Despite not having players from Major League Baseball available, Team USA’s baseball squad was still expected to make a long run in Tokyo. The Mike Scioscia-led ballclub benefits from the services of experienced MLB veterans and promising prospects alike. Furthermore, the United States will have on their sides some of the most successful stars from leagues in other countries. All of this sets a considerably high bar for the Americans, who are anticipated to give host nation and favorite Japan a run for their money.
Speaking of American stars outside of North America making an impact for USA Baseball this summer, this was precisely the case during the team’s opening game on Friday. In Yokohama, the USA heavily defeated Israel by a score of 8-1, sending the Israelis to an 0-2 record. Meanwhile, the biggest contributor for the winners was a player who started his career with the New York Yankees – outfielder Tyler Austin.
Austin is now a member of the Yokohama BayStars in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball. He joined the likes of Triston Casas and Eddy Alvarez in securing an important victory in the first of two group stage showdowns. Moreover, a minor-leaguer within the ranks of the Minnesota Twins shut down Israel’s lineup in a satisfying Game-One start.
Here is everything you need to know from the USA’s return to Olympic baseball after thirteen years.
The international game is very different from Major League Baseball, both in terms of quality and the high-profile names that are involved. However, the starting pitcher for the United States of America in their opening game was a player who has very recently been under the spotlight in the MLB circles, albeit indirectly.
That was 25-year-old right-hander Joe Ryan, who is currently playing at the Triple-A level. The more regular followers of MLB, especially near the trade deadline, would recall that Ryan was a part of a major deal that took place between his former club, the Tampa Bay Rays, and his new team, the Twins. On July 22nd, he was dealt to Minnesota alongside pitcher Drew Trotman. In return, well-known power-hitter Nelson Cruz arrived in Tampa to boost the Rays’ championship ambitions. All of this ensued while he was on temporary leave with Team USA en route to their Olympic campaign.
A former seventh-round pick, Ryan is now the No.8 prospect within the Twins farm system, per MLB Pipeline. Alongside the likes of Edwin Jackson and David Robertson, he is bound to be amongst the best assets Scioscia has on the mound. Moreover, his leading spot in the rotation is hard to question. And on Friday, Joe Ryan did not fail to live up to his high expectations.
The 2018 Rays draftee pitched six innings in his inaugural Olympic start, allowing just five hits and one run. That was accompanied by five strikeouts and a clean outing for the bullpen. The relief staff, which consisted of such throwers as Cardinals veteran Brandon Dickson and career minor-leaguer Anthony Carter, conceded just two hits across three innings of work.
Furthermore, their support at the plate was impeccable. The Americans took a three-run lead in the third inning, in large part thanks to Tyler Austin’s two-run home run. In the following inning, Israel got one back via a lead-off big fly by Danny Valencia. Valencia played nine seasons in the majors with Minnesota, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle, and Kansas City.
However, his actions were not enough to spark a comeback for the 0-1 ballclub. Instead, Team USA ended the matchup by scoring five consecutive runs between the sixth and the ninth inning. A Bubba Starling single got the streak going, before a big outburst in the seventh thanks to doubles by Austin and Alvarez. In the last pair of innings, Starling and Casas each drove in a run, completing the final 8-1 margin in the US’s favor.
For Israel, Joey Wagman took the mound, receiving a loss after surrendering three runs across three innings. Wagman is currently under contract for Temp Praha and is the only member of the Czech Extraliga from either squad. Furthermore, after AA pitcher David Sharabi took over the duties for the next two innings, five more pitchers would throw through the remainder of the game, none of which went more than one innings.
At the plate, it should be clear by now who had the heroics against his name. Tyler Austin and Eddy Alvarez were the most productive offensively for Team USA with three hits each. Moreover, Austin had three RBI, with the former Marlin trailing him by a single unit. Meanwhile, Seattle minor-leaguer Eric Filia also reached base twice. For the losing team, Orioles MiLB catcher Ryan Lavarnway posted the lone two-hit performance of Israel’s second loss on the spin.
Win – Joe Ryan (1-0)
Loss – Joey Wagman (0-1)
- Tyler Austin is perhaps the player with the best 2021 campaign on the USA’s roster. With a three-hit, three-RBI turnout on Friday, the Yankees draftee proved he is ready to keep his bat hot while with the American Olympic team. For the Yokohama BayStars, he has put on a stat line of .314/.413/.603. By virtue of these figures, Austin ranks first in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and seventh in batting average, in NPB’s Central League.
- Eddy Alvarez also had a successful day in Yokohama, as did top Boston Red Sox prospect Tristan Casas. The third-baseman, who is ranked under No.30 in MLB, went 1-for-5 with a strikeout and an RBI. While that does not seem too impressive, it is reflective of his .354 OBP in Double-A. Both numbers are fairly underwhelming considering Casas’s high-profile status. It is bound to be interesting if he will continue to be noticeably behind the likes of Austin, Alvarez, and Bubby Starling in production. The sample of the Olympic tournament is too small for its stats to be indicative of any form at the plate though.
- Eric Filia’s satisfying two-hit display also matches his short-term minor-league shape. Not only that but his performance over a bigger workload has seen him impress the Mariners organization. Since Filia’s move to Triple-A Tacoma, he has averaged an on-base figure of .425. This includes an OBP of .371 during the 2021 minor-league campaign. As mentioned, a shorter event opens the door for extreme values over what would be a random sample in a regular MiLB season. Therefore, it is difficult to predict with certainty whether or not Filia can carry his MiLB effectiveness over to the Olympics.
- Team USA had a tremendous stress-free day on Friday on the mound. This resulted in much-needed rest for big names like Robertson and Jackson. David Robertson could have already been secured as the potential closer of the pitching staff. That means Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, and Simeon Woods-Richardson are the candidates to start Game Two.
Team USA faces South Korea on Saturday morning with hopes of finishing first in Group B. At stake is a bye to the second round of the double-elimination bracket. Also, the winner will get to face the leader of Group A in that game, most likely host nation and odd-on favorite Japan.
South Korea won the last contest between the two sides. That happened at the Super Round of the 2019 Premier12 when the US lost their round opener by a score of 5-1 at the Tokyo Dome. In the meantime, the two teams did not face one another in the 2017 World Baseball Classic as the Koreans failed to escape the pool they hosted in the first round. Team USA won that competition, defeating Puerto Rico for their first WBC title.
The showdown is scheduled to start at 7 pm local time. This is 6 am ET/5 am CT/4 am MT/3 am PT in the United States. The game is also to be broadcast live in its entirety on the NBC Sports Network.
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