WBC 2023 – How Team USA is managing MLB playoff-level stress

PHOENIX — Just over 5 months since he made his first MLB postseason look with the New York Mets, Pete Alonso was gearing up for an additional pressure-filled stretch of baseball — this time, for Team USA.

“My first playoff experience was this past season,” Alonso advised the gathered crowd at World Baseball Classic media day. “It was only three games and it was a short-lived playoff experience. And after we were done, the feeling I came back with was, ‘Man, I want more of this.’

“Because that playoff baseball feeling, it is addictive. And I wish to put myself in each alternative to be in these high-pressure, high-leverage conditions. I imply, stress is a privilege.”

Longtime St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, an experienced MLB playoff veteran, was sitting next to Alonso and nodded in agreement. When the news conference ended, Wainwright was still smiling about what his Team USA teammate had said.

“Pressure is a privilege,” he said to Alonso as they got up from their chairs. “Man, that is good.”

It’s an attitude the entire team has embraced during the opening round of the WBC. As the defending champions from 2017, anything less than a deep run for Team USA would be considered a disappointment. With each pressure-packed at-bat, scrutinized pitching decision or unifying rally, it has become clear that October arrived early this year.

“There’s going to be some large video games arising,” all-world outfielder Mike Trout said earlier in the week. “We do not all the time get that right now of 12 months.”

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And the games keep getting bigger for Team USA, which has had to be in win-or-go-home mode for much of this WBC. After a surprise loss to Mexico, the U.S. went from group favorite to in danger of being eliminated with another slipup. The squad rebounded with wins over Canada and Mexico to reach the knockout rounds. The U.S. will now face Cuba in the semis (7 p.m., Sunday) after a dramatic come-from-behind quarterfinal victory over Venezuela on Saturday night.

For some on Team USA — including Trout — these games are a chance to experience a playoff-caliber environment they have not had often during their major league careers.

“I used to be speaking to [Kyle] Schwarber, who has a variety of postseason expertise,” center fielder Cedric Mullins said. “He was telling me, nothing beats it. Now I’m feeling it. I perceive it a bit.”

One of six players on the roster who have no MLB playoff experience, Mullins hit a triple on the very first pitch he saw during a nine-run first-inning in a must-win game against Canada. White Sox infielder Tim Anderson, who has played in seven total MLB playoff games, helped spark the U.S. by providing two hits at the plate and playing second base for the first time in his career.

“It does really feel just like the playoffs, a bit,” Anderson said. “You by no means know when you are going to get again there, so it’s important to embrace it.”

Anderson is not the one participant prepared to alter his routine to assist the staff — key in each the MLB postseason in October and the WBC in March. Normally a starter for the Kansas City Royals, Brady Singer is pitching out of the bullpen for Team USA. He struggled in opposition to Mexico, giving up 4 runs in two innings, however his willingness to adapt allowed supervisor Mark DeRosa to arrange his pitching to cowl sufficient innings to advance regardless of difficult limitations throughout his pitching employees.

“A little different role coming out of the bullpen,” Singer mentioned. “Wouldn’t want to do it any other way. I just want to pitch.”

A teammate of Singer on the Royals, 22-year-old Bobby Witt Jr. knew that his WBC expertise would possibly include few alternatives to make an impression on the sphere — however that hasn’t stopped the youngest participant on the U.S. roster from absorbing the playoff-like ambiance.

“I’m getting October in March,” mentioned Witt, who hit a pinch-hit RBI double in his first at-bat in opposition to Mexico. “It’s an honor to be part of this team. The guys told me you have to enjoy every moment because you never know when it’s going to be the last time to play in games like this.”

For even essentially the most playoff-tested members of the Team USA roster, there is a component that provides stress the gamers have not typically felt in October: the one-and-done format of the knockout rounds.

“I haven’t played in a tournament in a long time,” mentioned Team USA and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner, who hit a quarterfinal grand slam that put his staff within the semifinals of this match. “It’s a funny concept because we’re not used to it.”

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“[In MLB] you play six, seven months to play in [the] postseason. Now it’s just a sprint. You’re in there and you’re wearing a different jersey and you have guys from different teams. You’re trying to come together. There’s such a unique experience.”

And as an alternative of on the finish of a protracted season, it is coming on the very starting. After three years of canceled or abbreviated spring trainings, this 12 months a choose group of gamers have one thing much more impactful: significant video games.

“To be able to feel that right off the rip and during a normal spring training time, it’s a rare opportunity, especially with this team,” Alonso mentioned. “It’s an extremely rare opportunity. And hopefully I can learn from this experience and just continue to chase those feelings.”