The four teams from Pool 1 may not have the major league superstars we'll see once the four teams are decided in Pool 2, but the top of the bracket promises to feature four teams that are all very evenly matched and should introduce new audiences to some bright, international stars.
With Cuba, Japan, Taiwan and the Netherlands all moving into the second round of the World Baseball Classic, the question now becomes which two teams will advance to the semifinals.
The second round is essentially a double-elimination round, so the two teams that win two games will advance.
For starters, it's hard to bet against Japan. The team may be without Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, but this is still a squad that won the only two WBC tournaments and clearly makes winning this tournament a national priority.
Taiwan should not be underestimated. The team comfortably beat Australia and the Netherlands. They didn't need to beat South Korea to advance but still nearly pulled off the victory, losing 3-2. After scoring 14 runs in three games, this Taiwan offense should not be taken lightly.
Then again, neither should this young Netherlands team, featuring one veteran you may have heard of (Andrew Jones) and two very talented major league prospects, Xander Bogaerts and Jonathan Schoop. This is the sleeper of the group, but you shouldn't be sleeping on them.
And then there's Cuba. Like Japan, the Cubans don't have any major leaguers on the roster. And like Japan, this Cuban team is very, very dangerous. Just ask China, who fell to Cuba 12-0.
The Cubans are ranked No. 1 in the IBAF rankings, so I think you have to pick them to go through.
Here's how I see this playing out. Cuba and Japan will win the opening games. On the loser's side of the bracket, the Netherlands will avenge an earlier 5-2 loss to Taiwan, while Cuba will win the rematch with Japan and advance to the semifinals.
That will leave Japan to face the Netherlands. As much as I would love to see the Netherlands go through, this is Japan's tournament. Expect the Netherlands to battle, but I'm not willing to knock Japan out in the second round. I just don't see it happening.
That leaves Cuba and Japan to advance to the semifinals, where they'll likely be facing down some combination of Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Puerto Rico or perhaps even Canada.
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