It’s been six years since we last had a World Baseball Classic, but it’s finally back. The MLB’s attempt to make the baseball equivalent of the World Cup will fall well short of the most popular sporting event in the world in terms of viewership, but I still believe the WBC is an amazing showcase of just how far a humble game that began in the United States has grown. And, as I’ve said before, the MLB should be doing everything it can to promote it.
The tournament consists of 20 teams divided into four pools of five teams each. Games will be hosted in Taiwan, Japan and the United States. Pool play begins on March 8, and each team will play everyone in their pool once. The top two teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals, where it’s a single-elimination tournament the rest of the way. The final is on March 21 in Miami.
As of today, the Dominican Republic is the betting favorite to win the WBC at +200, ahead of the US at +275, per DraftKings. The island nation has long been the top exporter of foreign talent to the MLB, and its stacked roster this year reflects that. Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Julio Rodríguez, Rafael Devers and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. headline a standout offense, and the Dominicans also have an ace pitcher in Sandy Alcantara and a deep bullpen.
Team USA is the defending champ, and this year’s roster is arguably much better than 2017’s. A team with, among many others, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Trea Turner can only be described as an embarrassment of riches. If there’s any concern, it’s starting pitching. Miles Mikolas, Lance Lynn and Brady Singer aren’t bad, but the U.S. isn’t quite putting its best foot forward here. Still, the bullpen is strong, and they can score enough to offset that disadvantage.
While Japan might not have the same laundry list of MLB stars that the U.S. or the Dominican Republic do, they’re still among the favorites, and rightfully so. Drawing from the deepest talent pool outside the United States, Japan will have no trouble keeping up with the best teams in the tournament. They’ve had more success than any other team at the WBC, winning it twice and finishing third twice, and they’re ranked No. 1 by the World Baseball Softball Confederation. They also have some guy named Shohei Ohtani, whom I hear is pretty good.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Venezuela can make a run, as can Francisco Lindor and Puerto Rico, but in my mind, it comes down to the Dominican Republic, the United States and Japan, which are fittingly the only teams ever to win the WBC in its short history. And my pick for the 2023 World Baseball Classic champion is … Team USA. Their offense is just too good, and their bullpen can compensate for any problems with their starters. While I wouldn’t be shocked if either the DR or Japan win it, I feel it’s my patriotic duty to pick the Americans.