Team Israel Outmatched at World Baseball Classic

Team Israel Outmatched at World Baseball Classic

Team Israel was forced to battle heavyweights like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in the first round.

Garrett Stubbs, who has been on two different pennant-winning teams over the past couple Octobers, had the biggest hit for Team Israel during this past World Baseball Classic with his two-run double against Nicaragua // Photo Credit: Rob Tringali/MLB Photos
Garrett Stubbs, who has been on two different pennant-winning teams over the past couple Octobers, had the biggest hit for Team Israel during this past World Baseball Classic with his two-run double against Nicaragua // Photo Credit: Rob Tringali/MLB Photos

There’s a reason they called it the “Pool of Death.”

After a stirring 3-1 opening-round, Game 1 win against Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic, Team Israel dropped its next three games against the heavyweights of Pool D—Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, by scores of 10-0, 10-0, and 5-1, respectively—resulting in their elimination from this year’s WBC.

Unlike the 2017 edition of Team Israel, which had an impressive run given its many amateur and Minor League players, this year’s club, managed by first-time skipper and former big league All-Star Ian Kinsler, was stacked with Major Leaguers, albeit without the services of Max Fried and Alex Bregman, the latter of whom opted out, primarily because he is recovering from a broken left index finger suffered during the World Series.

Team Israel was outscored by a collective margin of 25-1 in its final three games (it didn’t get a runner on base in the shutout loss to Puerto Rico) but, by virtue of finishing in fourth place out of the five-team pool, Israel punched its ticket to the next World Baseball Classic in 2026.

“It’s a good gauge for these guys to understand the level of play, what it takes to win games here,” said Kinsler before Team Israel took on Venezuela in its final WBC game. “I think in the past Team Israel has been in pools that are a little bit more friendly.

“You know, this is obviously…going into the tournament everyone knew this pool was the most difficult. Basically, three All-Star teams, Major League All-Star teams. It was very difficult for Team Israel, ourselves, and Nicaragua. It’s just a difficult pool.

“So, for our players, for them to understand that, to experience that, and know what it feels like to play at this level, is important.”

Hours later, following Israel’s 5-1 loss to Ronald Acuña, Jr. and the Venezuela team, one that would ultimately fall to the U.S. in the quarterfinals, Kinsler was asked what he considered to be the highlight of Team Israel’s four-game stint at the WBC, held at Miami’s LoanDepot Park earlier this month. The answer: the eye-opening performance of Jacob Steinmetz, the 19-year-old native of Woodmere, N.Y., who became the first Orthodox Jew to be drafted by Major League Baseball when the Arizona Diamondbacks called his name in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft.

Nineteen-year-old Jacob Steinmetz caught the attention of baseball fans worldwide–not to mention All-Stars on the Dominican Republic team–with his impressive work in Game 3 // Photo Credit: Rob Tringali/MLB Photos

Indeed, in Team Israel’s third game of this year’s WBC, an eventual 10-0 loss to the DR, Steinmetz showed tremendous poise while flashing signs of boundless potential by whiffing three household names: six-time All-Star Manny Machado, two-time All-Star Gary Sánchez, and 2022 ALCS and World Series MVP Jeremy Peña. Although Kinsler, well aware of Arizona’s investment in the young righty, pulled Steinmetz in the second frame, the stud teen pitcher faced the entire Dominican lineup while only yielding two hits and a single run.

“It’s a good experience for him [Steinmetz],” noted Kinsler. “It’s the loudest environment he is ever going to pitch in. He is a young age right now. He is still learning. So that’s really going to help him moving forward.

“But, you know, stuff-wise, he really showed up. He was able to calm himself down, keep his composure and throw the ball well against an obviously all-star lineup. I think it was a big confidence-builder for him.”

For Team Israel, there were confidence-builders throughout the four games in South Florida, even though the final three contests ended in lopsided defeats. Against Nicaragua, in the opener of Pool D play, the Israel ballclub, one whose journey has been largely supported by Jewish National Fund-USA and its Project Baseball initiative, was down 1-0 in the eighth inning facing Jonathan Loáisiga, the standout reliever for the New York Yankees. After Spencer Horwitz (Triple-A prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays) cracked an RBI single to tie the game, Philadelphia Phillies catcher Garrett Stubbs, who would later be removed from the World Baseball Classic with a sore knee and replaced with his younger brother, C.J., blasted a two-run double to the left-center field gap to seal the 3-1 win. Five Israel pitchers, including Israel-American starter Dean Kremer (Baltimore Orioles) limited Nicaragua to four hits while punching out 12, while big league veteran Robert Stock pitched a scoreless ninth inning to get the save.

Like many teams in the WBC whose players ultimately declined to participate because they are nursing injuries or mindful of not risking them when free agency looms, Israel’s eventual roster looked very different from how it was projected to be.

“Going into the next WBC, to be able to get commitments from the players that are eligible to play that are good big-league players,” Kinsler responded when he was asked on the final day of Israel’s WBC competition of what was needed for the team to take the next step. “So next WBC, if there’s a way for us to get ahead of that and have the roster that is available to us, I think would be important.”

Although it is unknown whether Kinsler will be the skipper for Team Israel in three years, the WBC managerial experience certainly helped him reconnect with his Jewish roots.

“Having to go to Israel and gain my citizenship was very eye opening,” acknowledged Kinsler, whose father is Jewish and grew up celebrating Chanukah and Passover on occasion. “Just getting all the information and everything that country has to offer and the historical background of the Jewish people, really, and the country of Israel.

“It just brings you closer. You just learn more and more about yourself and your family and how and why all of this is happening. I don’t think I even really know still, but the more you learn, the closer you feel for sure.”

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