Americans are used to their national teams winning international competitions. But Team USA has some work to do if it wants to win gold at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
That title quest starts Friday night, as the U.S. takes on Colombia in its WBC opener. Team USA never has won the international baseball tournament — in fact, it’s never finished higher than fourth in the previous three tourneys — so the odds are against the Americans for once.
Yet 2017 might represent America’s best shot yet. While still lacking A-list stars like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, the Red, White & Blue have assembled arguably their best roster to date.
So, what are Team USA’s chances of winning it all? Let’s break it down, from a quick analysis of the roster to a look at the Americans’ toughest competition.
2B Ian Kinsler
DH Daniel Murphy
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
RF Giancarlo Stanton
C Buster Posey
LF Christian Yelich
CF Adam Jones
SS Brandon Crawford
Andrew McCutchen, Jonathan Lucroy, Eric Hosmer, Alex Bregman
SP Chris Archer, SP Danny Duffy, SP Tanner Roark, SP Marcus Stroman, RP Andrew Miller, RP David Robertson
This is a pretty solid lineup top to bottom, led by the formidable trio of Goldschmidt, Arenado and Stanton. Rotation depth is an issue, as Archer is the closest guy manager Jim Leyland has to an ace. But a strong bullpen led by Miller and Robertson could be an X-factor in close games.
1. Dominican Republic. The defending champs return as the favorites to repeat. Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz and Jose Bautista highlight a stacked lineup, and a rotation led by Johnny Cueto, Carlos Martinez and Edinson Volquez arguably is the best in the tournament. The Dominicans are in Pool C with Team USA, so the Americans will find out right away if they can hang with this elite squad.
2. Venezuela. This offense rivals that of the Dominican Republic, with names like Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez leading the charge. But Venezuela’s pitching staff isn’t as strong, with question marks outside Felix Hernandez and Martin Perez. Still, the Venezuelans’ potent lineup should be enough to power them to at least the semifinals.
3. Japan. You’ll only find one Major League Baseball player on this roster (Nori Aoki), but Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league — home to the rest of the players on this team — is no joke. Neither are the Japanese, who won the first two World Baseball Classics and are off to a 3-0 start in 2017 play.
Sleepers: Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Israel(!). Puerto Rico adds young studs Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa to a team that made a surprising run to the 2013 finals. The Dutch are loaded in the middle infield and already have advanced to the second round — as have the Jews, who somehow went 3-0 in first-round play and are the darlings of the WBC to date.
Team USA left some star power behind, but a balanced lineup and a decent pitching staff should be enough for the Americans to advance to the semifinal round, where they’ll have to go through the Dominican Republic or Venezuela to reach the finals. If they manage to pull off a semifinal upset, they have a great chance of winning gold against a weaker top half of the bracket. But a high-powered offense like the DR or Venezuela will be tough for Team USA’s average pitching staff to contain, which is why we’re predicting another fourth place finish for the Stars and Stripes.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images