World Baseball Classic 2013: Who, how, and when to watch all the action

Junko Kimura

At long last some real baseball -- the kind without scrubs subbing in by the third inning -- will be played tonight when the third World Baseball Classic kicks off in Taiwan. Japan is looking for its third consecutive WBC title, but the Joe Mauer-led U.S. team and 14 other squads will do their best to prevent that.

The World Baseball Classic begins at 11:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network with a matchup between Australia and Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan).

Here's everything you need to know about the two-week tournament:

The WBC was created in 2005 as a way to keep baseball alive on a global scale in the wake of its removal from the Summer Olympics. While the Olympics always boasted the best of baseball amateurs, the WBC is unique in that it offers high-level competition between the best professional players around the world.

Now in its third iteration, the three-round tournament consists of 16 squads from all over the globe: United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Cuba, Netherlands, Australia, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Canada, and newcomers Brazil and Spain.

The tourney will be played on eight different ball fields in four countries -- Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, U.S. -- with the Championship Round held at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The Format

The 16 countries are competing in a three-round tournament that is similar in form to the World Cup, meaning there is a round of pool play followed by elimination rounds until a champion is crowned. Here's the breakdown:

Round 1 - Round Robin - March 2-10

  • The 16 clubs are divided into four pools (A, B, C + D) of four.
  • Within each pool, every team plays the others one time.
  • The two teams with the best records in each pool move on.
  • Round 2 - Modified Double Elimination - March 8-16

  • The eight teams to advance to Round 2 will be placed in two brackets.
  • The winners of each Round 1 pool play the runners-up to begin Round 2.
  • Teams then play until all but two squads have two losses.
  • The winner and runner-up of each bracket advance to the Championship Round.
  • Championship Round - Single Elimination - March 17-19

  • The runners-up from Round 2 play the winners in a single elimination match
  • The victors play in the final match, while the losers play a consolation game.

  • The Rules

    While identical to Major League Baseball in about 90 percent of its regulations, a few additional rules are in place at the WBC.

    Pitchers

    A pitcher is not allowed to take the mound unless:

  • Four days have passed since he last pitched, if he threw 50 or more pitches last time out
  • One day has passed since he last pitched, if he threw 30 or more pitches last time out
  • One day has passed since any second consecutive day on which the pitcher pitched
  • Also, a pitcher cannot pitch more than 65 pitches per game in Round 1, 80 pitches per game in Round 2, or 95 pitches per game in the Finals.

    Mercy Rule

    In the first two rounds of the tournament, any game that features a team up by 10 runs after seven innings or 15 runs after five innings will be called.

    What to Watch For

    The biggest storyline headed into the tournament seems to be whether Japan can defend its crown for a third time without the help of veterans like Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, and two-time WBC MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka.

    Though the U.S. has not placed better than fourth in the tournament up to now, they boast a strong squad that includes Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and R.A. Dickey, among others, so Japan will have their work cut out for them if they want to three-peat.

    All WBC games will be broadcast on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes, as well as ESPN radio.

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