The World Baseball Classic is an opportunity for fans to enjoy our national pastime but with an international flair. This year, there are some games fans are definitely not going to want to miss.
Aside from Team USA, the squads from Japan, Canada and even Australia are sure to provide plenty of action for everyone to enjoy. Each of the 12 teams competing brings its own special something to the table, and, in a perfect world, fans would be able to watch each and every game without conflict.
However, since that would basically require not sleeping at some points, let's narrow it down to the epic games that should not be missed under any circumstances.
Korea vs. Australia: Monday, March 4, 5:30 a.m. ET
The Korean team has no major leaguers on its roster, but keep in mind that this is the same team that was the runner-up in the 2009 tournament. Though they have already been shut out by Team Netherlands, they are not to be written off.
The same can be said about the Australian squad, which features a small handful of MLB prospects, including Ryan Searle and Mitch Dening, plus former Seattle Mariners standouts Ryan Rowland-Smith and Chris Snelling. Though not the most glamorous of rosters, Team Australia definitely has some talent that can make noise when called upon.
Given that both rosters are considerably weaker than they were a few years ago, it's going to be interesting to see how they match up against one another, especially since Australia's presence in MLB is starting to grow.
Japan vs. Cuba: Wednesday, March 6, 5 a.m. ET
Neither team has any household names on its roster, but this is not a game that should be missed by anyone who calls himself or herself a baseball fan.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of which squad one may be rooting for in this year's WBC, Japan and Cuba are the two best teams in the world, hands down. From Cuba's blue-collar, pure baseball approach to the athletic and speed-oriented Japanese squad, the clash of styles is going to make for either an absolute slugfest or a great chess match of a game.
I don't know about you, but I definitely plan on being up early to take this one in.
Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic: Thursday, March 7, 6:30 p.m. ET
These two teams may not have much in terms of pitching, but in the lineup, they might as well be two of the best MLB squads matched up against one another.
Venezuela is led by reigning AL MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera and should also receive plenty of help from 2012 World Series MVP Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval and five-tool outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
On the Dominican Republic's side, there are dangerous bats in Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion.
Don't let the unknowns on the pitching staff fool you. These two teams are baseball powerhouses and definite contenders to win the championship.
United States vs. Canada: Sunday, March 10, 4 p.m. ET
Team USA is not as star studded as it was the previous two WBCs, but the roster is still strong enough to make a lot of noise this year. In their friendly rivalry matchup with Canada, look for each team to be having a lot of fun but with something of a fiercely intense competitive edge.
The United States has two solid starting pitchers this year in R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez and a fine closer in fireballer Craig Kimbrel. On offense, fans should expect Ryan Braun to dazzle with the bat and Giancarlo Stanton to launch some long home runs, be it one or two in this game.
However, don't count out the Canadians. This team's lineup has two former MVPs in Justin Morneau and Joey Votto, plus a pitching ace in the making named Jameson Taillon.
Taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the second pick in the 2010 draft, the 21-year-old righty spent last season in Single and Double-A ball, going 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.
If he happens to be on the mound for this game, the landscape immediately changes. Even if he isn't, look for Team Canada to give Team USA a game.