Last night’s World Baseball Classic semifinal lived up to the hype surrounding the tournament, and tonight at Dodger Stadium at 8 p.m. Central Time, it is the United States and Japan’s turn to see who will take on Puerto Rico in tomorrow night’s final.
Team USA is filled with players you are already familiar with. Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has earned the nickname “Captain America” from fans and the media. He’s flanked by a pair of Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, both having great tournaments. The infield of Nolan Arenado, Brandon Crawford, Ian Kinsler and Eric Hosmer is strong all around. Manager Jim Leyland is expected to continue to alternate his catchers, so expect Jonathan Lucroy to start tonight behind the plate instead of Buster Posey.
Nationals starter Tanner Roark gets the call tonight to start what he is calling “the biggest game of my career.”
Team USA gets a big boost to their bullpen tonight as Giants closer Mark Melancon joins the team.
Team Japan is almost completely unknown at this time to American fans, with Astros outfielder Norichika Aoki being the only major leaguer on the team. But make no mistake, you will be familiar with many of these players in the years to come.
Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano will start for Japan tonight, and the 27-year-old right-hander is certainly one who could make the jump across the Pacific in the near future. He struck out more than a batter an inning and posted an ERA of 2.01 in NPB last season.
But unlike previous tournaments where the focus was on Japan’s pitchers, there are several position players on Team Japan that could make the leap to MLB in the near future. The top one is second baseman Tetsuto Yamada, who is only 24 and has hit 30 home runs and stolen 30 bases in each of the last two seasons in NPB. His size and game are reminiscent of Dustin Pedroia, and at least one report that I’ve read said he could star in MLB right now.
Left fielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh is probably also good enough to play in MLB right now. The 25-year-old slugger had 44 home runs for Yokohama last season and three so far in this tournament. Right fielder Seiya Suzuki is only 22 and plays a lot like another right fielder named Suzuki that you are all pretty familiar with. No one is saying he’s that good, but he did hit .335 with 29 home runs and 16 steals for Hiroshima last season. He may be a few years away from playing in MLB, but he certainly has the talent to do it.
Japan is 6-0 in this tournament, although they did have to go to 11 innings to knock off the Netherlands in the second round in Tokyo. (The Dutch must hate that international rule.) The United States is 4-2 with losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, although the avenged that first-round loss to the DR with a win in the second round.
These two teams met in the 2009 World Baseball Classic semifinals, with Japan winning 9-4. Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueled Roy Oswalt in that game. Yu Darvish pitched the ninth inning for Japan in that win.
Japan has made the final four in each of the previous three tournaments. They won the first two WBC in 2006 and 2009 and were eliminated by Puerto Rico in 2013. This is only the second time the US has made the semifinals.
The weather forecast for Los Angeles tonight is iffy, but there is a real chance that they get this game in.
You can watch the game on the MLB Network or online if you have an MLB.tv premium subscription.
Team USA lineup:
Kinsler 2B, Jones CF, Yelich LF, Arenado 3B, Hosmer 1B, McCutchen RF, Posey C, Stanton DH, Crawford SS
Team Japan lineup:
Yamada DH, Kikuchi 2B, Aoki RF, Tsutsugoh LF, Nakata 1B, Sakamoto SS, Matsuda 3B, Akiyama CF, Kobayashi C
Use this thread to discuss the game.