International baseball is here.
With Korea opening the festivities at home Monday against Israel, it’s time for a quick refresher on all things World Baseball Classic.
Here’s what you need to know about the tournament:
Who are the favorites?
The Dominican Republic looks to be the strongest side on paper for the tournament, setting itself up nicely for a repeat of the team’s 2013 victory, but another potential contender could come from within the Dominican’s own pool. Team USA’s plethora of All-Star MLB talent could be enough on its own to see Americans waltz into the March 22 final. It won’t be an easy road there for either of them, however.
Assuming everything plays out as expected, the U.S. will join the Dominican Republic in the second round alongside the next best contenders in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Expect the eventual winner of the tournament to be the one to come out on top of the loaded group.
How do the rules differ from MLB?
For the most part, the WBC is still the baseball we all know and love (lovers of the DH may disagree). There are some small differences to note, though.
Pitchers, for instance, will not be able to throw more than 65 pitches a game in Round 2, though the allowance increases by 15 with each round. If they throw over 50 pitches in a game, however, they must also wait four days before they are allowed to pitch again.
The divisive “Mercy Rule” is also back again for the 2017 tournament. If a team ever finds itself trailing by 10 or more runs after having batted seven innings – or 15 after 5 – they will automatically be given the loss.
Finally, if any game drawls too long into extras, teams will start innings with a runner on first and second beginning in the 11th inning.
Who plays who and where?
Pool A, which kicks off the tournament March 9 in Seoul, will consist of hosts Korea, the Netherlands, Israel, and Chinese Taipei. The top two from that contingent will square off against the two top teams from Pool B, Japan, Cuba, Australia, and China – who will fight it out in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the heavyweights all find themselves on the other half of the bracket. The Dominican Republic, Canada, and Colombia will join the U.S. in Miami for Pool C, while Mexico, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela will battle it out in Jalisco, Mexico.
Los Angeles will then host the championship round, with both semifinals and the final taking place at Dodger Stadium.
Who are the stars playing?
The biggest draws are undoubtedly in Pool C. Big names like Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado will grace Team USA, while the Dominican Republic will have Jose Bautista, Manny Machado, and Adrian Beltre, to name a few. Even Canada, equipped with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and retired closer Eric Gagne, will have notable names of its own.
That’s not to say you won’t find MLB stars elsewhere, too.
Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa will man one of the best middle infields of the tournament on Puerto Rico, and Venezuela won’t be short on offense with Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Carlos Gonzalez in the lineup. Add in Colombia’s Jose Quintana and the Netherlands’ Jonathan Schoop and Andrelton Simmons, and there are plenty of stars to watch.
Is this the last one?
Not everyone’s a fan of the WBC.
Generational talents like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, baseball’s disputed No. 1 and No. 1A, have yet to appear at the competition, while other superstars, like Noah Syndergaard, have ripped the Classic for its redundancy. To add to concerns, the tournament’s March time frame continues to put it in a precarious slot right before the regular season, but there just isn’t a better alternative.
No one is calling for its end, but for now, enjoy the quadrennial event while it lasts.