On March 17th of 2022, the United States of America claimed their first ever World Baseball Classic title after defeating Puerto Rico by a score of 8-0 at Dodger Stadium. Four U.S pitchers combined for a three-hit shutout of a star-studded Puerto Rican lineup that was led by Fransico Lindor and Carlos Correa and Javy Baez.
The entire world thought that the fifth edition of the WBC would be held in the Spring of 2021 but the Covid 19 pandemic had other plans. At last, the World Baseball Classic will be back in 2023 and the US will finally be able to defend its title which they claimed more than five years ago.
With each country’s roster being unveiled earlier this month the United States and the Dominican Republic are sure to be the favorites of the tournament. However, there are several teams that could spoil this two-horse race.
With that being said, let’s look at my top five teams for this upcoming World Baseball Classic.
5. Puerto Rico – Coming in at number five I have the runners-up of the 2017 World Baseball Classic Puerto Rico. When Carlos Correa announced that he would not be playing in this tournament because of his wife expecting their second child during pool play, it took a major toll on Yadier Molina’s squad. I still think this team is pretty good even without him, if Fransico Lindor and Javy Baez can carry the bulk of the load offensively, their pitching should be good enough to hold up. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a battle between them and Venezuela to see who makes it out of the “Pool of death” that is Pool D.
4. Venezuela – The offense for team Venezuela is going to be an absolute force to be reckoned with. Despite the controversy this offseason Ronald Acuna Jr is set to play for Team Venezuela, and he is going to be leading a stacked offense that features former AL MVP Jose Altuve, reigning AL Batting Champion, and new member of the Miami Marlins Luis Arraez, as well as young star Andres Gimenez. The pitching staff will be led by last year’s ace of the Texas Rangers Martin Perez and will also feature Pablo Lopez, German Marquez, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Overall, I think Venezuela is just a little bit better than Puerto Rico on both sides of the ball which is why I put them at number four.
3. Japan – The two-time World Baseball Classic champions have a pretty solid path to get their third championship, they are the best team on the left side of the bracket BY FAR. Not only is their path very winnable, but their roster is also absolutely LOADED. Shohei Ohtani will be able to both pitch and hit for team Japan and he’s going to lead this stacked team. Yu Darvish will be the number two starter for Japan and that automatically gives them two of the best pitchers in baseball. Not only does Japan have the MLB stars, but they will also feature some of the best players in the NPB. Munetaka Murakami is the best player in the NBP, and he will be playing one of the corners for team Japan. Murakami hit .314 with 56 home runs and 134 RBI last season with the Yakult Swallows. Samurai Japan will also feature names like Roki Sasaki, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Masataka Yoshida. The blend of MLB and NPB talent on this roster is insane and it will not surprise me at all if Japan wins this tournament.
2. Dominican Republic – I know that most people probably clicked on this article to see if I ranked the US or the DR higher and you have your answer. To be completely honest, it’s really a coin toss between which team is better. As far as pitching goes, the Dominican Republic’s staff will be led by reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantra and don’t get me wrong he is one of the best pitchers in baseball but other than that, I’m just not seeing what everyone else is seeing in the DR pitching staff. The lineup on the other hand, may be the best we’ve ever seen in a WBC. Julio Rodriguiez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Rafael Devers, Juan Soto, I don’t even have to explain why this lineup is so good, the names speak for themselves. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Dominican wins this tournament.
1. United States of America – The defending champs check in at number one on my list of top five teams for the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Sure, we saw the US capture the gold on home turf in 2017 but this team is much much different. Unlike last tournament, the best American Baseball players are actually going to be participating trying to defend the title. It all starts at the top with the American Captain Mike Trout. Trout has been the best player in baseball for years and he’s finally playing in the WBC. What’s scary for opposing pitchers is the fact that he’s not alone. Trout will be joined by the likes of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Nolan Aranado, Paul Goldschmidt and more. The question that remains is the American pitching staff. I personally was not one who thought this staff was bad to begin with but just recently the US lost both Clayton Kershaw and Nestor Cortes. It’ll be very interesting to see how Mark DeRosa manages this pitching staff and if guys like Brady Singer, Lance Lynn and Merrill Kelly can step up and led this staff. No matter what though, the Stars and Strips have a great chance at repeting as champs in the World Baseball Classic.