Vladimir Guerrero Jr. winning the AL Triple Crown and MVP! That's just one of Dalton Del Don's predictions for the 2023 season.
Kevin Kiermaier hasn't played a regular-season game in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, but he sees big things in store for his new team in 2023.Ahead of his first Opening Day with Toronto, Kiermaier said the Blue Jays have the potential to not only win the AL East but dominate with a 100-win season."Knowing this group and what guys are about, (100 wins) is very attainable," the 32-year-old told Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun. "If we stay healthy - and with the balanced schedule - I like our chances. I'm going to do everything in my power to motivate guys as best I can."If we can keep each other in check and say look, 'We're playing for October,' and the more we win, the more we will buy into each other. If we get that from one through 26 on the roster and are adamant about that, it will be amazing what this group can do."A 100-win campaign would be new territory for the Blue Jays, whose franchise-best mark of 99 wins has stood untouched since 1985. The team has won 90 games just three times in the past 30 years, including during each of the last two seasons.Toronto's 92-win 2022 campaign ended in devastating fashion, as the team blew a seven-run lead in Game 2 of the wild-card round to be swept by the Seattle Mariners.While core players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, and Alek Manoah remain following that disappointment, the front office has rejigged the roster. Kiermaier, a longtime divisional foe during his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, was one of several veterans to join Toronto in free agency, alongside Chris Bassitt and Brandon Belt. The team also traded for outfielder Daulton Varsho and reliever Erik Swanson.The Blue Jays will likely spend the summer battling the New York Yankees for divisional supremacy. It was the Yankees who served notice early last year, bursting out of the gate in April en route to 99 wins and a runaway divisional crown. Kiermaier wants the Blue Jays to be the team that sends an early message this season by taking immediate control of the AL East."I'd love to set the tone and go out there and try to win the division," Kiermaier said. "We're trying to take the next step. Everyone knows (winning the division) is important. That's the goal."We have to let our play do the talking. These guys have always had high expectations, but let's do something different this year and really scare teams. We're playing for October and we want the division."Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. winning the AL Triple Crown and MVP! That's just one of Dalton Del Don's predictions for the 2023 season.
Ahead of Opening Day, we rank the top 20 players in MLB this season. Just missed: Ronald Acuna Jr., Jose Altuve*, Xander Bogaerts, Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper*, Austin Riley, Fernando Tatis Jr.**Player is injured/suspended to start the season20. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 32 97 .818 2.8 It speaks to Guerrero's prodigious pedigree and talent that a season in which he hit more than 30 home runs and posted an OPS above .800 is considered somewhat of a disappointment. However, after a transcendent 48-home run performance in 2021, Guerrero struggled to find the same level of consistency last campaign. The 24-year-old had a hard time getting the ball in the air as he had a ground ball rate of 52.1%, up from 44.8% in 2021. Guerrero said earlier in the offseason that he put too much pressure on himself at times last season and is entering the 2023 campaign with a renewed focus and approach. Betting on a big bounce-back season from Guerrero is probably a wise decision.19. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 139 22 84 .820 6.5 A true force on both sides of the ball, Realmuto's coming off a 2022 campaign in which he threw out a league-best 44% of would-be base-stealers. He also became the second catcher ever with a 20-homer, 20-steal season en route to winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. The 32-year-old is incredibly durable for a catcher, appearing in over 130 games for the second straight season in 2022. When it comes to catchers, Realmuto is in a class unto himself as the best in the business.18. Rafael Devers, Red Sox Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 141 27 88 .879 4.9 It's easy to forget that Devers is just 26 years old and still at the beginning of his prime. That's a scary thought when you consider he already owns a World Series ring, two All-Star berths, a 50-double season, and a Silver Slugger. Devers is arguably the best third baseman in the AL and one of the Junior Circuit's best lefty sluggers. The Red Sox made him the face of their franchise over the winter with a $313.5-million extension, and it's easy to see why. He should have no