Matchup: Team USA (5-1) vs. Team Japan (6-0)
First Pitch: 7:00 PM (ET)
Broadcast: Fox Sports 1
Venue: Miami, loanDepot Park
Probable Starters: USA — RHP Merrill Kelly; Japan — LHP Shota Imanaga
How They Got Here: Team Japan
Team Japan powered their way through Pool B in Tokyo, going 4-0 with dominant pitching and powerful hitting to advance to the quarterfinals with Team Australia.
- China 1, Japan 8
- Korea 4, Japan 13
- Czech Republic 2, Japan 10
- Japan 7, Australia 1
In the quarterfinal, Japan dispatched Team Italy, 9-3, earning themselves a berth to the semifinal round to take on surprising Team Mexico.
If you missed the semifinal matchup between Mexico and Japan last night, you missed a classic, tightly contested game in a passionate and highly energetic environment. In front of a sellout crowd in Miami, in an atmosphere that the players have been describing as something more than that of MLB playoff games, Mexico got out to a 3-run lead after a Luis Urías home run off the next Japanese pitching phenom, Roki Sasaki.
Japan would tie things up in the 7th inning when new Boston outfielder Masataka Yoshida knocked a hanging changeup over the wall in the right-field corner for a three-run homer. Mexico bounced right back with an 8th-inning rally, scratching across two runs to take the lead.
Japan got one back in the bottom half, setting the stage for a wild walk-off in the bottom of the 9th. Shohei Ohtani led off the ninth with a standup double and Yoshida followed by drawing a walk. Samurai Japan third baseman Munetaka Murakami, the 23-year-old Japanese Triple Crown winner, and two-time Central League MVP, who had been just 4-21 with 11 strikeouts in the tournament to that point, lifted a fastball over the center fielder in the left-center gap, easily scoring Ohtani from second and pinch runner Utyo Shuko from first to send Japan to the finals.
JAPAN WALKS IT OFF! JAPAN WALKS IT OFF! pic.twitter.com/K5VBlpIyTC— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 21, 2023
How They Got Here: Team USA
Team USA has not been as dominant as Japan in its run through the WBC. The Americans advanced from Pool C with a bit of a sleepy 3-1 record and a surprising defeat against Team Mexico in front of a sold-out (and very much pro-Mexico) crowd at Chase Field in Phoenix.
- Great Britain 2, USA 6
- Mexico 11, USA 5
- Canada 1, USA 12
- USA 3, Colombia 2
With many of the United States’ best pitchers opting not to participate in the WBC, the strength of the American roster is their offense. Aside from the Canada game in pool play, the US offense was lackluster. That has changed significantly since they’ve been in Miami, with the bats carrying the load in a tension-filled and dramatic 9-7 victory over Venezuela in front of a raucous crowd in the quarterfinal round.
That back-and-forth affair was punctuated by Trea Turner’s – he of the recent $300-million free agent deal with Philadelphia and batting 9th in the loaded USA lineup – eighth-inning grand slam that turned a two-run deficit into a two-run lead.
TREA TURNER GRAND SLAM!!!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 19, 2023
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!
: WBC on FOX pic.twitter.com/G4l6nwsH9Y
Astros’ closer Ryan Pressly would lock down that win to set up an emotional semifinal matchup with the Cuban National team Sunday night.
The Americans handily won the contest on the field, 14-2, after Adam Wainwright wriggled out of early trouble with limited damage and Turner blasted two more home runs out of the 9-spot. The backdrop of the game was unique and affected by the political tensions surrounding the Cuban team playing in South Florida where so many of Cuban heritage have settled after fleeing the oppressive Cuban government. Protesters demonstrated before the game outside the stadium and two made it on the field of play during the sixth inning and the seventh inning stretch.
The Americans took care of business in the passionate, sold-out environment and did so while largely preserving its bullpen, which had been worked hard the previous night against Venezuela.
In the end, we likely ended up with the matchup of the two pre-tournament favorites. The Americans are out to defend their 2017 World Baseball Classic title, and tie with Japan as two-time winners, while Team Japan is seeking its third WBC crown, and first since 2009.
Both of these teams are loaded, up and down their lineups and pitching staffs. The American pitching staff is fully rested and available after an off day yesterday. Diamondbacks righty Merrill Kelly is scheduled to start things off, but in a one-game, winner-takes-all scenario the hook is likely to be quick at any sign of trouble.
Team Japan is somewhat surprisingly starting left-hander Shota Imanaga, but Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani lurk as potential relief options.
It’s silly to try to make predictions about a single game, especially in baseball. That said, I think a low-scoring affair tips slightly in Team Japan’s favor while the American most likely path to victory is through their relentless offensive lineup.
Ready to defend the title. #ForGlory pic.twitter.com/KvC2JOlx0k— USA Baseball (@USABaseball) March 21, 2023
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 21, 2023
Japan's starting lineup for tonight's WBC championship‼️ pic.twitter.com/MAf3G2kgP5
★ ★ ★
For discussion before tonight’s game, what do you think of the World Baseball Classic?
I’ll start by saying this fifth installment of the international tournament has been great fun and, I think, the most competitive version yet. The depth of the teams and the quality of play have only increased with each subsequent Classic and the environments, energy, and passion of the players for this competition are unlike anything else you’ll find in baseball, especially in the United States and especially outside of October. This fifth Classic has shattered previous records for in-person attendance and viewership around the world. Yes, there are unfortunate circumstances of players getting injured, but those things can (and do) happen in carefully controlled Spring Training environments, too. To a man, the players involved have been clear that the reward far outweighs the risk.
You can fully count me as a proponent of the event. Baseball is bigger than Major League Baseball. And capital “B” Baseball needs more excitement like this. If you have not tuned into the tournament, please do yourself a favor and check it out tonight. You won’t be disappointed. Enjoy the game and come join us in the comments!