World Baseball Classic 2013: Why Japan Remains Favorites to Repeat as Champions

Doug Rush@Doug_RushSenior Analyst IFebruary 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 23:  Manager Tatsunori Hara of Japan, Ryozo Kato Japanese baseball commissioner (C) and Sadaharu Oh celebrate after defeating Korea during the finals of the 2009 World Baseball Classic on March 23, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Japan won 5-3 in 10 innings.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

On Saturday, the World Baseball Classic will finally kick off for 16 countries.

For a lot of the countries involved there is a lot of star power from Major League Baseball, especially on the United States team.

However, one team has dominated the competition since it's initial inauguration back in 2006—Japan.

The Japanese team won the first WBC in 2006 defeating Cuba and then again in 2009 defeating South Korea. Japan will be looking for the competition's first ever three-peat.

It will be a little different feeling from this year's Japanese team, because they will not have a single major leaguer participating.

Usuaully, guys like Ichiro Suzuki from the New York Yankees, Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Cleveland Indians and most recently, Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, are normally key parts of the team.

In fact, both Matsuzaka and Darvish have used the WBC in the past to spark their popularity and get MLB teams attentions in order to get big money in free agency.

That's not the case this year, as none of those three, nor any other Japanese player in the majors will be competing in the contest.

That shouldn't stop the team from being the favorites again in the competition, though.

When you take a look at the Japanese roster for 2013, for most common fans, you're looking at a lot of unknown names.

But make no mistake about it, they are all professional baseball players who compete regularly in their country, and some could even have hopes of coming to the United States one day, just like Matsuzaka did in 2007 with the Red Sox and Darvish did in 2012 with Texas.

A lot of these teams are playing for pride and for their country, but in Japan, this competition means just a little bit more.

The sport of baseball is treated like the Super Bowl all the time and the athletes are treated like rock stars. If you don't believe me, go back to any Yankees or Mariners game and watch the national media coverage Ichiro got in Seattle or Hideki Matsui got in the Bronx, plus all the fans that flooded Safeco Field and Yankee Stadium.

The fans in Japan live this sport, and winning it brings a great sense of accomplishment to the players, the fans and to the people who live there.

Sure, the guys on the United States team want to win because it's a competition, and so do the guys in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

But I don't consider them favorites because for a lot of those teams, they have MLB stars whose focus is more set on April.

I'm sure a lot of the GM's and managers in MLB have instructed to their players who are competing in the WBC to not get hurt in any way possible.

And those players know where they make their money—playing in the United States (and Canada too for the Blue Jays.)

You would have to think in the back of their minds, they might not treat the games like they would if it was October.

Now, I'm not saying those players in MLB are going to just lay down and tank the competition, because they have more pride then that.

But you have to think some of these players focuses are getting ready for the regular season and competing for a chance to win the World Series.

That's not the case for the players in Japan, or their fans.

Every game they play is like a Game 7 in October. Every pitch is taken seriously. Every out is so crucial to those players.

So even if Ichiro, Darvish or Matsuzaka are focused on the 2013 season and not the WBC, that won't matter to this team.

The bottom line is pretty simple—until another country can prove that they can knock off the guys from the Land of the Rising Sun, expect Japan to get the three-peat and win the competition again.