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: A, Japan
'09 finish: 11th, 1-2, eliminated in first round.
First game: Sunday, March 3 vs. Japan
Biggest star: As with Brazil, China's most recognizable names are on the bench. John McLaren (ex-Seattle Mariners manager) is its skipper and Art Howe (former Astros, Mets and A's manager) is a coach.
Notable absences: Kansas City Royals left-hander Bruce Chen, who withdrew from consideration in January. Approval was still pending (he played for Panama in past WBCs) and Chen decided to concentrate on Royals spring training.
Name you might not know, but should: Ray Chang, a minor-leaguer in the Twins system, is the only player on Team China in a Major League Baseball system. In 2009, he powered China to its only win, going 3 for 4 with a homer and two RBI.
Important questions to ask about China:
When Bruce Chen not playing for your team is a big deal, how much trouble are you in? Chen is hardly a front-line starter. He was 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA last season. But he would have been huge for China, and that fact alone doesn't bode well for China's chances in the tournament.
Is this the spying team? Nope. That's Chinese Taipei, or Taiwan. China isn't spying, but could probably benefit from it.
Can China beat Japan or Cuba in Pool A? Magic 8-ball says "Try again in 2017."
Doesn't the China cap look like something Ivan Drago would wear? Geez, I know: Two World Baseball Classic previews, two Ivan Drago references. What's wrong with me?