Team USA and Team Japan each fought their way through the 2023 World Baseball Classic tournament led by Los Angeles Angels stars Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, respectively, and now find themselves in the Championship game facing off against each other.
USA steamrolled their way over Cuba on Sunday, 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, but allowed one run over four innings, extending their run of good enough to solid starting pitching in the tournament.
USA manager Mark DeRosa gives the ball to Diamondback’s starter Merrill Kelly, who last pitched on March 15 when he surrendered two runs on four hits across three innings in a win over Columbia. He’s tasked with holding an incredible Japan offense at-bay for a shot at repeating as WBC Champions.
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 OPS, including 52 RBI and an astounding 56 walks. Ohtani has been the backbone of the team, with a 1.421 OPS that leads the team amongst starters appearing in every contest.
But their 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 a lot 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 log a start but has allowed one run on three hits in 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.
To go along with Trout, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Will Smith, Mookie Betts and Tim Anderson, Team USA has shortstop Trea Turner, who’s been electric as they come, posting a 1.429 on-base plus slugging with four homers and ten RBI, a performance DeRosa highlighted following Sunday’s win.
“Yeah, I think he’s one of the best players in the game. That’s what I think, honestly,” DeRosa said. “I mean, the Phillies gave him 300 million dollars for a reason. The guy can flat-out play.
“As this tournament has progressed, these guys, their at-bats, their at-bat quality have just gotten better and better. They have relaxed, they understand each other. No one’s trying to impress each other. There’s just a lot of team unity right now.
“Cedric gets in there and goes deep. Just a lot of good things happening right now for this offense, especially with Trea. I mean, his swing last night will be remembered forever, I think, especially in WBC history.”
The Philadelphia Phillies shortstop has homered three times over the past two games and has been a vital piece to the USA lineup from the nine-hole.
With restrictions in place for nearly every pitcher on the 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.
Team USA lineup
RF: Mookie Betts
CF: Mike Trout
1B: Paul Goldschmidt
3B: Nolan Arenado
DH: Kyle Schwarber
SS: Trea Turner
C: J.T. Realmuto
LF: Cedric Mullins
2B: Tim Anderson
P: Merrill Kelly
Team Japan lineup
CF: Lars Nootbaar
RF: Kensuke Kondoh
DH: Shohei Ohtani
LF: Masataka Yoshida
3B: Munetaka Murakami
1B: Kazuma Okamoto
2B: Tetsuto Yamada
SS: Sosuke Genda
C: Yuhei Nakamura
SP: Shota Imanaga
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