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WBC Tonight: March 20

Mexico and Japan will face off to see who will face Team USA tomorrow for the 2023 WBC title.

Samurai Japan Training Session
Roki Sasaki
Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images

Tonight is the second semifinal of the 2023 World Baseball Classic as Samurai Japan takes on Mexico. The contest will once again start at 6 p.m. Central time and will be broadcast on FS1.

Japan will start right-handed 21-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines. Mexico will start left-hander Patrick Sandoval of the Los Angeles Angels.

Team Japan (or Samurai Japan as the Japanese National Team is commonly called) is undefeated in the 2023 WBC and haven’t really been challenged the entire tournament. They defeated China 8-1, Korea 13-4, the Czech Republic 10-2 and Australia 7-1 to win Group B. Japan then beat Italy 9-3 in the quarterfinal to advance to this game. However, all of those games were played at home in the Tokyo Dome and they have had to travel halfway across the globe and several time zones to play tonight. They’ve also had three days off, for better or for worse.

As you might expect, Shohei Ohtani has been a standout of this tournament, going 7 for 16 with three doubles and a home run at the plate. He’s also walked eight times in five games. Ohtani has also made two starts, allowing two runs and five hits over 8⅔ innings. He’s struck out 10 and walked just one. However, Ohtani will not be pitching tonight. If Japan advances to the title game tomorrow, he may be available for a relief appearance.

Other Japanese hitters having a good tournament are new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who is 6 for 15 with a double and a home run, Nippon Ham Fighter outfielder Kensuke Kondoh, who is 7 for 18 with seven walks, four doubles and a home run, and Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, who has gone 7 for 19 with four walks.

Sasaki made one start against the Czech Republic and got the win after allowing one unearned run on two hits over 3⅔ innings. He struck out eight, walked two and hit one batter, to whom he apologized with two large bags of candy.

Japan won the first two WBC in 2006 and 2009. However, they were knocked out in this round in each of the past two tournaments—by Puerto Rico in 2013 and by Team USA in 2017.

Mexico advanced to this semifinal with a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Puerto Rico. Mexico is guaranteed to have their best finish ever. Sandoval got the win in Mexico’s 11-5 win over Team USA in pool play. Sandoval allowed one run on two hits and two walks over three innings in that contest.

After having two great WBC games over the previous two days, Sunday night’s battle between USA and Cuba turned out to be anticlimactic as Team USA crushed Cuba 14-2.

Adam Wainwright got into trouble in the top of the first when he allowed three singles to the first three Cuban hitters—and none of the hits left the infield. He then walked DH Alfredo Despaigne to force in the first run of the game. But Wainwright settled down after that and after a grounder that turned into a force at home, an infield fly and a groundout and Cuba failed to score more than one run in the first.

Here are those three Cuban infield singles. Also the walk.

Cuba’s lead lasted until the third hitter of the game. Paul Goldschmidt came to bat with Mookie Betts on second and clobbered this pitch from the Cubs’ Roenis Elías.

Trea Turner was the hero of the win over Venezuela with his clutch, eighth-inning grand slam. In his first at-bat of last night’s game, Turner homered again.

That ball landed in almost the same spot as the grand slam.

Honestly, it wasn’t much of a contest after that. Team USA made it 5-1 in the third on an RBI single by Pete Alonso and a sacrifice fly by Tim Anderson. The Americans added two more runs in the fourth. Nolan Arenado tripled in a run and would later score to make it 7-1.

Team USA had a very short bullpen in this game because of all the relievers that pitched the night before. So it was a big deal that Wainwright settled down after the early run and went four innings. Equally important was that tandem starter Miles Mikolas also went four innings and allowed just one run.

It is notable that Turner hit his second home run of the game and his third in two games with two men on in the sixth.

And Cedric Mullins joined the fun with a solo home run in the eighth.

Elías was the losing pitcher for Cuba, but the Cubs’ pitcher wasn’t any worse than any of the other Cuban pitchers against this powerful USA lineup.

Team USA now has the day off before facing the winner of tonight’s game on Tuesday night.

This is a game thread.