Coming into the spring, the Dominican Republic was considered one of the favorites to win the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Their imposing lineup included the likes of Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez, and other fearsome hitters resembled an All-Star Game starting nine. Yet with a 5-2 loss to Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, the Dominican Republic was eliminated from the WBC after playing just the minimum four-game slate. Pool D will instead send Venezuela and Puerto Rico -- who won in bittersweet fashion as Edwin Díaz was hurt in the post-game celebration -- to the quarterfinals.
Just what went wrong for the Dominican Republic? Here are four factors that led to their earlier-than-expected exit.
1. Poor sequencing
On an aggregate, team-wide level, the Dominican Republic played well. Need evidence? They ranked third in ERA as a pitching staff, and ninth in OPS as a lineup. The catch is that they did not score as many runs as you would expect based on the second part, as they checked in at 12th in that category.
For perspective, each of the eight teams with a higher OPS than the Dominican Republic scored at least 23 runs. The DR, meanwhile, scored just 19. Would four more runs have made the difference? Well, they wouldn't have hurt. The Dominicans lost by four to Venezuela, and by three to Puerto Rico.
Beyond that, the Dominican Republic lineup left a combined 20 runners on base in two defeats. Had they cashed in a few more times, they may have been in position to advance to the next round. They didn't, so they won't.
2. Tough pool
We highlighted some of the Dominican Republic's statistics above, so it's only fair that we print more numbers to illustrate the toughness of Pool D.
To wit, the pool had three of the 10 highest OPS in the 20-team tournament between Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico ranked fourth in runs scored and fourth in ERA. Venezuela was tied for ninth in runs scored and second in ERA. Factor in how the Dominican Republic ranked third in ERA, and there were clearly three worthy teams in the division.
To the Dominican Republic's chagrin, they ended up with the short straw.
3. Compromised roster
To be fair, almost every WBC team lost a player or two to injury. The Dominican Republic roster was no different, as it was weakened by ill-timed ails. First baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had to withdraw in spring after hurting his knee, and relievers José Leclerc and Jarlin Garcia also pulled out.
Would the Dominicans have enjoyed a better fate if those three had been available? It's impossible to say. Guerrero's stand-in Jeimer Candelario did hit well, but it's easy to understate the significance of having two other big-league quality relievers to call upon in a tournament that has strict usage rules.
We'll note that Soto had been dealing with a calf injury of his own heading into the tournament. He still played well, however, making it a moot point.
4. The WBC structure
Let's face it, weird things happen in baseball over small samples. To put it in different terms: the smaller the sample, the bigger the error bars. Just last season, the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates won five of the six games they played against the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. It didn't mean the Pirates were good, and it didn't mean the Dodgers were bad. It was just baseball.
In this case, the Dominican Republic played four games and lost two of them. Both of those L's came against the teams who advanced from their pool. If the Dominican Republic had been afforded a three-game set against each, or a best-of-seven series, who knows? Maybe the Dominicans advance.
Alas, the WBC isn't the length of Major League Baseball's regular season. It's not even the length of the postseason. It's simply organized chaos disguised as baseball, a short sprint of pool play followed by a series of elimination games. The last team left standing is crowned champion, but they aren't necessarily the best team -- they were just the team that was best at surviving.
That wasn't the Dominican Republic this year.