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September 22, 2000

Olympic Prospectus

Second-Half Preview

by Derek Zumsteg

Olympic Prospectus series

A look ahead at the rest of the qualifying round for the US team and some wild predictions for the medal round, along with some reader email and a merchandise update.

Friday, September 22, Italy

Italy will be losing. Rick Krivda, mop-up starter, was likely to take this one, but he won't (see below), and as a result Italy will be facing one of Team USA's young, gas-throwing phenoms, probably Ben Sheets, and be reduced to leaning into pitches Mo Vaughn-style in the hopes of advancing to first base.

Saturday, September 23, Cuba

Faced with a wobbling Cuban team that's been characterized widely as sloppy and not really trying, the U.S. has decided to concede the match and give the nod to their worst starter, 30-year-old Rick Krivda. They feel that a left-handed veteran is the right matchup against Cuba.

Krivda's stats this year are not bad: a 3.12 ERA at the time I wrote the pitcher preview, but he'd allowed 132 hits and walked 57, while striking out 92, for a KWH of 1.12. Only Todd Williams has worse ratios on this team. Krivda doesn't have any good pitches, but has decent control. Tommy Lasorda could well have started Jon Rauch on four days' rest. Rauch is a huge guy, throws low-90s heat and doesn't walk anybody. His KWH was 3.95 after his mid-season promotion to Double-A.

I think this choice was made because the Dutch beat the Cubans using a starter without great stuff who hit his spots all day. Team USA, seeing this, figured that if that was how you beat the Cubans, well, they've got a pitcher just like that! The truth of the matter is that Cuba has looked bad this tournament, and this is when you want to pile it on and make them beat your best, rather than hope to lull them to sleep with veteran hypnotism. Of course, if this works and the U.S. somehow comes out of this with a victory, Lasorda will be hailed as a genius.

Sunday, September 24, Australia

I'm looking forward to this game after the pain of the loss to Cuba. Kurt Ainsworth faces Chris Snelling. Dave Nilsson gets a chance to throw out lumbering Ernie Young as he tries to steal second base. Unfortunately for the Aussies, they don't have a lot in the way of pitching, certainly not in the class of Ainsworth, so they'll be looking for a strong performance from Mark Hutton, who struggled against Japan, or Brad Thomas, who struggled against Korea.

So who will make the medal round? Most likely the U.S. at 6-1, followed by Cuba and Japan at 5-2 and Australia squeaking in at 4-3. That would give us an excellent Cuba/Japan semifinal game, second in the medal competition to the probable U.S./Cuba game, which will be colossal.

Reader Mail

Thanks first to everyone who's sent me e-mail. I'd like to take a minute to respond to some of the highlights:

John Perkins wrote:

Not only do the Dodgers stink in Olympic dealings (though give them some slack on Adrian Burnside who I believe is legitimately injured), but look at the Orioles. The O's drop Mike Kinkade from their ML roster so that he could participate in the Olympics and replace him with Eugene Kingsale, depriving The Netherlands of an Olympian.

I hadn't thought of that at all. The Orioles did make a big deal about letting Kinkade head to Sydney, and called Kingsale up for their pennant run. The Mariners, I should mention, let their international players like Chris Snelling go freely, with the organization's blessings.

And on the subject of my derision for the run-and-gun baseball they've been playing down under, KB writes:

...[Tommy Lasorda] took a couple of good catch-and-throw guys in Marcus Jensen and Pat Borders because he saw early on that in international competition you can shut the other guy's running game down, but they can't stop yours. He can run his boys wild on the bases because the best that they'll face are Dave Nilsson and Ariel Pestano or Fred Manrique (how old is he, 40?). He might get a runner or two thrown out, but generally he'll be able to snag better than 80%, so it'll pay off in the long run. Unless he has trying to steal second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in the final game down one run (see World Series, 1926), he'll get away with it.

I'm sort of skeptical that Lasorda has given the subject that much thought, but this is an excellent point. He's gotten away with it so far: the team is six of seven on stolen-base attempts, and an 85% rate is a productive rate in any offensive era, in any park.

I had thought that the much-talked-about small baseball that supposedly ruled in international baseball would have led to the development of sophisticated anti-baserunning tactics, but this is apparently not the case. Reading through the box scores (on the amazingly slow IBM site, which features lovely colored line scores), I see that teams are running wild everwhere--except against the U.S. Teams are 0-for-1 in stealing against Borders and Jensen, unless I'm reading the boxscores wrong, while there appears to be an average of three stolen bases a game in your average Olympic matchup so far.

So I think this is a very good point, and something I've neglected to give Lasorda credit for: somehow, between the selection of pitchers and catchers, he's scared other teams into not running on Team USA at all, and at the same time been able to make the stolen base a productive tool for a roster that hardly stole any bases in the States this year.

A brief plea: if anyone can get me a Chris Snelling Australian jersey, they'll earn my eternal gratitude. Or just point me in the right direction for some thanks with an expiration date.

Derek Zumsteg can be reached at dzumsteg@baseballprospectus.com.

Related Content:  Italy,  The Who,  Cuba

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