(Image courtesy of MLB.com, WBC)
3 Weeks Away…
The 2017 edition of the World Baseball Classic will soon be upon us! To help baseball fans prepare for this year’s edition of the global tournament, I will be previewing each bracket leading up to the start of play in early March. My efforts start in Seoul, Korea with Bracket A.
On paper, the easiest road out of pool play runs through Bracket A. However, taking a closer look at these four teams reveals a far more compelling case for each to make a run in the tournament. Here’s everything you need to know about each of the four squads starting their WBC journey in Seoul.
The South Korean club has been very successful throughout the history of the WBC, finishing third in 2006 and losing a heartbreaker in extra innings to Japan in the 2009 championship game. 2013 saw a regression with the team failing to advance out of pool play. Although their prior success gives them the top overall power ranking in Bracket A, the 2017 edition of the WBC may mirror the disappointment of 2013 more than the magic of 2009 for the Koreans. The only Major League player on the roster is Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh. A third DUI for Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang cost the third baseman a spot on the roster and the Koreans a potent piece of their lineup. Expect Korean batting champion Choi Hyung-woo to pace the offense.
Prediction: The Koreans will advance, but they won’t be the top seed in Bracket A.
Can I really call them my dark horse team after their fourth-place finish in 2013? Despite their favorable ranking in the last tournament and two victories over the Dominican Republic in 2009, this team continues to get overlooked. With a roster composed mostly of players from Curacao and Aruba, the Netherlands boasts one of the most dynamic teams in the tournament. The infield depth rivals the Dominican and American squads in terms of talent. Manager Hensley Meulens must juggle a middle infield featuring Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorious, and Jonathan Schoop. He’ll have to be creative to keep each of their bats in the lineup. The squad’s weakness is its pitching, led by former Major Leaguers Rick VandenHurk and Jair Jurrjens. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen will be available if the team advances out of pool play.
Prediction: The Netherlands will advance as the top seed in Bracket A after defeating South Korea in its first game.
After advancing out of pool play in 2013, the 2017 tournament could be a short one for Chinese Taipei. The rotation is missing Marlins left-hander Wei-Yin Chen as he continues his return from elbow surgery. All but one of the Chinese Professional Baseball League teams that initially boycotted the tournament lifted their temporary ban on allowing players to participate. However, some of Taiwan’s best offensive performers remain prohibited from taking part in this year’s festivities. This unfortunately means that we won’t be seeing the first Taiwanese player in Major League history, Chin-Feng Chen, suit up in the 2017 WBC. However, we will see plenty of former Major Leaguer Chien-Ming Wang as he anchors the rotation.
Prediction: Chinese Taipei will not advance out of the first round. A loss to a motivated Israeli team isn’t out of the question.
If there’s a potential Cinderella story in this year’s tournament, it’s this Israeli squad. Making their first ever WBC, Israel’s team features numerous current and former Major League players. The rotation is led by Scott Feldman and Jason Marquis, while the offense is paced by Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, and Ty Kelly. Craig Breslow provides support out of the bullpen with a cast of young and talented minor leaguers. If Jerry Weinstein can continue to conjure up the lineup magic that led Israel to a 3-0 record in the qualifier, then look for this team to make some noise in March.
Prediction: Israel places third in Bracket A but beats Chinese Taipei and gives either Korea or the Netherlands a run for their money.
Bold Prediction: Israel advances to the second round after beating the Netherlands in extra innings.
2017 will be a down year for South Korea and Chinese Taipei. The Netherlands should be better than people expect if the pitching holds its own. In the interest of everything that is fun about baseball and this tournament, I hope Israel makes a run. Regardless, Bracket A looks to be full of storylines.