trouble continuing his ascent in 2023.17. Justin Verlander, Mets Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 175 1.75 2.49 6.1 Age is but a number for the 40-year-old Verlander, who remains firmly in the conversation for the title of baseball's best pitcher. Fresh off winning his third Cy Young Award during a historic comeback season with the Astros, Verlander is now the co-ace of a Mets squad with legitimate World Series aspirations. MLB's active strikeouts leader should still be good for 170-200 innings and around 200 strikeouts a season while limiting the long ball in a homer-heavy environment. Verlander's more than just an ace: he's an all-time great.16. Yordan Alvarez, Astros Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 135 37 97 1.019 6.6 Since landing Alvarez in a lopsided trade with the Dodgers in 2016, the Astros have seen him develop into one of baseball's most fearsome power hitters. Alvarez trails only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge in wRC+ (164) and OPS (.973) since debuting in 2019. The 25-year-old signed a long-term extension last year, keeping him in Houston into his prime years. With the Astros firmly in a win-now mode, Alvarez has plenty of opportunity to author more memorable moments and climb the franchise's all-time leaderboard in a number of offensive categories.15. Max Scherzer, Mets Newsday LLC / Newsday / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 145.1 2.29 2.62 4.4 Scherzer was as exceptional last year as he's ever been. However, his 2022 was treated as a disappointment because he didn't throw 170-plus innings for what would've been the 13th consecutive full-length season (omitting the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign). He's getting older, there's no avoiding that. But among pitchers with at least 140 innings thrown, the righty still ranked sixth by ERA, sixth by strikeout rate, sixth by FIP, and second by K-BB%. It seems like Scherzer will be the elite of the elite until he literally can't throw anymore. And with the pitch clock as an added weapon? Look out.14. Francisco Lindor, Mets Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 161 26 107 .788 6.8 After struggling in his first season with the Mets, Lindor rebounded in 2022. The star shortstop set a new career high with 107 RBIs and was extremely durable, appearing in 161 games. Lindor is a magnetic personality and has taken to the bright lights of New York City seamlessly. The Mets enter 2023 with high expectations and a lot of pressure to win the franchise's first championship since 1986. Lindor will be counted on to lead the charge as one of the league's best shortstops. 13. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 228.2 2.28 2.99 5.7 Alcantara was a workhorse en route to winning his first career Cy Young last season. The big right-hander led the league in innings pitched and complete games, emerging as a throwback type of pitcher in an era where hurlers aren't pitching as deep into games. Alcantara's durability and ability to pile up quality starts should allow him to contend for another Cy Young in 2023.12. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers Denis Poroy / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 159 21 100 .918 7.1 Freeman is quietly one of baseball's most consistent, durable and productive players. The 2020 NL MVP could have easily been a finalist for, or even won, last year's honor after leading his league in a slew of offensive categories. He should be in that conversation again in 2023 as the Dodgers' offensive anchor. Barring injury, Freeman will cross several important career milestones this summer. It's a bit strange he often gets overlooked, but that might just be the result of a glut of talented first basemen in the NL. Few in the majors are better or have a sweeter swing.11. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals Rob Tringali / MLB / Getty Images GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 151 35 115 .981 7.1 It always felt like a tragedy that Goldschmidt hadn't added an MVP award to his mantle, but last season finally put that to bed. The seven-time All-Star had previously been runner-up twice and finished as a finalist one other time. This past year, he led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage and OPS with a career-best 180 OPS+. Still, somehow, the five-time Silver Slugger feels underappreciated even though he could easily threaten back-to-back MVPs in an incredibly deep Cardinals lineup.10. Trea Turner, Phillies Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 21 100 .809 6.3 Turner showed off at the World Baseball Classic, crushing five homers for Team USA and boasting a 1.483 OPS over six games. It was a great reminder heading into the upcoming campaign that Turner is so much more than just speed. His aggressiveness on the bases should obviously be noted entering a season in which MLB added rules to try to entice more base-stealing. But Turner is also an all-fields hitter with elite pop and the ability to play a demanding defensive position. He's the entire package.9. