Top of 2017 World Baseball Classic odds board tight, with USA slim favorite

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With their deep hitting attack and strong bullpen, the United States goes into the 2017 World Baseball Classic as the betting favorite even though they have been shut out of the medals during the first three editions of the event.

Team USA is a +200 betting favorite on a tight World Baseball Classic odds board with defending champion Dominican Republic listed at +250 and two-time champion Japan at +300 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Americans have never placed higher than fourth in the tournament, but come in with a potential powerful lineup that includes 3B Nolan Arenado, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, RF Giancarlo Stanton and CF Andrew McCutchen. The United States also has a plethora of power arms to support their starting pitching with closers Sam Dyson, Luke Gregerson, Andrew Miller and David Robertson all on the roster.

The tournament’s introduction of a designated pitcher pool, which allows teams to replace two pitchers before the second round and the championship, might also favor the Americans because of their depth.

The Dominican Republic is matched up with the United States in Pool C. It’s hard to see a deficiency on manager Moises Alou’s squad. The Dominicans can run out the likes of 2B Robinson Cano, RF Nelson Cruz, 3B Manny Machado, 1B Hanley Ramirez and DH-1B Carlos Santana. The pitching staff is well-stocked, with RHP Johnny Cueto and RHP Carlos Martinez among the notables.

Japan is the only nation that has earned a medal in all three World Baseball Classic events, and it had multiple MLB players when it won in 2006 and 2009. Houston Astros OF Nori Aoki is the only Stateside big-leaguer this time around. Shohei Otani, the Nippon Professional Baseball two-way star who had both a 1.86 earned-run average on the mound and an OPS above 1.000 as a DH last season, is not playing.

With its pitching depth and strong fielding, along with home-field advantage since Pool B and second-round Pool E are being held in Tokyo, Japan should be good for a semifinal appearance.

Puerto Rico (+1000) has a better price than Venezuela (+900) if one is inclined toward a darkhorse play. With three of Major League Baseball’s brightest young infielders with 2B Javier Baez, SS Carlos Correa, SS Francisco Lindor and the veteran leadership of Carlos Beltran, Puerto Rico could contend for a medal again.

Puerto Rico also has momentum from winning the recent Caribbean Series.

Venezuela has underachieved in the past two WBCs and is a bit of an unknown quantity under new manager Omar Vizquel. However, the team accounts for the last six American League batting titles with 2B Jose Altuve and 1B Miguel Cabrera and everyday MLB players populate the entire lineup, including one-time 40-home run man Carlos Gonzalez and all-star CF Odubel Herrera.

Seattle Mariners superstar Felix Hernandez is also back after passing on playing in 2013. There’s talent there, but it’s never clear how a team will react in a short tournament, especially when the country’s recent history is checkered