The 2013 World Baseball Classic is just around the corner, as USA Baseball and other prominent world teams get set to try to knock off the reigning champions, Japan.
Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009 despite being outmatched in talent. It drew concerns in the United States that the Americans weren't as enthusiastic about the event ahead of a grueling 162-game Major League Baseball schedule.
Here's a look at the third WBC in history, complete with schedule information.
Where: Fukuoka, Japan (Pool A-First Round); Taichung, Japan (Pool B-First Round); San Juan, Puerto Rico (Pool C-First Round); Phoenix, Arizona (Pool D-First Round); Tokyo, Japan (Pool 1-Second Round); Miami, Florida (Pool 2-Second Round); San Francisco, California (Championship Round)
When: March 2-19
Watch: MLB Network, ESPN Deportes
USA Baseball is currently favored in the odds (per Bovada)—boasting 16 All-Stars, three MVPs and one Cy Young Award winner—but, as we've discovered in the tournament, talent isn't everything.
The Dominican Republic, sporting some fine Major League Baseball players, is ranked second in the odds ahead of Japan.
The team boasts MLB hitters such as Nelson Cruz, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Robinson Cano and Edwin Encarnacion.
On the pitching mound, the Dominican Republic sports left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, right-hander Edinson Volquez and relievers Fernando Rodney and Santiago Casilla. Beyond those four, though, there isn't much in the pitching department for the Dominicans. That's something certainly worth monitoring, especially if the squad faces the U.S. later in the tournament.
One thing to note: Japan doesn't have Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka this year. Matsuzaka won the WBC MVP in both 2006 and 2009. That could certainly make it tougher for the Japanese to come out on top in 2013.
Players to Watch
Ryan Braun, OF, USA Baseball
The 2011 National League MVP, Ryan Braun was sensational once again in 2012, hitting .319 with 41 home runs, 112 RBI and 108 runs. That included a .391 on-base percentage and a .595 slugging percentage. All of those marks ranked in the top 10 in Major League Baseball.
But beyond Braun's power, he was also a sneaky base-stealer. The 6'2", 204-pound right-hander stole 30 bases in 2012, while getting caught only seven times.
In the 2009 WBC, Braun hit .409 with one home run, two RBI and three runs in 21 at-bats (six games), per WorldBaseballClassic.com.
R.A. Dickey, SP, USA Baseball
A WBC newcomer, right-hander R.A. Dickey could cause fits for the competition with his devastating knuckleball.
The 38-year-old won the Cy Young Award last year, posting a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 230 strikeouts in 233.2 innings.
It's going to be interesting to see if USA's opponents can fare better than, well, the U.S. did against Dickey's specialty pitch.
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Japan
This marks Kazuo Matsui's first WBC appearance.
The 38-year-old infielder became the first Japanese infielder to sign with an MLB team when he joined the New York Mets in 2004.
The seven-year MLB veteran registered a career .267 average in the league. His best year was in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies, when he hit .288 with 84 runs and 32 stolen bases.
Born in Osaka, Matsui now plays for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Dominican Republic
Robinson Cano continues to prove to be one of the best players in MLB.
Last year, the 30-year-old second baseman for the New York Yankees hit .313 with 33 home runs, 94 RBI and 105 runs. In addition to his 33 bombs, he also smacked 48 doubles, fourth in MLB.
Cano figures to play a more prominent role for the Dominican Republic this year. He hit .286 with two runs in 13 at-bats (three games) with the Dominicans in the 2009 WBC.
A four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and MLB champion, Cano could be a force in the 2013 WBC.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Dominican Republic
This will be Edwin Encarnacion's first appearance in the World Baseball Classic.
The eight-year MLB veteran blew up in 2012, notching career highs in home runs (42), RBI (110), runs (93), on-base percentage (.384), slugging percentage (.557) and stolen bases (13). He also hit .280 for the season, his second-best career mark.
He ranked in the top 10 in MLB in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OBP (on-base plus slugging).
The La Romana native should be ready to do damage in the 2013 World Baseball Classic for his home team.