(Image courtesy of MLB.com, WBC)

WBC is 4 Days Away…

Folks, there is less than a week until first pitch! In case you missed the first few previews, here is everything you need to know on Bracket A and Bracket B. This week’s analysis takes us to Miami, where tournament titans in the United States and the Dominican Republic vie for the top spot in the bracket. Neither Canada nor Colombia can be overlooked, however, as both teams are capable of pulling off one (or multiple) upsets. Be sure to check out the site regularly for live updates of the results in Bracket C, as I will be in Miami to attend this year’s World Baseball Classic!

Dominican Republic

After going undefeated on their way to the nation’s first WBC title in 2013, the Dominican Republic enters this year’s classic as the overall favorites. The lineup reads like an All-Star team, including names such as Manny Machado, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, and Hanley Ramirez. Can you imagine what it’d be like if David Ortiz were still around? The offense is well-balanced, featuring a healthy mix of speed, power, and contact. With a deep bench at his disposal, manager Tony Pena should enjoy giving opposing teams fits with his lineup selections.

The good news doesn’t stop there for the Dominican Republic, however, as the team also boasts arguably the best rotation in the tournament. The top three of Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, and Carlos Martinez anchor the staff with Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova providing additional depth. Pena has the benefit of turning to the best bullpen in the WBC as well. Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Alex Colome, and Fernando Rodney are all available to close out games. Man, Tony Pena lives the good life.

Prediction: Is it even necessary for me to say they’ll advance?

United States

I feel a sweeping sense of patriotism as I write this preview for the Red, White, and Blue. Here’s an American classic to get you excited about watching our team chase our first WBC title.

For as good as the Dominican Republic is, this United States squad is right there with them. This year’s roster is easily the best team the U.S. has ever put on the field in the WBC. While having absentees Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout would have pushed Team USA to being the overall favorites in the tournament, manager Jim Leyland still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The lineup is just as deep as the D.R.’s, anchored by Nolan ArenadoGiancarlo StantonBuster PoseyDaniel Murphy, and Paul Goldschmidt. The bench is full of All-Star talent with Andrew McCutchenJonathan Lucroy, and up-and-comer Alex Bregman all providing an abundance of depth.

As has been the case in Classics past, the United States’ odds of winning hinge on the team’s starting pitching. Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Tanner Roark, and Danny Duffy lead the staff with ROY Michael Fulmer available for the second round. An insurance issue keeps Sonny Gray from participating in this year’s tournament, but Leyland should have no problem selecting starters from the pool of talent available.

While the D.R. may have a slight edge in its starting rotation, the U.S. features a lights-out bullpen that rivals the staff of its Bracket C counterpart. Super reliever Andrew Miller is joined by the likes of Sam Dyson, Luke Gregerson, David Robertson, and Nate Jones. If Robertson regains the dominant stuff he’s shown in the past, the U.S. should have no problems putting teams away in the later innings.

Prediction: Team U.S.A. will advance but will be in for a dog fight to be the bracket’s top overall seed.

Bold Prediction: The U.S. wins its first ever World Baseball Classic. Predicting that the second overall seed will win the tournament normally wouldn’t be considered that bold. However, the United States has failed to even reach the championship game in any Classic thus far.

Canada

Among two powerhouse teams and a competitive Colombian squad, the Canadians should not be taken lightly in 2017. The offense has more pop than you’d think, led by Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and former All-Star Justin MorneauRussell Martin will be unable to participate due to the same insurance rule keeping Sonny Gray out of the tournament. However, our neighbors to the north have young talent in Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey and Padres MLB.com Top 100 Prospect Josh Naylor (#89).

The team’s weakness is its pitching. Starter Ryan Dempster and All-Star closer Eric Gagne come out of retirement to take the mound for Team Canada. John Axford provides some stability at the back of the bullpen.

Prediction: While Canada is a team you want to feel good about, the depth of the D.R. and the U.S. is simply too much for this pitching staff to handle. They’ll enjoy their trip to South Beach and not much else.

Colombia

If this team were in Bracket A or B, I’d be strongly considering Colombia as my dark-horse team. Unfortunately for the South American nation, they ended up in Bracket C with the juggernauts. Aces Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran are two of the best young pitchers in baseball right now. While they’re used to facing the type of talent found in all three of their competitors’ lineups, the rest of the staff lacks the depth necessary to finish the job.

The lineup features talented Reds second baseman Dilson Herrera and familiar Major League names such as Alberto Callaspo, Jorge Alfaro, and Donovan Solano. However, don’t expect the offense to put up much resistance against the pitching they’ll face from the United States and Dominican Republic.

Prediction: Colombia doesn’t advance but does win my award for having the best name in the tournament. Pitcher Sugar Ray Marimon takes the cake.

Conclusion

It’s very likely that the winner of this year’s Classic comes from Bracket C. Baseball fans are in for possibly the best game of the tournament when the United States and Dominican Republic square off on Saturday, March 11 in Miami.