The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are fully underway, and relevant to the mission of this space is that the baseball tournament begins on Tuesday.
Baseball has not been an Olympic sport since 2008, so this marks a welcome return for those of us invested in the sport. As for the United States, they'll be trying to win gold for the first time since 2000, and they'll be competing with five other teams for top honors. Those five other teams are the Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea.
We've already devoted some bandwidth to the tournament at large, so now let's narrow our focus to Team USA. For the convenience of today's harried sales professional, we'll do this preview in digestible FAQ format, which has proved to increase reader engagement and carries with it the side benefit of relieving the writer of the burdens of smooth continuity and transition prose. Shall we begin? It would seem we have no choice.
What's the roster?
Here is Team USA's 24-man roster for the Tokyo Olympics, broken down by role/position.
- Shane Baz (Rays)
- Anthony Carter
- Brandon Dickson (Cardinals)
- Anthony Gose (Cleveland)
- Edwin Jackson
- Scott Kazmir (Giants)
- Nick Martinez
- Scott McGough
- David Robertson
- Joe Ryan (Rays)
- Ryder Ryan (Rangers)
- Simeon Woods-Richardson (Blue Jays)
- Nick Allen (Athletics)
- Eddy Alvarez (Marlins)
- Triston Casas (Red Sox)
- Todd Frazier
- Jamie Westbrook (Brewers)
- Tyler Austin
- Eric Filia (Mariners)
- Patrick Kivlehan (Padres)
- Jack Lopez (Red Sox)
- Bubba Starling (Royals)
Those without any listed team are presently free agents or are playing in unaffiliated leagues. The most notable veterans on the roster are Kazmir, Frazier, and Jackson. Kazmir and Frazier appeared in the majors this season and have made multiple All-Star appearances in their careers. Jackson, meanwhile, pitched parts of 17 seasons in the majors for 14 different clubs. He last appeared in the bigs in 2019. Gose also had an MLB career of note, albeit as an outfielder rather than a pitcher.
The majority of the roster is populated by minor leaguers who aren't on any major league 40-man rosters. Among the prospects, Baz, Woods-Richardson, Casas, and Allen probably have the highest long-term ceilings and figure to have major league careers of varying length and impact. Baz is probably the closest to an elite prospect on the roster.
To be sure, the 24 names above are 24 of the best baseball players on the planet, but they're not, say, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jacob deGrom. More on that in a moment.
Elsewhere, Mike Scioscia will manage Team USA, and his coaching staff includes Jerry Weinstein (bench coach), Dave Wallace (pitching coach), Ernie Young (hitting and first base coach), Darren Fenster (third base coach), and Roly de Armas (bullpen coach).
How'd they get here?
The U.S. baseball squadron earned a spot in the Tokyo Games by winning the Baseball Americas Qualification Event, which was held in June in Florida. A 4-2 win over Venezuela on June 6 ensured that the U.S. would be among the six teams heading to Tokyo. Overall, Team USA finished the Qualifier tournament with a 4-0 record including wins over Canada, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and -- as noted -- Venezuela.
After securing their berth in the Olympic tournament, Team USA swept a three-game exhibition series against the Collegiate National Team.
So the U.S. is the favorite, right?
Nope. While the U.S. is one of the stronger teams in Tokyo, you'll note the absence of current MLB players from the roster. MLB's unwillingness to clear active players for Olympic participation stands in contrast to NPB (Japan) and KBO (Korea). Those two major leagues are allowing their players to be Olympians (and even pausing their seasons for the Olympics), which explains why host Japan enters the tournament as the favorite. Put frankly, Japan and South Korea are fielding teams of their best players (with a couple of notable exceptions like Shohei Ohtani). The U.S. is fielding a team of very good players but not the very best American baseball players. The lack of MLB players has of course also greatly diminished what could've been a powerhouse Dominican Republic team.
While sportsbook odds aren't the perfect guide to such things, in this instance they pretty much reflect the realities of the Olympic baseball tournament for 2021 (via William Hill Sportsbook):
- Japan: +150
- South Korea: +300
- United States: +300
- Dominican Republic: +600
- Mexico: +1000
- Israel: +2500
The odds suggest the U.S. should medal, but winning gold would be something of an upset.
How has the U.S. fared in past Olympic baseball tournaments?
As noted above, the U.S. last won gold in 2000. While noting that baseball has been a medal sport since just 1992 and intermittently at that, here's a look at how Team USA had placed over the years:
- 1992 Barcelona - No medal
- 1996 Atlanta - Bronze
- 2000 Sydney - Gold
- 2004 Athens - No medal
- 2008 Beijing - Bronze
So this year the U.S. will be trying to win gold in baseball for just the second time. If they fail, they won't get another chance until at least 2028, as baseball isn't part of the Olympic program for the 2024 games in Paris.
When do things get started?
Team USA's first game is against Israel on Friday, July 30 at 6 a.m. ET. Next up will be South Korea on Saturday, July 31 at 6 a.m. ET. The full tournament schedule (including TV channel and live stream information) can be viewed here. For more on how the format will work, you can check out our Olympic baseball preview.