World Baseball Classic Groups C, D to open in America

World Baseball Classic Groups C, D to open in America
The United States hosts Groups C and D and the playoffs of the World Baseball Classic with Group A and Group B action taking place in Taiwan and Japan respectively.

World No. 3 the United States look like the clear favourite in World Baseball Classic Group C, which will get underway in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday while Miami will host an exciting Group D with two-time finalist Puerto Rico, ranked 13th in the world, contending with powerhouses like world No. 9 the Dominican Republic and No. 6 Venezuela.

World No. 11 Colombia will play No. 5 Mexico at 2.30 pm (US Eastern time) to open Group C at Chase Field in Phoenix (Arizona) while debutants Great Britain, ranked 22 in the world, will face Olympic silver medallists USA at 9 pm (US Eastern time). Group C also includes No. 14 Canada.

The US look like the clear favourite. Their projected starting lineup impresses with power, with superstars like Mookie Betts and Mike Trout at the top and Jeff McNeil, the defending National League batting champion, possibly batting ninth.

The pitching rotation is Mexico's strength. Los Angeles Dodgers star Julio Urias is the ace of a staff including José Urquidy, Patrick Sandoval and Taijuan Walker. The lineup will count on MLB stars such as catcher Alejandro Kirk, outfielders Alex Verdugo and Randy Arozarena and infielder Luis Urias.

Colombia has in Oakland A's rookie Jordan Diaz the player to watch. The pitching staff looks solid, with José Quintana of the New York Mets and Mabil Quintana of the San Diego Padres representing the aces.

Due to injuries, Canada lost stars Josh Naylor, a WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup alum, and Joey Votto. Boston Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta was projected as the pitching staff ace but preferred to stay in Spring Training camp. Former National League MVP Freddie Freeman is the marquee player.

Appearing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic, Great Britain have in Seattle Mariner's No. 1 prospect Harry Ford, the player to watch. Trayce Thompson, Ian Gibaut and Vance Worley have MLB experience.

World No. 17 Nicaragua will face Puerto Rico at Loans Depot Park in Miami, Florida, in the first game of Group D at noon (US Eastern time), followed by an exciting Dominican Republic versus Venezuela clash at 7 pm (US Eastern time). Group D also includes No. 20 Israel.

After finishing second in 2013 and 2017, Puerto Rico added to the roster starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who beat them in the 2017 final when he pitched for the US. Superstar Edwin Diaz will take over the closer's role. The boricuas will also have a stellar infield with Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor.

The Dominican Republic lost Vlad Guerrero junior but still has an impressive lineup. Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medal winner Julio Rodriguez is part of a stellar outfield, including Eloy Jimenez and Juan Soto. All-Star third baseman Rafael Devers and Manny Machado will share time at the hot corner.

Venezuela has a top pitching rotation with Eduardo Rodriguez, Pablo Lopez and Ranger Suarez. A powerful lineup including catcher Salvador Perez and former MVPs Josè Altuve and Miguel Cabrera will back them.

Nicaragua will rely on a solid pitching staff. Veterans Jonathan Loasiga and Erasmo Rodriguez lead a staff, including prospect Carlos Rodriguez. Osman Gutierrez was the star of the qualifying tournament.

Veterans Ryan Lavarnway and Ty Kelly are back from the team that surprised the world of baseball by qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Israel roster has MLB experience in two-time All-Star outfielder Joc Pedersen, starting pitcher Dean Kremer and reliever Richard Bleier.

The first-place finishers in Group D will play Group C second place in the quarterfinals on Friday, 17 March. Group C first place will play the second-place finisher in Group D for another quarterfinal on Saturday, 18 March.

Miami will also host semifinals (19, 20 March) and World Championship Game (21 March).