Devoid of its own World Cup and denied inclusion in the most recent Summer Olympics, baseball lacked a consistent and legitimate world showcase until the creation of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. The tournament will occur for the third time in 2013, running from March 2 to March 19 and featuring 16 countries from four different continents.

The United States failed to meet expectations in the two previous installments of the WBC — just once finishing in the top four (fourth place in 2009) — as has the Dominican Republic, whose best finish was fourth in 2006. Japan, on the other hand, has dominated the event, winning both tournaments while enigmatic Cleveland Indians  pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, formerly of the Boston Red Sox has swept the tourney’s MVP awards.

Although I am a profound believer in the variability in baseball when the game is reduced to just a few contests, the United States and Dominican Republic appear to once again be the favorites. The tournament’s format, however, enables several teams to have a legitimate opportunity at a championship: It starts off with four pools of four playing internally, with two teams from each pool advancing into two new groups, with a double-elimination format. The top two teams from these pools then play in knockout semifinals and finals.

Let’s dive into this year’s World Baseball Classic predictions.

 

First Round — Pool A: Japan, China, Cuba, Brazil. Picks: Japan and Cuba to advance

Japan and Cuba, easily the group’s frontrunners, both boast rosters of players unknown to most American observers, with squads composed entirely of domestic league players. Unfortunately for MLB fans, that means no Yoenis Cespedes or Aroldis Chapman from Cuba due to political restraints, but outfielder Jose Dariel Abreu might be the country’s next big star. Likewise for Japan, 24-year-old pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is a legitimate anchor for Japan’s pitching staff and a potential MLB ace.

 

First Round — Pool B: South Korea, Netherlands, Australia, Taiwan. Picks: South Korea and the Netherlands to advance

Another team featuring solely domestic players, the South Korean squad is a legitimate threat in the tournament after a runner-up finish in the 2009 competition. The Netherlands, which possesses some excellent young talent, was dealt a blow upon recent revelations that top MLB prospectJurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers will not take part in the tournament. Even so, the squad should still have enough to advance, with former star Andruw Jones and future stars AndreltonSimmons of the Atlanta Braves and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox leading the charge.

 

First Round — Pool C: Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain. Picks: Dominican Republic and Venezuela to advance

If there is one “Group of Death” in this tournament, it is Pool C, with three MLB star-laden heavyweights in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. With a roster featuring Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz, the Dominican Republic is my favorite in the group. Venezuela arguably has an an equally impressive squad, though, with reigning MLB MVP Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Asdrubal Cabrera, ElvisAndrus, Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Montero, Carlos Gonzalez, Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra. Puerto Rico — led by Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Alex Rios and Angel Pagan — got some tough luck with this draw.

 

First Round — Pool D: United States, Mexico, Italy, Canada. Picks: United States and Mexico to advance

The United States — with heavyweights at the plate like David Wright, Ryan Braun, GiancarloStanton, Adam Jones and Joe Mauer and rising stars on the mound such as Craig Kimbrel and GioGonzalez — is my favorite for not only Pool D but also the entire tournament. Second place for the tourney’s final group, however, appears to be a battle between Mexico and Canada. Ultimately, I will take the former, which boasts stars like Yovani Gallardo and Adrian Gonzalez that outduel the likes of Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie and others.

Second Round — Japan, Cuba, South Korea, the Netherlands. Picks: Japan and Cuba to advance

This is easily the weaker of the two second-round pools. Look for Japan to advance to the knockout rounds and Cuba to narrowly edge South Korea for the second position, with an expected breakout from the aforementioned Abreu.

 

Second Round — Dominican Republic, Venezuela, United States, Mexico. Picks: Venezuela and United States to advance

Wow, what a group. While Mexico is no slouch, the battle to advance will ultimately come down to the other three squads. With each posing excellent lineups, the teams with the best pitching staffs will ultimately have the edge, which tilts things in favor of Venezuela and the United States.

 

Knockout Rounds — Japan vs. United States, Cuba vs. Venezuela. Finals — United States vs. Venezuela. Champion: United States

The best way to pick single-game scenarios is to rely on talent, and the United States and Venezuela simply possess the best players of the four remaining teams. It would be interesting to see if Venezuela would pit Anibal Sanchez in the semifinals and save Hernandez for the title, as well as if the United States would likewise keep Gio Gonzalez for the finals.

While it may be safe to hedge my bet by saying one of my three favorites (United States, Venezuela and Dominican Republic) will win the title, I believe 2013 will be a breakthrough for the Stars and Stripes, with the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton establishing himself as a leading MVP candidate as we approach the 2013 MLB season.

 

Preston Barclay is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears every Tuesday.

 

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