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WBC '17: 4 pools, 8 hot takes, 16 teams

MLB.com panel gives its thoughts on tournament and offers predictions
MLB.com

The 2017 World Baseball Classic is finally upon us, with Israel and Korea set to get the tournament started on Monday morning in Pool A matchup at 4:30 a.m. ET. You can watch that game -- as well as all World Baseball Classic games -- on MLB Network and MLB.TV.

The fourth edition of this international baseball extravaganza is sure to be filled with drama, as the Dominican Republic will try to emerge from Pool C, which also features the United States, to repeat as champion. Meanwhile, Japan -- winner of the first two Classics -- begins its quest for a third gold medal as the host of Pool B. Pools A and D could be the most competitive, as Israel and Korea are joined in Pool A by a deep Netherlands squad that features MLB stars Xander Bogaerts and Andrelton Simmons, while Pool D has four teams loaded with big leaguers -- Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy and host Mexico.

The 2017 World Baseball Classic is finally upon us, with Israel and Korea set to get the tournament started on Monday morning in Pool A matchup at 4:30 a.m. ET. You can watch that game -- as well as all World Baseball Classic games -- on MLB Network and MLB.TV.

The fourth edition of this international baseball extravaganza is sure to be filled with drama, as the Dominican Republic will try to emerge from Pool C, which also features the United States, to repeat as champion. Meanwhile, Japan -- winner of the first two Classics -- begins its quest for a third gold medal as the host of Pool B. Pools A and D could be the most competitive, as Israel and Korea are joined in Pool A by a deep Netherlands squad that features MLB stars Xander Bogaerts and Andrelton Simmons, while Pool D has four teams loaded with big leaguers -- Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy and host Mexico.

World Baseball Classic tickets

But who will be crowned champion at Dodger Stadium on March 22? We asked our experts to weigh in with their predictions of how the tournament will play out and who emerge victorious in the final game.

Barry Bloom
Korea and Japan are hosting their own first-round brackets, with a good chance of making it through the second round at Tokyo Dome and into the championship round at Dodger Stadium. In Miami, one good team among the U.S., the Dominicans and Canada will not make it out of that bracket. Similarly, in Guadalajara, I think Mexico, Venezuela, Italy and Puerto Rico are all possibilities to be knocked out early. I like Korea, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico for the semifinals.
Prediction: Korea over Japan in a reversal of the 2009 final.

Anthony Castrovince
My marinara-laden heritage makes me hope Italy is going to shock the world (or at least Pool D), but that's unlikely. The U.S. and the Dominican Republic are clear favorites to advance out of Pool C, and I like their chances of being the two clubs to advance out of Pool F and into the semifinals, where the American club will defeat Japan and the Dominican team will beat Korea. It's hard to say who would win a Finals pairing featuring those two clubs, but when in doubt, go with the better bullpen. Team USA seems to have it on paper.
Prediction: Team USA over Dominican Republic.

Alyson Footer
I envision a World Baseball Classic similar to those in the past -- unpredictable, with a few surprises along the way, where the best teams -- on paper, at least -- may not make it to the finish line. Plenty of baseball talent lurks in all corners of the world -- some that may be playing at full force in March and some, as we've witnessed here in the States, that may be more conditioned for later in the year than earlier.
Prediction: Japan over the Dominican Republic in the finals. A country rich in baseball talent, Japan always comes ready to play, and as we saw in 2006 and '09, it is clearly capable of winning it all.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Richard Justice
Team USA has only made it to the final round once in Classic history, but it will make it twice in 2017. Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman lead a very good rotation, while Andrew Miller will be manager Jim Leyland's late-inning weapon. But the Dominican Republic is a solid favorite to win again with a roster that's scary deep. Puerto Rico and Venezuela are the other powerhouse teams, and Japan seems likely to get a berth in the final round.
Prediction: The Dominican Republic beats Team USA.

Jon Paul Morosi
We all know the history: Team USA's all-time record in the World Baseball Classic is 10-10, with no appearances in the gold medal game. That trend has to change eventually, and the 2017 roster is the deepest group the U.S. has brought to a Classic. Nolan Arenado, long overlooked in Colorado, has a chance to introduce himself to a broader American audience as a generational superstar. The Americans' chief concern is in middle relief, as the bullpen lacks pitchers accustomed to throwing multiple innings. It's imperative that the U.S. starters last into the fifth inning on the 65-pitch limit.
Prediction: Team USA over Dominican Republic.

Video: Jon Paul Morosi on Team USA's chances in the Classic

Joe Posnanski
Upsets, upsets, upsets. Felix Hernandez is on a mission this year, and while you never know how it will play out over the long season, you can look for King Felix to lead an inspired Venezuelan team to the final. And that Puerto Rican team, with lifelong friends Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez making up the double-play combination, will will its way to the final.
Prediction: Venezuela tops Puerto Rico.

Phil Rogers
It's the international players and teams that add flavor to the World Baseball Classic. Japan and Korea were arguably the strongest teams in 2006 and '09, upstaging powerful teams from Cuba, while the Dominican Republic roared louder than rival Puerto Rico in '13. All those teams, along with the Netherlands, are ready for another run. But Jim Leyland's the right manager in the right spot for Team USA. A loaded lineup built around Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, along with a bullpen anchored by Miller, sets up the United States for a run to Dodger Stadium.
Prediction: Team USA over the Dominican Republic.

Rules for 2017 WBC

Jesse Sanchez
The Dominican Republic is loaded, as well as the reigning champs. It's easy to see why many predict it will win the World Baseball Classic title again. I'm just not one of those people. Could this be the year Team USA breaks out and makes a run toward the title? I'm not sure. But what I do believe is that this year's champion will come out of Pool D in Jalisco, Mexico. Sorry Italy and Mexico, I predict Venezuela and Puerto Rico will advance to the second round in San Diego -- and one of those teams is going to leave Los Angeles as 2017 World Baseball Classic champion. Japan will once again make a run at the title, and you can never count out the Cuban team. But for me, this year will belong to Puerto Rico.
Prediction: Puerto Rico will avenge its loss to the Dominican Republic in the 2013 final.

The World Baseball Classic runs from Monday through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.