Baseball is back as spring training is fully underway, and fans are eager for the season to get going on March 30. But before MLB Opening Day is upon us, the best from each nation will represent their countries in the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Last played in 2017 in California, the United States won its first ever WBC with a 8-0 win over Puerto Rico in Dodger Stadium. This time around, the U.S. and their squad might have their work cut out for them. While they do have the second-best odds to win the tournament, a handful of countries are bringing both explosiveness and experience to the world stage.
Here are the favorites to win the whole thing.
It’s no surprise that Japan will be in the running for the gold. The 31-man squad has tons of experience and plenty of top notch pitching, which will be led by MLB stars Shohei Ohtani (Angels) and Yu Darvish (Padres).
The last time around, in 2017, the Japanese lost in the semifinal 2-1 to the United States. However, their roster is stronger this time to get them back to the championship game. Reigning Nippon Professional Baseball triple crown winner and MVP Munetaka Murakami is playing in his first WBC and is ready to showcase his power to the world.
Their outfield is full of MLB talent in Lars Nootbaar (Cardinals), Seiya Suzuki (Cubs) and Masataka Yoshida (Red Sox), who are all young, multiple-tool players that can give the two-time WBC champions game-changing production.
After a disappointing go-around six years ago, Team Japan is back with A-list names, ready to claim the gold once again.
With no surprise, the United States has a roster that could do some serious damage. As defending champs, the U.S rebuilt their domestic team from the ground up while making sure the big name vets get the nod as well.
J.T Realmuto (Phillies), who’s considered the best catcher in baseball, will be behind the dish, while the infield and outfield lineup is downright unfair. Masher infielders Pete Alonso (Mets) and reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) will lead the power surge in the middle of the lineup while outfielders Mookie Betts (Dodgers), Kyle Schwarber (Phillies) and future first-ballot hall of famer Mike Trout terrorize pitching in their respective spots.
But while the roster off the mound looks enticing, the pitching, starting rotation especially, will be the Achilles’ heel for the Americans. With the ace of the staff being 41-year-old Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), the United States will have to produce lots of runs throughout the group stage. Other notable pitchers in the rotation include Merrill Kelly (Diamondbacks), Miles Mikolas (Cardinals), Brady Singer (Royals) and Kyle Freeland (Rockies), who’s become pretty used to giving up moonshots in Colorado.
If the United States wants to repeat next week, their offense will have to explode and their bullpen will have to be top-notch and disciplined.
The favorites to win the tournament at +250, the Dominican Republic’s squad is stacked. With a healthy mix of old and new, there really isn’t a weakness in this team. If there’s one thing we can take away from the roster, it’s that the D.R. is out to avenge the 2017 team, who were defending champs, that failed to reach the semifinals.
The pitching staff is full of well-known arms that can either make hitters look silly or put holes in catchers’ mitts. The rotation is headlined by NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara (Marlins) and Cristian Javier (Astros), while the highlights of the bullpen are Hector Neris (Astros), Gregory Soto (Phillies) and closer Camilo Doval (Giants).
The position players are even better. There are stars all over the field, with Manny Machado (Padres), Ketel Marte (Diamondbacks) and Rafael Devers (Red Sox) holding down the infield, accompanied by a stacked outfield in Teoscar Hernandez (Mariners), Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) and future $500 million superstar Juan Soto (Padres).
There’s no question the WBC will be an exciting few weeks for baseball fans. Not only will this tournament be an explosion of youthful talentful and passionate nationalism, it will also prepare us for the 2023 MLB season.
Featured image courtesy of World Baseball Classic, Facebook