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One of the things that I heard the Olympic Committee really wanted to get
was "foot speed". I read that over and over, and it made me think
that maybe they were going to go out of their way to get former major
leaguers, like Vince Coleman, so they could steal some bases.

They didn’t. I’m happy about that. The big speed threat is Brent
Abernathy
, who was 21-for-36 in steal attempts when I pulled his stats
on selection day. Foot speed, apparently, has run out.

Here’s how a good-hitting lineup would be set up:

OF Brad Wilkerson
OF Mike Neill
DH Shawn Gilbert
OF Ernie Young
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
SS Adam Everett
2B Brent Butler
3B Sean Burroughs
C  Pat Borders

I’ve got Brad Wilkerson batting leadoff because he hits doubles and
he walks and he has some speed on the basepaths to score. After that, it’s
Mike Neill‘s on-base skills followed by mashers Shawn Gilbert
and Ernie Young and the surprising on-base and power combination of
Doug Mientkiewicz.

I nearly had this laid out in order of OBP, with some weighting to power
towards the middle. Lineup order doesn’t make that much of a difference,
though, and in international play, not having a long string of left- (or
right-) handed hitters prevents getting hit too hard by one reliever.

As a lineup, Team USA doesn’t match up that well against what Cuba is
reportedly fielding, but it looks pretty good compared to Japan and South
Korea. They’ll look worse by sticking bad bats like Travis Dawkins
in there. However, there’s a lot of good strike-zone controllers and some
extra-base power to boot. The team could well introduce the small-baseball,
advance-the-runner, looks-good-in-uniform international baseball scene to
the Earl Weaver style of hitting home runs with men on base.

Still, I can’t help but wish they’d picked better players, that teams had
been willing to sacrifice the ten, twenty ABs they were going to get out of
September call-ups in order to ensure America finally taught those Cubans
the lesson they’ve been begging for. I want Russ Branyan on this squad,
frankly, and all his ilk.

On to the pitching, which you’re likely aware I’m much more happy about.

PITCHERS W-L PCT ERA G GS GF SV IP H AB TBF R ER HR HB BB IB SO KWH
Oswalt, Roy 11- 3 0.786 1.88 17 16 0 0 114.2 92 431 460 31 24 5 3 20 1 124 8.35
Young, Tim 1- 1 0.5 1.93 30 0 11 6 37.1 32 140 152 10 8 3 2 9 1 41 5.83
Rauch, Jon A+ 11- 3 0.786 2.86 18 18 0 0 110 102 410 456 49 35 10 5 33 0 124 4.56
Franklin, Ryan 11- 4 0.733 3.37 29 20 2 0 155 127 569 615 71 58 24 9 33 1 133 4.22
Rauch, Jon AA 4- 1 0.8 2.77 6 6 0 0 39 27 142 159 14 12 2 2 15 0 40 3.95
Heams, Shane AA 6- 2 0.75 2.59 39 0 19 5 55.2 35 198 238 17 16 4 2 34 2 67 3.77
Sabathia, C.C. 3- 7 0.3 3.81 15 15 0 0 80.1 68 303 354 39 34 6 6 42 0 85 2.52
Sheets, Ben 3- 5 0.375 2.97 12 11 0 0 72.2 72 276 309 27 24 3 4 26 0 56 1.67
Ginter, Matt 11- 7 0.611 2.32 25 25 0 0 170.2 144 622 703 70 44 6 13 58 2 116 1.61
Ainsworth, Kurt 8- 9 0.471 3.54 26 26 0 0 145 133 547 619 66 57 12 3 60 3 113 1.60
Seay, Bobby 7- 7 0.5 4.15 22 22 0 0 121.1 127 462 526 63 56 13 6 49 1 98 1.54
George, Chris AA 8- 5 0.615 3.14 18 18 0 0 97.1 92 363 429 41 34 5 6 51 1 80 1.36
Krivda, Rick 11- 8 0.579 3.12 25 25 0 0 147 132 545 616 68 51 14 3 57 0 92 1.12
Williams, Todd 2- 3 0.4 3.11 47 0 45 31 46.1 45 169 192 19 16 2 0 18 1 23 0.65
George, Chris AAA 2- 2 0.5 5.35 7 7 0 0 37 42 144 162 26 22 7 1 16 0 24 0.85
Heams, Shane AAA 0- 0 0 10 5 0 2 0 9 12 34 48 10 10 3 1 11 0 6 0.27

