Whilst the countdown to regular season baseball action has just dipped below two months, bettors might want to get a little warm up ahead of time in the form of the World Baseball Classic.
Held between Mar. 2 and Mar. 19, the tournament features 16 international teams vying for the prestigious award, an award Japan has won in the first two WBC tournaments.
The first round-robin pool of games will be held in Fukuoka (Japan), Taichung (Taiwan), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Phoenix, Ariz., over the first 10 days of March.
The winner and runner-up in all four groups will then be separated into two more groups, and partake in a double-elimination tournament, held in Tokyo and Miami, Fla.
The winner and runner-up of each of these pools will make their way to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, where a pair of semifinals (Mar. 17/18) will determine which two sides meet in the final on Mar. 19.
Whilst bettors might not be used to the tournament, there’s plenty of action to be had. Read on for Casino Review’s early preview of the teams involved in the tournament.
Favorites to win the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the United States will look to rebound from a disappointing semifinal loss to eventual winner Japan back in 2009. One of 12 automatic qualifiers, Joe Torre’s U.S. side will field a team of MLB All-Stars, headlined by the likes of Mark Teixeira (NYY), Giancarlo Stanton (MIA), Joe Mauer (MIN), Brandon Phillips (CIN), and Adam Jones (BAL). The American pitching roster features Cy Young award-winner R.A. Dickey (TOR), World Series-winner Ryan Vogelsong (SF), and 2012 stand-out Kris Medlen (ATL).
2006: 8th (eliminated after second pool stage)
2009: 4th (lost semifinal to Japan)
Dominican Republic (3/1)
The Dominican Republic currently sits second in the eyes of the odds makers. With a team made up entirely of MLB talent – although veteran catcher Miguel Olivo has agreed a minor league deal with the Reds earlier this week – Felipe Alou’s side will be dangerous from the get go. Spearheaded by Robinson Cano (NYY), Adrian Beltre (TEX), Hanley Ramirez (LAD), and Jose Reyes (TOR), the side will look to more than make up for an embarrassing ninth-place finish last time out.
2006: 4th (lost semifinal to Cuba)
2009: 9th (eliminated after first pool stage)
Japan will look to make it three in a row having won both the 2006 and 2009 Classics. The side currently resides behind the U.S. and Dominican Republic in the eyes of the bookies, but as the side from the Orient has shown time and again, they’ll be tough to beat again this year. Japan’s squad consists entirely of played plying their trade in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, Japan’s top flight of baseball. This will be the first Classic without veteran pitcher Daisuke Matsusaka, the MVP of both the 2006 and 2009 editions of the tournament.
2006: Gold medal (defeated Cuba 10-6 in final)
2009: Gold medal (defeated South Korea 5-3 in final)
Having fallen to South Korea in the 2009 edition of the WBC, Venezuela will look to go at least one step further and make it to the final. The side will have 2012 World Series winners Pablo Sandova, Marco Scutaro, and Jose Mijares to lead the charge, while former Giant Melky Cabrera (TOR), Elvis Andrus (TEX), Carlos Zambrono (MIA), and reining AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (DET), will make this a tough team to beat.
2006: 7th (eliminated after second pool stage)
2009: Bronze medal (lost semifinal to South Korea)
South Korea (10/1)
A medalist in each of the first two Classics, South Korea will look to add a gold medal to its silver and bronze haul. While fans may not recognize too many players on the team’s roster – which is built up almost entirely of players from the Korea Baseball Organization, South Korea has talent by the bucket load. In 2006, three players named to the All-WBC Team came from South Korea, while the side sent four players to the 2009 All-WBC Team. This is the dark horse side of the competition.
2006: Bronze medal (lost semifinal to Japan)
2009: Silver medal (lost final to Japan)
A perennial powerhouse in international baseball, Cuba had a disappointing 2009 WBC, and will be hoping 2013 turns out to be more along the lines of 2006’s silver medal appearance. With a roster of players from the country’s Serie Nacional Baseball, it’s hard to know how good the side will be, but history tells us that Cuba will be a tough out.
2006: Silver medal (lost final to Japan)
2009: 6th (eliminated after second pool stage)
Canada successfully qualified for the WBC by fending-off the Czech Republic, Germany, and Great Britain, securing its third appearance at the tournament. The side includes Justin Morneau (MIN), Brett Lawrie (TOR), and Russell Martin, who signed with Pittsburgh back in November.
