In our previous article we had a brief introduction on the World Baseball Classic and we took a look at Group A.
In this article we discuss Group B, that will play its games in Tokyo, Japan. As you might deduce from that: Japan is the host nation and favourite to win this group. The number 1 of the world baseball ranking and Olympics gold medal winner will face outsider and world’s number 4 (South-)Korea, number 10 Australia, number 30 China and number 15 the Czech Republic. With these teams Group B seems to be the weakest group of all and that makes Japan the juggernaut in here, with Korea the most likely runners-up.
If so, Japan and Korea will probably meet one of Chinese Taipei, The Netherlands or Cuba as opponents in the quarter finals. Those quarter finals will be played in Tokyo as well.
Japan is one of few countries in baseball that takes every tournament very seriously. As an example, it adapted the schedule of its domestic league NPB to the Olympics so it could send the strongest team possible to battle for gold. Because of a strong baseball culture and thus a highly competitive NPB, that can easily be considered as the world’s second best baseball league, Japan has always been a major player in the World Baseball Classic and anything less than qualifying for the semifinals would be considered a disgrace.
Ever since its inception in 2006, Japan has always reached those semifinals and in 2006 and 2009 it won the first two editions. In 2013 it lost to Puerto Rico in the semifinals and in 2017 now new MLB arrival Koda Sengai took the loss in relief against the United States. In those final editions they would eventually end third and both times they beat The Netherlands for that.
So, not only is Japan the favourite to win this Group B, but betting your money on Japan to win the Classic is a very reasonable bet as well (Japan is currently number 3 on betting sites, after favourite Dominican Republic and United States).
Biggest question then is: who will be on team Japan? Obviously NPB will allow their players to join the Samurai. Big chance we will get to see former Yankee Masahiro Tanaka again. But Tanaka isn’t the star on the Samurai nor in the NPB no more. The Samurai have confirmed that strikeout king and flamethrowing pitching sensation Roki Sasaki is on the team, just like the NPB MVPs Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Munetaka Murakami.
They will be joined by at least 3 Japanese players from the MLB: Seiya Suzuki (Cubs), Yu Darvish (Padres) and superstar and two-way phenomenon Shohei Ohtani from the Angels. It remains to be seen if other MLB players like Kikuchi (Blue Jays), Sawamura (Red Sox) or Tsutsugo will be on the team. Kenta Maeda will not make the team, since he is still recovering from TJ surgery. Possible other roster inclusions are Red Sox’ outfielder Yoshida and Cardinals’ Lars Nootbaar (Japanese mother).
The world’s number 4 could be considered an outsider, but is one of those teams that has become victim of the WBC format that allows teams to select players for the tournament that do not necessarily have a passport of the country they play for (but their parents do). That rule has allowed them to be able to recruit Cardinals’ Tommy Edman, who has a Korean mother, but other than him and Padres’ shortstop Kim and first baseman Ji-man Choi of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Asian powerhouse might lack the possible superstar that can take them to victory.
Still, their roster full of KBO players will be too strong for the rest of the opponents, and unlike their possible opponents from Group A they won’t have to rely on minor league pitchers but can pull from experienced pitching.
Surprisingly, Korea’s nemesis in the last two WBC editions have been The Netherlands, which is a likely opponent in this year’s quarter finals as well. The Dutch eliminated Korea twice in the first round, leaving the KBO stars with utter disappointment after being runners up in 2009 and a third place in 2006.
This year Korea will be determined to erase the bad taste from the previous two editions and their roster, beside the three players from the MLB, will be filled with 4 players with experience in the MLB, of whom Kim might be most famous because of his time with the Cardinals. Current KBO MVP Lee (Heroes) will be one of the outfielders.
At the moment, Korea is the only team to have finalised its 30-man roster for the WBC.
The Chinese republic is not one of the first names you’d think about when you talk about baseball and their 30th spot on the world baseball ranking is the lowest of all participants in this classic, but China has had their fair share of success.
It qualified for the World Baseball Classic because it was a participant in the 2017 edition (every participant in that edition automatically made this year’s edition), but in general has been the best Asian baseball nation behind Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), and as such has played in every edition of the WBC, although without much success.
China doesn’t have a name that will ring a bell, but could be able to achieve a shock win on the right day, like in 2009 when they beat Chinese Taipei. Recently they were able to upset Korea twice in the 2019 Asian baseball championship, so who knows, although general expectation is that just like in previous editions the first round will also be their final one.
It has been really quiet around Team Australia for this year’s WBC and it remains to be seen if their roster announcements will make headlines. Last October Australia played its first international game in 3 years, because of the severe COVID-restrictions the country had. It was an exhibition game against Japan and Australia’s team was a mix of players playing in the ABL with some minor league talent from the USA.
But that is also one of the bigger problems for Australia as their home baseball league, ABL, saw its season cancelled in 2021-22 and hampered by COVID in 2020-21.
So the Australians most probably lack exhibition and experience to compete in this year’s edition of the WBC.
Liam Hendriks, who might be the only Australian we can think of if we start talking about current Australian baseball players, was probably never a possible option for this Australian team, even before his health issues were announced.
So, yeah, the outlook for the Kangaroos is a bit grim.
The beauty of the Czech Republic playing its first WBC ever is that the European country has been really making a lot of effort of becoming more competitive in the sport. Those efforts were rewarded in September 2022 when they upset Spain in the lucky loser final and qualified for this year’s edition.
On top of that they achieved that success with a full home-grown roster of Czechia-born players (just one player of Czech descent was born in the US).
While Czech Republic won’t be able to take a surprise win against Korea or Japan, they could very well be able to beat either China and/or Australia, bringing some extra brilliance to their already remarkable feat of playing on the WBC.