Team Japan had a thrilling come-from-behind victory against Team Mexico in the 2023 World Baseball Classic semifinal on Monday, which sent them to the championship game to face off against a Team USA squad looking to defend its 2017 title.
For most of Monday night, it looked like Austin Barnes and Mexico would advance to play the United States.
They took a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning before Japan tied it in the seventh. Mexico then came back with two more in the eighth before Japan scored one in the bottom half of the inning and two in the ninth to win 6-5.
Barnes went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the game, finishing his time in the tournament with a .278 average. He now returns with Julio Urías to Dodgers camp to close out Spring Training.
Meanwhile, USA steamrolled its way over Cuba, winning in commanding fashion by a final score of 14-2. Adam Wainwright navigated his way through an early bases-loaded jam and came away largely unscathed. He allowed just one run over four innings, extending USA’s stretch of good-enough to solid starting pitching in the tournament.
With the championship now on the line, USA manager Mark DeRosa gives the ball to Arizona Diamondback’s starter Merrill Kelly. He last pitched on March 15, allowing two runs on four hits across three innings in a win over Columbia.
Following Japan’s walk-off win in the semifinals over Mexico, their left-handed dominant offense sits at the No. 1 spot with a combined .986 on-base plus slugging percentage, including 52 RBI and an astounding 56 walks. They’re of course led by Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani, whose 1.421 OPS leads the team amongst starters appearing in every contest.
But other lefty mashers include Kensuke Kondoh, Lars Nootbaar, Masataka Yoshida, Takumu Nakano, and semifinal hero Munetaka Murakami, whose two-run double put Japan in the final. They’ve done a majority of their damage against right-handed pitching, which Team USA has plenty of.
Japan’s list of talented arms continues as manager Hideki Kuriyama calls on 29-year-old lefty Shota Imanaga, whose four-seam fastball is amongst the best in the WBC. He’s yet to make a start but has allowed one run on three hits across two relief appearances, last pitching on March 15.
Kuriyama opted to go with Imanaga over other options including Yu Darvish, who should be available in relief if things go south with the bevy of right-handed All-Stars in the USA lineup.
Team USA’s lineup is highlighted by Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Mookie Betts, but Trea Turner has been as electric as they come, posting a 1.429 on-base plus slugging with four homers and 10 RBI.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the game. That’s what I think, honestly,” DeRosa said. “I mean, Phillies gave him $300 million for a reason. The guy can flat-out play.”
The Philadelphia Phillies shortstop has homered three times over the past two games and been a vital piece to the USA lineup from the nine-hole.
With restrictions in place for nearly every pitcher on the Team USA roster, DeRosa will need to be both mindful and tactical in who he deploys in each scenario, but the emphasis will remain on the offense who carries the load of keeping up with the WBC’s best offense.
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