The 2013 World Baseball Classic rolls on with play in Pool 2 of the second round. It's been an exciting event so far, in large part due to unexpected teams like Italy and the Netherlands making an impact beyond what was expected when the event began.
It's already been an eventful week with the end of group play in Pools C and D, two countries clinching berths in the semifinals and the start of Pool 2, which is where the United States resides as it looks to earn a trip to San Francisco.
Let's examine some of the biggest storylines to emerge over the past couple days before taking a look ahead at what the rest of the week holds. For a complete list of all the results in the tournament so far and a look at the upcoming schedule, visit WBC's official site.
United States Survives
After dropping its Pool D opener to Mexico, the United States was immediately thrown into two high-pressure situations. The second one, following a victory over Italy, was a must-win situation against Canada on Sunday.
Following seven tense innings, after which the Americans were trailing 3-2, the offense exploded for seven runs over the final two frames to ensure they would advance. Adam Jones provided the first key hit in the eighth and Eric Hosmer secured the game with a bases-clearing double in the ninth.
Along with that second consecutive clutch win came a boost of confidence for the United States. Surviving the near elimination, and the backlash that would have ensued, lifted a burden from the players' shoulders.
It showed in a 7-1 win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
Japan Finds Its Stride
Japan advanced from Pool A, but did so without looking dominant. The two-time defending champions scored narrow victories over Brazil and China before losing to Cuba. At that point, it was fair to wonder if a third title was a realistic goal.
In the second round, the Japanese squad eliminated that doubt. Two straight convincing wins over the Netherlands, 16-4 on Sunday and 10-6 on Tuesday, put them firmly back in the contender category and earned them the top seed coming out of the pool.
Shinnosuke Abe hit two home runs in Tuesday's win, providing the power expected coming into the event. With four other players also posting an OPS above 1.000 through two rounds, Japan has set itself up nicely for another run at the title.
Andrelton Simmons Stars
There were no shortage of predictions for the breakout star the World Baseball Classic would produce. While there's still time for other players to steal the distinction away, the leader right now has to be Netherlands shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
He's tied for second in the tournament with 19 total bases, behind only Robinson Cano, to go along with a .370 average and two home runs. The 23-year-old rising star has also flashed tremendous fielding ability with several highlight-reel plays.
The Atlanta Braves entered Spring Training with questions about who would fill the leadoff spot, a role Simmons has filled for the Netherlands after the departure of Michael Bourn. His performance should give the team more confidence as the main option.
Japan and the Netherlands have earned spots in the semifinal round, which will take place at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Fans don't have to wait long for the next big game, as one more country will join the semifinal group on Thursday night.
The United States and the Dominican Republic face off for a spot in the final four. The winner guarantees advancement, although seeding will still need to be decided, while the loser must win another game to earn a berth.
Everything in Pool 2 will be sorted out by Saturday afternoon.