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 132 28 75 .853 5.3 It only took one year for J-Rod to crack the top 10. Rodriguez announced his presence in the majors with a historic rookie season that rocketed him to superstardom and helped end the Mariners' long playoff drought. What can he do for an encore in his age-22 season? How about a 30-30 campaign? A Gold Glove? A .900 OPS? Nothing seems out of bounds for Rodriguez - and the scary thing is, he's yet to enter his prime. This might be the last year that J-Rod sits outside the top five players for a long time.8. Juan Soto, Padres Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 153 27 62 .853 3.8 It's a testament to how good Soto is that a season with an .853 OPS and a 145 wRC+ is considered disappointing. The slugger acknowledged that he battled some mechanical issues with his swing in 2022 and feels much more locked in heading into the new season. Soto's performance at the World Baseball Classic could be an indicator of what's in store for 2023. He's still only 24 years old and looks poised to return to the form he showcased in 2021 with the Nationals when he posted a staggering 7.0 fWAR with a .999 OPS. It wouldn't be shocking if Soto moves up into the top five on the list at this time next year.7. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals Dustin Bradford / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 148 30 103 .891 7.3 Arenado can stake a claim to being the greatest defensive third baseman of all time. The 31-year-old added a staggering 10th Gold Glove and sixth consecutive Platinum Glove last season. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Arenado has shown no signs of slowing down, ranking in the 99th percentile in Baseball Savant's outs above average in 2022. He also put together his best offensive season since 2019, posting an .891 OPS with 30 home runs and finishing third in NL MVP voting. It's fair to expect another strong year in 2023 from one of the game's most complete players.6. Jose Ramirez, Guardians Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 29 126 .869 6.2 Ramirez remains one of baseball's most underrated and underappreciated stars. The 30-year-old is fourth behind Judge, Betts, and Trout in FanGraphs' WAR since the 2017 season. Ramirez's ability to hit for power, use his legs, and play solid defense at a premium position allows him to provide tremendous value for the Guardians. He took a below-market extension to remain in Cleveland for the long haul and could end up as the greatest player in franchise history whenever he finishes his career.5. Manny Machado, Padres Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 150 32 102 .898 7.4 Machado is the only third baseman who can keep Arenado from claiming the title of best at the hot corner, and it's easy to see why. The 30-year-old is a perennial MVP candidate with light-tower power, a solid glove, and consistency that rivals any of the best hitters in the sport. When it's all said and done, Machado has a good chance to go down as one of the greatest all-around players of his generation - and he's not even close to being done. That's a treat for baseball fans everywhere.4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 142 35 82 .873 6.6 As if Betts wasn't satisfied with being the best right fielder in baseball, he's now adding the infield to his repertoire. Betts will play games at second base on a semi-regular basis this season, a level of versatility that makes him even more dangerous. Even if he stayed in right all year, we're still talking about a generational talent who covers right field with the effortless grace of a dancer and owns a cannon for an arm that baserunners would be fools to test. Oh, and lest we forget, Betts remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the sport and a virtual lock for an annual top-five MVP finish. It's hard to imagine how a player gets better than him.3. Aaron Judge, Yankees Julio Aguilar / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 62 131 1.111 11.4 We might never see a season as special as Judge's 2022 again. With 62 homers, the Yankees' newest captain set the AL record for dingers in a single season, and he's the first player in any league to reach the 60-dinger plateau since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in 2001. If we omit players implicated with steroid use, he really is the home run king, surpassing Roger Maris (61 in 1961) and Babe Ruth (60 in 1927). Expecting the four-time All-Star to repeat would be ridiculous, but he's also more than just a slugger. Judge ranked in the 85th percentile in outs above average and 93rd percentile in arm strength, and he obviously possesses an incredibly keen eye with a walk rate in the 96th percentile.2. Mike