Mar 1, 2013, 10:00 AM EDT
While we’re still a week away from any World Baseball Classic play in North America, the tournament kicks off in Japan and Taiwan on Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.), with eight teams in two pools participating in round-robin play.
Pool A (Japan, March 2-6): Brazil, China, Cuba, Japan
Pool B: (Taiwan, March 2-5): Australia, Chinese Taipei, The Netherlands, South Korea
Pool C: (Puerto Rico, March 7-10): Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela
Pool D: (U.S., March 7-10): Canada, Italy, Mexico, United States
The top two teams in each pool advance into the second round. Pool A & B winners will play in Japan (March 8-12), while Pool C & D winners will play in Miami (March 12-16). Those will be modified double-elimination tournaments. The single-elimination semifinals and finals will take place in San Francisco (March 17-19).
The two-time defending WBC champs will go it without a single MLB player this time, as talents such as Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda are remaining with their U.S. squads. Still, Japan does have one former major leaguer on the roster: infielder Kaz Matsui.
Strengths: A pitching staff full of guys with varied arsenals and deliveries that U.S., Cuban and Dominican hitters will be seeing for the first time. Also, Japan’s team has been training together and is closer to being regular-season ready than the teams comprised of MLB players.
Weaknesses: After two years of playing with a deadened ball in the Central and Pacific Leagues, how will Japanese players adjust to the standardized WBC baseball? Apart from catcher Shinnosuke Abe, Japan’s lineup probably won’t feature much power.
The United States didn’t even reach the finals in either of the first two WBCs. This year’s squad is lacking a lot of top talent, particularly in the rotation with only R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Vogelsong, Derek Holland and Ross Detwiler available to start.
Strengths: The lineup will be very solid from top to bottom, and with Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton and David Wright in the middle, it should particularly feast on any left-handers opposing teams dare to throw. Also, the back end of the bullpen has Chris Perez, Glen Perkins, Vinnie Pestano and likely closer Craig Kimbrel to finish off any leads.
Weaknesses: The rotation is the great unknown, particularly since there’s going to be very little feel for how each pitcher is throwing this early in the spring. It’s imperative that manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Greg Maddux identify quickly who has it and who to bury.
Like the U.S., the Dominican Republic’s best WBC finish so far is fourth. But while Team USA’s showing isn’t going to get a whole lot of attention at home, the Dominican team is under plenty of pressure to do better this time. One big problem: Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz are all coming off injuries and are unavailable to manager Tony Pena.
Strengths: Even without Pujols, the D.R. still has the tourney’s best infield, with Edwin Encarnacion at first, Robinson Cano at second, Hanley Ramirez at third and Jose Reyes at shortstop. Also, the catching situation, which has tended to be a weakness in the past, has been upgraded by Carlos Santana‘s emergence.
Weaknesses: The rotation is led by Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez, with little depth beyond them. Also, Bautista is simply a huge loss for the outfield, which may start Ricardo Nanita or Moises Sierra in left alongside Alejandro De Aza in center and Nelson Cruz in right.
It’d hardly be a surprise if Venezuela ends up outlasting the U.S. and D.R. The well-balanced team has quality major leaguers filling every lineup spot and Anibal Sanchez to lead the rotation.
Weaknesses: The bullpen could largely hinge on Francisco Rodriguez closing out games, a scary proposition given the way he finished 2012. After Sanchez, there aren’t any sure things for rotation possibilities (Carlos Zambrano, Jhoulys Chacin, Henderson Alvarez).
Cuba couldn’t have been thrilled to be put in Japan’s opening pool after being eliminated by the team in the 2006 Finals and in round 2 in 2009. A win over Japan in pool play might provide a huge shot of confidence this time around.
Strengths: The lineup duo of Yulieski Gourriel and Alfredo Despaigne is about as good as any other country’s top two. That there isn’t much in the way of scouting reports or video of many of the team’s hurlers figures to serve Cuba well. And then there’s the obvious plus: Cuba’s players are in prime shape after playing all winter.
