The 2009 WBC saw Japan repeat as champions and the United States advancing to the semifinals, their best finish in the tournament. Japan, led by pitching phenom Yu Darvish and Ichiro, defeated Venezuela in the championship game. After a disappointing eighth place finish in 2006, the United States was led by Derek Jeter and Adam Dunn and finished third in 2009. For the second straight time, Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka was named MVP of the tournament.
Going into the tournament this year, the United States looks to build on their strong 2009 finish. Here is a look at the different pools for the first round of play:
Pool A: Japan, China, Cuba, Brazil
Pool B: Korea, Netherlands, Australia, Chinese-Taipei
Pool C: Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain
Pool D: United States, Mexico, Italy, Canada
Returning players David Wright and Shane Victorino lead the charge for the United States. Listed below is the starting lineup for the U.S. team:
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: David Wright
SS: Jimmy Rollins
OF: Ryan Braun
OF: Adam Jones
OF: Giancarlo Stanton
DH: Shane Victorino/Ben Zobrist
RP: Steve Cishek
RP: Chris Perez
RP: Vinnie Pestano
RP: Luke Gregerson
RP: Jeremy Affeldt
CL: Craig Kimbrel
Although Japan doesn’t have any MLB players on their roster, they are still considered the favorites to win the WBC for a third time. They return eight players from their championship team in 2009 and are in a fairly weak pool. The United States has a relatively easy pool, as they should advance to the second round along with Mexico. Look for Cuba to advance with Japan in Pool A, while Pool C seems to have three viable candidates in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Pool B will also be competitive, as there is no clear favorite among the four teams, but Korea and Chinese Taipei should advance. Two teams from each pool advance to the second round, which is comprised of a double-elimination setup.
The United States bolsters a high-powered squad, led by power hitters such as Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton. However, the pitching staff is weak towards the back end and it will be interesting to see how manager Joe Torre manages his bullpen. The bullpen is lights out, as Craig Kimbrel and Chris Perez should shut down opponents late in games. They don’t have much depth off the bench, but their star players should carry them to the finals. The United States team looks primed for a championship appearance, as their hitting will carry them throughout the tournament. Team USA begins the WBC on March 8th against Mexico on MLB Network.