Even though it's only a second-round game, the Team USA vs. Dominican Republic battle Thursday in the World Baseball Classic may be the highlight of the tournament for many baseball fans.
If what you're looking for from the WBC is an MLB All-Star game, this is the closest you'll get. Both USA and Dominican Republic are loaded with MLB stars — David Wright, Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and many others for the Americans, while Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano and Hanley Ramirez anchor the Dominicans.
Both teams are viable contenders to win the whole tournament at this point, along with Japan, which has already sealed its spot in the semifinals. The winner of Thursday night's game also goes to the semifinals in San Francisco, while the loser faces Puerto Rico on Friday to stay alive.
To look ahead to this mega-power matchup — which starts at 7 p.m. ET at Marlins Park in Miami— the Stew Crew pondered what each team will need to win.
TEAM USA WINS IF ...
David Brown: The other team keeps leaving the bases loaded for David Wright whenever he comes to bat. Wright is 7 for 16 with 10 RBIs in the series and has been nicknamed "Captain America" in case you missed the first 10,000 times someone said it.
Mike Oz: If it can hit some home runs. Ryan Braun? Giancarlo Stanton? Adam Jones? Feel like launching one tonight? Wright is the only USA hitter to go deep in the WBC thus far. A power influx would be welcomed.
Mark Townsend: It gets to starter Samuel Deduno early and often. The Dominican Republic offense won't be held down all night, so I think it will be very important for Team USA to jump out quick to not only get the confidence going early, but to keep themselves within striking distance.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC WINS IF ...
Brown: R.A. Dickey's knuckleball doesn't dance again. It didn't in his previous outing, when he got knocked around for four runs and six hits in four innings.
Oz: Samuel Deduno can pitch like a front-line big leaguer. He spent some time with the Minnesota Twins last year, but didn't pitch well enough to win a spot on the team outright this year. He looked good against Spain, striking out five in four innings and not giving up a run. But it was against Spain. The Dominicans can hold their own in a slugfest, but they'd fare better if their starting pitcher could quiet Team USA's bats.
Townsend: They contain everybody not named Joe Mauer or David Wright. Those two are simply locked in right now, so limit the potential damage they can do by keeping the bases clean and keeping the lineup from turning over one extra time.
BASEBALL FANS WIN IF ...
Brown: Robinson Cano is nicknamed El Capitån Dominicana. He's even hotter than Wright, batting 12 for 19 with two homers, four doubles and seven RBIs.
Oz: Miami gets to watch two top-notch baseball teams battle it out. Sorry, Marlins fans, you're not going to have much to watch this season. This is likely as good as it will get in your city.
Townsend: We simply get a competitive game. Honestly, I think this is setting up to be an offensive showdown that will be very entertaining to watch. A great atmosphere would only add to it.
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