Weaknesses: A lack of depth has sometimes been Cuba’s undoing in tournaments, as the top-shelf talent tends to drop off quickly. While Ismel Jimenez and Odrisamer Despaigne are pitchers to watch, the more veteran hurlers aren’t particularly imposing.
Korea finished third in the inaugural WBC and second in 2009, winning the 2008 Olympic tournament in between. Veterans of those teams like Seung Yeop Lee and Dae Ho Lee are back for another go. In fact, it’s veterans all around: 12 players on the squad are at least 30 and the youngest player on the roster turns 25 next month.
Strengths: Korea has managed to integrate Japan’s successful small-ball approach with more pop in international play, and this year’s roster will feature a bunch of quality arms, some with unusual deliveries. The infield should be terrific thanks to both Lees, Tae-Kyun Kim and Jung-Ho Kang.
Going strictly by talent, Pools B and D will be pretty wide open for the second berths. My pick is Taiwan for second place in Pool B and Mexico for second place in Pool D.
While it’d be quite an upset if any of the six favorites failed to advance to the final eight, three-game round-robins don’t always end well for the most talented teams. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a scenario in which Team USA, Canada and Mexico all beat Italy and go 2-1 in Pool D, with a tiebreaker determining which two advance.
As for a prediction, I’m thinking the North American teams are in better shape this year that they have been in the past. The MLB talent drain has left Japan’s roster a bit light, and while I’m a big Korea booster, I suspect this isn’t as good of a roster as the team I fell for in the 2008 Olympics. Team USA has a shot, but that the players still aren’t in regular-season form is a big handicap. I’m picking Venezuela to beat Japan in the finals.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
I never understand the Royals.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Recapping all of Thursday’s dealings in one spot.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:13 AM EDT
Tommy Milone was the odd man out in the A’s rotation before today, so there was really no place for him in Oakland following the Jon Lester trade.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:12 AM EDT
Because, if you haven’t noticed, they have not sewn up the AL West yet.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Harvey was selected for the Futures Games as a 19-year-old and started 17 games at low Single-A with a 3.18 ERA and 106/33 K/BB ratio in 88 innings.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
The Sox did not get hosed here. Don’t believe that for a second.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Emilio Bonifacio was available to the Cubs on a minor-league deal after being released by the Royals in February and now five months later they’re going to get something in return for the 29-year-old speedster.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
We didn’t see this coming!
Jul 31, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
It just gets more complicated to make a trade after 4pm today.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
It was quite a tribute to Greg Maddux, actually.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
Trade rumors? Heck, he looks like he’s going to be a key piece for the Dodgers down the stretch.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:10 AM EDT
The State of the Trade Deadline, eight hours before the music stops.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:59 AM EDT
Always go 100%. Even if you’re not totally into what you’re doing. That includes singing power ballads.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:19 PM EDT
From FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi comes word that the Marlins and White Sox “have discussed a possible trade” involving left-handed starter John Danks.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:02 PM EDT
Dan Uggla’s stay with the Giants lasted nine days. MLB.com’s Chris Haft reports that San Francisco has released the veteran second baseman, who went 0-for-11 with a walk and six strikeouts in four games after being called up from Triple-A Fresno on July 25.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
Albert Pujols can barely move these days and for some reason went with a pop-up slide into first base, but this throw on Wednesday night from Manny Machado was still fantastic …
Jul 30, 2014, 8:22 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s farewell tour continued Wednesday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas with another set of retirement gifts.
Jul 30, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Blue Jays are targeting Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera — who is known to be available — and would ask him to play second base.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has been mentioned as a possible centerpiece in trade talks this week for top-tier starting pitchers like David Price and Jon Lester, but if Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is to be believed that was all speculation from the outside.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
The 44-64 Astros could jump into this seller-friendly market before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Houston is “looking to move” first baseman and designated hitter Chris Carter.
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