Do you think Abner Doubleday could have envisioned that baseball would be played worldwide? Chevrolet tried to show the symbolism of America as “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”. Baseball has risen to a fever pitch worldwide as witnessed in the World Baseball Classic. Team USA is about to attempt something they’ve never done – win the World Baseball Classic. Heck, they’ve never even had a chance to play in the finals. A huge part of why they are on the brink of world baseball domination is because of the efforts of Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark.
Roark had been quiet through much of the WBC, pitching just 1 ¹/³ innings in the opening round during Team USA’s loss to the Dominican Republic when he came into the game in relief of starter Marcus Stroman. Following that rough outing, Roark wasn’t seen again for 10 days until he took the mound as the starter in the semi-finals last night as Team USA took on Team Japan. Roark pitched a gem, throwing 4 scoreless innings and giving up just 2 hits and 1 walk on an efficient 48 pitches. He was on a 50 pitch limit thanks to nine days of wasting away doing nothing, so he unfortunately wasn’t able to extend his start into the 5th inning.
I think former Nat, Kevin Frandsen, said it best with his tweet:
— Kevin Frandsen (@KevinFrandsen) March 22, 2017
After the game, Team USA manager Jim Leyland spoke on having Roark start the pivotal win-or-go-home match-up.
“We haven’t changed anything. Tanner Roark was loyal to us. We were loyal to him. He pitched tonight. He did pretty good, didn’t he? It’s amazing when you believe in people what happens a lot of times. I know a lot of people were questioning that guy starting tonight. I know they were. They didn’t say anything, but they were probably questioning it. But a lot of times when you have confidence in somebody, they pay you back.”
That quote from Jim Leyland… enrages me!
First, I heard that rumor about starting pitcher Chris Archer declined to return to Team USA, leaving Roark as the only viable option to start the game. I know others heard the rumor that Leyland chose not to bring Archer back and instead planned on starting Roark, apparently due to feelings of loyalty. How about you chose to start Roark because he is a really good pitcher? Skill didn’t seem to factor into Leyland’s thinking. And why not? Because, apparently, Roark only rocked his start because Leyland had faith in him.
Perhaps I need to introduce you to Tanner Roark, Jim Leyland. Y’all have clearly never met before, despite your claims that you’ve seen him from afar.
Roark has been a quiet, consistent work horse for the Nats for years. As part of the starting rotation for the Washington Nationals in 2014, he finished the season ranked 10th amongst all pitchers in WAR. After a slightly down 2015 campaign that saw him coming out of the bullpen, Roark rebounded in 2016. He ranked 6th amongst all pitchers in WAR, 6th in ERA (Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was 8th), and 10th in wins, and ended up 10th in Cy Young voting.
In short, Roark didn’t need Jim Leyland’s belief in him in order to pitch like a beast. He is perfectly capable of that feat all on his own.
I feel like Leyland’s comments made it seem that he felt it was a risk naming Roark as the starter. Stating that he did it out of “loyalty,” and it worked out because when you believe in someone, they return that with a good performance is self-serving in my opinion. That is a massive slap in the face to Roark and the impressive body of work he has put together over the past few years. As Nats fans know, Roark is one of the most, if not THE most, underrated pitchers in the game. To have the Team USA manager act like he was doing Roark a solid by throwing him a bone because he stuck it out with the team is ridiculous, and, quite frankly, rude.
This sense of “loyalty” doesn’t seem to extend to the entire team. Daniel Murphy, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Bregman, and Josh Harrison have all been with the team and have seen little of anything but the bench. I understand that it’s a team stacked with talent, but if “loyalty” is how Leyland makes managerial decisions, he certainly doesn’t apply that idea equally. Murphy and Goldschmidt are former All-Stars and considered two of the best players in baseball. Surely in 8 games you could find a way to get these stars a few more starts and make them feel like contributors to the team. They were asked to be on this team and accepted an invitation that others rejected.
Leyland has already stated that, out of “loyalty,” he’s sticking with last night’s lineup for the final, except for changing out Buster Posey for Jonathan Lucroy at catcher. We’ll see if the 2016 NL MVP candidate and Batting Crown runner-up Murphy (or any of the other forgotten guys) manages to make it off the bench at any time during the game tonight. The fact that Daniel Murphy stayed with this team shows his high character and his loyalty even though it has not been returned by Leyland.
All my anger and frustrations aside, go Team USA, for #UnitedWeGrind and we’re doing it all #ForGlory.