It’s official, the World Baseball Classic is back. It was announced around 1 p.m. today on various social media platforms as well as official websites.
So, here’s what we know, as well as my thoughts…
It’s a bit sandwiched within the rest of the news, but the powers that be have announced the qualifiers schedule for the tournament. While no official game-by-game schedule is out yet, they’ve announced the following pools:
Pool A will be held from Sept. 16 through Sept. 21 at Armin-Wolf-Arena in Regensburg, Germany. Arguably the nicest ballpark in Europe outside of the Netherlands and Italy, it also hosted WBC qualifiers back in 2013. The teams in this group will be Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Great Britain, and South Africa.
Pool B will be held from Sept. 30 through Oct. 5 at Panama City’s Rod Carew National Stadium. This will be the third time they’ve held qualifiers there. The teams in that pool are Panama, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, and New Zealand.
The top two of each pool (they haven’t said officially whether this will be double-elimination or round-robin, but it feels like round-robin is the likely choice since that is what the main tournament is) will head to the main tournament.
This, by the way, is quite different from what I was projecting. For one thing, I thought they’d have the qualifiers in the USA, which was what the original plan was pre-COVID. For another, I figured that there wouldn’t be any changes in the list of teams invited. However, there is one change: the Philippines has been replaced by Argentina. It’s not entirely clear why this is. Perhaps it is because Argentina is higher-ranked. Perhaps there is some sort of drama with the Filipino baseball federation. Regardless, Argentina will be making its WBC debut, and the Philippines will have the ignoble distinction of joining Thailand as the only countries to be dropped from one WBC qualification invite to the next.
An important thing to note is that the September and October dates for the tournaments make it likely that many more minor leaguers will be available than what would be the case if this was being held in mid-summer. While many minor leagues now go through September, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that MLB teams will keep as many prospects out of it as they may have, since by that point in the season anyone who may be a call-up likely would already have been called up. Sadly, it’s unlikely that any MLB players will be able to take part, as the regular season will be ending on the same day that Pool B will finish.
THE MAIN TOURNAMENT:
As expected, the main tournament will have four pools of five. Also as expected, one half of the bracket will be in Asia until the semifinals.
The pools are:
Pool A held from March 8 through March 13 at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung. It’s been used before in the WBC. The teams in this pool are Chinese Taipei (AKA Taiwan), Cuba, Italy, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and one of the qualifying teams.
Pool B will be held from March 9 through March 13 at the Tokyo Dome, which (as I’ve ragged on a bit about previously) is seemingly the only stadium in Japan that MLB wants to play games at. The teams there are Japan, Korea, China, Australia, and a qualifier team.
Pool C is at Chase Field in Phoenix from March 11 through March 15. The teams there are USA, Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and a qualifier. Chase Field is another WBC mainstay thanks to its retractable roof, location close to spring training sites, and Arizona’s diverse population.
Pool D is happening at the same time as Pool C. It’ll be the first of three rounds at Miami’s loanDepot Park (and, yes, the lowercase l is correct there). The teams there will be Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Israel, the Dominican, and another qualifier.
After those first rounds, the second round will be a bit different from previous years (where the second rounds were again pool play) and instead go straight to knock-out play. The winners of Pool A will play the runner-ups of Pool B and vice-versa in games at the Tokyo Dome, while the same is true for Pool C and Pool D, who will have quarterfinals in Miami. After that, the final four teams will have semifinals and finals in Miami. Here’s a nifty chart showing it all, if you’re confused.
There aren’t any major surprises in the tournament here. In fact, the pools are fairly similar to what I projected them to be back in April, with only a few teams moved around here and there (Italy being in A instead of B, for example).
It will be interesting to see how and where they sort out the qualifying teams. It likely will depend on who gets out of the qualifiers. For example, if Nicaragua or Panama get out of their qualifiers, one would assume they’d be in C or D, but if Brazil (which has a large Japanese population) or New Zealand were to shock the world they’d likely end up playing in Asia. Time will tell.
As you may have seen, the WBC has a new logo! Nifty.
With the WBC now officially announced, it’s probably only a matter of time before players start saying whether they will or will not be willing to take part. There will be other news coming up as well. In fact, over the past few weeks there has been some WBC news that I neglected to write about.
So… stay tuned!