In the middle of the long and sometimes monotonous spring for the Giants, Wednesday will bring a little extra excitement.
Under the lights. On television. Against Team USA and its loaded roster in the lead-up to the World Baseball Classic.
“It’s just exciting,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “I think international baseball is really important for our sport, our sport’s expansion. For everybody in the industry, it’s a good thing, the World Baseball Classic is a good thing. To get a glimpse of Team USA is gonna be fun.”
The World Baseball Classic starts Wednesday, with games in the Far East in Pools A and B. All of the teams in Pool C – Canada, Colombia, Great Britain, Mexico and Team USA – will play two exhibition games this week against MLB teams throughout Arizona.
Team USA is facing the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday at 6:05 p.m. PT, with the game airing on NBC Sports Bay Area locally and MLB Network nationally, before playing the Angels on Thursday. Pool C begins on Saturday at Chase Field with Colombia against Mexico at 11:30 a.m. PT and the U.S. facing Great Britain at 6 p.m. PT.
Team USA is using the Giants’ minor league facility for a workout day Tuesday, the first time that the star-studded roster — Paul Goldschmidt, Trea Turner, Tim Anderson and Nolan Arenado in the infield, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts in the outfield and one of J.T. Realmuto or Will Smith behind the plate — was able to get together.
“They put together a really good roster,” said Brandon Crawford, who was on the Team USA roster in 2017, the most recent tournament. “It’ll be fun to see all of those guys on the same team and just to compete against them.”
There are no Giants on Team USA this year, but Crawford was a key part of the team that won the Americans’ first WBC title six years ago, batting .385 with 10 hits (three doubles and a triple) and six RBI in eight games.
In Crawford’s eyes, the exhibition games don’t matter for Team USA on the field — he laughed as he recalled he didn’t have any hits in the two 2017 exhibition games — as much as they do as a chance for the players to jell.
“You don’t get a whole lot of time together before the tournament starts,” Crawford said. “I think that makes every day that you have together important, whether it’s a practice or an exhibition game. You just get such limited reps with each other that you’re trying to still get to know each other while the tournament’s going on.”
While Wednesday’s exhibition might have a little extra energy in the crowd for the Giants’ side, it’ll feel docile for Team USA compared to what the WBC games bring.
“It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere, where if you lose a couple of games, you’re out,” Crawford said. That’s part of what made it fun, but you have to be sharp right away, right out of the games.”
Kapler said the Giants will have a “good team out there” to compete against the stars of Team USA. Joc Pederson said he will be in the lineup, even though he’ll be playing for Team Israel in the WBC (he’s not flying to Miami for Israel’s Pool D games until the end of this week).
Starters Anthony DeSclafani and Sean Manaea are both expected to pitch. Each player said that they’re approaching the game like a spring start, but the lineup they will face is much different from a typical spring training batting order.
“I’m probably going to have to be really tuned in and dialed in, and probably more fine-tuned than other lineups,” DeSclafani said. “Everyone’s pretty damn good, so it’s going to be fun.”
Manaea added, “It’s amazing. Obviously, I’ve played against probably most of them, but as a full squad, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
But it’s still an exhibition game and part of the Giants’ long ramp-up to Opening Day in the Bronx at the end of the month, so Kapler isn’t going to keep the starters into the later innings.
“We have our most important job at hand, which is to build our players up and have them be healthy and not put anybody at risk,” Kapler said. “We’re gonna get our players the work that they need and then we’ll have a wave of backup players like we always do that we expect can do the job for us and provide a good competitive at-bat versus Team USA pitchers and throw good quality strikes against their hitters.”
And while the Giants have two big league players in the tournament — Pederson for Israel and closer Camilo Doval for the Dominican Republic — most of the American-born Giants will be rooting for Team USA after Wednesday’s exhibition.
“I’m American, I played for them,” Crawford said. “It’s a tough competition, but I’ll be rooting for them.”
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