Trout, Angels Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 119 40 80 .999 6.0 Trout's bona fides are unimpeachable. As a three-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger, and two-time All-Star Game MVP, Trout would go down as one of the best to ever play if he retired today. And while he was held to 119 games last year, he still hit 40 homers and finished eighth in AL MVP voting ahead of Xander Bogaerts, Verlander, and Bo Bichette, to name a few. He took a step back defensively in center field and isn't trying to steal many bases anymore, but this next version of Trout seems to be a truly prolific slugger, boasting a .630 SLG. Pro-rated over a full season, his homer pace last year would equate to roughly 54 dingers. He's still the hitter everyone envies.1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 34 95 .875 3.8 IP ERA FIP fWAR 166 2.33 2.40 5.6 The fact Ohtani needs two different charts illustrates the entire point. The two-way phenom followed up his 2021 AL MVP season by getting even better and was only deprived of back-to-back honors because of a different historic achievement from Judge. So, the two-time All-Star had to settle for finishing runner-up in MVP voting and fourth in Cy Young voting. If Ohtani decided to only hit or pitch, it seems quite clear he'd be top of the league in whichever he chose. Instead, he's, at worst, the fourth best at both. Ohtani is beyond comprehension. It seems like his health is the only thing that could prevent him from winning his next MVP.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
The 2023 World Baseball Classic is complete, so it's time to break down the performances of all 20 participants. Here are our grades for every team listed alphabetically.Australia: A- YUICHI YAMAZAKI / AFP / GettyThe Aussies turned Pool D upside down, finishing in second place and advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time ever. Australia was able to take down South Korea in a tight opening game that essentially decided who would join Japan in the quarters, and only stubbed its toe in pool play against the powerful Japanese. The team, made up mostly of homegrown talent from the Australian Baseball League, displayed some impressive power, swatting seven homers in five games before a tight quarterfinal loss to Cuba ended its dream run. This goes down as Australia's biggest baseball moment since winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, and might even top that. It was especially fitting that former Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson, the first Australian to play in an MLB All-Star Game, managed this team into the history books.Canada: C+ Chris Coduto / Getty Images Sport / GettyOnce again, Canada had a golden opportunity to finally advance in the WBC, controlling its own destiny on the last day. And once again, Canada lost big to Mexico - the Canadians' longtime white whale - to go home in the first round. In the short term, this is obviously a disappointing result for a talented baseball nation that didn't have all of its best players available. But Canadian fans should also take comfort in the long-term signs for this team. Twins prospect Edouard Julien made a real run at Pool C MVP honors, hitting .538 with a pair of homers, while Phillies farmhand Noah Skirrow turned heads with five shutout innings against Colombia. Owen Caissie and Otto Lopez also had stellar tournaments at the plate. If nothing else, Canada showed just how dangerous its next generation of baseball talent has the potential to be down the road.China: C- Xinhua News Agency / Xinhua News Agency / GettyEasily the most overmatched team in the tournament, China was mercy-ruled twice - including a 20-run to South Korea - and outscored 50-10 over four games en route to being relegated to the qualifiers. But take a step back and consider the circumstances that were hindering China in the WBC. The national team hadn't played in a tournament since 2019 due to COVID-19. China's professional baseball league, where nearly all of the national team members play, has also been shut down for the last three years. Most of these players hadn't played in a competitive game at any level since before the pandemic. When you look at it that way, it's almost a miracle that China managed to score 10 runs.Chinese Taipei: C- Yung Chuan Yang / Getty Images Sport / GettyWith home-field advantage in front of some absolutely rollicking crowds, and fairly even competition in Pool A, everything seemed to be set up perfectly for Chinese Taipei to advance. Instead, this proud baseball program - which entered the tournament ranked second in the world - finished fifth after tie-breakers, forcing them to re-qualify for the 2026 tournament. Yes, there were some great moments for Chinese Taipei, including Pool A MVP Yu Chang's grand slam and catcher Kungkuan Giljegiljaw's offensive heroics. But the end result for a team that hoped to send a message on the world