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David Brown

Getting to know your World Baseball Classic squads: Australia

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed with what's going on, BLS will be running occasional team previews as the event nears.

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AUSTRALIA

Pool: B, Mexico City

'06 WBC finish: Lost to Dominican Republic in pool play, 6-4; dropped all three games

First game: Sun. March 8, vs. Mexico

Five questions to ask about Australia

Will the wallabies pack on offense this time? Back in '06, Aussie batters hit a paltry .113 and scored a total of four runs, both tournament lows. And that was with former big-leaguer Dave Nilsson on the squad. Brad Harman (in the photo up top), who got a major-league taste with the Phillies this past season, batted .429 (3-for-7) in '06 and is back on the provisional roster. Nilsson, who retired from the bigs 10 years ago, just turned 40 and is not on the roster. He's one of just 23 Aussies to reach the majors; eight blokes made the bigs in '08.

Are Grant Balfour and Ryan Rowland-Smith playing? Both are on the provisional roster and both are quoted as saying they want to play, though RR-S sounds here like he needs some sort of harmonic convergence to break away from Mariners camp. There must be tremendous pressure on both men; Australia actually could win a game with Smith going eight innings and Balfour, the Rays screamer, closing. They just need a run from somewhere. Stop pretending it's cricket, boys, and don't swing at stuff in the dirt.

Can Hugh Jackman help? No, it's not the World Musical Theater Classic. Peter Moylan can't help, either, as he's recovering from Tommy John surgery. This exhilarating video of Aussie Rules Football highlights is bound to motivate, though.

Is Lex Luthor really the ruler down there? Not anymore. Actually, that was just in Superman II. But an American presence at the top might have helped Australia's pro baseball league stay solvent. Australia hasn't had continent-wide professional baseball in 10 years, yet it manages to field a team in this event. Padres infielder Justin Huber, who's been trying to break through Triple-A and stay in the majors the past several seasons, told MLB.com what Australia was up against in its final WBC game in '06: "You've got Miguel Tejada throwing across the infield to Albert Pujols; Alfonso Soriano playing second base. All these superstars coming onto the field at the same time was just awesome," Huber said. "I mean, Jose Reyes was on their bench. He wasn't in the game. And you look on our bench and we've got Johnny A-Ball or Johnny Never-Played-Pro-Ball-Before."

What are they up against this time? Don't look at Pool B. Don't look. Don't do it. Because all you'll find is... Cuba. Cuba? C'mon tournament seeders! How about giving the Aussies a break? "They put us in the easy division, huh? With Cuba," Balfour said jokingly. The good news: the top two teams from each pool advance. All Australia has to do is be better than Mexico (groan) and South Africa (maybe).

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Previous WBC previews: Korea (Jan. 9); Venezuela (Jan. 13).

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