The third World Baseball Classic got underway this past weekend in Japan and Taiwan.
Pool A was business as usual with two-time defending champions Japan and tournament-powerhouse Cuba advancing onto the next round.
Pool B, however, offered some intrigue as host nation Chinese Taipei advanced to the second round for the first time, and the Netherlands advanced to the second round for a second consecutive WBC. 2009 WBC runner-up Korea was bounced in the first round.
Cuba remains the only undefeated team in the tournament.
The Cubans paced Pool A play and never trailed in tournament, with a 5-2 victory over Brazil, a 12-0 pummeling of China, and a convincing 6-3 victory over Japan, positioning Cuba as the team to beat on this side of the bracket.
The Cuban bats destroyed the Pool A pitching, leading the tournament with a .320 team batting average and 23 runs scored.
Cuban infielder Jose Abreu leads the WBC with nine RBIs in the first three games of the tournament. The Cubans pitching also mowed down the opposition, leading the tournament with a 1.08 team ERA.
Defending champs Japan went 2-1 in pool play, including an easy 5-2 victory over China, a thrilling 5-3 comeback victory over Brazil, and defeat at the hands of the Cubans.
The Japanese offense was reliable but not impressive, scoring 13 runs, third-best in the tournament. But the Japanese are batting only .228 as a team.
Their 3.46 team ERA has been reliable, but not dominant, and compared with what the Cubans are bringing, the Japanese will have to take it to another level if they want to defend their crown.
China and Brazil rounded out the rest of Pool A, China going 1-2 and Brazil 0-3.
The Brazilians just couldn’t catch a break in the tournament, blowing a 2-0 lead in the 8th inning to the Chinese, who at the very least, secured a spot in the 2017 WBC.
Pool B was far more competitive with three teams sporting a 2-1 record.
Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands advanced based on runs scored in the three games.
Although the Taiwanese lost 3-2 to the Koreans in the final game of Pool B play, they were buoyed by their 8-3 rout of the Netherlands, whereas the Koreans were unable to recover from a 5-0 shutout at the hands of the Dutch.
The three teams also abused Team Australia, who was seen as the weakest team in the tournament, and scored only two runs en route to an 0-3 record.
The Taiwanese defeated the Aussies 4-1 in the first game of the tournament. The Dutch made a big statement by defeating the Koreans 5-0, before falling to Chinese Taipei. However, the Dutch followed that by downing the Australians, 4-1.
Although the Koreans shut out the Aussies 6-0 in a bounce back game, their 3-2 victory over Chinese Taipei was not enough to carry them to the second round, and the Koreans had their first ever first-round exit from the WBC.
Chinese Taipei paced Pool B with 14 runs scored and a .274 team batting average.
The Netherlands led Pool B with a 2.08 team ERA, tied for second best in the tournament so far.
The four teams advance to the world famous Tokyo Dome where they will play a modified double-elimination tournament. Cuba will play the Netherlands Thursday evening, while the Japan and Chinese Taipei match up will take place in the early morning hours.
Meanwhile, Italy and Mexico are underway in Pool D play, with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela offering a dynamite match up to open Pool C play.