The World Baseball Classic is nearly here. While Team USA might look to be the favorite in Pool C, it won't be a cakewalk.
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. The tournament will be distributed internationally 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.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Here's a quick breakdown of each Pool C team:
Previous World Baseball Classic results: The U.S. has advanced into the later stages of the tournament in all three Classics but come away empty-handed. Team USA was eliminated in the second round in 2006 and '13, and lost to eventual champion Japan in the semifinals in '09, its best finish.
Top players: 3B Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona Diamondbacks), LHP Andrew Miller (Cleveland Indians), 2B Daniel Murphy (Washington Nationals), C Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)
Manager: Jim Leyland
Why they could advance: The U.S. team is loaded with many of the top players in baseball. It has 18 MLB All-Stars, the most of any team in the field of 16. The roster includes two former Most Valuable Players, Posey and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, as well as the last two National League MVP runners-up in Murphy and Goldschmidt. Arenado has led the NL in home runs and the Majors in RBIs each of the last two years and has won four straight Gold Gloves. Miller's postseason dominance helped the Indians come within a win of the 2016 World Series title. With all that and more, the U.S. will be a favorite to advance.
Why they might not: The other teams in Pool C are no joke. The Dominican Republic won the last Classic and is as much of a heavyweight as the U.S., with 15 All-Stars (and former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon). Canada has four All-Stars, a former MVP in Justin Morneau and a former Cy Young winner in Eric Gagne. And Colombia has two All-Star pitchers, including White Sox standout Jose Quintana, who will start against the U.S. As good as the U.S. looks, it's playing in a dangerous pool.
Sound smart with your friends: Of the United States' 18 Major League All-Stars, 14 will be playing in their first World Baseball Classic: Arenado, Goldschmidt, McCutchen, Miller, Murphy, Posey, Chris Archer, Matt Carpenter, Brett Cecil, Tyler Clippard, Brandon Crawford, Ian Kinsler, Pat Neshek and David Robertson. The only returning All-Stars from the 2013 Classic team are Eric Hosmer, Adam Jones, Jonathan Lucroy and Giancarlo Stanton.
Video: Arenado to realize dream of representing Team USA
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Previous World Baseball Classic results: The Dominican Republic is the reigning World Baseball Classic champion. The Dominican team swept through the 2013 Classic, capping its perfect 8-0 run with a 3-0 shutout of Puerto Rico in the championship game. That hopefully made up for a surprising first-round elimination at the hands of the Netherlands in 2009, and its loss in the semifinals to Cuba in the inaugural '06 Classic.
Top players: 3B Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers), RHP Dellin Betances (New York Yankees), 2B Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners), RF Nelson Cruz (Seattle Mariners), INF Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles)
Manager: Tony Pena
Why they could advance: With stars up and down the lineup, the Dominican Republic is not only a favorite to advance out of Pool C, but looks like it has everything it needs to make a run at back-to-back Classic titles. The Dominicans' 15 All-Stars are second only to the U.S., and include elite Major Leaguers both young and old -- ascendant superstars like Machado alongside veterans like the potential Hall of Famer Beltre. Nine players from the 2013 team are returning for this year's Classic; among them are Cano, the reigning Classic MVP, fellow All-Tournament Team members Cruz, Jose Reyes and Fernando Rodney, and starting pitcher Samuel Deduno, who threw five shutout innings to win the '13 championship game.
Why they might not: The Dominican Republic has lost a few big names for pool play. Hanley Ramirez will miss the Classic with right shoulder soreness (although his replacement, Jean Segura, is also a former All-Star and was the 2016 National League hits leader). Cueto, who has been tending to his ailing father at home in the D.R., is out for the first round and his status for the rest of the tournament is unknown. Beltre is battling a left calf strain and is optimistic he can play. The Dominicans will also have to contend with the equal star power of the United States, and Canadian and Colombian teams that will be looking to unseat the champs.
