MIAMI – Team USA‘s lineup is hitting its stride, which should scare their next opponent just 48 hours away from the World Baseball Classic final.
The United States flaunted its ridiculously deep lineup to dominate cuba, 14-2, in the WBC semifinal Sunday night at loanDepot Park. This is the second time the USA has advanced to the WBC finals, as the defending champions are just 27 outs away from repeating. The red, white and blue offensive dynamic now awaits the winner of Monday’s semifinal between Japan and Mexico.
“They’re swinging the bats well, they’re having fun with each other, they’re passing the baton, they’re not getting selfish at-bats, constant pressure,” said Mark DeRosa, coach of the USA “I think the first couple of innings was, like, two runs, one run, two, two, two, two. Steady on offense.”
It’s intimidating to think that this United States lineup is just starting to come together, having produced 23 executions in the last 24 hours. The team’s 14-hit effort against seven different Cuban pitchers was the most complete performance we’ve seen from the Americans yet. USA scored at least one run in seven of the eight innings it batted, including in each of the first six frames. With such a loaded lineup, Cuba’s mediocre pitching staff didn’t stand a chance.
If Cuban starter Roenis Elias got excited with Mike Trout flying out in the first inning, it didn’t last. Paul Goldschmidt quickly sparked the USA offensive boom with a two-run home run off Elias’ eighth pitch of the night. The reigning National League MVP has hit 323 home runs in his illustrious career, including eight in the postseason. he described that blast as “one of my favorite home runs I’ve ever hit in my entire life.”
In the second inning, Trea Turner, the No. 9 hitter of all time, picked up where he left off against Venezuela, blasting a solo shot to left field to extend the USA’s lead to 3-1. For good measure, Turner suffered again in the sixth; that was a three-run homer.
Turner’s four home runs in the tournament are the most ever hit by a Team USA player in a WBC. As successful as he has been from that No. 9 spot, Team USA’s decision-makers need to at least consider moving Turner up in the order so he doesn’t miss a play at bat in the final. Regardless, his low position does an excellent job of detailing the unbelievable length of the USA lineup, which restarts with Mookie Betts, Trout, Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Kyle Schwarber and either JT Realmuto or Will Smith.
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“He kept saying every time he went deep, who’s the idiot hitting him ninth, you know? But that’s how this lineup is built,” DeRosa laughed. “So I’ll leave him alone right now.”
“What a fun team where Trea Turner bats ninth, I tell you what,” Adam Wainwright said.
If facing the USA’s starting nine wasn’t tough enough, the big lead also allowed their rookie coach to use the extra weapons on his bench. Mets infielders Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil got the at-bats Sunday, with the former hitting a timely RBI single in the third inning and the latter drawing walks to get Turner on base. Typically, Schwarber has been starting at DH over Alonso and Tim Anderson has been starting at second base over McNeil. But DeRosa must have liked what he saw from both Mets players on Sunday, perhaps enough to give them more chances in Tuesday’s finale.
Using all the weapons on the US bench was actually Betts’ recommendation to DeRosa. On Friday, one day before the USA-Venezuela quarterfinals, Betts walked into DeRosa’s office and closed the door. With just the two of them in the room, Betts implored the skipper to handle the next day’s quarterfinals as if it were the World Series.
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“I don’t want you to worry about hurting anybody’s feelings,” Betts told DeRosa.
What exactly did Betts mean by this?
“Use our guys,” Betts said. “It’s easy to get lost in the All-Star lineup. But we also have All-Stars on the bench.”
DeRosa said he appreciates Betts taking this initiative because “it’s hard to manage a room full of superstars and you know you’re not going to make everybody happy, even though you’re trying.” DeRosa finally put Betts’ advice into action Sunday against Cuba when he rearranged his lineup and made in-game adjustments. The result was an even more powerful US formation.
Heading into Tuesday’s final, the USA must try to replicate their offensive prowess to overcome their pitching deficiencies. American starters Lance Lynn and Wainwright pitched in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, and Miles Mikolas replaced Wainwright with four innings of work against Cuba. So Team USA’s bullpen and high-leverage relievers will be heavily rested for Tuesday. But the USA’s biggest strength remains its offense. It’s a great sign, then, that the line-up is coming together at exactly the right time.
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“After getting through that first round, the guys felt really comfortable,” Goldschmidt said. “We had a cross-country flight. Now we’re all staying at the hotel together. I think we’ve learned a lot from each other.”
Turner added: “Getting our feet under us, just feeling what it’s like to be out there and wearing the jersey, playing with each other, playing with guys I’ve never played with before, playing against teams I’ve never played against you haven’t played before, just a We went through a lot these first four days. It took us a little while, but now we’ve found a little bit of a groove. We’ve played some good baseball the last few days.”
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a reporter for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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