The World Baseball Classic is down to its final four of Japan, Korea, the United States and Venezuela. But who will emerge as the tournament champion Monday night? We asked a few of ESPN's experts, and their responses are below.
Japan will repeat as WBC champions for a couple reasons. One, it has Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish (Dice-K 2.0) lined up to start, and both appear closer to midseason form than their American counterparts. Two, it isn't hampered by injuries to the great extent of the U.S. And three, the country takes the WBC so seriously (it's gotten Super Bowl ratings in Japan) that I think the team has been holding two-a-days since the morning after Japan won the 2006 title.
Japan will win for three reasons: discipline and two guys named Yu and Daisuke.
The United States is going to win the World Baseball Classic. The win in an elimination game over Puerto Rico in the last of the ninth inning has got the team, and the country, more interested in the event. The U.S. team has been decimated by injuries -- they don't have a real first baseman -- but you have to like any team that starts a left side of the infield of David Wright and either Jimmy Rollins or Derek Jeter. But in the end, the U.S. will win because Jake Peavy will be a dominating pitcher in the final four. One scout told who saw Peavy this spring told me it's the best he's ever seen Peavy throw.
I'm leaning toward Team Japan. I like the way its pitching sets up, with Daisuke and then Yu Darvish. Japan is very efficient in the field; I think that can make a difference in these short tournaments. And their bullpen has been strong. Venezuela and Team USA have more potent offenses, but in a small sample-size situation, if forced to choose, I'd go with the precision of the Japanese side.
At this point any of the four teams has a legitimate chance to win the World Baseball Classic, mostly because you have to win only two games to do so. Venezuela may have the deepest lineup of the four teams, but I have concerns about its middle relief and its ability to get the ball from Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva to K-Rod at the end of the game. The United States has the talent on the roster to be able to win, but injuries and inconsistencies in its performance prevent Team USA from being a favorite in my eyes. Japan and Korea are two special teams. Japan has a deeper pitching staff, but there is just something about the way the Korean team plays that makes me think it is going to win this thing. The Koreans are outstanding on defense and are great at situational hitting. But don't overlook the fact they are the hungriest of the four teams and want to prove they can play with the big boys. I think that will ultimately put Korea over the top.
I'll pick Japan. I'd love to take the United States, because I feel like there's a great sense of purpose in that team. But the pieces don't fit together quite as well as they fit two weeks ago, because of all the injuries. And I don't see the U.S., or any team, pitching as well as the Japanese are pitching in this tournament. So I'll take Japan to repeat.