Friday, March 03, 2006

'06 World Baseball Classic - Round 1 Predictions

I’ve decided to take a stab at predicting the outcome of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. This is quite difficult for several reasons;

Except for the US team and other teams that have players from MLB, I have no idea who these guys are. Guesses about their ability are just that, guesses.

The rules are different than “normal” baseball. There are “slaughter” rules (I haven’t seen those since Little League), maximum number of innings that can be pitched, etc.

The entire series is really short. Even the winner of the tournament is only going to play 8 games (3 games to get out of Round 1, 3 games to get out of Round 2, the semi-finals and the finals). Anybody can get hot (or cold) over a short stretch.

It’s really early in the season for Major Leaguers. Normally, I’d pick the teams with the best pitching as having the best chance, but for so many of these teams, the pitchers will have just started getting into shape.

Nevertheless, I’m going to take a stab at it – I’m just as interested in looking like an idiot as the next guy. But I’m only going to do it a Round at a time; i.e. I’m only going to predict Round 1 now. Once that’s over (and I’ve learned a bit more about these teams, then I’ll take a stab at Round 2). So, with those caveats out of the way, here are my predictions for the teams advancing out of each pool in Round 1.

Pool A

My favorites here are Japan and Chinese Taipei. I'm picking Japan because they have a long and honored tradition of baseball and its top players are at MLB level. As a White Sox fan, I was very glad to see Japanese national Tadahito Iguchi as our second baseman last year, this year, and hopefully for years to come. Though he’s not playing in this tournament, he just shows the level of talent there. Ichiru Suzuki IS playing for the Japanese team and that can only help – he’s one of the games elite players. I’m picking Chinese Taipei over China and South Korea just because they have a longer history playing the game.

Pool B

My favorites here are the United States (of course) and Mexico. The reasons to pick the US are obvious – the biggest pool of MLB players. I’m picking Mexico over Canada for two reasons; I like the MLB players they have better than the ones playing for Canada and Mexico has also won more Caribbean World Series than any other country – they have a long and deep history with baseball. I think South Africa is totally outclassed and won’t win a game in this round.

Pool C

My favorites here are Puerto Rico and Cuba, but both the Netherlands and Panama have a chance. Puerto Rico has won nearly as many Caribbean World Series as the Mexicans have and they have many fine Major Leaguers on their roster, including Carlos Delgado, Javy Lopez, Carlos Beltran, Bernie Williams, Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez. The Cubans are the mystery team. I’m picking them, even though they have NO Major Leaguers on their team, because I think they really, really want this and they, too, have a long and storied baseball history. One doesn’t think of the Netherlands as a baseball power, but the Major Leaguers they have on their roster, including Andruw Jones, Kirk Sarloos, Sidney Ponson, Shea Hillenbrand and Randall Simon, will make them competitive. But I just don’t think they’re as deep as the Puerto Ricans or the Cubans. Panama, too, has a chance, but I think they also lack depth. If Mariano Rivera had decided to join their team, then I think I would have picked them over the Cubans, but not the way the rosters stand now.

Pool D

This is the easiest pick of the 4 pools – I’m picking the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to move on. Both teams are packed with top-notch Major Leaguers, especially the Dominicans. Just look at these names; Jose Acevedo, Miguel Batista, Yhency Brazoban, Daniel Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Jose Lima, Damaso Marte, Pedro Martinez, Jose Mesa, Guillermo Mota, Odalis Perez, Fernando Rodney, Felix Rodriguez and Julian Tavarez; and that’s just some of their pitchers. They also have Ronnie Belliard, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Julio Franco, Rafael Furcal, Julio Lugo, David Ortiz (Big Papi), Jhonny Peralta, Neifi Perez, Placido Polanco, Albert Pujols, Aramis Ramirez, Jose, Reyes, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Tejada, Juan Uribe, Moises Alou, Vladimir Guerrero, Alberto Castillo, and on and on and on. Not only will this team make it out of this particular Pool, I have to place them as the early co-favorites (along with the Americans) to win this whole thing. They’re talented at every position and very deep, especially with their pitching. This is one fine ballclub. The Venezuelans are nearly as deep with such MLB stars as Kelvim Escobar, Freddy Garcia, Felix Hernandez, Juan Rincon, Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Omar Vizquel, Bobby Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Alex Ramirez, Henry Blanco, Victor Martinez and many more. The game between these two teams, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, March 7th, should be an excellent one. The other two teams in this pool, Australia and Italy, are just completely outmatched.

So those are my picks to make it out of Round 1;

Pool A - Japan & Chinese Taipei
Pool B - United States & Mexico
Pool C - Puerto Rico & Cuba
Pool D - Dominican Republic & Venezuela

Remember, you heard it here first…

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