After all the qualifying games, four countries hosting Pool play and then two semifinal rounds on different coasts of the United States, the 2013 World Baseball Classic will wrap up on Tuesday, with just five teams left standing.
What started with 16 teams gets down to the final four on Saturday, when the final game of Pool 2 takes place. Action shifts to San Francisco starting on Sunday, when Japan will play the runner-up from Pool 2 and the Netherlands will take on the winner of Pool 2.
Baseball is a funny game that can turn on a dime, so even with a handful of games left, the drama is going to be ratcheted up to 11. Here is what we expect for the final days of this year's World Baseball Classic.
Dominican Republic and United States will win Pool 2
This one isn't much of a shock, since they are the two best teams in the Pool. But Puerto Rico is getting underrated, just because not a lot of fans have seen what they can do.
There is nothing flashy that Puerto Rico does—it is just a solid team that manages to play well each day. This is a team that had the Dominican Republic on the ropes before a three-run seventh inning gave the Dominican team its first and only lead of the game.
As solid as Puerto Rico has looked, not to mention some of Team USA's struggles on the mound and with runners in scoring position, it is hard to see that team beating both the Dominican and United States to get out of this bracket.
It seems almost by default, but the Dominican Republic and United States will be heading to San Francisco this weekend.
Japan will fail in its first WBC Semifinal game
Which team will give the Dominican Republic and/or United States the most problems?
If you were to make a list of the best teams in the WBC, based on the way they have played, Japan would be No. 1 or 1A (along with the Dominican Republic). This team has won games with great pitching, as its starters have allowed just two earned runs in 10.2 innings pitched in Pool 1.
But the real surprise has been the way the offense has sprung to life. Japan has pummeled opponents into submission, particularly the Netherlands, outscoring that team 26-10 in the two Pool 1 games.
Based on what we expect, with the Dominican Republic and United States moving on, Japan will have its hands full with either one in the semifinal game.
The one time Japan lost this year was when it went up against a Cuban team that could drive the ball out of the park. Japan didn't have to play Cuba in Pool 1--the two did square off in a Pool A game that only counted for seeding, as both already secured a second-round berth--giving it a slight breather heading into the Semifinals.
Both the Dominican Republic and United States possess the kind of offense, with power throughout the lineup, that has given Japan fits in this event. Japan has had a great run in this event so far, but it will end on Sunday night.
Dominican Republic and United States will meet in the finals
All of the games that have come before will lead us to the inevitable showdown between the Dominican Republic and United States on Tuesday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
We got a good preview of what these two countries can do against each other on Thursday night, and there are still two more games to go in Pool 2 before everything is set, but the Dominican Republic and United States are on a crash course towards meeting again.
The United States struggled out of the gate but has looked a lot better, particularly against Canada and Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic has smacked teams around with its offensive firepower and gotten solid pitching performances when it has needed one.
Japan, Netherlands and Puerto Rico will bring everything they have left, but ultimately the Dominican Republic and United States were the top two teams coming into the World Baseball Classic and have done nothing to change that opinion so far.