USA vs. Puerto Rico: Pagan and Mauer Are Keys to Their Team's Success

Jonathan Munshaw@@jon_munshawCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2013

Catcher Joe Mauer, who leads Team USA in hits, will need to perform well tonight if the Americans want to avoid elimination.
Catcher Joe Mauer, who leads Team USA in hits, will need to perform well tonight if the Americans want to avoid elimination.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Team USA and Team Puerto Rico take the field tonight, both teams will be facing elimination from the World Baseball Classic.

The Americans, coming off a loss in the ninth inning last night to the Dominican Republic, need Joe Mauer to step up if they want to avoid elimination.

On the other side of the field, Puerto Rico will need their biggest name, outfielder Angel Pagan, to put runs across the plate if they want to advance and take care of Team USA, who was a favorite to win it all heading into the tournament.

The two teams have already faced in the WBC, with Team USA coming out on top 7-1. They'll look to repeat that performance tonight with Ryan Vogelsong of the San Francisco Giants on the mound.

While pitching hasn't been a problem for the Americans, their batting has slowed down, especially with the loss of third baseman David Wright. 

Enter Joe Mauer.

Mauer has been batting cleanup for the Americans, behind Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun.

Rollins and Phillips can certainly get on base, but it falls on Mauer to drive them in, something that the Americans couldn't do last night, only scoring one run.

Team USA is certainly capable of scoring runs, as they put up six against Italy and nine against Canada in previous games.

But in this elimination game, Mauer needs to show up in a big way. The Minnesota Twins' catcher leads the team in batting average and hits but only has two runs batted in. Wright was leading the team with 10 until he was sidelined with the rib injury.

The Americans were stonewalled by Dominican pitching last night, and if they want to win tonight, Mauer needs to be able to drive runs across the plate. 

Puerto Rico's pitching staff is open to giving up runs tonight, as they'll have 38-year-old Nelson Figueroa on the mound, who gave up two runs on five hits in four innings against Venezuela.

Mauer doesn't have a home run yet in the WBC, and this game would be the perfect time for him to show some of his power and inject Team USA's lineup with the energy its lacked so far.

The same applies to outfielder Angel Pagan for Puerto Rico, who has been batting leadoff for a team that averages just over three runs per game.

If Puerto Rico wants to pull off the upset, they'll need Pagan to play well. In the team's 6-3 win over Venezuela, Pagan went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. 

However, Pagan only has two RBI, and he still hasn't hit a homer, although he does have two stolen bases.

Pagan has an on-base percentage of .409, and if he can get on, shortstop Mike Aviles can drive him in, as Aviles has seven RBI in the WBC.

Team USA's bullpen is also hurting, as they will likely try to avoid using closer Craig Kimbrel, who gave up two runs in a non-save situation against the Dominican Republic. 

In Vogelsong's first start, he gave up two runs on six hits in four innings, and reliever Steve Cishek has a 3.86 ERA. 

If Pagan has a big game, it will influence the rest of the lineup for Puerto Rico, who can capitalize on the struggling Kimbrel.

No matter who comes out on top in this game, Pagan and Mauer will be the deciding factors in the game for both teams, and great play from one of these players will give their team a huge advantage.