Last Saturday and Sunday, team Kingdom of the Netherlands played two exhibition games vs team Samurai Japan. The two games were part of a four game series. Two were played between Mexico and Japan. For Japan it was a must to win all games, but one was lost to Mexico (7-3). The Dutch played two good games. Especially the hitting panned out very well. Are there lessons to be learned from these two games?
As written above, the hitting panned out very well. If you can score eighteen runs in total against the pitching of one of the top leagues in the world, you are doing a good job.
In total the Dutch collected 26 hits compared to the 24 hits of Japan.
Except for the two errors that were made in game one, the defense panned out rather well also. You can expect, IF players like Andrelton Simmons, Ozhaino Albies, Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregoris and Jonathan Schoop want to participate and will be granted permission by their clubs to participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, that the infield can only get better. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has a surplus of quality infielders, mostly shortstops (Simmons, Gregorius, Bogaerts). In Jonathan Schoop the Dutch will have a very good second baseman and in Jurickson Profar, who is used as utility man by the Texas Rangers, the team will have a decent third baseman, but Xander Bogaerts can play that position as well.
Curt Smith or Yurendell de Caster may be the main candidates to play at first base even though Chris Pieters and Zander Wiel may be candidates as well. The only “problem” may be that Pieters and Wiel are playing at A Short Season and A Full Season and that both haven’t played on a big stage like the World Baseball Classic before.
Also the outfield is set rather well with players like slugger Kalian Sams, Christopher Garia and Randolph Oduber. All have professional experience and all have played at AA level. Backup for the outfield positions can be Gilmer Lampe but also Christian Diaz. The latter was the best hitter of the Dutch hoofdklasse in the past season but somehow the managers of team Kingdom of the Netherlands hardly call him up. A big name that could be added is Roger Bernadina of course, but it remains to be seen if he will be called up after the issues that arose during the 2016 European Championship. Another possibility may be Matt den Dekker of the Washington Nationals if he wants to represent the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
With catcher Dashenko Ricardo the Kingdom of the Netherlands has a reliable backstop with a good bat. The back up catcher of last weekend, Gianison Boekhoudt may have to give up his spot on the WBC roster if Spencer Kieboom wants to participate and is granted permission by the Nationals. Kieboom is a fine defensive catcher but at bat there is room for improvement.
Then the pitching. The starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Diegomar Markwell did perform quite well vs Japan. But the problems arose after they were pulled, although it needs to be said that in game one, some relief pitchers did not get the help of the defense as two errors were committed. Jim Ploeger and Orlando Yntema managed to keep Japan from scoring in game one. Lars Huijer allowed one run after he replaced Berry van Driel (who allowed two runs) but he recovered pretty well. In game two the problem arose when Juan Carlos Sulbaran, who replaced Diegomar Markwell, was replaced by Wendell Floranus. With all due respect, but Floranus has never played any higher than rookie ball and the past season he played in the obscure (independent) Pecos League. So why he was selected for this trip is beyond my comprehension.
Bayron Cornelisse is a good pitcher in the Dutch hoofdklasse but in yesterday’s game he also gave up three earned runs. Jim Ploeger inherited two runners due to the tie-breaker rule but he could not prevent them to score as he allowed three of which only one was earned.
The starting pitching seems to be decent and if Rick van den Hurk wants to participate, the Dutch can have an ace in him. With Van den Hurk, there will be three starters available. With the rules of the WBC you may need more than four starters as pitchers are limited to very strict pitch counts and resting days. Assuming that the 2013 rules will be used, pitchers are limited to 65 pitches in the first round, 80 in the second round and 95 in the semi finals and final. Pitchers will have a four day rest if they have thrown 50 pitches or more. A pitcher will have one day rest if he has pitched between 30 and 50 pitches and if he has pitched two days in a row. But the schedule of group D, group E and the semi final and final for the Dutch are quite advantageous. The last game of the Dutch in group D will be played on March 9, the first on March 7. Assuming that the Dutch will advance to group E, the starting pitcher of March 7 can pitch on March 12 (in group E). The semi-finals will be played on March 20,21 and 22, so the Dutch can still use their best pitcher in that semi-final.
The achilles heel appears to be the relief pitching. Of the afore mentioned pitchers that were used as a reliever, Sulbaran, Huijer and Ploeger may be the best options next to Loek van Mil and Tom de Blok. But with closer Kenley Jansen that would only make six relief pitchers and that may be not enough. But in March 2017, Kevin Heijstek will be available again so that will be one extra. And in Heijstek and Huijer the Dutch will have two regular starters that can fill in case one of the aforementioned starters will get injured.
At the areas of starting pitching, catching, infield and outfield the team has a pretty good lineup but when it comes to relief pitching, there may be some room for improvement.