Can someone other than Japan finally win a WBC tournament?
The 2013 World Baseball Classic gets underway this weekend with Australia taking on Chinese Taipei in the very first game on Friday night (11:30 p.m. EST).
For several countries, their odds of winning the WBC championship are not quite as good as others. But every team begins with a clean slate—as the saying goes, anything can happen.
Here is a prediction for the odds of each country winning the WBC title.
Reliever Rhiner Cruz is one of the few players on the Spain roster with MLB experience.
For countries like Australia, Brazil, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, the experience gained by playing in the World Baseball Classic is invaluable.
With baseball's popularity gaining steam across the world, nations in which baseball is largely a secondary sport will gain great exposure.
However, it won't help their chances much in the 2013 WBC.
Australia faces a tough test in their first-round matchups in Pool B, facing the experienced squads from Korea and Chinese Tapei. So too does the Netherlands. Both teams feature rosters with minimal professional experience.
Brazil goes up against two teams in Pool A—Japan and Cuba—who met in the finals of the 2006 WBC. China will also have a tough time getting past these two experienced squads in the first round.
Spain has the disadvantage of facing the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in their first round battles in Pool C. Their chances of advancing to the next round are indeed slim.
Italy faces their own set of challenges in battling against the United States, Mexico and Canada in Pool D action.
It's more than likely these five teams will face an early exit.
Canada's chances of winning the WBC takes a huge hit if first baseman Joey Votto declines to participate.
Canada's chances to win the WBC got a lot longer when catcher Russell Martin opted not to participate last week.
Martin wanted to play shortstop for his national team, something the Pittsburgh Pirates weren't completely thrilled about.
In addition, it's possible that Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto could decide to opt out of playing as well. Votto missed 48 games last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Should Votto opt out, Canada would be dealt a severe blow. With a roster largely devoid of quality pitchers, their offense is by far their biggest asset.
Canada will have a difficult time getting by the likes of the United States and Mexico in their first-round action starting next week.
Much like Canada, Puerto Rico saw their odds of winning the WBC greatly diminished by an injury to a key participant.
Right-handed pitcher Javier Vazquez will not be pitching in the Classic due to discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee.
Vazquez, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011, looked terrific during winter ball in Puerto Rico, throwing comfortably in the mid-to-low 90s. However, he underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee and twisted the knee during rehab last week.
The loss of Vazquez means that Puerto Rico will be relying on an inexperienced rotation to match up against Venezuela and the Dominican Republic in Pool C action. Both teams feature lineups stacked with MLB All-Stars.
Mexico could be one of the real sleepers in the 2013 WBC.
Led by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, Mexico could well repeat its past success of at least moving on past pool play. They were eliminated in Round 2 in both 2006 and 2009.
Closer Sergio Romo, starters Marco Estrada, Rodrigo Lopez and Luis Mendoza and relievers Fernando Salas and Alfredo Aceves will also help Mexico in its quest to improve on their prior finishes.
While the lineup beyond Gonzalez isn't loaded with All-Star players, Mexico is a favorite to at least move out of Pool D.
Apparently, Chinese Taipei will do anything they can to gain an edge over their rivals.
Scouts posing as umpires tried to worm their way into an exhibition game involving one of their main opponent in Pool B, South Korea.
While they were eventually found out, Chinese Taipei does have a squad that could provide some intrigue.
Chien-Ming Wang, a back-to-back 19-game winner in 2006 and 2007, heads the starting rotation. Jen-Ho Tseng, a 19-year-old armed with a 95 MPH-plus fastball, could also open some eyes.
Cheng-Min Peng is arguably their biggest offensive threat. Peng has won five batting titles in the China Professional Baseball League during his career.
Chinese Taipei could join South Korea in moving out of Pool B action, but they'll have to win their first-round matchup with the Netherlands first.
Cuba is a definite sleeper in this year's WBC. But then again, aren't they always?
Cuba lost to Japan in the inaugural WBC in 2006 and then massively disappointed in 2009, failing to get out of the first round.
In terms of international competition, however, no country is more successful.
While Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes won't be helping their native country, Cuba nonetheless has an assortment of young and promising talent.
First baseman Jose Abreu is looked upon as a rising young slugger, and pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne will get his first shot to participate in the WBC after establishing himself as a top-notch right-hander in the Serie Nacional.
Cuba is a favorite to join Japan as the two teams in Pool A moving on to the second round.
South Korea would absolutely love to improve on a runner-up finish in the 2009 WBC.
A definite favorite to easily move past first-round play in Pool B, South Korea features a roster loaded with international experience.
None of them are currently employed in MLB, but quite a few are stars in Japan. Lee Dae-Ho currently stars for Orix in the Pacific League and he'll provide the power in the middle of their lineup.
A veteran pitching staff will also help lead the way for South Korea.
Despite the fact that Japan has won both previous WBC tournaments, South Korea has won more games than anyone thus far with a record of 12-4.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera headlines a stacked offense for Venezuela.
Venezuela might just have the best starting lineup in the WBC.
Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero, Asdrubal Cabrera, Omar Infante, Marco Scutaro, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra are all representing their home country, giving manager Luis Sojo a stacked and potent batting order.
Beyond Anibal Sanchez, however, the starting rotation isn't quite as strong as other favored nations.
Carlos Zambrano, Jhoulys Chacin and Henderson Alvarez will help support Sanchez in the rotation, and Sojo will also have veterans Juan Rincon, Francisco Rodriguez and Ronald Belisario at his disposal in the bullpen.
If Venezuela's starting lineup catches fire, they could absolutely create havoc and make a run.
Masahiro Tanaka will lead a talented Japanese starting rotation.
It would be absolutely foolhardy to dismiss Japan in the 2013 WBC.
While fielding a roster devoid of MLB stars, Japan is the two-time defending WBC champion, and they are armed with a solid core of veterans.
Infielder Hayato Sakamoto is a rising young star who could one day be starring in Major League Baseball. Pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and Tadashi Settsu will be tough—Settsu was 17-5 with a 1.91 ERA for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in NPB last season.
One thing that can always be counted on from Japanese teams is that they will play sound, fundamental baseball. That's the strategy that works best in international competition, and few countries can match Japan in that department.
The Dominican Republic is looking to wipe egg off their faces after an embarrassing first-round exit in the 2009 WBC.
The Dominican team is led by their outstanding infield. Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion make up a stacked infield. Outfielders Alejandro de Aza and Nelson Cruz will also lend their considerable talents.
The one weakness for the Dominican Republic might be their starting rotation. Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez are the anchors but beyond them is not much depth.
Manager Tony Pena will have a strong bullpen featuring closer Fernando Rodney. Without question the Dominican Republic has a team capable of offensive explosion and solid pitching support in the later innings.
If the rotation can hold their own, they could find themselves waving victory flags in San Francisco.
R.A. Dickey will front a stacked starting rotation for the United States.
The United States lost to Japan in the semi-finals of the 2009 WBC, and it's obvious they're looking to improve on that performance in this year's Classic.
The U.S. features a team loaded at virtually every position.
David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Mark Teixeira make up the starting infield with Ben Zobrist and Willie Bloomquist providing depth.
Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Jones comprise the starting outfield, with Shane Victorino who can cover all three spots as well.
A rotation featuring R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Vogelsong, Ross Detwiler and Derek Holland is set, and they're backed up by a bullpen featuring closer Craig Kimbrel and relievers Jeremy Affeldt, Glen Perkins, Vinnie Pestano, Steve Cishek and Heath Bell.
Manager Joe Torre will have no shortage of weapons as the U.S. prepares to win its first WBC title starting next week.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.