The 2013 World Baseball Classic is already underway, and Team USA will be starting its schedule later this week with an eye towards winning its first title.
Team USA has yet to win the global event, reaching the semifinals against Japan in 2009.
Without question Team USA badly wants a win—a completely stacked roster led by manager Joe Torre is one of the favorites.
As it prepares for its first game against Mexico on Friday at Chase Field in Phoenix, we will take a look at the roster, the upcoming schedule and make predictions as to outcomes in each round as the team makes its way through the tournament.
Let's take a look.
Team USA will have its hands full in its very first matchup in Round 1 against Mexico.
It'll likely go up against Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Marco Estrada, who put up a nice effort last season for the Brewers. Estrada posted a 3.68 ERA and 9.3 K/9 rate in 29 appearances, 23 of them starts.
While Mexico doesn't have the star-studded lineup that Team USA possesses, its offense is anchored by Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Several other stars with MLB experience will also be featured in Mexico's starting lineup as well.
Manager Joe Torre announced that R.A. Dickey will be his starter against Mexico. Dickey's new catcher in Toronto, J.P. Arencibia, will be behind the plate to catch Dickey's floater.
This may be biggest test Team USA faces in the first round. Mexico is far more experienced than both Italy and Canada, so Team USA will have a tough test in its debut game.
Italian first baseman Anthony Rizzo will do what he can to engineer his team's upset against Team USA in Round 1.
On Saturday, March 9, Team USA will do battle against Italy.
Ryan Vogelsong will follow R.A. Dickey in the rotation and will look to lock down a spot in Round 2 for Team USA if it is able to get by Mexico on Friday night.
Joe Mauer, who will act as the designated hitter on Friday night against Mexico, could be back behind the plate to catch Vogelsong on Saturday. Mauer was hitting .364 in Grapefruit League action before joining his Team USA teammates.
Italy will have first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Alex Liddi in the lineup, and Pittsburgh Pirates closer Jason Grilli will be there to lend a hand in the bullpen. But the team is definitely considered an underdog, especially going up against the stacked American team.
A win on Saturday night would put the Americans in excellent position to move on to Round 2 before facing Canada for its final game in Round 1.
Derek Holland will attempt to shut down Canada for Team USA in Game 3 of Round 1.
Team USA will end Round 1 action with a game against Canada on Sunday.
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland will likely get the nod against the Canadians. Depending on what happens in Team USA's first two games, Holland's outing could be of great importance.
Canada's offense took a hit last week when Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin opted not to participate in the WBC. His decision drew a sharp rebuke from Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Via Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail:
"It's different for pitchers because they always have to amp things up and Ryan's a little bit older, so he has to get his arm ready a little bit earlier and that could be tough for an older guy,” Lawrie said. “But in his [Martin’s] case, it's a little bit different just because the ultimatum was there that if he wasn't going to be able to play shortstop, he wasn't going to come, and in my mind that's not right, that's weak.
”I'm out there going 100 miles an hour, any position. I don't care if I'm pitching, I'm playing centre-field or I'm catching, it doesn't matter. Just as long as I get an opportunity to help my teammates, help my country and these are things that don't come around very often. This is every four years; this isn't an opportunity that just comes around every spring training.”
The Canadians will have Lawrie, first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Saunders doing their bidding on offense. Former NL MVP Joey Votto will also be there, making the decision on Monday to represent his home country.
There is certainly plenty of offense left for Canada to do some serious damage without Martin. The pitching staff, however, isn't quite as stellar.
Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford will be anchoring, and Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon will also be in the rotation. But the rest of the staff is short on major league experience and is definitely the weak point of the Canadian team.
Still, Holland will have to be at his best to pitch his country past a talented offense.
Starter Gio Gonzalez will be ready to go for Team USA should it reach Round 2.
Provided Team USA can be successful in Round 1, it'll face some tough challenges in Round 2 in Miami.
Fortunately for the Americans, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez will join them in their fight. Gonzalez was a late addition to the team and will only be used if Team USA gets to Round 2.
Two teams from Pool D match up against two teams from Pool C in Miami for a double-elimination Round 2. Pool C is loaded, with Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Spain all trying to move on.
Venezuela features a starting lineup of All-Stars, including Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero, Asdrubal Cabrera, Omar Infante, Marco Scutaro, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra.
Manager Luis Sojo will have a potent batting order to trot out every day.
The Dominican team isn't too shabby, either. Led by Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion in the infield alone, the Dominicans won't go down quietly in this tournament.
Puerto Rico is also strong, with Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Alex Rios and Yadier Molina leading the way.
With all three teams, however, offense will be the key—their pitching isn't quite as star-studded. Still, the Americans will be challenged by whomever they match up against in Miami for Round 2.
R.A. Dickey: Toronto Blue Jays
Having your starting rotation fronted by last year's Cy Young Award winner isn't a bad way to start.
R.A. Dickey will take to the hill on Friday night to kick off Team USA's bid to win the WBC for the first time.
After a tremendous 2012 season, Dickey will have two new debuts—first with Team USA and then with the Toronto Blue Jays on April 2. Not a bad way to begin a new year.