stage was more than just bitter disappointment. It was the absolute worst-case scenario becoming reality.Colombia: B- Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / GettyIf ever there was a team that didn't deserve relegation, it's this Colombian squad. Jolbert Cabrera's players battled hard throughout Pool C, earning a gritty upset win against Mexico before making the Americans earn their way to Miami in the final game. The effort was even more impressive considering Colombia was without ace Jose Quintana, who had to bow out at the last moment because of a rib injury. Unfortunately, it was for not, as a loss to Great Britain gave the Brits fourth place via the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning Colombia's now forced to re-qualify for 2026. Sometimes, baseball is just cruel that way. Colombia is an up-and-coming baseball nation with plenty of talent, and should be a favorite to return to the main tournament when the time comes.Cuba: B Gene Wang / Getty Images Sport / GettyHow much of Cuba's success had to do with the relatively even level of competition in the early rounds is a question worth asking. The Cubans, armed with MLB players and prospects in the affiliated minors for the first time ever, started slowly in Pool A before storming back to not only win the group on tiebreakers, but advance all the way to the semifinals. The first two losses in Taichung, Taiwan, were tight, while the wins against Panama and Chinese Taipei were blowouts. Cuba then let Australia hang around in the quarterfinal game en route to a one-run victory. The semifinal was a totally different story, though, as Cuba got thoroughly dismantled by the Americans. Was that blowout loss a product of a talented team's jet lag - Cuba played the U.S. in Miami just four days after facing Australia in Tokyo - or the reality of facing a superior USA squad? Perhaps it was both. Regardless, getting back to the semifinals for the first time since the inaugural WBC was the result that a rebuilding Cuban national team needed, especially after it failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. That's worth an extra point or two on the grading scale.Czech Republic: A RICHARD A. BROOKS / AFP / GettyPavel Chadim's team of (mostly) semi-pros who balance day jobs with their baseball careers beat China to secure a spot in the 2026 WBC, held a lead against Japan for two-plus innings, and contended for a spot in the quarterfinals until the very end, putting a scare into Australia along the way. An electrician named Ondrej Satoria who barely cracks 80 mph on the mound struck out Shohei Ohtani, the best player on earth. Even the most generous of expectations could not have predicted this kind of success for the fledgling Czech program. No baseball fan will forget this team's grit and determination, which helped remind many of the beauty of baseball. This was also a monumental achievement for a passionate group of athletes who pour their hearts into what is a niche sport in their homeland. This run will surely bring baseball some more publicity in the Czech Republic and should help foster interest on a grassroots level - which is a huge part of why the World Baseball Classic exists.Dominican Republic: F Al Bello / Getty Images Sport / GettyEven after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had to withdraw, the Dominicans were being labeled as a dream team. There was no chance, most assumed, that this star-studded squad could lose at all, let alone in the first round - and yet that's exactly what happened. It was only against the Pool D minnows that the Dominican Republic looked like the team everyone expected. Venezuela getting to Sandy Alcantara in the opener put the team on their heels early, and the elimination loss to Puerto Rico - a game in which the Dominicans controlled their own fate - featured some uncharacteristically sloppy play. When you enter the tournament as the betting favorites with a dream team label, you've got to produce. A close loss in the finals against another world powerhouse would be easier to swallow. A first-round exit is inexcusable.Great Britain: B+ Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / GettyWhat a fine showing for Great Britain in its WBC debut. Armed with some quality talent, including top catching prospect Harry Ford and Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson, the Brits got a critical win against Colombia that clinched it a spot in the 2026 tournament, and was able to hang with both the U.S. and Mexico. This young squad did take plenty of lumps, with its mercy-rule loss to Canada and some very poor defensive play standing out. As far as overall first impressions go, though, Great Britain left a pretty good one. Between the sudden success of the national team and MLB's multiple London games scheduled for the next few seasons, baseball's clearly in the midst of a growth spurt in the United Kingdom.Israel: C- Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / GettyWe'll go a little easier on Israel because of a bad draw in Pool D, but that doesn't ease the disappointment. Israel's offense, which was supposed to be bolstered by the addition of Joc Pederson, went completely silent over its four games, eliminating any hope of another underdog run. The team recorded just one total hit during its mercy-rule losses to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and didn't have a baserunner against Puerto Rico (it wasn't counted as an official perfect game due to the mercy rule). Some consolation can be taken in the win over Nicaragua, which ensured qualification in 2026, and 19-year-old D-Backs prospect Jacob Steinmetz's impressive start against the Dominicans. Israel's baseball program has come a long way in the last decade and can easily recover from this setback. But the sting of this tournament will be felt for a good while.Italy: A- Mary DeCicco / Major League Baseball / GettyAbout the only thing that went wrong for Mike Piazza's club was a lack of power - although things worked out pretty well for the team anyway. Italy made it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever despite hitting just one home run in five games, and none during pool play. This team simply did it the old-fashioned way, with timely hitting and shutdown pitching that included two brilliant starts from Matt Harvey. While its journey ended with a loss against an absolute buzzsaw in Japan, Piazza did a fantastic job guiding this club through some tough competition to get to Tokyo, with impressive wins against Cuba and The Netherlands. Italy's always hung close to the Dutch as Europe's second-best team, with the ability to grab an occasional upset win. Now, the program has a watershed moment to be proud of while building for even more success in three years.Japan: A+ Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / GettyWhat more can you say? Samurai Japan entered the tournament as the world's top-ranked team and showed everybody why. Japan became only the second nation to go undefeated in the WBC, joining the Dominican Republic in 2013. Masataka Yoshida, Shugo Maki, and Kazuma Okamoto all had two home runs, and Yoshida's 13 RBIs tied a WBC record. Young phenoms Roki Sasaki and Munetaka Murakami dazzled on the big stage, whetting appetites for eventual moves to MLB in the coming years. And then there was tournament MVP Shohei Ohtani, who did everything on both sides of the ball and proved again that he's the best player on Earth. Japan put on a baseball clinic over the last two weeks and is very deserving of being called world champion.Mexico: A- Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / GettyAt last, the Mexicans found their groove in the WBC, advancing to the semifinals for the first time ever. Randy Arozarena led the way for Mexico with his dynamic two-way play and endearing personality, but there were other heroes from the team. First baseman Joey Meneses, one of the feel-good stories of the 2022 MLB season, crushed two homers against the U.S. in pool play and finished the tournament with a .963 OPS. Patrick Sandoval turned in two amazing starts, most notably against Japan in the semis. Although its run ended in a heartbreaking (and exciting) loss to the powerful Japanese club, Mexico can go home incredibly proud. It announced its presence as a top-tier baseball power and won't be going away any time soon.The Netherlands: C+ Mary DeCicco / Major League Baseball / GettyThe Dutch were caught in the crossfire of Pool A's five-way tie that was only solved by an incredibly complicated tiebreaking procedure. Pool A was always the most even group in this tournament, and at least one talented team was going to go home early as a result. But that's not why The Netherlands lost. The fact is, a talented offense led by the likes of Xander Bogaerts and Jurickson Profar, was simply unable to get going. The Netherlands scored just 13 runs this year, compared to the 48 plated during a semifinal run in 2017. The Honkbalers also controlled their own destiny in the Pool A finale against Italy, but left the bases loaded en route to a 7-1 loss and a long flight home. Even if you give The Netherlands the benefit of the doubt with regard to how level Pool A was, it's still a stinging result for a team coming off two straight WBC semifinal appearances whose goal was to finally take that next step.Nicaragua: B- Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / GettyNicaragua's fate was essentially sealed the moment it was placed in Pool D, and it only got worse from there. The Central American nation was unable to get a win in its WBC debut, with the most crushing loss coming in the opening game against fellow lightweight Israel. It was the one game Nicaragua had to have in order to be guaranteed a spot in the 2026 classic; instead, it now has to re-qualify, likely without the services of its few big-league