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Jays Listed – WBC Special – Top 5 questions heading into the 2013 World Baseball Classic

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The 2013 World Baseball Classic gets underway late Friday night, or Saturday afternoon if you’re reading this in Asia. The third edition of the WBC sees Japan go for a third-consecutive title while every other nation tries to get to the top of the mountain for the first time.

As we prepare for the first pitch of the Classic between Brazil and Japan here’s what we’re wondering about the latest edition of the WBC and few players worth watching.

cuba flag5. Is this Cuba’s year?

Cuba is ranked No. 1 in the world by IBAF heading into the tournament, as they look to make up for a disappointing 2009 WBC. Back in 2009 Cuba stumbled and failed to get out of the opening round after finishing second in the inaugural WBC in 2006.

Finally getting to see some of the Cuban baseball stars is one of the most interesting parts of the WBC when it rolls around every four years. The 2013 Cuban squad is missing a few big names from the 2009 roster, namely pitcher Aroldis Chapman and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Even though both have since defected, Cuba still has plenty of firepower on the mound and at the plate.

Cuba’s best hitter is Jose Dariel Abreu.  The first baseman can seriously mash at the plate and he’s backed up by a number of other potent bats including Alfredo Despaigne and Frederich Cepeda. On the mound for Cuba the one to watch will be Odrisamer Despaigne.

Will Cuba live up to their No. 1 world ranking and will this be another coming out party for the next big-name Cuban defector?

latin america flags4. Which Latin American power will get the farthest?

The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela have sent monster lineups to the WBC in the past and that trend will continue this year. Those lineups haven’t led to a tournament championship though, as all three countries have turned in disappointing showings.

Let’s start with the Dominican Republic. They won’t have Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre or David Ortiz suiting up, but their lineup will still be potent. The infield alone will consist of Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes.  Pitching could be trouble for the DR with Johnny Cueto and Ubaldo Jimenez taking a pass. The top of the rotation for the DR will be Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodrgiuez so their potent lineup better deliver.

Puerto Rico is actually a pretty big underdog to win it all on the pre-tournament odds. Yadier Molina leads a lineup that also includes Carlos Beltran and former Jay Alex Rios, but their pitching could be suspect. Most of the pitchers for Puerto Rico are unknowns with very few Major League hurlers on the team.

Venezuela looks like the best of the Latin America powerhouses, at least on paper. Miguel Cabrera is the big bat and he’s got plenty of company with Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval and playoff hero Marco Scotaro on the squad. Pitching could be an issue for Venezuela as well with Felix Hernandez sitting out. That leaves the big games in the hands of Anibal Sanchez and former Jays Henderson Alvarez.

japan flag3. Will Japan make it a three-peat?

Japan has won both WBC tournaments so far and head into the 2013 tourney as one of the favorites again. The Japan roster looks a little different this time as they will have no current Major Leaguers on their roster. That means no Ichiro Suzuki, no Yu Darvish and no Daisuke Matsuzaka. The absence of Matsuzaka may seem slight, but he was the tournament MVP in both 2006 and 2009.

Japan may not have any current Major Leaguers, but they’re still busting with talent. Leading the charge for another title will be catcher Shinnosuke Abe. The Yomiuri Giants slugger hit an astonishing .340 last season in Japan with 27 home runs and 104 RBI in 138 games. He also posted a .429 OBP and a .994 OPS.

Japan will miss Darvish leading their rotation, but they still have some big-game pitchers and topping the list is Masahiro Tanaka. The 24-year-old hurler won the Sawamura Award (Japan’s Cy Young Award) in 2011 after posting a 19-5 record, 1.27 ERA 241 strikeouts and only 27 walks in 226 1-3 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. In the 2009 WBC Tanaka made a few relief appearances for Japan, but this year he’ll try to take over from Matsuzaka and Darvish while leading Japan to a third-straight title?

usa-flag2. Will the USA finally make their mark?

Before we go into this year’s team USA take a look at this lineup.

C: Buster Posey
1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Ian Kinsler
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
OF: Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout
SP: Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander , Stephen Straburg, Clayton Keshaw,  David Price
RP: Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Joel Hanrahan,

That fully loaded roster is comprised solely of American players that will not be playing in the WBC. That is one of America’s biggest problems.  Team USA has amazing depth when it comes to it pool of potential players for the WBC, but they may have come up a little short with this year’s team.

In both the 2006 and 2009 WBC’s the USA basically fielded All-Star teams that failed to live up to expectations.  The US has never even medaled in the event, finishing a disappointing eighth in 2006 and fourth in 2009. Take another look at the roster above and then take a look below at who will actually be representing the USA in the tournament.

C: Joe Mauer, J.P. Arencibia, Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: David Wright
SS: Jimmy Rollins
Util: Ben Zobrist, Willie Bloomquist
OF: Ryan Braun, Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Shane Victorino

SP: R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland, Ryan Vogelsong, Ross Detwiler
RP: Jeremy Affeldt, Heath Bell, Mitchell Boggs, Steve Cishek, Tim Collins, Luke Gregerson, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Perez, Glen Perkins, Vinnie Pestano,

That’s not a bad roster overall, but I’d still take a team made-up completely of no-shows instead. According to Team USA manager Joe Torre having players that really want to be there and win is more important than making up a team with All-Stars on the field and the bench. Only time will tell whether or not this new strategy will pay off.

Canadian_Flag1.  Will Canada advance past the first round for the first time?

Canada’s two previous forays in the WBC were short, as they were bounced in the opening round each time. If you want to believe the hype from the WBC commercials on SportsNet this is the best team Canada has ever sent to the tournament. Is it though? From a hitting standpoint the answer is probably yes, but the pitching may not matchup to previous years.

Let’s look at the hitting first. Canada should have a stout middle of the order with Brett Lawrie, Justin Morneau and Joey Votto on the team. The outfield could surprise and deliver as well if Michael Saunders and Adam Loewen step up. There will be no Jason Bay this year as he tries to earn a spot on the Mariners’ roster and Russell Martin is also out after the Pirates refused to let him play shortstop.

On the mound the Canadian team is a little thin after Ryan Demspter and Scott Diamond both decided to skip the tournament. Other former Canadian WBC pitchers not returning this year include Jeff Francis and Erik Bedard. That leaves the starting duties to Shawn Hill, Scott Mathieson and Chris Leroux according to manager Ernie Whitt. The Canadian bullpen looks to be in good hands though with Jesse Crain, Jim Henderson and Phillipe Aumont leading to closer John Axford. Don’t forget about prized Pittsburgh prospect Jameson Taillon either, as he could make an impression.

Canada opens up the tournament on Mar. 8 versus in what should be a winnable game against Italy. They face Mexico the next day on Mar. 9 followed by their last opening round game on Mar. 10 against the USA. That showdown with the States could be the game that decides whether or not Canada finally breaks through the opening round.

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