2006: 9th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 13th (eliminated after first pool stage)
Puerto Rico (20/1)
St. Louis third base coach Jose Oquendo will manage a Puerto Rico side that features the likes of Yadier Molina (STL), Jose Molina (TB), Carlos Beltran (STL), Angel Pagan (SF), and Alex Rios (CWS). Having finished a consistent fifth in both previous tournaments, the team will hope to go one better and make it to the semifinal, and perhaps the final, to be held at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
2006: 5th (eliminated after second pool stage)
2009: 5th (eliminated after second pool stage)
Chinese Taipei (22/1)
Chinese Taipei secured a third appearance at the Classic by winning a qualifying group that included New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand. Free agent pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (formerly of the Yankees and most recently Washington) will take the mound during the tournament.
2006: 12th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 14th (eliminated after first pool stage)
Having made it to the second pool stage in each of the previous tournaments, Mexico – led by Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) – will look to advance to the medal stage of the tournament in 2013. Only three players on the Mexican roster are not currently signed to a Major League club: Rod Barajas, a free agent after one year in Pittsburgh; Karim Garcia, a long time veteran who played for no fewer than seven MLB teams between 1995 and 2004; and Jorge Cantu, who made the roster with four different MLB organizations between 2004 and 2011. Despite this, odds makers aren’t keen on the side, ranking it 10th in the tournament.
2006: 6th (eliminated after second pool stage)
2009: 8th (eliminated after second pool stage)
Former Seattle and Washington manager John McLaren will lead a Chinese side looking to advance to the second pool stage for the first time. That side will include veteran pitcher Bruce Chen (KC) and Cincinnati minor leaguer Ray Chang, alongside a core group of China Baseball League stars. Having finished outside of the top 10 in both previous tournaments, bookmakers expect the side to do similar this March.
2006: 15th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 11th (eliminated after first pool stage)
The Netherlands showed improvement in the 2009 WBC, advancing to the second pool stage ahead of the much-favored Dominican Republic. The Dutch side will look to achieve the same again this time around. Andruw Jones – currently signed with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan after finishing his one-year contract with the Yankees – will again play for the Netherlands, as he did in 2003.
2006: 11th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 7th (eliminated after second pool stage)
Australia will make its third appearance in the WBC knowing that things have not gone all that well so far. The side is 1-5 in WBC tournament games. Dodgers’ reliever Pete Moylan will be joined by an assortment of minor league players and those plying their trade in the Australian Baseball League in a bid to advance to the second pool stage of the tournament for the first time.
2006: 13th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 12th (eliminated after first pool stage)
Managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Brazil qualified for its first ever WBC tournament by outlasting a group that included Colombia, Nicaragua, and Panama. The squad is made-up almost exclusively of minor leaguers and those plying their trade in Japan.
2006: Did not qualify
2009: Did not qualify
Having finished 10th in both the 2006 and 2009 WBC, Italy was an automatic qualifier for the 2013 tournament, but bookmakers don’t like the team’s odds. Nick Punto (LAD), Francisco Cervelli (NYY), and Jeff Bianchi (MIL) will look to prove the bookies wrong.
2006: 10th (eliminated after first pool stage)
2009: 10th (eliminated after first pool stage)
Like Brazil, Spain will be playing in its first ever World Baseball Classic tournament, after qualifying ahead of France, Israel, and South Africa. The side includes Paco Rodriguez (LAD), Engel Beltre (TEX), and Fernando Martinez (HOU), as well as a number of minor league prospects.
2006: Did not qualify
2009: Did not qualify
Odds to Win 2013 World Baseball Classic
Dominican Republic 3/1
South Korea 10/1
Puerto Rico 20/1
Chinese Taipei 22/1
Pool A (Fukuoka Dome, Fukuoka, Japan) Mar. 2 – Mar. 6
Japan, China, Cuba, Brazil
Pool B (Taichung International Baseball Stadium, Taichung City, Taiwan) Mar. 2 – Mar. 5
South Korea, Netherlands, Australia, Chinese Taipei
Pool C (Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico) Mar. 7 – Mar. 10
Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Spain
Pool D (Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ, USA) Mar. 7 – Mar. 10
USA, Mexico, Italy, Canada
Pool 1 (Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan) Mar. 8 – Mar. 12
Winner & Runner-up from Pool A and Pool B
Pool 2 (Marlins Park, Miami, FL, USA) Mar. 12 – Mar. 16
Winner & Runner-up from Pool C and Pool D
Finals (AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA, USA) Mar. 17 – Mar. 19
Winner & Runner-up from Pool 1 and Pool 2