March is a sports fan’s heaven every year. With both the men’s and women’s March Madness going on, adding the World Baseball Classic on top of that is just amazing. The World Baseball Classic (WBC) has been going on since the beginning of the month and has already been filled with notable performances by stars all over the world. Millions of fans worldwide have tuned in to watch their country compete in a competitive WBC field, and the championship is almost here.
The last time the WBC took place was back in 2017, in which the United States won their first title against Puerto Rico. Cardinals infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are the only returning members from that championship team, but the team arguably got better. USA boasts a lineup that includes Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner to name a few. A star-studded lineup hasn’t been an issue at all, the team’s worst asset has been their pitching.
Pitchers Daniel Bard (48.20 ERA), Nick Martinez (10.13 ERA) and Brady Singer (18.00 ERA) have struggled in their limited appearances. Starter Adam Wainwright loaded the bases before recording an out in the team’s last game against Cuba but worked out of the jam surrendering just one run. Pitcher Marcus Stroman earned MVP honors with the United States for their championship run in 2017 but joined Puerto Rico’s team for this year. So far as a unit, the staff pitches to the tune of a 4.33 ERA in 52 innings pitched. It’s the offense that has really helped the United States reach their second straight WBC finals trip.
In the six games they’ve played so far, the United States holds a 5-1 record with the one loss coming against potential finals opponent Mexico. In their last two games, their nine-hole hitter Trea Turner has been a force at the plate. Since the team’s game against Venezuela, Turner has mashed three home runs, four hits and eight RBI’s. His 10 total RBIs throughout the tournament ties him with Japan’s Masataka Yoshida for first among all players. Turner also leads all players with four home runs, most of which have come in the most important games of team USA’s run. When down 7-5 late in their quarterfinal matchup versus Venezuela, Turner came up with the bases loaded and launched a 407-foot home run to left to give the United States the lead. Then in the semifinal, Turner would homer to extend their lead to 3-1 in the second inning just to follow up with a three-run shot in the sixth to push the lead to ten.
The United States have scored the most runs (49), have the best team slugging percentage (.567) and have the most home runs as a team (10). They have 115 total bases which is 30 more than the next closest team in Cuba who they just knocked out of the tournament. Third baseman Nolan Arenado’s nine hits ties him for second overall in the tournament while catcher J.T. Realmuto ranks third with a batting average of .625.
As previously mentioned, Mexico is the only team to have beat the United States so far. Led by Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, Mexico defeated Puerto Rico in the quarterfinal to pin them against Japan in the semifinal. Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani and new Red Sox acquisition Masataka Yoshida head a Japan team that is looking for their third WBC title and first since 2009. At the time I’m writing this, Japan and Mexico are scheduled to face off for a spot in the final versus the United States, which will take place on March 21.
USA’s pitching will determine if they can repeat as champions. Pitchers Jason Adam, Ryan Pressly and Devin Williams have been clutch bullpen options for manager Mark DeRosa to use to get out of trouble. None of them pitched versus Cuba, meaning they’ll be well rested and ready for the championship game. Other options include Miles Mikolas who has been dominant out of the bullpen, throwing four shutout innings in his last appearance. Lance Lynn has been the most consistent starter for team USA, surrendering just three runs in nine innings during his two starts so far. The pitching is there for the United States to be dominant, but it depends on how DeRosa manages his gameplan.
Mark DeRosa played for team USA during his playing career and was assigned manager of the team for his first coaching job. He has made a few questionable moves that have caused some to doubt his decision-making skills. In the quarterfinal matchup versus Venezuela, DeRosa left in a struggling Daniel Bard for four batters, all of whom came around to score. Other lineup decisions and substitutions have raised some eyebrows but despite that the team is moving onward to the championship.
If Japan advances, the USA team will likely face Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres. If Mexico advances, then the United States will likely face off against Tajuan Walker of the Philadelphia Phillies. The game can be watched at 7 p.m. on FS1.