This is clearly the most talented and toughest group. Australia or Italy (with all those Americans) might have made it to the second round in any of the other three groups. In this one, they're out on the outside looking in.
Size: 353,839 square miles; slightly more than twice the size of California
Population: 26 Million
Most Famous For in VFLOAB eyes: Oil, shortstops, Hugo Chavez, being in South America, oil, '21st century socialism', hot women, mountains, and Hugo Chavez again.
Best player: Miguel Cabrera
Best Pitcher: Johan Santana
Why they'll win their group: Because they've got great pitching and good bats. This might be the most balanced team in the tournament. They aren't as deep as the US team, but they've got arms... a lot of arms.
Best Part of the Team: I want to say their outfield... it's almost as good as the US infield; but it's their starting pitching: Santana, Zambrano, and Garcia. Not bad.
Rooting Interest: Some... we'd like them to win their group and we gotta give Ozzie and Freddy props. What can we say, we like Venezuelan players. And a US vs Venezuela final could be classic... I'm openly rooting for this to happen.
Overall Tournament Outlook: They've got the talent to win it all. They should make it to the second round and then move on to the semis. To do so they'll probably have to go through the Dominican at least twice, maybe three times. Talk about great baseball.
Final Random Thoughts: I love this team. They can start Santana (the best pitcher in the game right now), Freddy Garcia (who proved to be a big game pitcher in the playoffs last year), or Carlos Zambrano (who is insane, but incredibly talented). Then they've got guys like K-Rod, Betancourt, and Jorge Julio in the pen. I'm not crazy about their infield, but that outfield of Abreu, Cabrera, and Ordonez is fantastic (thought Cabrera may play third since Melvin Mora pulled out). This team is loaded with arms and has enough hitting to get the job done.
The Dominican Republic
Size:18,815 square miles, or about slightly more than twice the size of New Hampshire
Population: 8.9 million
Most Famous For in VFLOAB eyes: Baseball, baseball, and consisting of two thirds of the island of Hispaniola and sharing it with Haiti. Oh and stories about kids playing baseball with everything and anything and anywhere... you know broom handles, bottle caps, and in the streets. Beisbol been berry, berry good to me.
Best player: Albert Pujols... Miguel Tejada... I can't decide
Best Pitcher: Bartolo Colon, though watch for Daniel Cabrera of the O's
Why they'll win their group: Because they could score 900 runs in three games... their line up is sick. If they beat Venezuela, and they can, then they'll win the group.
Why they'll finish second: Because they don't have the pitching to beat Venezuela, if we've learned anything in October, it's the pitching beats offense nine times out of ten.
Best Part of the Team: Their infield... Pujols, Soriano/Castillo, Tejada, and Beltre... wow. And just for shits and giggle, their BACK UP infield is Ortiz, Soriano/Castillo, Jose Reyes, and Polanco. You've got to be kidding me.
Rooting Interest: We enjoy Dominican players and want to go to the Dominican sometime just to see the country and the baseball, but as we said, we're rooting for a US/Venezuela final.
Overall Tournament Outlook: This is a good team, but they just don't have the arms that the US and Venezuela has. As it stands now, they'll ease to the second round, and should still cruise to the semis (but they're more vulnerable to losing to the Cubans or Puerto Ricans). There they'll probably have to beat the Venezuelans in the semis to reach the final (the final of what should be three match ups between the two countries)... and then play (probably) the US (or Japan). That might be too much to ask for from a team that just doesn't have the quality of arms that others do.
Final Random Thoughts: I'm not sure if any country is more hurt by the loss of one player than the Dominican is with Pedro Martinez not being able to pitch. He was going to be the heart and soul of this team, but now he won't be able to go. Losing Vlad hurts too, but they should have enough offense that they’ll be able to survive without him. But the loss of Pedro probably dooms them in the semis. That leaves them with very little in terms of starting pitching depth. If Cabrera comes on, and he has great stuff, then watch out. But in such a short tournament I just don't think they've got it. Third place looks to be what they'll be playing for. Pains me to write this...
