Five lingering questions for Team USA after its World Baseball Classic loss to Dominican Republic

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

We didn't get the slugfest that many — including a couple of your Stewies — were expecting Thursday in the USA vs. Dominican Republic clash in the World Baseball Classic. But we got a tight game, an exciting game and a game that surely added a little bit of "hey, this does matter" to the World Baseball Classic.

Dominican Republic triumphed 3-1 against a David Wright-less USA, breaking a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning with a pair of runs off Craig Kimbrel, the usually lights-out closer from the Atlanta Braves. The guys from the D.R. clinched a spot in the semifinals in San Francisco.

[Related: Erick Aybar's pinch-hit at-bat provides drama at WBC]

Team USA, meanwhile, plays an elimination game Friday (7 p.m. ET) against Puerto Rico, which it already beat on Tuesday. Winning that game sends the U.S. to San Francisco, but it would have to play Dominican Republic again Saturday for seeding and scheduling purposes.

For Team USA, Thursday's loss leaves a few lingering questions:

How is Team USA with its back against the wall? It faced elimination once in the tournament, and beat Canada 9-4 in Pool D. A couple other things Team USA has in its favor Friday: Starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong has pitched in big games before (remember the World Series last year?), and manager Joe Torre isn't a newbie to elimination games.

Can it beat Puerto Rico again? Seems likely. The Americans beats the Puerto Ricans handily once already. Nelson Figueroa, mostly a minor-league journeyman, is starting for the Puerto Rico. As long as its spirits aren't totally defeated, Team USA has a good chance to rebound.

What about David Wright? He's not playing Friday, instead heading to get his sore back checked out by the New York Mets' doctors. Manager Joe Torre doesn't expect Wright to come back, even if Team USA advances to San Francisco. Look for someone to take his spot on the roster. Jeff Passan thinks David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals is the best candidate.

Do the Americans have another super hero? We all kinda fell in love with the "Captain America" nickname that Wright took on. Now Team USA needs a Thor or an Iron Man or a Batman to come and take the place of Wright, who was the team's hottest hitter heading into Thursday. Paging Giancarlo Stanton.

What are Team USA's chances of winning the whole thing? Well, those took a hit on Thursday. Coming out of this pool as a top-seed would be preferred (it offers more time to rest and it puts off playing Japan), but that's not looking as likely now. If the Americans are going to win, they've got a fight ahead of them. It's not impossible. But it won't be easy either.

Are you ready for opening day?
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