Clockwork Orange is 4-3 in the tournament. They started the tournament with a shocking shutout win over Korea, and qualified for the second round by beating Australia after a loss to Chinese Taipei. In the second round, the Netherlands beat the Cubans twice to advance. They were beaten badly by Samurai Japan twice in the Tokyo Dome.
Who are they? Technically they are the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as the majority of their players come from the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao, united with the Netherlands proper through the Dutch crown. They do have several players born in Europe, however. The Dutch word for baseball, honkbal, has become a favorite term during the tournament.
Strengths: The Dutch pitching staff has looked very good in the tournament, but in many ways that's a testament to their defense, which is the best in the tournament. It's likely to be even better in the semi-finals as the Netherlands adds the top prospect in baseball, Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar. They now have four quality shortstops to play three infield positions.
If they can get a late lead, they now have Kenley Jansen from the Dodgers to close it out.
Coaching is also a Dutch strength. In a tournament where we've seen a lot of lousy managing, Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens has distinguished himself as a smart baseball man. He's also going to have the advantage of being familiar with the stadium, as his day job is as the Giants hitting coach. If Bert Blyleven weren't one of the best color men in the broadcast booth, he'd likely make an excellent major league pitching coach.
Weaknesses: Getting Jansen from the Dodgers is huge and they're going to need him because their bullpen doesn't have much experience without him. One familiar name in the Netherlands bullpen is former Cubs first round pick Mark Pawelek, whose mother is from the Netherlands.
Beyond Jones and first baseman Curt Smith, there's not a lot of power there, although Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Schoop have both hit two home runs in the tournament so far.
Players to watch: The Netherlands team is exciting to watch because they are so young and so full of prospects rather than major leaguers. But Braves shortstop Simmons has been spectacular so far in the WBC, both on offense and with the glove. I've gotten a chance to watch him throughout this tournament and I've been impressed. He's the first shortstop in a generation in which I've heard a comparison to Ozzie Smith and didn't just laugh.
It will be interesting to see how well Profar does after joining the team late. Orioles prospect Schoop has impressed with his defense at second base, but he's moving to third to make room for Profar. It will be interesting to see how he does there.
The pick: You have to assume the Dominican Republic is going to win this one. So far, that hasn't meant anything in this tournament.