Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic Predictions

Every four years, the World Baseball Classic rolls around and 16 counties from all over the world duke it out in the month of March for international bragging rights. Japan won the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2009, while the Dominican Republic won the latest in 2013.

This year, 14 teams make their fourth appearances in the tournament with Israel and Colombia serving as the newcomers. Will the Dominican be like Japan and bring home back-to-back titles? Will the USA finally rise to the occasion and give this country a tournament title in an international sport that is not women's soccer? Will a team like Israel or Colombia shock the world and actually advance past the first round?

I don't have the answers to really any of these, but I can predict to the best of my ability what I think may happen. So without further adieu, here are my predictions for the 2017 World Baseball Classic!

Round 1
Pool A: Seoul, South Korea
No. 4 Chinese Taipei
No. 41 Israel
No. 3 Korea
No. 9 Netherlands

Winners: No. 41 Israel, No. 9 Netherlands

Why: This is Israel's first run in the World Baseball Classic, so they will embrace the underdog role and play with nothing holding them back. I have read articles saying that they relish being such a heavy underdog and low-key I will be pulling for them in the tournament.

On the other side, the Netherlands came a win away from playing in the championship game last World Baseball Classic in 2013. With an even better squad bolstered by superstars like Xander Bogaerts, Kenley Jansen, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons, and Jurickson Profar, the Netherlands once again fields another championship-caliber squad.

Pool B: Tokyo, Japan
No. 10 Australia
No. 18 China
No. 5 Cuba
No. 1 Japan


Winners: No. 1 Japan, No. 5 Cuba

Why: Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics, so already it should be understood they know how to win in this tournament. Though not a single player on their roster plays in the MLB, the Japanese know the game of baseball well and are always fundamentally sound.

Cuba had all the potential in the world to be stacked to the brim had players like Jose Fernandez (RIP El Niño), Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Yoan Mocada, Yasmany Tomás, Jose Abreu, and many others decided to play in the tournament. Unfortunately, no player on the Cuban roster is from the MLB. The closest superstar ties the Cuban team has to everyone is Yoenis Cespedes's younger brother, Yoelkis.

Pool C: Miami, United States
No. 8 Canada
No. 19 Colombia
No. 13 Dominican Republic
No. 2 United States

Winners: No. 2 United States, No. 13 Dominican Republic

Why: In the past three World Baseball Classic tournaments, the United States has never finished higher than fourth. This year, they will be looking to get the monkey off their back with a lineup full of superstars like Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Josh HarrisonAlex Bregman, Adam Jones, Eric Hosmer, and Daniel Murphy to name a bunch.

On the mound, there is also a plethora of talent with guys like Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson, and David Robertson.

With a team this deep, many in the States are hoping that this is finally the WBC where the USA figures it out and brings an actual world championship home for the country.

On the flip side, the Dominican Republic is the defending champions after an 8-0 run in the 2013 tournament. Their roster is all-around stacked as well. Their lineup consists of Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, Starling MarteNelson Cruz, Gregory Polanco, Jean Segura, Carlos Santana, Jonathan VillarWellington Castillo, and Jose Reyes to name a bunch.

Their pitching staff and bullpen contains quality players like Edison Volquez, Alex Colome, Bartolo Colon, Dellin Betances, Jeurys FamiliaIván Nova, Carlos Martinez, Fernando Rodney, and Luis Severino. They definitely look like the team to beat and could as well go undefeated yet again for back-to-back titles.

Pool D: Jalisco, Mexico
No. 11 Italy
No. 6 Mexico
No. 12 Puerto Rico
No. 7 Venezuela

Winners: No. 12 Puerto Rico, No. 11 Italy

Why: Puerto Rico finished runner-up in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and has a very good shot at returning to the championship game in this tournament. Their roster is full of young talent like Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor sprinkled in with veterans like Yadier Molina, Carlos BeltranÁngel Pagán, and Mike Avilés.  The pitching staff is not as formidable with young guys like José Berríos and José De León leading the way.

Italy has finished no higher than seventh in the WBC, and that came in the 2013 tournament. They have no premier superstar, but have a few decent players in Francisco Cervelli, Drew Butera, Daniel Descalso, and Chris Colabello.

Round 2
Pool E: Tokyo, Japan
No. 5 Cuba
No. 41 Israel
No. 1 Japan
No. 9 Netherlands

Winners: No. 41 Israel, No. 9 Netherlands

Why: The magic of Pool A will continue as Israel and the Netherlands will storm through Tokyo on route to semifinals appearances. Cuba will not be able to keep up while Israel will defeat Japan in their own backyard. I like the Netherlands beating Israel here as well.

Pool F: San Diego, United States
No. 13 Dominican Republic
No. 11 Italy
No. 12 Puerto Rico
No. 2 United States

Winners: No. 2 United States, No. 13 Puerto Rico

Why: San Diego will be stacked if this is what the pool shapes up to be. Italy will be overmatched and meet their end yet again in the second round. Either Puerto Rico or United States will make their citizens proud and defeat the Dominican to get to the semifinals. I think the United States will also emerge unscathed to enter the championship round with a 6-0 record.

Round 3
Championship Round: Los Angeles, United States
Semifinals 1: No. 2 United States over No. 9 Netherlands
Semifinals 2: No. 41 Israel over No. 13 Puerto Rico
Championship: No. 2 United States over No. 41 Israel

Why: In their second consecutive semifinals, the Netherlands will fall as a red hot United States team defeats them to earn their first WBC championship game berth. In the other semifinal, Puerto Rico will fall to dark horse Israel as their cinderella run continues.

2017 WBC Champion
No. 2 United States!

Why: In the championship, the United States will finally bring home the long-awaited World Baseball Classic Championship! In a memorable game against a scrappy Israel team they will prevail and give the Red, White, and Blue their first ever championship in an international men's competition (not counting Olympics here).

Final Thoughts
Regardless if I am right or completely wrong (which tends to happen), it will be a fun World Baseball Classic either way! I look forward to watching 16 countries compete in both the spirit of nationalism and sportsmanship. Good luck to each and every team participating in the tournament!



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