The third edition of the World Baseball Classic is officially under way, as the best in the game will compete for national pride in what's become the most highly anticipated international baseball event in the world.
As the two-time defending champions, the Japanese squad is obviously the team to beat, but given how spread out the talent is between the top tier of teams, it wouldn't be surprising to see Japan fail to make it back to the finals.
With pool play already having begun, here's a look at the most critical showdowns between perennial heavyweights during the group stage of the tournament.
For a full schedule, check out the tournament's website.
Japan at Cuba- Wednesday, March 6 at 5:00 a.m. ET
It's strange to see Cuba "hosting" this game even though it takes place in Japan, but, nonetheless, the Cubans will get an early opportunity to open some eyes by knocking off the champs.
With more than a dozen Major League Baseball players on their roster, Cuba has enough talent to put up a fight against Japan or, at the least, lock up a spot in the knockout phase of the tournament.
Beating Japan seems a Herculean task no matter where the game, but doing so on Japanese soil appears downright impossible.
USA at Canada- Sunday, March 10 at 4:00 p.m. ET
In what is a surprisingly good-natured rivalry between Canada and the U.S., the Americans clearly have a big advantage in terms of talent and depth at virtually every position.
However, with studs like Joey Votto, Jason Bay and Brett Lawrie, the Canadians have just enough talent to squeak through to the next round of the competition—the outcome of this showdown between two North American squads will have a hand in determining whether they make it or not.
Dominican Republic at Puerto Rico- Sunday March 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
On a day full of intriguing clashes, this one might be the most interesting.
That's because Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic both boast a number of legitimate superstar players—with a spot in the next round of the tournament on the line, the stakes couldn't be higher.
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