World Baseball Classic 2013: Last-Second Predictions for International Event
The third World Baseball Classic gets underway on Friday night as Australia and Chinese Taipei open Pool B play. The international baseball showcase should start to gain some traction after two successful tournaments in 2006 and 2009.
Japan won both of those events, but will have to fend off competition from 15 other nations in order to secure a third straight title. The United States begins play next Friday night against Mexico as a part of Pool D.
Before the first pitch is thrown, here are some predictions for the opening round of pool play, a rising star to watch and a pick for which country will win the marquee event.
Pool Winners: Japan, South Korea, Dominican Republic and United States
The only champions in the tournament's history figure to face some competition from Cuba in Pool A. However, led by a strong pitching staff and slugging catcher Shinnosuke Abe, Japan should be able to secure the top spot.
Pool B should be the most competitive one of the opening stage. South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands are all contenders to win the group. That said, South Korea has the most depth of the bunch and that should shine through.
The Dominican Republic is the class of Pool C thanks to its dynamic lineup. Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez headline a group that features both power and speed. Venezuela is the only team capable of slowing them down.
Even though the World Baseball Classic didn't treated the United States well the first two times, the American squad is still the clear favorite in Pool D. Manager Joe Torre's squad definitely has enough star power for a deep run.
Breakout Star: Masahiro Tanaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka had very little widespread appeal when the World Baseball Classic got started seven years ago. He helped carry Japan to the title and won the tournament MVP, a feat he repeated in 2009, which helped him become a much bigger star outside of his home country.
Which country has the top starting rotation?
Now, the pressure is on Tanaka to do the same. He's an ace for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, but the WBC gives him a chance to become a much bigger name in the baseball world. He has the stuff to do it.
If Japan makes another championship run, there's a good chance it will be in large part due to the right arm of Tanaka. At 24, he's already made five All-Star Game appearances and won the Eiji Sawamura Award, which is equivalent to the Cy Young Award.
Champion: United States
The United States didn't finish in the top three in either of the first two World Baseball Classics. Considering they entered as one of the main contenders each time, the results have been extremely disappointing, to say the least.
Things are due to change. The outfield group of Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton is the best in the tournament and the infield is also dangerous, with Mark Teixeira and David Wright manning the corners.
The biggest key is the starting rotation. R.A. Dickey will lead the way, and it's up to Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong to slot in behind him and provide some solid starts. If they can get leads to the bullpen, the United States will be in great shape to get the WBC monkey of its back.
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