Size: 2,966,136 square miles, or slightly smaller than the 48 contiguous U.S. states
Population: 20 million
Most Famous For in VFLOAB eyes: Being Down Under, friendly people who are too much fun, being a former British penal colony, kangaroos, kola bears, beaches, Aborigines, beer, Aussie rules football, cricket, and the Aussie Open (the most underrated sporting event)
Best player: Justin Huber?
Best Pitcher: Damian Moss
Why they'll win their group: If the US invades Venezuela, the Dominican Republic pulls their team out of political protest, the Aussies beat Italy.
Why they'll finish third: Call it a sentimental pick, but the Aussies have a bit of baseball history (Dave Nilsson made an All-Star team) and Graeme Lloyd has two World Series Rings. It's not totally foreign down there and there are plenty of players who are signed to contracts with Major league teams. This isn't South Africa or China we're talking about. We say the beat Italy.
Best Part of the Team: Well go with their pitching
Rooting Interest: Some... we love Aussies. They're always so nice and so much fun... it's one of those rules in life that we've found to be true. Has anyone met a jerk from Down Under? Didn't think so.
Overall Tournament Outlook: Three games, hopefully a win, and it's back to spring training
Final Random Thoughts: We'd love to see the Aussie's advance, but they sort of got screwed being paired with the Dominican and Venezuela. Although it would take a major upset to advance to the second round in Group A, B, or C; they would have had a much better chance than the group their in. Too bad, we sort of like their unis.
Size: 116,305 square miles, or slightly larger than Arizona
Population: 58 million
Most Famous For in VFLOAB eyes: Great food, the Renaissance, Rome, Julius Caesar, Aeneas, Florence, soccer, Francesco Totti!, great ice cream (sorry gelato), being the center of just about every major European movement or intellect thought, Sicily, Milan, fashion, Roman Catholic
Best player: David Dellucci, for reason I can't tell you a bunch of Italian Americans are playing for Italy... go figure. Anyway, Dellucci gets on base for fun.
Best Pitcher: Jason Grilli?
Why they'll win their group: Mike Piazza goes back 10 years and decides to be 28 again, their infield plays out of their minds, Joe DiMaggio rises from the dead, and they convince Barry Zito, Chris Carpenter, and Pope Benedict to pitch for them.
Why they'll finish fourth: Because they've got a bunch of Italian-American major and minor leagues on their team?
Best Part of the Team: Their outfield I guess.
Rooting Interest: I'd like this team a lot more if it wasn't full of Italian-Americans... sort of a bummer if you ask me… but whatever.
Overall Tournament Outlook: They should beat the Aussies, but we don’t think they will. And that's it.
Final Random Thoughts: Ugggh, have I mentioned that I hate the fact that Mike Piazza, Dellucci, Grilli, Frank Menechino, and Frank Catanlanotto (among others) are playing for this team? Not cool if you ask me... we already lost one of the better young footie players who's with Man U to Italy (Giuseppe Rossi was born in New Jersey, but has said he wants to play for Italy)... so why do this? I don't know whatever, I guess these guys get to play which is kind of cool. And if Sweden or the Czech Republic had a team and they asked me to be on it... well yeah, I'd probably play. Hey, why doesn't the UK or Ireland get a team together like this? That would be a pretty good team...
After the first round, the top two teams from each group advance to the next round. As we see it Group One will feature:
The United States
The Dominican Republic
Once again, each team plays each other once. The top two teams advance to the Semis in San Diego where they play each other… again.
Semifinal #1 – United States vs Japan
Semifinal #2 – Venezuela vs Cuba
We like Cuba to upset the Dominican who lacks the pitching to really be a huge threat.
Final – The United States vs Venezuela
Winner of the First World Baseball Classic? In a game that’s much more intense than anyone could have expected, the US comes out a bit flat. The pumped up Venezuelan team takes an early lead behind a strong first few innings from Freddy Garcia (Santana pitched in the semis against the Cubans). The US begins to arise to the occasion, picking up on the emotion, intensity, and desire of the first few innings in the middle innings. Jeter leads the US team to tie the game. But in the end, it’s not enough. Venezuela takes a 6-5 lead in the 7th, and K-Rod shuts down the US. Venezuela is crowned Champions.