To baseball fans’ delight, competitive baseball will be arriving early this year with the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is an international competition between nations all over the world, consisting of players from Major League Baseball, the Korean Baseball Organization, and the Nippon Professional Baseball League to name a few. The qualifying rounds for teams not already guaranteed a spot took place earlier this year, and the tournament is set to begin at the beginning of March.
Big news was announced for Team USA today, as Cy Young finalist Max Scherzer has committed to pitching for the team. Scherzer, who’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball the last five seasons, won the Cy Young in 2013 and is a finalist once again as award season approaches. He put together yet another terrific season, posting a 20-7 record with a 2.96 ERA. He led the league in wins, innings pitched with 228.1, strikeouts with 284, WHIP at .968, and SO/W at 5.07.
Scherzer led the Nationals to another postseason appearance, and it was not without some flair. Aside from putting together dominant starts nearly every time out, Scherzer made history earlier this season when he struck out 20 batters in a game on May 11th, matching the record. This was 2016’s addition of the Scherzer Show, as last year’s was highlighted by not one, but two no hitters. He will be reunited with his former manager Jim Leyland, who is managing Team USA, as well as pitching coach Jeff Jones.
Scherzer will likely be one of multiple aces pitching in the WBC, as both Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka have expressed interest in playing for the USA and Japan respectively. Kershaw is widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball, and would provide Team USA with a great chance of reaching the finals, which coincidentally enough will take place at Kershaw’s home field, Dodger Stadium. Kershaw spent more than three months on the disabled list in 2016, but still managed to put up Kershaw-like numbers. In just 21 games he went 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA. Most impressively, he struck out 172 batters while issuing just 11 walks.
Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka has also expressed interest in playing for his home team of Japan, and the Yankees have announced that they would not keep him from doing so. Tanaka is a WBC veteran, appearing for Team Japan in both 2009 and 2013. Despite potential injuries to his elbow looming, the Yankees are letting Tanaka partake in the tournament if he wishes. He may be joined by Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda, who has also expressed interest in joining Tanaka and playing for his home country.
The preliminary rosters were announced earlier this month, and while players can still be added and drop out, it’s leading to excitement for the 2017 tournament. Notable players that may appear in different uniforms than expected are Manny Machado and Yasiel Puig. Machado has already committed to playing for Team Dominican Republic, the reigning champs. He was born in the states, but Machado has family from the Dominican Republic, and representing their flag is very important to the young third baseman. Machado will join the 2013 champs, and if their team is anything like it was four years ago, adding Manny will make them an even greater favorite to win once again.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has stated that he wants to play for Team Mexico, despite being born and living much of his life in Cuba. While Cuba has a team in the WBC, they do not allow Major Leaguers or anyone who has defected from the country to play in the tournament. As is the case for Puig, who defected in 2012. After defecting he established residency in Mexico, which gave him the opportunity to sign with the Dodgers and helped put him where he is today.
The World Baseball Classic has become something baseball fans look forward to every four years, and the upcoming weeks should be excited as we will see teams begin to officially form. Japan won the tournament in its first two years, 2006 and 2009, with the Dominican Republic taking home gold in 2013. Team USA’s best finish was fourth in 2009, but they will look to stack their team this go-around and bring home a gold to the nation that created the sport.