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World Baseball Classic Preview: Group C/Miami

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The United States and Dominican Republic face off in this pool.

World Baseball Classic - Second Round - Miami - Puerto Rico v United States Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The third of four pools in the 2017 World Baseball Classic takes us to Miami and Marlins Park on Thursday night as Team Canada faces off against defending champions Team Dominican Republic. The United States starts its tournament Friday evening against Colombia. Unlike the games in the Far East, all of the games in Miami will be on in the afternoon or evening, making for much easier viewing for North American fans.

Interest in this pool is running high in Miami as Saturday night’s game between the US and the Dominican Republic is sold out and only limited tickets remain for the other games involving these two powers. If you really want to see a WBC game in Miami, act fast or go to Saturday afternoon’s faceoff between Colombia and Canada.

Every game of the WBC will be televised on the MLB Network or available for streaming at MLBNetwork.com/watch. (You do have to be a pay TV subscriber) Or, if you are an MLB.TV premium subscriber, and I know many of you are, you can watch the games there as well. If you’d rather watch the games with Spanish commentary, you can watch all the games on ESPN Deportes or on the WatchESPN app.

I will try to have a wrap-up article on this morning’s games in Korea and Japan later tonight.

The schedule of games in Pool C is as follows:

It’s good of the WBC organizers to give the game times in both local time and Eastern time. They do seem to be confused about whether daylight savings time has started, or even what it means.

As a reminder, this is a round-robin tournament with the top two teams advancing to the second round in San Diego.

Team Canada:

WBC History: Canada went 2-1 in the first WBC and staged an epic upset of the United States. However, they failed to advance in the second round because of tiebreakers. Canada went 0-3 in 2009 and 1-2 in 2013 in pool play. They also got into a famous bench-clearing brawl with Mexico in the 2013 tournament.

They have been managed by longtime Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt in all four tournaments. Canadian baseball legend Larry Walker joins Whitt as a coach this time.

Who?: It’s an interesting collection of players. The biggest name here is Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who was born in California to two Canadian parents and holds dual Canadian/American citizenship. He could have played for the US, but he wanted to honor his mother, who died in 2000.

Canada was hurt by Joey Votto’s decision not to play (although first base is the one position Canada is deep at) and Russell Martin pulling out when he was unable to get insurance on his contract. Reliever John Axford has also decided to pass on the first round, but may join the team later if Canada somehow manages to advance out of this pool.

Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey also suits up in the Maple Leaf, and former MVP Justin Morneau will play as he is still looking for a team in 2017. There are a pair of top prospects on Team Canada in Mariners outfielder Tyler O’Neill (their #2 prospect according to Baseball America) and Padres first baseman Josh Naylor (their #10 prospect in a loaded system). Catcher George Kottaras has played seven years in the majors and is also looking for a team.

Canada does have some solid relievers, such as reliever Jim Henderson (who is in camp with the Cubs) and former Phillies reliever Scott Mathieson, who has pitched with much success for Japanese powerhouse Yomiuri Giants over the past five season. Kevin Chapman has pitched in parts of the past four seasons for the Astros.

But the talk of Team Canada are the retirees who are suiting up for the Red and White. You likely saw Ryan Dempster pitching to Theo Epstein and former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne is going to pitch for Canada, although Gagne has said that he hopes this is the first step towards a major league comeback. Ironically, he was the pitching coach for Team France in the 2013 WBC.

Infielder Pete Orr, the hero of the 2006 win over the United States, last played for the Brewers in Triple-A in 2015. He’s a scout now but he’ll play for Canada one last time. (We think it’s the last time.)

Cubs connection: In addition to Dempster, Ryan Kellogg will pitch for Team Canada. The 2015 5th-round pick was 9-7 with a 3.03 ERA for low-A South Bend last season.

Prediction: These “snow-birds” can’t have much left in them, can they? Getting into the second round in a group with the United States and the Dominican Republic is too much to ask.

Team Colombia:

WBC History: Surprisingly, this is Colombia’s first trip to the WBC. They qualified for the tournament by beating Brazil and Panama in a qualifier last year.