Sound smart with your friends: Rodney's eight saves for the Dominican Republic are a Classic record, and his 15 strikeouts are the most in the tournament for anyone who has pitched exclusively in relief. The soon-to-be 40-year-old has yet to allow a run in 12 appearances, the second-most by a pitcher in the Classic.
Video: Dominican Republic reveals roster for '17 Classic
Previous World Baseball Classic results: Canada, which played in all three previous World Baseball Classics, has yet to advance out of the first round. It came closest in 2006, when the team went 2-1 in pool play -- including an upset win over the U.S. -- but was eliminated on tiebreakers.
Top players: RHP Ryan Dempster, 1B Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves), RHP Eric Gagne, 1B Justin Morneau
Prospects to watch: 1B Josh Naylor (Padres' No. 15 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com); OF Tyler O'Neill (Mariners' No. 2, No. 36 overall); SS Daniel Pinero (Tigers' No. 28); RHP Nick Pivetta (Phillies' No. 12)
Manager: Ernie Whitt
Why they could advance: The Canadians don't have the top-to-bottom talent of the U.S. and Dominican Republic, but they're fielding a competitive team. Morneau will have played in all four Classics and is a former American League MVP (he won in 2006 with the Twins), and Gagne won the 2003 NL Cy Young with the Dodgers. Freeman is one of the top hitters in the game -- his 6.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2016 ranked ninth in the Majors, per FanGraphs. In addition to longtime Major Leaguers, Canada is rostering 16 MLB-affiliated players, plus several others from top leagues around the world.
Why they might not: Canada is stuck in a pool with maybe the two most talented teams in the Classic. There are 63 MLB All-Stars in this year's World Baseball Classic, and more than half (33) play for the U.S. or Dominican Republic. Canada's key players are aging -- Morneau is 35; Dempster is 39 and hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2013; Gagne is 41 and hasn't pitched since 2008. The team is also missing some former star players, like Joey Votto, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders.
Sound smart with your friends: Morneau has been in every game Canada has ever played in the Classic, and he's excelled. Of players with 30-plus at-bats in the Classic, the British Columbia native ranks second in batting average .455 and his eight doubles are tied for the all-time tournament lead.
Video: Freeman on why he's playing for Team Canada
Previous World Baseball Classic results: Colombia is playing in its first World Baseball Classic. The team won its qualifier, beating out Panama, Spain and France to earn a spot in the main draw.
Top players: Quintana (Chicago White Sox), RHP Julio Teheran (Atlanta Braves), INF Donovan Solano (New York Yankees)
Prospects to watch: Jorge Alfaro (Phillies' No. 3, No. 72 overall); Luis Escobar (Pirates' No. 15); Tayron Guerrero (Marlins' No. 20); Meibrys Viloria (Royals' No. 15)
Manager: Luis Urueta
Why they could advance: Colombia has a one-two punch atop its starting rotation that rivals any in this year's Classic. Quintana and Teheran were both All-Stars in 2016, and they'll start Team Colombia's first two games at the World Baseball Classic. First up: Quintana against the United States on March 10. If Colombia is going to advance out of a stacked Pool C, its two aces will likely have to pitch shutdown baseball. Aside from that, most of Colombia's players are affiliated with MLB teams or play in international leagues.
Why they might not: The pitch-count limits at the Classic will cap how far Quintana and Teheran can go into their games, and Colombia might not have the depth to run with the rest of Pool C. On offense, the Colombians have already lost an important player, Reds prospect Dilson Herrera, who hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning of the qualifier final, but has had to withdraw from the Classic. Colombia has players with Major League experience, but not with the accolades of the U.S., Dominican Republic or even Canada.
Sound smart with your friends: Quintana and Teheran were signed by their MLB teams as amateur free agents only a year apart -- Quintana in 2006, Teheran in '07 -- and now both are Major League workhorses. Both have made 30-plus starts the last four years, with Quintana posting a 3.35 ERA and 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings in that span and Teheran posting a 3.33 ERA and a 7.9 K/9.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.