players. Still, while clearly overmatched, Marvin Benard's squad gets a slightly more positive grade for not making it too easy on the big boys. Nicaragua scored in all four games and did not lose by more than five runs. It also gave us one of the tournament's best stories in pitcher Duque Hebbert, who struck out three Dominican All-Stars in his first inning outside of Nicaragua and was then signed by the Tigers on the spot.Panama: B Gene Wang / Getty Images Sport / GettyPanama's return to the world stage after a 14-year absence should be remembered fondly in that country. The offense exploded for 12 runs in an upset of Chinese Taipei, and it was a serious contender to make it to the quarterfinals before the messy Pool A tiebreaker ended those hopes. Former Mets infielder Ruben Tejada, now an elder statesman on this team, led the offense with a 1.042 OPS. It wasn't a totally smooth ride for the Panamanians, who were thoroughly outclassed during their blowout loss to Cuba. However, the signs of what this program can be in the future were certainly there.Puerto Rico: B- Al Bello / Getty Images Sport / GettyAt times, Puerto Rico looked dominant in Pool D. Marcus Stroman gave manager Yadier Molina two stellar starts, and the offense was clicking from day one, outscoring opponents 34-17 over the course of the tournament. Even Puerto Rico's one Pool D loss to Venezuela was close, as the team almost erased an eight-run deficit. Unfortunately, the end of Puerto Rico's tournament will not be remembered fondly. First, there was Edwin Diaz's unfortunate knee injury while celebrating the win over its Dominican rivals. Without Diaz, the bullpen blew a lead against Mexico in the quarterfinals. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the two-time finalists, and the team's stellar play over the course of the tournament will hardly serve as a consolation.South Korea: D Gene Wang / Getty Images Sport / GettyIt was another WBC to forget for South Korea. A dynamic roster that included most of the best players in the KBO, plus MLB players Ha-Seong Kim and Tommy Edman, was under immense pressure to get out of the first round for the first time since 2009. Instead, the script played out in nightmarish fashion that was reminiscent of 2017. Six years ago, South Korea lost a tight opener to Israel and never recovered; this year, it was a one-run opening loss to Australia, followed by a blowout defeat against Japan, that doomed the team. By the time the bats did get going against the far weaker Czechs and Chinese, it was far too late. The 22-run outburst against China spared South Korea from having to re-qualify, although that's likely to be of little solace to a country that prides itself on being a top baseball nation. Something is going to have to change for this program to get back to that level.United States: B+ Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / GettyTeam USA nearly repeated as WBC champion. The offense hummed along all tournament, led by shortstop Trea Turner out of the nine-hole. The full brunt of its offensive force was seen during a 14-2 dismantling of Cuba in the semifinals. However, the pitching staff left something to be desired. Merrill Kelly is a solid mid-rotation arm but isn't who you want on the mound in a win-or-go-home situation like the WBC final. Unfortunately for the U.S., depth issues left Kelly as the only choice for that game. First-time skipper Mark DeRosa's bullpen management also came into question, especially during the knockout rounds. DeRosa had Ryan Pressly rested and ready during the final but didn't turn to the All-Star stopper against Japan. He also waited too long to pull Daniel Bard during his wild outing against Venezuela that nearly cost the Americans a semifinal spot. The U.S. made it back to the final, as expected, so in that sense, this tournament was a success, but things could have obviously gone better. Perhaps if Team USA brings its best pitchers in 2026, that will happen.Venezuela: A- Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / GettyThe end result may not have been what it wanted, but Venezuela's tournament was a win for the program overall. Instead of the Dominicans steamrolling Pool D, it was the Venezuelans who played the role of juggernaut, going undefeated in pool play while outscoring their competition 23-9. Anthony Santander and Salvador Perez were monsters at the plate for the entire tournament. And manager Omar Lopez's club did this without some of its biggest stars, including both Willson and William Contreras. Pretty much everything was clicking for this team - that is, until the top of the eighth against the United States, when Trea Turner's grand slam left a stunned Venezuela heading home with nothing. Still, Venezuela's performance served to erase memories of a thoroughly disappointing 2017 WBC, while reestablishing the team as a legitimate threat on the world stage.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.