The 2023 World Baseball Classic opened unobtrusively Wednesday in Taijung, Chinese Taipei, with an indifferently played Group A contest between the teams representing Cuba and the Netherlands.
Netherlands won the battle between Group A favorites 4-2, but that wasn’t the story. The story was the absence of energy or talent — or both — displayed by the two sides, who combined to set a low bar for WBC performance going forward.
If, as is widely assumed, these are the two best teams in the Taiwan-based group, then the rest of the tournament field has little to fear from whoever emerges out of Group A.
In a languidly played game lasting three hours and seven minutes, the Cubans managed only three base hits off a half-dozen Netherlands pitchers, none of whom you’ve likely ever heard of. To the credit of the Cubans, two of those hits — a second-inning single by Yadil Mujica and a seventh-inning double by Yoelkis Guibert — contributed to their team’s only two runs.
Netherlands batters delivered the more timely blows, particularly in a three-run sixth inning that decided the game. After Didi Gregorius opened the inning with a walk, Jonathan Schoop singled, and Josh Palacios drove home Gregorius with the go-ahead run. Catcher Chadwick Tromp, who aspires to a role with the 2023 Atlanta Braves, provided the eventual winning margin with a double that scored both Schoop and Palacios.
Other than that one sustained outburst, however, the more experienced Netherlands lineup (which includes current or recent big leaguers Xander Bogaerts, Schoop, Tromp, Jurickson Profar, Gregorius, and Andrelton Simmons) did little against five Cuban pitchers. Netherlands hitters produced only three singles in the remainder of the game while striking out 13 times in eight innings.
The game’s stars-on-paper generally came up small. The two bona fide major leaguers on Cuba’s roster, Chicago White Sox regulars Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, combined for a double and a walk in eight plate appearances and Robert followed that eighth-inning double by being picked off second by Tromp.
Robert struck out in his other three plate appearances, including in the first inning after Netherlands starter Tom DeBlok walked the first two batters he faced.