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World Baseball Classic Pool A preview: Cuba headline tight top group

The fifth edition of the World Baseball Classic gets underway on the 8th March, as Cuba play the Netherlands at the Taichung Stadium in Taiwan. 

This is a closer look at the countries taking part in Pool A. 

WhatWorld Baseball Classic
WhereJapan, Taiwan and United States
When8th March - 21st March
How to watchBT Sport
OddsDominican Republic 2/1, Japan 5/2, USA 11/4, Puerto Rico 9/1, Venezuela 10/1 South Korea 14/1, Great Britain 200/1

Chinese Taipei - 50/1 To Win Outright

Chinese Taipei have participated in every World Baseball Classic since its inception in 2006, making this their fifth appearance, but they have struggled to make a mark in the tournament. 

They have only qualified out of their pool once, in 2013, and were knocked out in the second round. 

They have the least experience of all the teams in Pool A, but they will have the advantage of playing at home at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan. 

While Chinese Taipei do not have any big league players on their roster, arguably the player with the most experience is Tzu-Wei Lin, who was part of the Boston Red Sox in 2018. 

Sadly, he didn't make the World Series roster, but made 37 appearances in the season and had a career-high OPS of .744. 

While they are not expected to reach the final stages of the tournament, Chinese Taipei have a World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) ranking of number two. 

Netherlands - 50/1 To Win Outright

Netherlands kick off their campaign in the opening fixture with a tough game against Cuba. 

They have a WBSC ranking of seventh and have finished in the semi-finals in the last two tournaments, largely because of an excellent roster, including superstar shortstop Xander Bogaerts. 

The 30-year-old appeared for the Netherlands in the last tournament and qualifies for the team thanks to being born in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean Island. 

Alongside Bogearts, the Netherlands will have Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop and Kenley Jansen, ensuring they have plenty of MLB experience on their roster. 

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Cuba - 16/1 To Win Outright

Cuba were runners-up in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, losing out on a Gold Medal to Japan but that is the best they have performed as they have been knocked out of the tournament in the second round for the next three editions. 

Cuba have some talented players on their roster, including former New York Mets star Yoenis Cespedes. 

They also have current Chicago White Sox players Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert and should be favourites to win the group, although they have a tough opening game against the Netherlands. 

Italy - 150/1 To Win Outright

Managing the Italian WBC team is former Los Angeles Dodger and New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza. 

This is the second tournament that Piazza has managed the Azzurri, having led them to the bronze medal in the 2021 European Baseball Championship. 

Team Italy, ranked 16th in the WBSC, have taken part in every edition of the World Baseball Classic, qualifying for the second round in 2013 and coming close to emulating that achievement in 2017, when Venezuela won the tiebreaker playoff 4-3. 

Italy will also have Trey Mancini of the Chicago Cubs, who previously won a World Series ring with the Houston Astros in 2022, on their roster. 

They will be disappointed that Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets won't be able to perform having decided to stay for Spring Training in Florida. 

However, they will have the former Met, Matt Harvey pitching for them. He is currently a free agent and will be hoping that the WBC can be a route back to the big leagues for the 33-year-old. 

Panama - 66/1 To Win Outright

Panama are ranked 12th in the WBSC and start their campaign against hosts Chinese Taipei on 8th March. 

They have failed to qualify for the past two tournaments and haven't got past the first round in the opening two World Baseball Classics. 

Panama are yet to win a tournament game in the two previous times they have qualified, so will be looking to claim at least one win in a tough group. 

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