In what was nothing short of an awe-inspiring display of late-game heroics, the Dominican Republic outlasted the U.S. by a score of 3-1. As a result, the D.R. have punched their ticket and the United States will play Puerto Rico to decide who will play for a spot in the championship round.
The question is, who is the best opponent for Japan?
Japan joins the Dominican Republic and the Kingdom of Netherlands as the established members of the semifinals. The winner of the U.S. versus Puerto Rico game will play the Dominican Republic to determine who will play Netherlands in said round.
Japan, meanwhile, is waiting on the loser. If they continue performing at their recent rate of play, however, it won't matter whom they face.
As expected, Japan has emerged as one of the true powers at the World Baseball Classic. They ran through the competition in Pool A and decimated the field during the second round.
In three second round games, Japan outscored their opponents by a margin of 30-13.
In that time, Japan defeated fellow semi-finalists Netherlands twice. Those victories came by scores of 16-4 and 10-6.
The question is, which team would present Japan with the greatest opportunity to achieve victory—Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or the United States?
Spoiler Alert: It's between Puerto Rico and the U.S. No one wants to play the Dominican Republic.
U.S. or Puerto Rico—Pitching
The United States shocked everyone at the WBC by dominating Puerto Rico during their first meeting. While a majority of their runs may have come late, the U.S. secured a 7-1 victory behind 5.0 scoreless innings from Gio Gonzalez.
The latter statistic is why Japan would fare better against Puerto Rico.
The Americans have a quality staff of pitchers in MLB aces R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong and Gonzalez. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, has an inconsistent starting pitching staff that has struggled in each of their past four outings.
Against a high-powered Japanese lineup, Puerto Rico's pitching woes would likely continue.
Japan is 5-1 at the WBC and their ability to rough up opposing pitching staffs is a major reason why. They've scored at least five runs in four games and have topped 10 in each of their past two outings.
Both of those games came against fellow semifinalist Netherlands.
To be clear, the Puerto Ricans have an excellent bullpen that has done a great job of holding teams scoreless during the late innings. With that being said, the U.S. has been just as proficient in that area.
The difference is, the Americans have stars to start—Puerto Rico has question marks.
U.S. or Puerto Rico—Batting
Puerto Rico started out hot, outscoring Spain and Venezuela by a margin of 9-3. Since then, they're being outscored by a margin of 14-7.
To call that a favorable matchup for a Japanese team that will run up the score is an understatement.
As for the United States, they've scored 24 runs during their past four games. Although they came up short against the Dominican Republic, losing 3-1, their pitching staff kept them in it.
As their previous games have proven, the U.S. can pour in the runs when need be.
If either team is going to take down Japan, they'll need to be able to hit the ball and drive in runs. Right now, the team more proficient in that area is Team USA.
So why wouldn't Japan want to pick on the weaker team in Puerto Rico?
One could make a case that the Puerto Rican team is more dangerous than that of the Americans. The fact of the matter is, Japan is a well-rounded power that will not hesitate to exploit weaknesses.
As it presently stands, Puerto Rico is the weaker team—the team Japan would be best to draw.