I have to admit: I’m much more interested in the World Baseball Classic this year than in the first two iterations. I don’t know why; perhaps its because I’ve become much more interested in prospects over the past few years, and the WBC rosters for the lesser teams are filled with minor league prospects. I’m definitely watching the games though and have been really enjoying the competitions. Here’s a quick review of the first rounds in all the pools (note that in the Far East the 2nd round is well underway; we’ll talk about that in a subsequent post).
Pool A: Cuba, Japan, China, Brazil.
No real surprises here: the Brazilian team was expected to finish dead last while international powerhouse Cuba and two-time defending champion Japan advanced relatively easily. Cuba continues its stellar international record with a head-to-head win against Japan to win the group (and as discussed here previously, could be a juggernaut if the defected Cubans could participate as well). The bigger surprise here was China beating out Brazil for the automatic spot in the 2017 classic.
Pool B: Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, South Korea, Australia
A rather big upset here: South Korea finished 3rd and 2nd in the first two WBC tournaments, but fell behind the Netherlands on Run Differential after all three teams finished pool play 2-1. Some have complained about the seedings; clearly by the results of the first two WBC events putting South Korea, Cuba and Japan in the same bracket seems unfair. The Netherlands is filled with players from baseball-playing Dutch colonies such as the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao and Aruba, though it also has a number of players from the Dutch professional league Honkbal Hoofdklasse; either way it was not expected to advance against a traditionally strong Korean team playing so close to home. Former Nat Chien-Ming Wang pitched well for Taiwan, bolstering his attempts to make a comeback after several disappointing seasons with Washington. Our own Roger Bernadina started and played well for the Netherlands as they played their way into the 2nd round.
Pool C: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Spain
There was no surprise who came in dead last (Spain), but I for one was shocked that a stacked Venezuelan lineup couldn’t come out on top of the Puerto Rican team. Meanwhile the starting lineup for the D.R. looked closer to a MLB all-star lineup, and their dominance showed. They’ve under-achieved in every tournament thus far and I look for the D.R. to go far in this tournament. It was nice to see former Nats farm hand and prospect-watching favorite Christopher Manno pitching for Spain, even if he didn’t fare that well.
Pool D: USA, Italy, Canada, Mexico
For a while on Sunday, it looked like the USA was closer to finishing dead last (and having to qualify for the next tournament) than winning it, but that’s the surprises involved in pool play. After getting completely out-played by Mexico in the opener, the USA squeaked by Italy on the strength of 4 scoreless, nearly flawless innings from Ross Detwiler before turning it on late to beat Canada. Meanwhile, the “Italian” team (I put that in quotes since i’d challenge someone to find more than a handful of the Italian team that actually speaks the language) surprises everyone by finishing second. Meanwhile, Mexico finishes dead last behind a surprisingly good Canadian team (whose 3-4-5 hitters batted something like .450 for the tournament) and faces qualification for the next tournament. An interesting pool all around, which could have looked very differently with just a few runs here or there.
Brackets for the Semi final rounds (some of which have already started as of the time of this writing):
2nd Round Pool 1: Netherlands v Cuba, Japan v Chinese Taipei
2nd Round Pool 2: Italy v Dominican Republic, USA v Puerto Rico
Pool 1’s favorites have to be Japan and Cuba, while Pool 2’s favorites have to be USA and the Dominican Republic. But, the Netherlands and Italy have played far above their supposed skill level thus far and we could be in for more shocks.