The fifth edition of the World Baseball Classic gets underway on March 8th 2023 as Cuba play the Netherlands at the Taichung Stadium in Taiwan.
This is a closer look at the countries taking part in Pool B, which includes a much-fancied Japan team.
|What||World Baseball Classic|
|Where||Japan, Taiwan and United States|
|When||March 8th to March 21st|
|How to watch||Fox Sports and MLB Network|
|Odds||Dominican Republic +200, Japan +250, USA +275, Puerto Rico +900, Venezuela +1000|
Ranked as number one in the world and as one of the hosts of the tournament, Japan are expected to do well not just because they have a young and talented roster, but because they have experience in the professional Nippon Baseball League.
Adding the Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, elite pitcher for the San Diego Padre,s to the roster raises the bar for Japan. Ohtani and Darvish will be adored in their home country as Japan take on China in their opening fixture on 9th March.
Japan were dealt a blow when Seiya Suzuki was forced to withdraw due to an oblique injury, the Chicago Cubs player was replaced by Taisei Makihara.
They won the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic and reached the semi-finals of the last two tournaments. There will be huge disappointment if they don’t at least reach the final four this time around.
South Korea are ranked as fourth in the world according to WBSC and were runners-up in 2009, losing to rivals Japan in the final.
They reached the semi-finals in the inaugural tournament in 2006, but haven’t reached the final four in the last two editions, a record that the baseball-loving Koreans will want to improve on.
While a majority of their players play to a very high standard in the KBO League, they do have two players who ply their trade in Major League Baseball.
Kim Ha-seong is an infielder who plays for the Padres, while they also have Tommy Edman on their roster. Edman, who plays for the St .Louis Cardinals and who qualifies for South Korea as his mother was born in the country.
They start their WBC campaign against Australia in the Tokyo Dome on 9th March.
Australia are ranked at number 10 in the world according to the WBSC and will be targeting a quarter-final spot, although they face a tough group.
Most of the Australian roster play in the Australia Baseball League, although they do have some players who have minor league deals with various Major League Baseball teams.
Previously in the World Baseball Classic, despite qualifying for all four tournaments to date, Australia has never got past round one.
They have only won two games in the tournament overall, defeating China 11-0 in 2017 was their highlight. They pulled off a fantastic shock victory against Mexico in 2009 winning 17-7, only forthe Mexicans winning the eliminator later in the opening round.
For Australia to qualify for the next round, it will come down to how they perform against South Korea, providing they defeat China and Czech Republic.
China aren’t expected to progress to the next round. They are ranked number 30 in the world which is below the likes of Great Britain and Belgium.
Shortstop Ray Chang will return for his fourth World Baseball Classic and China will look to rely on his bat, with him having previously produced a batting average of .324 in the tournament.
Angels prospect Alan Carter has a mid-90’s fastball which he will need to produce on a regular basis if China are to get out of the group.
In 2009, they picked up their first win of two in the tournament overall, defeating Chinese Taipei.
The Czech Republic will be appearing at the World Baseball Classic for the first time in their history and are at number 15 in the WBSC rankings.
They beat France, Germany and Spain to qualify alongside Great Britain from the European Qualifying stage of the WBC.
Czech Republic look to MLB star Eric Sogard as the only big league experience on their roster - he last played with the Chicago Cubs in July 2022.