2013 World Baseball Classic Preview

WBC

2013 marks the third edition of the World Baseball Classic, and this time it is bigger (and better?) than ever.

This edition comes equipped with the addition of a qualifying round, and an expansion from 16 to 28 teams.  Due to Canada’s terrible performance at the 2009 Classic they were forced to go through the qualifying rounds.  Despite playing without major league talent, the Canucks were lucky enough to get by the Czech Republic, Germany, and Great Britain, and join Spain, Chinese Taipei, and Brazil in the main tournament.

Technically I’m a bit late with this preview (pool A and pool B are both already done – oops), but the important games to Canadian fans don’t get underway until later this week.

Here is a preview of this year’s event.

Pool A

Teams: Japan, China, Cuba, Brazil

Dates: March 2 – March 6, 2013

Venue: Japan

Major League Talent:

Japan – Not only does Japan not have Yu Darvish and Ichiro Suzuki – they don’t have any players currently on major league rosters. 

Cuba – Freddy Alvarez (Tampa Bay)

China – Ray Chang (Cincinnati)

Brazil – 10 players, though none at the major league level after Yan Gomes decided not to play.

Preview:  Japan is the two time defending champion, and should have no problem advancing.  Their only test will be from Cuba, who made the final in the inaugural event.  Both teams should easily advance, and both in fact have.  One would have expected Brazil to finish ahead of China and take third place, which brings with it an automatic birth in the 2017 Classic.    However, shockingly, China rallied to beat Brazil to steal third place yesterday.

Pool B

Teams: South Korea, Netherlands, Australia, Chinese Taipei

Dates: March 2 – March 5, 2013

Venue: Republic of China

Major League Talent:

South Korea – Zero MLB affiliated players 

Netherlands – 11 players, lead by Roger Bernadina of Washington and Andrelton Simmons of Atlanta

Australia – 11 players, though none at the major league level

Chinese Taipei – 2 players, though none at the major league level

Preview:  Behind Japan, South Korea has likely been the most successful team in the history of this event.  They went 6 – 0 in 2006 before falling to Japan in the semi-finals, then lost to Japan in the final in 2010.  One would expect them to advance relatively easily, along with the Netherlands.  However, the Koreans finished in third place behind Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands, despite each having matching 2-1 records.  A tiebreaker made up of runs for and against called “Teams’s Quality Balance” ensured their elimination.

Pool C

Teams: Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain

Dates: March 7 – March 10, 2013

Venue: Puerto Rico

Major League Talent:

Venezuela – Virtually the entire team does, or has, played in the majors.  There are big names on this squad, including Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero, Salvador Perez, Anibal Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, and Carlos Zambrano.  Former Blue Jay Henderson Alvarez will also take the mound. 

Puerto Rico – Like Venezuela, virtually the entire team is MLB affiliated, though the star quality lags behind.  Puerto Rico is lead by Carlos Beltran, Jose Molina, Yadier Molina, Angel Pagan, and Alex Rios.  Current Blue Jay farmhand Efrain Nieves is also a member.

Dominican Republic – This is your big boy.  An All-Star worthy collection of MLB talent, including Erick Aybar, Robinson Cano, Santiago Casilla, Nelson Cruz, Alejandro De Aza, Octavio Dotel, Hanley Ramirez, Fernando Rodney, Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Santana, Miguel Tejada, and Edinson Volquez.  The Dominican will also feature Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Ricardo Nanita, and Moises Sierra of the Jays.

Spain – 8 players, though none at the major league level

Preview:  After reaching the semi-final in 2006, the Dominican Republic twice lost to the Netherlands to fall flat in the 2010 edition.  This season, the offense looks stacked, but questions about starting pitching linger.  Venezuela might be even more offensively powerful, and have at least one strong starter in Anibal Sanchez.  Puerto Rico will buoyed by the home crowd, but doesn’t have the horses to keep up with the big boys, even with Alex “Who gives a f**k” Rios.  Spain should be nothing more than an afterthought.

Pool D

Teams: United States, Mexico, Italy, Canada

Dates: March 7 – March 10, 2013

Venue: United States

Major League Talent:

United States – A full squad of MLB talent, but obviously the talk has been more about who is not here, including players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and a host of All-Star arms (Cain, Lincecum, Verlander, Strasburg).  The team is still solid, however, with Ryan Braun, Gio Gonzalez, Adam Jones, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Mauer, Brandon Phillips, Jimmy Rollins, Giancarlo Stanton, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Vogelsong, David Wright and Ben Zobrist.  R. A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia from Toronto are also on the roster. 

Mexico – 18 players affiliated with MLB teams, including Alfredo Aceves, Yovani Gallardo, Adrian Gonzalez, and Sergio Romo.

Italy – 13 players affiliated with MLB teams, including Drew Butera, Jason Grilli, Nick Punto, and Anthony Rizzo.

Canada – Most of the team has MLB affiliation, with the key players being John Axford, Justin Morneau, Michael Saunders, Jameson Taillon, and Joey Votto, along with Blue Jays Brett Lawrie, Adam Loewen, and Trystan Magnuson.

Preview:  On paper, the US should be a lock to move on, as they are clearly a notch above the rest of the pool.  It will come down to passion – do the Americans care about this event as much as the Latin and Asian players do?  Canada should be ahead of Mexico and Italy, but both of those teams have solid players, and won’t be easy outs.  Canada knows first hand after losing to Italy in an elimination game in 2010.  Still, with Votto and Lawrie leading the way, I like Canada to advance.

Second Round and Finals

Much depends on where teams finish, as the standings in round one determine the pools for round two.  Still, it’s hard to argue against the status quo, and I can see Japan and Cuba making it to the semi-final round.  They will be joined there by two of Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and the USA.  I just can’t see the team of second level American stars putting forth the kind of emotion and passion as those from the Latin countries, so for that reason, the  US won’t make it….again.

Champions: Dominican Republic.  The small nation is known as a baseball factory, and it’s time they finally prove it.  The Dominican finally gets over the hump, and ends Japan’s reign at the top.  It will hopefully be the first taste of victory for Jose Reyes, and Edwin Encarnacion ahead of what should be a successful year in  Toronto.

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