There’s been some talk of using a three-man rotation, which is clearly
silliness. This team isn’t carrying ten starters for no good reason. Here’s
the schedule:

Sept. 17: vs. Japan
Sept. 18: vs. South Africa
Sept. 19: vs. Netherlands
Sept. 20: vs. South Korea
Sept. 22: vs. Italy
Sept. 23: vs. Cuba
Sept. 24: vs. Australia
Sept. 26: Semifinals
Sept. 27: Finals

It’s absolutely critical that the team uses its best pitchers against
Japan, South Korea and Cuba. Not only because they need the wins; because
each team faces every other team once, it’s critical to tag as many of
those three with losses as you can to ensure you head to the gold-medal
game and they play for the consolation prize. Unfortunately, the schedule
doesn’t work out that well for trying tricky moves. So here’s the rotation:

Kurt Ainsworth (Japan, Italy, Finals)
Roy Oswalt (South Africa, Cuba)
Ryan Franklin (Netherlands, Australia)
C.C. Sabathia (South Korea, Semifinals)

Here’s the logic: Kurt Ainsworth rules, and gets to lead off by
smoking Japanese’s finest like so much illegally harpooned whale meat, He
follows that with a tune up against the Italians and then heads into the
finals. Roy Oswalt cooks with gas and doesn’t give up the long ball,
while Cuba is a power-hitting team that he might eat alive. Ryan
Franklin
has a longball problem, so he’s not the guy you want on the
mound. So roll the dice-Oswalt is young but if he’s on, Cuba won’t stand a
chance. Franklin, then, cleans up against the Netherlands and Australia.
Then C.C. Sabathia gets to pitch against the tough South Koreans and
in the semifinals.

This would be awesome: a dominant starting rotation that puts very few
runners on, and well suited to their potential competition. From public
statements and Baseball America‘s eerily prescient speculation so
far, though, it appears that Ben Sheets will start, likely in front
of Sabathia, and Rick Krivda may get a start against Italy, the
Netherlands or South Africa.

So here’s the solid-gold question: can they win it all, and go on to
lucrative careers as gold-medal wearing professional wrestlers? There’s
been a lot of carping lately that they’re already screwed and might as well
save the airfare. I don’t believe that. This is a squad with some great
pitchers who can dominate a game, a well-stocked bullpen with a mix of
left- and right-handers, of control and heat, and a lineup of good hitters
who will play solid defense and score the American way.

The really big question I’ve been thinking over as I’ve tried to work out
probable outcomes centers on manager Tommy Lasorda. Will he be smart enough
to give pitchers early hooks, and confident enough in his bullpen to take
over games early? Will he have enough patience to let his hitters do what
they’re good at: get on base and, for some of them, hit for power?

Or will he hang Ainsworth out against Japan for 140 pitches, making him so
tired that he’ll get shelled against Italy, and will he get so nervous the
first time Mike Neill walks that he’ll have him steal and be thrown out at
second?

When a major league manager decides to rest his regulars and play an
all-scrub lineup, or make a series of terrible tactical decisions, the
maximum loss is one game out of 162. The benefits of resting the regulars
and keeping the scrubs sharp might make that up. But in a seven-game
season, one loss can, and will, be the difference between being in the
gold-medal game and playing for consolation prizes.

It’s possible that the United States team will pitch well, that Mike Neill
will be so happy he’ll hit nothing but homers and every game will end 12-1
U.S., and the manager won’t even matter. That’s unlikely, and I think
Lasorda’s management will be directly attributable to the U.S. winning the
bronze in Sydney, and having to put up with another spate of fawning
stories about the continued dominance of those amazing international Cuban
teams.

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