World Baseball Classic: USA vs. Puerto Rico Preview

Mar 9, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; A general view of a dugout during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; A general view of a dugout during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /
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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

Tonight, Team USA will hope to do something no other U.S. World Baseball Classic team has ever done before. A WBC championship is so close that we can almost taste it. They will be taking on a formidable opponent in Puerto Rico, who has gone through the WBC undefeated.

We will be discussing the x-factors, tournament MVP, instant replay over and under, and the possible final score of tonight’s game between these two baseball giants as they duke it out for international recognition.

Fellow Call to the Pen contributor Jim Turvey and I had a conversation regarding tonight’s match-up.


Jim: Marcus Stroman

Is it too much of a cop-out to take a starting pitcher as the “x-factor”? Oh well, it was that or the weather, so be happy I chose Stroman.

The 25-year-old Blue Jays starter has been up-and-down throughout the WBC, but manager Jim Leyland has total faith in him heading into Wednesday night’s final. The main storyline surrounding Stroman and his start against Puerto Rico has been the treatment his mother has received from Puerto Rico “fans.”

I put fans in quotations because anyone who would take out their weird pent-up frustrations on a baseball player’s mother because her son chose his country of origin to represent in a baseball tournament does not qualify as a legitimate fan. (Stroman’s mother is Puerto Rican, and Stroman had previously said he was interested in pitching for Puerto Rico – still no excuse for these fools.) As if Stroman and the U.S. needed any added motivation, they will have it as Stroman is sure to be locked and loaded from the start of Wednesday’s final.

The Puerto Rico lineup is as stacked as any country in the entire WBC field, and it’s no surprise to see them in the final. If they decide to roll with the same starting lineup that defeated the Netherlands 4-3 on Monday, Stroman will be facing four right-handed batters and five lefties (three of them switch-hitters). For his career, Stroman has handled lefties (.686 opponent OPS) just about as well as righties (.668 opponent OPS), thanks in part to a heavy sinker that he has taken to using more and more in recent seasons.

Of course, should Stroman struggle, Leyland will have plenty of options in the bullpen, as this game could easily look like an All-Star Game of sorts, with pitching changes galore and roster depth playing a key role.

Phil: USA Bullpen

Starting pitching is way too easy of an out when it comes to determining an x-factor for tonight’s game. While I do agree that the U.S. cannot afford another early inning deficit, for me, the x-factor tonight will be Team USA’s bullpen. While the bullpen is stacked, they have struggled throughout the entire WBC. Starting pitching for Team USA has allowed a total of seven runs going into the game with Japan last night.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /

Meanwhile, the bullpen has allowed a total of 13 runs going into last night with five of those coming off of home runs. Those bullpen numbers are slightly staggering considering that all of the bullpen members are of MLB closer quality, yes, including Mychal Givens. In order for the U.S. to be able to beat a stacked Puerto Rico lineup, they will have to shut down any late inning heroics, unlike how they fared against the Dominican Republic. That includes a much better performance out of Mark Melancon.

Jim: Yeah, I got incredibly nervous when Melancon came out to pitch last night. Like Brian Fuentes in Coors Field levels of nervous. I like this pick. Say the U.S. has a one-run lead heading into the seventh tonight. Who do you want to take us home?

Phil: I’m hopping on the Neshek train. Pat Neshek has been a lights out performer when it comes to clutch situations so far in the WBC. If it is with runners already on base, give me Sam Dyson and his incredible sinker. Both of those two have quietly been the leaders when it comes to late inning set up to carry over to Luke Gregerson. Most may argue and say, but what about Andrew Miller? Miller would be a fine pick, but he still has me a little nervous after his showing against the Dominican Republic.

Jim: I think I’m with you. I might take Miller over Dyson, just to go righty-lefty-righty, but I wouldn’t feel awful with Neshek-Dyson-Gregerson to try to bring us home.

Phil: Miller isn’t bad for the left-lefty match-up, but based solely off of WBC performance, I’m not sure I want him facing a righty.

Tournament MVP

Jim: Moving over to tournament MVP, who do you have here? How dependent is this going to be on tonight’s game?

Phil: Adam Jones/Yadier Molina

For MVP, I don’t think that it will be dependent on tonight’s performance. If USA wins I have to think Adam Jones gets it. He’s been the heart of the team and has been, by far, our most clutch player. I think he cemented that with robbing Manny Machado of that home run.

On the Puerto Rico side, you have to go with Yadi. Yadier Molina has led that team to where they are, and without him, I don’t know if Puerto Rico makes it as far as they do. Whether it be his defensive prowess behind the plate or his home run that he hit against the Dominican Republic, he has been more than happy to lead this team by example.

Jim: Marcus Stroman/Seth Lugo

I couldn’t agree more. But that’s boring, so for the sake of argument, I’ll take a different tack. Tonight’s game is going to be all that matters. (Now I know how it feels to be Stephen A. and have to make the case just to argue… Interesting.) Well not all that matters, but a very good portion of the decision.

For the U.S., I could see a few different players jumping into the conversation. First off, if this game goes a much different route than each of us believe, and the bullpens don’t end up mattering, that will likely be because Stroman is just en fuego. If Stroman goes something like eight shutout innings with 10 Ks, he has to get it. He’s already the team leader in innings pitched this WBC, and a performance like that is hard to deny.

I could also see Eric Hosmer sneaking up on Jones’ case for MVP. Say Hosmer hits a solo blast in the fourth inning and then a clutch RBI double in the seventh to give the U.S. their final lead. Is that enough to overtake Jones? Maybe.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

For Puerto Rico, Seth Lugo probably wouldn’t even have to be as dominant as I just laid out for Stroman to put himself in the thick of the conversation, as he also is already the team leader in innings, and has been even better than Stroman in the WBC so far. The other guy who could steal MVP from Molina would be Carlos Correa. He’s slashing an absurd .400/.563/.900 in his 20 WBC at bats and has three bombs and nine RBI so far. It’s not hard to imagine him going 2-for-4 with a two-run homer to cement his status as demigod in his native country.

Phil: Bravo, just like Stephen A. but not nearly as argumentative. Those are solid picks for standout performers. If we are going the dark horse route, then Christian Yelich for Team USA. For almost every RBI that Jones has had, it has been Yelich scoring. No, he hasn’t displayed home run power throughout the WBC, but he has been on base a ton. While we are at it, Brandon Crawford has been in the thick of everything, and who could forget his two-out triple in the bottom of the ninth to bring the U.S. to within one run of tying Puerto Rico in their first match up?

For Puerto Rico I’m going to have to say Francisco Lindor. Lindor has been tearing the cover off of the ball much like Correa so far, slashing .435/.481/.739. Your pick of Seth Lugo cannot even be argued, especially if he has a good game tonight. What’s the old saying? “You can’t win if you can’t score”? If USA can’t score on Lugo early, I’m not sure that they will have any chance in tonight’s game.