Who?: Two names pop out at you when looking at Team Colombia’s roster: starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran. You can argue that they are the best 1-2 starting pair in the tournament. Former Angels closer Ernesto Frieri holds down the ninth inning, but he hasn’t pitched outside of winter ball since 2015. Former major league reliever Guillermo Moscoso has pitched in Japan for Yokohama the past three seasons.

They aren’t as impressive on offense, although Reds infielder Dilson Herrera is here, alongside Phillies catching prospect (#3 in their systems according to Baseball America) Jorge Alfaro. Brothers Donovan Solano (Yankees) and Jhonatan Solano (Nationals) are also big parts of Colombia’s offense.

Cubs connection: Moscoso pitched for the Iowa Cubs in 2013, his last stop before Japan. Cubs prospect Erling Moreno is one of the pitchers expected to join the team if they advance out of pool play.

Prediction: If Quintana and Teheran weren’t limited by pitch counts, the two of them alone might be able to carry Colombia to the second round. But the pitch counts are there and it seems highly unlikely that they can get out of this group. Just a win over Canada would be a big step forward for Colombian baseball.

Team Dominican Republic

WBC history: The Dominican Republic is the defending WBC champions, going undefeated in the entire tournament and beating Puerto Rico in the final game. That is the only team to ever go undefeated in a WBC tournament. This made up for their embarrassment in 2009, when they were eliminated in the first round by losing twice to the Netherlands. They were eliminated in the semifinals in 2006 by Cuba.

Who?: No baseball fan should have any trouble recognizing most of the players on Team Dominican Republic. The outfield is Starling Marte, Nelson Cruz and Gregory Polanco, with Jose Bautista as a backup OF/starting DH. The infield consists of Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Jose Reyes, Jean Segura, Hanley Ramirez and Jonathan Villar. Oh, and Carlos Santana can DH on the days Bautista isn’t. Welington Castillo is the catcher.

The pitching staff is not quite as impressive, but they still have Carlos Martinez, Edinson Volquez and Wily Peralta will start the three games in pool play. The bullpen has Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Hector Neris, and Fernando Rodney, among others. But if they get past the first round, Johnny Cueto is expected to join the team. Maybe Bartolo Colon as well. Heh. “If they get past the first round.”

Basically, this team is loaded. If you made them a major league team, they’d win at least 110 games. At least.

Cubs connection: Castillo played ten seasons in the Cubs system including parts of six seasons in the majors. Rodney pitched for the Cubs in 2015.

Prediction: The Dominicans are the favorites to repeat and win the whole thing. They’ll get out of Group C.

Team United States:

WBC history: It hasn’t been one covered in glory. The US made the semifinals in 2006 before getting eliminated by Japan. They advanced past the first round in 2009 and 2013, but were eliminated before reaching the semifinals both times.

Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland will manage the US this time around.

Who?: Let’s stop talking about who isn’t here. Who is here is pretty impressive. Team USA has an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Christian Yelich and Adam Jones. The infield has Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer and Nolan Arenado at the corners. It boasts of Daniel Murphy, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Crawford and Alex Bregman up the middle. The catchers are Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy. That’s as good a lineup as any team in the tournament, including the Dominican Republic.

The starting pitching has been the big focus of the discontent on Team USA, as many of the big names decided to pass on the tournament. But Chris Archer, Tanner Roark, Marcus Stroman and Danny Duffy are all quality major league starting pitchers. The bullpen has last fall’s sensation, Indians reliever Andrew Miller. White Sox closer David Robertson is also here. Jake McGee, Tyler Clippard, Pat Neshek and Mychal Givens are also names of note in the pen.

Cubs connection: Archer was in the Cubs minor league system from 2009 to 2011. Utility player Josh Harrison was drafted by the Cubs in 2008 and was traded to the Pirates in 2009.

Prediction: The US should have little trouble getting out of this group, but may face trouble in the second round again. Despite the Vegas oddsmakers installing the US as the favorite, it would be an upset for the US to beat the Dominican Republic in this tournament, especially in the finals.