The list of reasons to watch the World Baseball Classic this spring is long, and right up there at the top is this: The WBC offers us a chance to see pitcher vs. hitter matchups we just wouldn’t get a chance to see, unless you happen to be watching games on the back fields at spring training.
Teammate vs. teammate, in a setting that matters more and more every time the WBC rolls around. It started out with more of an exhibition feel, but it’s more “serious” now. I asked Mike Trout — captain of the USA team — about that on a Zoom with media members on Jan 20, and this is what he told me.
“There’s only one thing on our mind, trying to win this whole thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of great countries out there to have a lot of great teams, but that’s the whole reason I signed up, trying to win this thing. There’s nothing else, you know? Anything else is a failure.”
MORE: For Team USA, World Baseball Classic is “a competition, not an exhibition”
Yeah. It’s going to be all kinds of fun. Here are 10 of the potential matchups (rosters haven’t been officially announced, but these players have all said they’ll play) we’re especially excited to see.
Angels: Mike Trout vs. Shohei Ohtani
Potential Round/Game: Championship Game, USA (Trout) vs. Japan (Ohtani)
Thoughts: It’s almost too much to dream, having Ohtani coming into the eighth or ninth inning of the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, with the game tied and Trout stepping to the plate. I have no idea who would win that matchup, but I would enjoy every single second of that showdown. Almost as much as those two would.
“We talked about it during the year last year, because I knew he was going to do it,” Trout told reporters Jan. 20. “I get a front-row seat every time he pitches when he’s with us. It’s pretty nasty. Every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box. It’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to it. He’s one of my good friends, so it’s going to be fun. We’re going to be competing with a lot of teammates and a lot of people you play against.”
Astros: Jose Altuve vs. A bunch of Houston pitchers
Round/Game: First Round, March 11, Venezuela (Altuve) vs. Dominican Republic (everyone)
Thoughts: Altuve has been the heart and soul of the Astros’ franchise for a long time, but you can’t blame Astros fans for maybe rooting against him in the WBC. See, the Dominican Republic squad is stacked with Houston stars, including World Series hero Jeremy Pena. On the pitching side, remember the combined no-hitter in the World Series? Cristian Javier threw the first six innings, followed by one inning each from Bryan Abreu and Rafael Montero. All three are on the D.R. roster, and so is Framer Valdez — Houston’s ace with Justin Verlander now in New York — and key bullpen piece Hector Neris.
Oh, and if Altuve and his Venezuelan teammates reach the second round? Altuve could face the fourth piece of that World Series gem: Astros closer Ryan Pressly, who will pitch for the USA.
Future Hall of Famers: Miguel Cabrera vs. Clayton Kershaw
Potential Round/Game: Second round, Venezuela (Cabrera) vs. USA (Kershaw)
Thoughts: They’re not teammates, but not too long in the future, both Miguel Cabrera and Clayton Kershaw will own Hall of Fame jerseys and stand on the same stage in Cooperstown together. Both are no-doubt first-ballot guys, and how cool would it be to see them face off this spring in the second round? They’ve faced each other only eight times in their careers, and Kershaw has dominated the matchup: Cabrera is 0-for-8 with three strikeouts.
MLB’s Future: Julio Rodriguez (D.R.) vs. Roki Sasaki (Japan)
Potential Round/Game: Championship Game, Dominican Republic (Rodriguez) vs. Japan (Sasaki)
Thoughts: Yeah, we’re dreaming a bit here, because it’s almost certainly going to be several years before we see Sasaki pitching in MLB games, if it ever happens. The kid is an absolute star, though. Last year, he threw the first perfect game in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in 28 years, and that’s probably not even the most impressive part of his performance that day. Only 20 years old when he made that start, Sasaki struck out 19 batters, including 13 in a row at one point. Oh, and in his next start, he threw eight perfect innings before he was pulled heading into the ninth. So, yeah, how cool would it be to see him face J-Rod for an at-bat or two with the 2023 WBC championship on the line?
