The 2017 World Baseball Classic shifts to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the championship round starting Monday night. Two-time tournament champion Japan is joined by the United States, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands for the semifinals.
All four teams have reached this stage of the event in the past. The Japanese are the most successful, with their pair of titles (2006 and 2009). Puerto Rico was the 2013 runner-up to the Dominican Republic, while the Americans and Dutch each own a fourth-place finish.
Let's check out the complete list of remaining games and all of the important viewing information for the contests. That's followed by a preview and prediction for both semifinal clashes as the fourth edition of the international baseball showcase winds toward its conclusion.
WBC Semifinal Schedule
|2017 World Baseball Classic: Dates, Times and TV Info|
|March 20||Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico||9 p.m.||MLB Network|
|March 21||United States vs. Japan||9 p.m.||MLB Network|
|March 22||Championship Game||9 p.m.||MLB Network|
Netherlands vs. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico arrived to the semifinals with an unblemished record. It dominated Pool D and then navigated Pool F, which included the United States and the Dominican Republic, without dropping a single game.
The team's infield talent is immense, led by Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez. That trio has accounted for five of the Puerto Ricans' eight home runs in the tournament. But there's one player providing even more value.
Along with his terrific work with the pitching staff, the St. Louis Cardinals stalwart is also hitting .353, with a pair of homers.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands sports an elite infield group of its own to combat Puerto Rico. Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar give manager Hensley Meulens a wide range of options depending on whether he wants average, power or defense.
Wladimir Balentien is playing the role of unexpected hero, though. The former MLB outfielder, who plays in Japan, has been mashing the baseball to the tune of a .591 average, with three homers and 10 runs batted in through six games.
Meulens admitted to Jose M. Romero of the Associated Press that some people in the mainland Netherlands "don't even know we're playing in this tournament." He also noted it's a big deal in the island nation of Curacao, which is under Dutch control and produces plenty of baseball prospects.
"It's getting bigger and bigger," Meulens said. "Now the trend is that guys are not signing at [age] 16 but they're coming to the U.S. for high school and college. I said, 'You guys got to get an education,' because in our region, one out of every 300 makes it to the big leagues."
Although the official pitching matchup isn't yet known, this game figures to develop into a slugfest regardless of who starts on the mound. Both sides have scored at least five runs in five of their six games, and neither team possesses a starter who would be considered a true ace.
It should make for a high-scoring, entertaining semifinal. In the end, it's tough to pick against red-hot Puerto Rico.
Prediction: 8-6 Puerto Rico
United States vs. Japan
The staying power of the World Baseball Classic is heavily dependent on American success. The problem during the first editions of the event was the lack of participation among high-end MLB players, which helps explain the lack of titles for Team USA.
That's continued in 2017 as the best player (Mike Trout) and the best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) in the world aren't in attendance. But the difference is the United States, which still has plenty of depth and talent, has found a way to become a legitimate championship contender anyway.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times noted that U.S. manager Jim Leyland wanted to keep the focus on those who decided to play heading into the semifinals:
There were a lot of people that respectfully declined, and we're not going to throw anybody under the bus. We're going to honor the people that accepted and are here. ... That's the only team I'm talking about. And right now that's the only team I care about. And these players that are here are the only players I care about right now.
Other players have risen to the occasion. Christian Yelich and Brandon Crawford shone early, Eric Hosmer has provided some clutch hits and Adam Jones came up huge in the second round with both his bat and his glove.
At the same time, the pitching has been outstanding. All four stars who've taken the mound—Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy, Chris Archer and Drew Smyly—have given the Americans a chance to win every time out.
Now the question is whether the group will be enough to win two more games. Facing Japan in the penultimate round is a massive test.
The Japanese, like Puerto Rico, are undefeated through six games. The team has six different players hitting at least .320, while the trio of Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, Sho Nakata and Tetsuto Yamada has combined to hit eight home runs.
The silver lining for the Americans is Japan's mundane pitching so far. The staff has allowed at least five runs in three of the team's six games, including twice in the second round. So the door should be open for the U.S. to at least keep pace with the dynamic offense on the other side.
Bleacher Report's Vincent Samperio summed it up well:
All told, it's a toss-up game in every sense of the term. But there's something special about the Americans' WBC roster compared to tournaments past. When you combine that with home-field advantage, a first trip to the championship game could be on the horizon.
Prediction: 5-4 United States