As Major League Baseball’s Opening Day nears, many baseball fans have turned their attention to the international stage.
Every four years, the World Baseball Classic gives international talent a chance to be seen on the big stage, and this year is exciting as ever. After the tournament was delayed two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the field of teams grew from 16 to 20 teams.
While the United States possesses a ridiculous lineup of hitters, including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, their weak rotation of pitchers could be their downfall.
The U.S. will be challenged by international juggernauts from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Japan.
The Dominican Republic squad is led by perennial All-Stars Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Rafael Devers, while Julio Rodriguez and Wander Franco are exciting young stars.
As absurd as their lineup is, their pitching staff may give them the biggest edge over other countries. The D.R.’s rotation consists of reigning Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, Cristian Javier, Roansy Contreras and Johnny Cueto.
A stacked bullpen should carry the D.R. to the bracket stage if their starters can provide strong starts. Luis Garcia, Hector Neris and Bryan Abreu cap off this incredible team that looks to take back the WBC trophy, which they last won two tournaments ago in 2013.
Puerto Rico, the runner-up in 2013, will be just as entertaining to watch but may have more surprises.
While they don’t have the star power that the U.S. and D.R. bring to the table, they have a bunch of solid players who make this team dangerous in the tournament.
Francisco Lindor and Javier Báez man the middle infield. Also on the squad are Kiké Hernández and Christian Vásquez, big names the Boston baseball faithful may recognize.
Marcus Stroman and José Berríos lead the pitching rotation, however, availability issues may plague this team’s success. Edwin Díaz of the New York Mets was tasked with the possibility of pitching on back-to-back nights, which the Mets did not want going into the tournament. If the Mets force Diaz to sit out of the tournament, Puerto Rico will take a major blow to their chances of advancing past the group stage.
Japan, on the other hand, will avoid facing this issue. Their star pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, will not face any restrictions from the Los Angeles Angels. Japan is a top-three team in the world, who will have home-field advantage throughout pool play.
The reigning champs, the U.S., will face the tall task of taking these teams down. But if there’s a team that’s able to go back-to-back, it’s this one. This team is loaded with depth, with MLB stars Will Smith and Kyle Schwarber coming off the bench (!!!).
As Trea Turner and Nolan Arenado handle the left side of the infield, Paul Goldschmidt covers first base. But the central part of this lineup comes with Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, who will both start in the outfield. There isn’t much more to say.
A strong pitching staff makes this team a heavy contender and continues to prove U.S. baseball dominance.
As the World Baseball Classic group stage wraps up this week, it will be interesting to see how these international powerhouses handle their strengths and weaknesses heading into the bracket stage.