Mets: Pete Alonso vs. Edwin Diaz
Potential Round/Game: Second Round, USA (Alonso) vs. Puerto Rico (Diaz)
Thoughts: We’ll call this the “131 Matchup” if it happens. Why? Well, Diaz had a 1.31 ERA for the Mets as their lockdown closer last season, and Alonso had 131 RBIs as the club’s heart-of-the-order big bat. Good times.
MORE: Optimistic AL predictions for 2023 | Optimistic NL predictions
Phillies: J.T. Realmuto vs. Ranger Suarez
Potential Round/Game: Second round, USA (Realmuto) vs. Venezuela (Suarez)
Thoughts: No positional matchup intrigues me more than the idea of a catcher facing one of “his” pitchers in the WBC, especially when it’s a catcher-pitcher combo that just helped a team reach the World Series. The battle of wits will begin. Realmuto knows Suarez’s pitching stuff/mentality as well as anyone — better, certainly — and that should be an advantage. But Suarez knows that Realmuto knows his pitching stuff/mentality, so he can use that to his advantage and plan accordingly. But Realmuto knows that Suarez knows that he knows. And Suarez knows that he knows that he knows that he knows. Let the game begin.
Padres: Xander Bogaerts vs. Yu Darvish
Potential Round/Game: Second round, Netherlands (Bogaerts) vs. Japan (Darvish)
Thoughts: It’s a bit harder to find fun matchups in the Pool A/B matchups, with most of the MLB players in Pool C/D. But this one’s all kinds of intriguing, with San Diego’s ace potentially facing San Diego’s premier offseason acquisition. The sample size is small, but Bogaerts probably is glad he’s on Darvish’s team now. They’ve faced each other six times, and Bogaerts is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a walk. Padres fans will enjoy this one, if it happens.
Dodgers: Mookie Betts vs. Julio Urias
Round/Game: First Round, March 12, USA (Betts) vs. Mexico (Urias)
Thoughts: This matchup is the second game of Pool C play for both teams. Urias is the captain of the Mexico team, so it makes sense that he’ll get the ball in the game against the favorite, right? Please? Who wouldn’t want to see the Dodgers’ former MVP face off with the Dodgers’ perennial Cy Young candidate?
Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt/Nolan Arenado vs. Giovani Gallegos
Round/Game: First Round, March 12, USA (Goldschmidt/Arenado) vs. Mexico (Gallegos)
Thoughts: The Cardinals have nine players off their MLB roster and three more minor leaguers scheduled to play in the WBC, so we had to pick at least one STL vs STL matchup, right? This one probably has the best chance of happening, especially if the game is close in the late innings and Mexico brings in Gallegos to face key right-handed hitters in the USA lineup. That would be a fun matchup, especially if it’s on the heels of Betts-Urias earlier in the game. Also in Pool C, we could see Tyler O’Neill (Canada) face either Adam Wainwright or Miles Mikolas (USA). Other second-round potential Cardinal matchups include Lars Nootbaar (Japan) or Tommy Edman (South Korea) vs. Andre Pallante (Italy) in a Pool A/B matchup, or Genesis Cabrera (Dominican Republic) vs. Goldschmidt/Arenado or even O’Neill in Pool C/D games.
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. vs. Jose Berrios
Round/Game: First round, March 15, Dominican Republic (Guerrero) vs. Puerto Rico (Berrios)
Thoughts: We’ve already talked about how important these two are to the Blue Jays in 2023; last year the Jays made the postseason despite “down” years for both players, but if they want to challenge for the AL East title, they’ll need Vlad Jr. to produce at MVP levels again and they’ll need Berrios to get back to his All-Star form. If Barriers gets the nod in this one — it’s the last game of Pool D play for both teams, likely with a spot in the next round on the line for at least one squads — it would be a blast to see him face his Toronto teammate in Miami.