The third edition of the World Baseball Classic got underway last night in Taichung, Taiwan.
Team USA will kick off pool play next week as well as pool-mates from Teams Mexico, Italy and Canada.
Pool play will take place at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ, home of the Diamondbacks. Every team in this pool is looking to make a showing in this tournament. Team USA lost to the eventual champions Japan in the semifinals in 2009, and Team Mexico has lost in the second round of each of the first two WBCs.
What will it take for the Americans to break through and play for the WBC title? We’ll break down the roster and Team USA’s strengths and weaknesses.
First and foremost, Team USA is populated by Major League talent, much like basketball in the Olympics. Every single player on Team USA has a roster spot on an MLB team, that should make the Americans the favorite to win the tournament.
All-Stars line the American infield. Team USA is stacked at catcher with former MVP Joe Mauer, backed up by power-hitting catchers J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays, and Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers.
Team USA remains solid up the middle with Reds’ All-Star Brandon Phillips bringing his gold glove to second base and another former MVP in the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins at short.
David Wright shores up the left-side defense at third base, and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees rounds out the infield.
Despite a rough year at the plate for Teixeira he still brings top-flight defense at first base and the ability to dig out anything.
Phillips and Rollins give Team USA a great balance of speed and power at the top of the order.
David Wright shores up the middle of the order, but Teixeira is an X-factor. Despite having perhaps his worst year as a professional, Teixeira still hit 24 home runs, and he can hit the ball out of the park at any time. Look for Rollins and Phillips to produce at the top of the Team USA order, but if Teixeira can solidify the back end of the lineup, Team USA could be unstoppable.
How would you like to face this all-star lineup of former NL MVP Ryan Braun, Orioles all-star Adam Jones, and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who has already hit 93 home runs at the tender age of 23.
Not a single easy out, and each one not only plays stellar defense, they bring speed to the base paths that other WBC sluggers cannot (Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez).
This is just a nightmare for any opposing pitcher, and each one of these all-star outfielders has a chip on their shoulder to provide some extra motivation. Braun is again battling steroid allegations, Jones wants to prove the Orioles were no fluke, and Stanton is mad that Marlins ownership traded away all of his teammates.
Combine that with the pride of playing for your country, and Team USA has by far the deadliest outfield in the WBC.
Despite all of the all-stars in the Team USA batting order, the true strength of the team lies with the depth of the pitching.
No other WBC team has the mix of dominant starting and relief pitching that the Americans have.
Led by Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez, and Giants veteran Ryan Vogelsong, Team USA has a deep starting rotation that can eat up innings and handle the toughest hitters.
Braves’ all-star closer Craig Kimbrel and Indians’ closer Chris Perez headline a deep Team USA bullpen that can adapt to any pitching situation whether it be a one-run ninth inning game, or middle-inning specialists with Kansas City’s Tim Collins and Cardinals’ righty Mitchell Boggs.
Certainly, Team USA’s main competition in pool play is Team Mexico led by the Dodgers’ own Adrian Gonzalez and Luis Cruz.
Team Japan is the two-time defending WBC champs, and Team Cuba is ranked No. 1 in International Baseball Federation rankings.
I personally think Team Venezuela could do some damage in the tournament. Their lineup is formidable, led by MVP Miguel Cabrera, Giants’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and Rockies’ all-star Carlos Gonzalez.
Despite that trio of hitters, the Venezuelans lack the pitching depth that Team USA possesses.
Fans will get their first look at some of the competition the globe has to offer Friday night as Pool A and Pool B begin play. Japan, Cuba, and Korea lead the field that will be playing in Japan and Taiwan.
Team USA and Team Mexico get underway in a week. All WBC games will be broadcast on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.