WBC title game preview: USA faces fiercest test yet in clash with Japan

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It is fitting that after all spectacular plays, unlikely disorders, furious comebacks, unforgettable exit victories i record breaking performancesthere are two giants left.

A classic baseball world record is set for a dazzling finale Tuesday night in Miami (7 p.m. ET, FS1 and the FOX Sports App) as Japan seeks its third WBC title while Team U.S. faces his fiercest challenge yet in his quest to repeat. as champions

There’s no questioning the firepower or star power in any lineup.

Trea Turner, the No. 9 hitter in a loaded offense that features All-Stars at every position, has already set an American record for a single WBC with four home runs. The Americans’ 49 runs in the tournament are the sixth-most ever in a single WBC, and the lineup is finding its rhythm at the right time, scoring 23 runs in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Offensive burst has been crucial to a USA rotation that’s more functional than ferocious, without the name recognition of the superstar defenders playing behind it. It’s been a bit of a run prevention rollercoaster for Team USA, which allowed 11 runs to Mexico in its only pool loss and seven runs to Venezuela in the quarterfinals before the dramatic big Turner’s slam sparked a comeback victory.

“We don’t care who does what,” Turner said. “We want to win.”

Trea Turner smashes a three-run home run against Cuba, his second of the night

Trea Turner smashes a three-run home run against Cuba, his second of the night

For the Americans to repeat as WBC champions, starter Merrill Kelly and company cannot afford a similar hiccup against a Japanese team that outscored their pool opponents by 30 runs. Fortunately for first baseman Mark DeRosa, he will have most of his pitching staff at his disposal.

The WBC presents distinctive challenges to managers who must balance both tournament boundaries and the requests of the major league front office to manage pitchers’ workloads. Under WBC rules, pitchers who throw more than 50 pitches in a game cannot pitch again until a minimum of four days have passed; pitchers who throw more than 30 pitches are not allowed to pitch the next day; and pitchers cannot pitch three days in a row.

“That’s been the biggest thing: how do we honor these parent clubs, get the guys the work they need and at the same time not put ourselves in danger of winning or losing a ballgame,” DeRosa said.

Shohei Ohtani and Japan vs. Team USA Baseball World Classic Final Preview

Shohei Ohtani and Japan vs. Team USA Baseball World Classic Final Preview

It can create some particularly difficult situations, especially when an inning starts off like it did with reliever Daniel Bard in a four-run frame against Venezuela. After using seven pitchers in that quarterfinal win, DeRosa told reporters he stayed up into the early hours of the morning before Sunday’s semifinal trying to plan pitching possibilities.

Thanks to the work of Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas, who combined to allow two runs in eight innings in the USA’s 14-2 semifinal victory over Cuba on Sunday, DeRosa won’t have to do it again before the end of Tuesday A litany of high-performance arms should be well-rested and available behind Kelly, including MLB All-Stars Devin Williams, Ryan Pressly and David Bednar. If anyone is having trouble, the hook should be quick.

“I think my singular focus was, how can we get to our bullpen for Tuesday,” DeRosa said. “And we were able to do it.”

Still, even the most formidable pitching staff would have their hands full against Japan, who have scored six runs or more in every game of the tournament. Japan showed just how quickly their offense can turn a game around in their late-night bombardment against Mexico on Monday night.

Mexico vs. Japan

Mexico vs. Japan

And as stacked as Japan’s lineup is with MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball stars, its pitching staff is just as daunting. Roki Sasaki, a 21-year-old who struck out 173 batters in 129.1 NPB innings last season, and Pacific League MVP Yoshinobu Yamamoto did the bulk of the work in the comeback win for Japan vs. Mexico, both leaving Yu Darvish, who was the winner. pitcher in the 2009 WBC Finals and Shohei Ohtani available to pitch Tuesday.

“I’ll definitely be ready to pitch whenever you want,” said Ohtani, who threw 71 pitches in Japan’s quarterfinal win over Italy on March 16, after Japan’s semifinal victory.

Surprisingly, though, the start won’t go to either.

Instead, Team Japan announced that 29-year-old Shota Imanaga, who has made two relief appearances during the tournament, will start for Japan, who stormed through group play and looked equally indomitable in their victory quarter-finals against Italy.

Japan had not been tested until Mexico pushed them to the limit and then showed their mettle. Finally, the breakout began: three runs in the seventh on a three-run homer by WBC RBI leader Masataka Yoshida, a run in the eighth and a two-run double by NPB’s Triple Crown winner, Munetaka Murakami, in the ninth. to set up a meeting with Team USA that should have baseball fans around the world glued to their televisions.

It’s hard to imagine a more enticing matchup, especially given what this tournament means to the US’s foes.

Group B, held at the Tokyo Dome, broke records for the most fans in any round in the tournament’s history (361,976) with an average attendance of 36,198 fans. In Japan, their March 10 match against Korea was the most watched match in WBC history in any country.

Little by little, however, the tournament is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. This year’s WBC drew a first-round attendance of 1,010,999, up 98% from the previous record of 510,056 fans set in 2017. More than 35,000 fans attended the two semi-final matches at LoanDepot Park, and the same can be expected on Tuesday when two worlds. the powerhouses square off with arguably their best WBC rosters

For Team USA’s unheralded pitching staff, their biggest test is set.

Here’s how the two teams got here:


Pool game

USA 6, Great Britain 2

Mexico 11, USA 5

USA 12, Canada 1 (F/7)

USA 3, Colombia 2

Quarter finals

USA 9, Venezuela 7

semi final

USA 14, Cuba 2


Pool game

Japan 8, China 1

Japan 13, Korea 4

Japan 10, Czech Republic 2

Japan 7, Australia 1

Quarter finals

Japan 9, Italy 3

semi final

Japan 6, Mexico 5

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as editor of the Dodgers’ digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.

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