UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

World Baseball Classic Preview

It’s that time again: Previewing the 2017 World Baseball Classic

We’ve come to the time of thawing snow and feverish moods for spring; for sports fans, that means the first pitch of America’s classic pastime is not far away. But for this particular year, as it has come every three or four years since its inaugural event in 2006, the game of baseball will be treated to an early taste of championship celebration in the form of international competition.

The World Baseball Classic is ready to take stage again for its fourth running, sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation with support from Major League Baseball and their players union, allowing their talent to play for their respective countries in a field of 16 teams. This year’s edition offers something new for world baseball fans after they were treated to a new champion in the last running of the Classic in 2013, courtesy of the winning Dominican Republic squad. This throws in some fresh story lines for teams like Japan, who are looking to get back to their title-winning ways that earned them their first two WBC titles in 2006 and 2009.

Before getting to preview the pools and the match-ups, it should be pointed out that the WBSC and MLB elected to put in a series of qualifiers to give lower-ranked opponents an opportunity to qualify directly to the WBC finals. Australia, Mexico, Israel, and Colombia made it to the field through this manner. Each pool and their respective sets of games take place in a designated venue on a different part of the globe.

Pool A, where the games will be played in Seoul, will feature the host Koreans, Chinese Taipei, the 2013 tournament darlings the Netherlands, and the Israelis. The Koreans boast plenty of talent from their domestic KBO league, with Oh Seung-hwan the only MLBer on a squad favored to take the group. The Dutch, with their diverse array of talent from MLB, the Latin and Caribbean Leagues, and the domestic Honkbal Hoofdklasse, make a good case to move to the next round. Chinese Taipei stands at a disadvantage in terms of roster strength, due to disputes between their domestic governing bodies CTBA and CPBL. Israel stands with a chance to make things interesting, thanks to the roster of American-born talent with Jewish heritage, the majority playing in minor league clubs with MLB team affiliations.

Pool B has the host Japanese with the roster sans Houston’s Nori Aoki stocked exclusively from their NPB organization as they look for their third WBC crown. The New York Yankees of National Team baseball, Cuba, are looking to go farther than their 2013 squad accomplished, falling in the second round with a pair of losses to the Netherlands, all the players except for Fukuoka’s Alfredo Despaigne all play in Cuba’s National Series. Those two teams have the deck stacked against China and Australia, but the latter have shown they have not backed down from such a tough challenge.

Pool C may be the “Group of Death” in this Classic, with all four teams holding plenty of MLB talent: the host United States, Canada, Colombia, and the reigning champion Dominicans. Whoever finishes in the top two positions required to advance will have earned it, and any of those four are capable.

The final pool shows the host Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and another of the 2013 tournament surprises, Italy. Boasting the most MLB talent, the Puerto Ricans stand to be favorites to win their pool despite playing on rival Mexican turf. The other three teams make a compelling case to compete for the other qualifying spot.
Looking at the favorites, the Dominicans have a case to repeat as WBC champions. They hold no shortage of power at the plate, boasting the likes of Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, and the Red Sox’s own Hanley Ramirez, to name a few. The question is whether they will have adequate enough pitching. They do hold a standout ace in Johnny Cueto, but in a tournament where strict pitch limits play a part, their bullpen will be called upon to step up.
The Americans, though talented, are for the most part hamstrung in terms of optimal talent, as other MLB stars eligible to play for them elected to play for the nations of their heritage, such as Mexico’s Adrian Gonzalez. This will make for a tough hill to climb for the Americans in a sport they invented, but in which they have found difficultly competing against powerhouse nations, as opposed to their basketball counterparts. But if there’s anything to be learned from what the WBC has shown us, baseball truly is a global game.