This year’s World Baseball Classic featured many star-studded lineups. The Netherlands, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and United States boast deep rosters with many major league stars. Israel entered the 2017 tournament with by far the lowest world ranking at 41. The next lowest ranked team in the tournament was Colombia at 19. The low ranking and thin roster for Israel made their run of success the talk of this year’s tournament.
Israel’s 2017 WBC Success
Israel’s impressive stretch began with a 2-1 win against Pool A host South Korea. The stars of the evening were pitchers Jason Marquis and Josh Zeid. The duo combined for six innings of shutout ball with seven strikeouts and just three hits allowed. Infielder Scott Burcham provided the winning run with an RBI single in the 10th inning.
Israel would face fourth ranked Chinese Taipei in their second game. Israel’s offense exploded for their most impressive offensive output of the entire tournament. Led by first baseman Nate Freiman and catcher Ryan Lavarnway, Israel scored 15 runs as part of the 15-7 rout.
In their final game of the first round, Israel faced the Netherlands. The Dutch put up a strong roster of MLB stars including Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorious, Andrelton Simmons, Kenley Jansen, and Jonathan Schoop. However, Team Israel would not be denied a perfect slate in the opening round. Freiman and Lavarnway proved to be big again with each posting an RBI. Marquis got the start on the mound and Zeid did the heavy lifting late in the game, combining for 2.2 scoreless innings. The Dutch could only muster two scattered runs in the 4-2 victory for Israel.
Israel advanced to the second round as winners of Pool A. They were the only team of the pool to post a perfect 3-0 record in the first round. Despite making their debut appearance in the WBC, Israel knocked off three teams with a top-10 world ranking in the opening round.
Pool A MVP
Ryan Lavarnway was named MVP of Pool A for his offensive performance. The catcher posted five hits, three RBI, a home run, and a .692 OBP. Lavarnway should also get some credit for his work with Israel’s pitching staff. Israel’s pitching staff allowed 10 runs, but that number fails to demonstrate how truly effective they performed. Seven of those runs were allowed in the rout of Chinese-Taipei where the end result was never in question. Team Israel’s pitchers performed exceptionally well in tight games against stiff competition.
Israel kicked off the second round with another strong outing. Behind another strong outing from Lavarnway and outfielder Blake Gailen, Team Israel upset Cuba by the score of 4-1. Marquis put on another fantastic display from the mound with 5.2 innings of one run ball with four strikeouts. Unfortunately, this would be the end of Israel’s ride as Cinderella. Israel’s offense that averaged over six runs per game for the first four games went suddenly cold. Japan and the Netherlands outscored Israel by 15 runs over the final two games. Israel finished their time at the WBC with a record of 4-2 with all four wins coming against teams ranked top-10 worldwide.
Baseball is a game that is still trying to find a solid footing within Israel. Seeing the nation represented and competitive on a global scale will draw more Israelis to the game. In fact, a campaign to build the first regulation baseball stadium inside Israel saw an increase in donations following Israel’s WBC run. There is no doubt some short-term disappointment that Israel fell short of a championship. However, the long-term impact of Israel’s WBC run remains to be seen.
Paul Harvey, Managing Editor
Paul is a native and current resident of Georgia. He is an avid fan and lifelong student of the game of baseball and joined the LWOS team and baseball department in the summer of 2016. In addition to covering baseball, Paul can be found covering college football news with Saturday Down South & Saturday Tradition. You can check him out on Twitter: @HammerHarvey.