I was debating writing detailed previews of the competitors in the WBC. Then I realized that: 1) I didn't have the time, 2) I didn't have the inclination, 3) I really don't think they would be all that well-informed. But I'll make some half-assed guesses at the end on how the tournament will turn out.
The San Jose Mercury News is running capsules of the pools.
Pool B Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States.
Pool C Cuba, The Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico.
Pool D Australia, Dominican Republic, Italy, Venezuela.
From the way I see it, Japan should cruise through Pool A with a 3-0 record. China will go 0-3. So the team that advances will be the winner of the Korea-Taiwan game. Korea's players have the edge in MLB experience so I think they will move on.
In Pool B, the United States should go 3-0 and will likely have a mercy rule win over South Africa, who will be lucky to play a full 9 innings in any game. So then you have Mexico and Canada. Since Mexico has more competent pitchers, I give them the edge.
Pool C is the hardest group to tab. Cuba is the only nation with experience in playing high stakes international tournaments. And the Cubans are in the middle of their regular season. However, the team is young (I'm going by reports, the Cuban rosters don't have a lot of info). When one of the top players in the league is 16 years old (Dayan Viciedo who isn't expected to play), that may be a sign that the experience may not be there. But there is talent.
Panama is a mess after manager Roberto Kelly quit. From my reading of Pananamian websites, there isn't a lot of hope for that team.
Then there is the Netherlands. Which has Andruw Jones. He's one of the few MLB players that's definitely going to suit up for the Dutch. After that it gets sketchy. Mark Mulder? Kirk Saarloos? I doubt it.
Finally, Puerto Rico which has some offense in Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bernie Williams, but not much pitching after Javier Vazquez.
It's pretty much a coin toss, but I see Puerto Rico and Cuba making it out of this pool by default.
Pool D is the "Group of Death". The Dominican Republic team is loaded with hitters: Pujols, Ortiz, Soriano, Guerrero, and possibly Ramirez. That's a lot of home runs waiting to be hit. But the pitching staff without Pedro Martinez, looks good, but not great. And relying on a rehabbing Bartolo Colon wouldn't comfort me.
Then there is Venezuela. Which can trot out an All-Star pitching staff: Johan Santana, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Zambrano, Gustavo Chacin, Kelvim Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez. If those guys are in shape (and news stories indicate that the Venezuelans are really geared up for the tournament), they will be tough to hit.
Also ran: Italy, Australia.
The tournament kicks off at 9:30 PM ET/6:30 PM PT with a game between Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) in Tokyo. The Dominican Republic will play Venezuela on March 7 in Orlando.
The next round would have the top two teams in A and B playing in Anaheim and the top two in C and D playing in San Juan. They would play three game round robins.
So one group should have Japan, Korea, United States and Mexico and the other will have Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
The top two in each pool move on to the semis. So look for the U.S. and Japan moving on from Anaheim with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela moving on from San Juan.
The U.S would then play Japan in one semi and the Dominican Republic would play Venezuela in the other.
I think the U.S. will edge Japan. I think Venezuela will beat the Dominican Republic in their third meeting of the tournament.
This will set up a U.S. vs. Venezuela final. George Bush sharing a bag of peanuts with Hugo Chavez! I can't wait. Who will win? Flip a coin. Then choose the other team.