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WBC Pool C Preview from The Sports Network

By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If there's any team in this year's World Baseball Classic that has something to prove it's the Dominican Republic.

The Dominicans entered the '09 tournament as heavy favorites thanks to a ton of major league talent. However, after a fourth-place finish in the inaugural event in 2006, the Dominicans were ousted in Round One thanks to a pair of losses to the Netherlands.

Again armed with a roster chock full of major league stars the Dominicans are once again one of the favorites in this event and will get their slate started on March 7 with a Pool C matchup with Venezuela in what could be the marquee matchup of this whole event.

The Dominican Republic fields over a hundred players in Major League Baseball, along with countless minor league prospects. The argument can be made that the most talented players in the sport reside in the Dominican.

Some of their best stars will be on display for manager Tony Pena, who will have Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz among others at his disposal.

Three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols had hoped to play for his Caribbean homeland, but he had an arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October and has been ruled out.

For good measure, this team features a pitching staff that is anchored by Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez, and has Fernando Rodney closing out games. Jose Valverde and Octavio Dotel will help set the bridge as part of a loaded relief corps.

This time around in Round 1, each team will play the other three teams in their pool once. Teams will be ranked by winning percentage in Round 1, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to Round 2, where the teams from Pools A and B (in Pool 1) and the teams from Pools C and D (in Pool 2) will compete in a double-elimination format.

The top two teams in each pool of Round 2 will enter a four-team single- elimination Semifinals. The four qualifying teams will cross over for the Semifinals, with the winner of each pool playing against the runner-up from the other pool.

In the Final, the Team with the higher winning percentage of games in the Tournament shall be the home team. If the Teams competing in the Final have identical winning percentages in the tournament, then WBCI shall conduct a coin flip or draw to determine the home team.

Let's take a look at the rest of Pool C:

VENEZUELA: Like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela has a terrific roster and may possess the best lineup in the tournament. On any given night manager Luis Sojo can pencil in sluggers Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero, Asdrubal Cabrera, and a few other talented position players. That with a pitching staff of Felix Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano, and this team is poised for a deep WBC run. One player who won't be there, however, is Johan Santana, who was not given permission by the New York Mets to play. Venezuela finished in third place and lost only twice in the entire tournament in '09, once to the United States and once to Korea. There is no reason to believe they should not join the Dominican Republic out of this pool in the second round.

PUERTO RICO: In any other pool Puerto Rico would be a favorite. Unfortunately, for manager Edwin Rodriguez his group may not survive Round One, despite a roster that is also littered with major league talent. Among those playing include Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan and Alex Rios. Also Yadier Molina and his brother Jose are on the roster. A player to watch could be right-hander Javier Vazquez, who is pondering a major league comeback. The Puerto Rico team has finished in fifth place in the two prior WBCs, including a strong showing in the 2009 event. Puerto Rico was undefeated throughout Round One and defeated the United States in their first game of the second round before losing their first game of the tournament to Venezuela. Puerto Rico then faced the United States for a spot in the Semifinals but lost on a walk-off single in the ninth inning.

SPAIN: Well the good news for Spain is that it qualified for the World Baseball Classic with an extra-inning win over Israel back in September. The bad news is that it is in a pool with three baseball juggernauts. It would have been hard for Spain to get a game in any pool let alone this one.

02/22 13:18:59 ET