(MLB.com) – The 2017 World Baseball Classic began in dramatic fashion on Monday, with Israel beating Pool A host Korea, 2-1, in 10 innings in the tournament’s opening game. With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in attendance at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Israel finally broke through in the top of the 10th. With runners on first and third and two outs, Scott Burcham stepped in against Korea’s Chang-Yong Lim and slapped a two-strike grounder up the middle. Korean second baseman Geonchang Seo made a sliding stop to keep the ball in the infield, but he had no play on any of the runners, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Josh Zeid closed out the game for Israel, including striking out Korea slugger Dae-Ho Lee — who hit 14 homers for the Mariners last season — to end the game.
HERE WE GO! The World Baseball Classic is back in full swing with a thriller to kick things off! Israel was the final team to qualify and is the lowest ranked squad at 41st in the world while the other 15 teams are all in the top 20. Most of the Israeli team is comprised of minor leaguers or very, very grizzled major league vets such as Scott Feldman and Jason Marquis–who tossed three scoreless innings to start the game. Due to the WBC’s eligibility rules, most of the Israeli squad is comprised of Americans but they fulfill one of the requirements to play for Israel. We’ve seen this before where players decide to play for either the US team or Puerto Rico’s, but it’s great to see Israel get into the mix and start off so well!
The Korean team is one comprised of nearly all Korean league players, sans Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, who has pitched in all four World Baseball Classics. The Koreans were hoping for a better start as they failed to make it out the first round on a tiebreaker four years ago and finished 2nd in 2009 and third in 2006. The loss opens the door for the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei to take the top two spots in Group A as they did in 2013. The Netherlands has sovereignty over a few Caribbean islands including Curacao and Aruba, which enables them to have MLB players such are Kenley Jansen, Xander Bogaerts, and Didi Gregorius so they should be favored over Chinese Taipei. It’s tough to tell how Chinese Taipei will shake out given that we don’t see a ton of their players although we’ll get a good idea tomorrow when they play their first game. Chinese Taipei plays Israel followed by South Korea vs. the Netherlands in maybe the best game of the group.
I’ll be covering the WBC pretty closely as this is a tournament I’ve LOVED since its inception in 2006 but I’m going to run through the other groups so my picks are on the board.
Group B: Hard to go against Japan in this division. Australia is a four-time participant but had to come back and qualify for the tournament while China has fallen in the world rankings since the last WBC. Cuba is the only real threat at Japan although I think the Japanese will win Group B with Cuba in 2nd. China edges the Aussies for third place so Australia will have to go back to the qualifiers.
Group C: Poor Columbia. They qualify for their first WBC only to be placed in the same group as the best USA squad I’ve seen and the powerhouse Dominican Republic team. Canada is in the group as well but doesn’t have nearly the same level of MLB talent as the USA or DR. The Americans are a bit on the younger side but the DR could put together a number of difference death lineup combinations. I’ll give them the edge over my fellow Americans but it’ll be close.
Group D: Mexico lucks out of having to fight Canada again by moving to a different group but I’m not too sure it’ll help them get out of the first round. Italy unfortunately may go 0-3 in this loaded group. Puerto Rico has a pretty stacked offensive lineup that includes Javy Baez, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor to name a few. The edge definitely goes to Venezuela, though. Similarly to the DR, Venezuela can put numerous combinations that produce death lineups. When your infield includes Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, and Rougned Odor, the rest of your lineup doesn’t necessarily have to swing for the fences every at-bat–and then you see their outfielders include Carlos Gonzalez and Philly-favorite Odubel Herrera. Venezuela could go deep in the tournament.
One last thing! The THUNDERBLOG will be launching a baseball podcast, The Bullpen Cart! I’ll be recording the first episode tonight with Greg “The Prophet” Piatelli preview the AL East. Stay tuned for that to drop!
Who are you most excited to watch? Any ideas for the podcast? Let me know in the comments…