For the first time since 2008, baseball has returned to the Olympic Games with Japan as a +115 favorite to take home gold in Tokyo, followed by the USA at +300. Each country will play the two other teams in their group once in the group stage. The teams will then be seeded based on records before the double-elimination knockout stage begins. The teams with the worst record in each group will play each other, with the loser getting knocked out. All games will take place at Yokohama Stadium.
Lines: Japan Favored for Gold
- Group Stage: Wednesday, July 28 – Saturday, July 31
- Knockout Stage: Sunday, Aug. 1 – Wednesday, Aug. 4
- Semifinals: Wednesday Aug. 4 – Thursday, Aug. 5
- Gold and Bronze Medal Games: Saturday, Aug. 7
Group A looks like the tougher group with Japan, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, while Group B features the United States, South Korea and Israel. South Korea won gold when the Olympics last held the baseball tournament in 2008.
Obviously, the Major League Baseball season is ongoing in the USA so no players from that league are in the Olympics, but Japan will send most of its best players to the tournament because the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) suspended its season for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and won’t resume until Aug. 13.
The best-known Japanese player is ace Masahiro Tanaka, the former New York Yankees pitcher. Tanaka was 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA for the Yankees. He returned to Japan in January, signing a two-year, $17.2 million deal with the Rakuten Golden Eagles after completing a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees.
The former MLB All-Star is the only player on the 24-man roster with Olympic experience as he competed in the 2008 Beijing Games. Japan may be the one country where baseball has a more singular grip on the national consciousness than the United States.
“I want more and more young players to communicate with Tanaka,” Team Japan manger Atsunori Inaba said. “At the World Baseball Classic in 2009, Ichiro was at the forefront of everything from the warm-up, so we had a lot to learn. That’s why I want Tanaka to take the lead this time.”
The Korean Baseball Organization also released its players for the Olympics, making South Korea formidable. The most surprising absentee from the tournament is Cuba, finalists in each of the five previous Olympic tournaments and winners in 1992, 1996 and 2004.
Former Los Angeles Angels manager is the manager of the USA. He led the Americans to a perfect 4-0 record in Olympic qualifying. A total of 14 members of the USA Olympic Team have logged time in Major League Baseball, including two World Series champions in pitchers Edwin Jackson (2011) and David Robertson (2009). Infielder Todd Frazier was a two-time All-Star and won the Home Run Derby in 2015 at the All-Star Game. The roster is split with 12 pitchers and 12 position players.
A total of 19 of Team USA’s players have played for the U.S. before, and 10 have won a gold medal in international competition. The USA starts play against Israel on July 30, with first pitch scheduled for 6 a.m. ET. Team USA is looking for its third Olympic gold medal in baseball after winning in 1988 and 2000.
Of the 24-man roster heading to Tokyo, one player has won an Olympic medal, but it was in another sports. That would be 31-year-old Eddy Alvarez, who competed in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He and his three teammates earned the silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay. Alvarez played MLB in 2020 when he played 12 games for the Marlins, hitting .189 in 37 at bats.
Team USA is ranked fourth in the world according to the World Baseball & Softball Rankings. Japan is ranked first; South Korea is third; Mexico is fifth; the Dominican Republic is ranked seventh; and Israel is 24th. Two players on Mexico tested positive for COVID-19 before leaving for Tokyo. They were Héctor Velázquez and Sammy Solís, both of whom are pitchers for the Acereros de Monclova.Expert Prediction
- Japan gold, South Korea silver, USA bronze