Ryan Vogelsong: San Francisco Giants
Also pitching for Team USA for the first time, Ryan Vogelsong has been the picture of success ever since returning to the majors for the first time in five years last season.
With a 27-19 record and 3.19 ERA in the last two seasons and a 3-0 record and 1.09 ERA in the postseason last year, Vogelsong has more than earned his chance.
Derek Holland: Texas Rangers
Derek Holland has certainly established himself with a 28-12 record over the past two seasons for the Texas Rangers. He'll now get the chance to prove himself against international competition.
Holland will get the start in Game 3 of Round 1 against Canada. Depending on Team USA's progress in the first two games, Holland could well get the opportunity to move his country beyond the first round.
Ross Detwiler: Washington Nationals
With the 65-pitch limit on pitchers in Round 1, Washington Nationals starter Ross Detwiler could play an integral role for Team USA.
Detwiler is scheduled to follow Ryan Vogelsong in Game 2 against Italy. He'll be well-rested after pitching two innings in Grapefruit League action on Sunday.
Gio Gonzalez: Washington Nationals
Gio Gonzalez will be working in Nationals camp while Team USA does battle in Round 1. Should it move on to Miami and Round 2, Gonzalez will likely get the call in early action.
While Round 2 has an 80-pitch limit, it's still early for pitchers to be stretching it to that level. But Gonzalez will be ready to go nonetheless.
Manager Torre also has a 10-man bullpen to utilize as well.
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves: 1.01 ERA, 42 SV, 0.65 WHIP, 16.7 K/9 rate
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins: 2.69 ERA, 15 SV, 1.30 WHIP, 9.6 K/9
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins: 2.56 ERA, 16 SV, 1.04 WHIP, 10.0 K/9
Jeremy Affeldt: San Francisco Giants: 2.70 ERA, 3 SV, 1.26 WHIP, 8.1 K/9
Luke Gregerson, San Diego Padres: 2.39 ERA, 9 SV, 1.09 WHIP, 9.0 K/9
David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks: 2.50 ERA, 4 SV, 1.02 WHIP, 12.9 K/9
Vinnie Pestano, Cleveland Indians: 2.57 ERA, 2 SV, 1.10 WHIP, 9.8 K/9
Tim Collins, Kansas City Royals: 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 12.0 K/9
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals: 2.21 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.1 K/9
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks: 5.09 ERA, 19 SV, 1.56 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
If you thought that Team USA's starting rotation was packed, the bullpen could only be considered as explosive.
Some of the majors' best closers and set-up men represent the United States, and manager Joe Torre almost couldn't make a wrong decision with the star-studded cast he has available.
The restricted pitch counts in the early rounds won't be of much harm to Team USA in any way, not with this crew backing up the starters.
1B: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (.251 BA, 24 HR, 84 RBI, .807 OPS)
2B: Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds (.281, 18, 77, .750)
3B: David Wright, New York Mets (.306, 21, 93, .883)
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies (.250, 23, 68, .743)
LF: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (.319, 41, 112, .987)
CF: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (.287, 32, 82, .839)
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (.290, 37, 86, .969)
C: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (.319, 1, 85, .861)
Team USA manager Joe Torre will use different players in the DH role. With J.P. Arencibia catching R.A. Dickey in Game 1 on Friday, Mauer will likely DH.
With All-Stars at every position, the Americans are no doubt loaded. Power in the middle with Braun, Teixeira, Jones and Stanton, along with terrific on-base guys in Phillips and Mauer, gives Torre all kinds of weapons.
C: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (.320 BA, 12 HR, 58 RBI, .991 OPS)
C: J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays (.233, 18, 56, .710)
UTIL: Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays (.270, 20, 74, .848)
INF: Willie Bloomquist, Arizona Diamondbacks (.302, 0, 23, .724)
OF: Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox (.255, 11, 55, .704)
The bench for Team USA is nothing to sneeze at, either. The combination of the five players could easily start for other countries and vastly improve their chances.
Team USA manager Torre can use Zobrist in a variety of different ways with his ability to play multiple positions. Victorino can also fill in at all three outfield positions as well.
When Team USA finally gets underway in Round 1 action on Friday night, it'll be ready to go with a lineup loaded for bear.
After two appearances, the Americans are still looking for their first world title. To that end, they clearly created a roster with one purpose in mind—to bring that title home.
While Team USA clearly has the upper hand in Pool D action in Round 1, the second round against two teams from Pool C will present challenges.
Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are stacked offensively. Puerto Rico could be a surprise as well. However, there is one common theme with all three teams—none of them have anywhere near the depth with their pitching staffs as the United States.
The limited pitch counts work to Team USA's benefit. Its 10-man bullpen is by far the best of any team in the WBC, and it'll have a decided advantage in the middle-to-late innings.
Prediction: Team USA over Japan for WBC title.
Japan and Cuba have looked solid thus far in early action and will be moving on to Round 2. However, Team USA has just too much talent throughout its roster to be denied.
For Team USA, the third time will in fact be the charm.
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.