The World Baseball Classic begins tomorrow, when Pool A gets things popping at 4:30AM Eastern. In conjunction this week, and next, with Swing and a Long Drive and The IronPigPen, we're going to glance over our picks for who will advance to the 2nd round of the WBC.
The easiest pick in the bunch, to win their pool is Japan in Pool A. The defending WBC champs easily have the best roster in this bracket. Also, Japan may very well have the best starting pitching duo in the entire Classic. Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka are likely to be a knockout 1-2 punch on the mound, especially in Pool A. Most of you should be familiar with "Dice-K", but if you haven't heard of Darvish...you should be watching Japan closely. The 6'5" fireballer is just 22 years old and already is winning awards in Japan. He also has completed back-to-back seasons with both double digit complete games and an ERA under 2. Other major leaguers on Team Japan are Kenji Johjima, Ichiro Suzuki, Kosuke Fukudome and Akinori Iwamura.
My prediction to leave Pool A as the runner up and advance to the 2nd round is Korea. Slugger Tae Kyun Kim of the Korea Baseball Organization is one to watch out for. Korean Chan Ho Park is skipping the Classic, in order to focus on winning that 5th spot in the Phils' starting rotation.
Pool B features Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa. My pick to win out of this group is Cuba. Team Cuba made it to the finals of the inaugural Classic, losing to Japan, and they are expected to have a shot at revenge. Pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo performed well in 2006's Classic, and Cuba is depending on him to shut down the opposition once again. My pick to advance as a runner up will be this bracket's host squad, Mexico.
Oh, say can you see...that Team USA will win Pool C? Matt Stairs and Team Canada is hosting the first round, but they'll have to deal with losing, while USA and Venezuela advance. USA and Venezuela are packed with major leaguers, but the Americans' pitching will ensure the win. Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy could give Yu and Dice-K a run for the best starting pitching tandem in the WBC.
And lastly, there's Pool D with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. "The DR" is one of the favorites to win it all this year. This squad is strong and could dominate this Pool, but it does have some problems. First, A-Rod is having hip trouble and could miss the Classic. Another potential hindrance to this squad is that it has several outstanding shortstops (Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada), but only one of them can play at a time. With these concerns in mind, and knowing which teams my cohorts selected, I will choose Puerto Rico as my Pool D winner, with the Dominicans advancing as the runners up.
We'll reconvene next week for more analysis, when we each pick a winner of the entire WBC. In the meantime, be sure to check out my blogging cohorts' links above. Amanda and Rolf do very good work with their pages.