The World Baseball Classic is almost here. The tournament starts March 2 and runs through March 19 with 16 teams hoping to rule the baseball world. Since international baseball brings new players and storylines, Big League Stew is helping you get ready this worldly clash with previews of each team.
Pool: Pool D, Phoenix
'09 finish: Fourth place, 4-4. Lost in semifinals to Japan.
First game: March 8 vs. Mexico
Biggest star: Ryan Braun. He'll anchor Team USA's outfielder and be one of its top bats. Embattled in controversy recently about PEDs, this will be the former MVP's chance to make headlines for something else this spring.
Notable absences: Where should we start? Team USA is without plenty of top talent, including Justin Verlander, Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper and so on. But there's a big talent pool here, so it's not like our team is without all-stars. Brandon Phillips, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright and Adam Jones should all be big contributors. (Full roster here).
Name you may not know, but should: We know all the guys on Team USA. They're all major leaguers. But probably the least-household name of the bunch is Tim Collins, the young Kansas City Royals reliever who struck out 93 in 69.2 innings in 2012.
Important questions to ask about United States
Can R.A. Dickey baffle the International circuit? The reigning NL Cy Young winner is Team USA's ace. The team will rely on his dancing knuckler being unfamiliar to WBC foes. If he's as spot-on as he was in 2012, it could be tough tournament for some teams.
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After Dickey, how's the pitching looking? Gio Gonzalez should be solid. After that, things get tricky: Ryan Vogelsong, Derek Holland and Ross Detwiler are good, but not amazing starting pitchers. Team USA has a strong bullpen, though, so if the team can get ahead, its relievers should be able to keep a lead.
Will Giancarlo Stanton slug this team to victory? Lots of eyes are on Stanton this season, the last star standing with the Miami Marlins. The young leather-crusher could start his season in smashing fashion with a strong WBC. He'll be especially important if Mark Teixeira's notoriously slow starts apply to tournament play.
Last and most important: Can Team USA win this thing? Fourth place in 2009 wasn't ideal. The U.S. baseball program could, and should, do better. On paper, this team can hang with the best in the tournament. It's got a strong lineup, good pitching and experience. Now Team USA just has to bring it all together.
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