Scouting the World Baseball Classic Semifinals

580x424One of the most beautiful ballparks in the world, AT&T Park, is ready and geared to go after an exciting weekend of WBC baseball in Miami that saw Puerto Rico and the undefeated Dominican Republic advance to the semifinals to take on Japan and the Netherlands. First pitch for the first semifinal game between Puerto Rico and Japan will take place just minutes after 9 pm eastern time on Sunday night, while the Dutch and the Dominicans will scrap it out on Monday evening. The semifinals of the World Baseball Classic are single-elimination, meaning the winner of each game goes on to the championship game Tuesday night. Let’s breakdown all of our contestants:

Japan v. Puerto Rico

Kenta Maeda, the Japanese ace, will take the bump for the heavily favored defending champions against Mario Santiago of Puerto Rico. Maeda has thrown 10 innings in the Classic and still hasn’t allowed a run to cross the plate. He’s been utterly dominant allowing a couple of singles and one walk while striking out 15. Santiago, on the other hand, was roughed up in his lone WBC start, lasting just 4.1 innings while allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks against the United States.

Santiago’s job on the mound will be made tougher by the fact that most of the Japanese lineup has been hot during the Classic. Infielder Hirokazu Ibata has been an on-base monster at the top of the Japanese lineup, rapping out 8 hits and 5 walks while scoring 6 runs in 5 games. Star catcher/DH Shinnosuke Abe has lived up to his billing, blasting a pair of homers and 7 RBI in 6 games of action. As a whole, only the Cuban national team has hit more homers (11) than Japan’s 8 long balls in this WBC and none of the other teams still in play have been as effective in getting on base.

That’s not to say the Puerto Ricans can’t win but they may want to get the offense going a little earlier against Japan. Puerto Rico .224 team batting average is only better than China, Brazil, Spain, and Austrailia otherwise known as the 4 worst teams in the tournament. The Puerto Ricans have managed just 1 homer in 7 tourney games and apart from Major Leagues Yadier Molina and Angel Pagan, nobody is hitting.

Netherlands v. Dominican Republic

The undisputed best team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic has been the Dominican Republic and they will square off against the Cinderella of this ball, the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dominican team should be chomping at the bit to get a shot at the Netherlands after being eliminated by the Dutch in ’09 thanks to a pair of embarrassing losses.

Robinson Cano has been the tournament’s best player thus far hitting .519 with 2 homers, 6 RBI, and an astounding 24 total bases in 5 game. He’s not alone in the middle of the lineup either. Nelson Cruz has been pounding the ball out of the #5 hole and he’s being flanked by valuable contributions from both Miguel Tejada and catcher Carlos Santana.

The Dutch have yet to announce a starter to oppose this powerful Dominican lineup but they do have a new face for the 9th inning should they have the lead. Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen has joined the roster and will be bringing his blazing fastball to AT&T Park. Jansen’s also not the only new face joining Team Netherlands.

Jurickson Profar, the consensus #1 prospect in baseball, has also agreed to play, giving the Dutch a little more firepower on offense. Profar has torn through the minor leagues showing the ability to be plus defender at short, a solid on-base man, and he’s also a legitimate 20-20 threat. He’ll fit somewhere alongside a couple of other talented, young shortstops in Andrelton Simmons and Xander Bogaerts. Simmons has been the star for the Dutch in the WBC, anchoring both the team’s defense and offense and will be the key player for Dominican starter Edison Volquez to keep in check.

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The pick: Dominican Republic over Japan in the final

I have a strong feeling that the Dominican Republic is going to be too tough for anyone in the Classic to beat this time around. They’ve run the table thus far and drew a favorable semifinal match-up against the Dutch, who don’t exactly have the arms to handle such a potent lineup. In the other semifinal I opted for the Japanese, mostly because the Puerto Rican’s run of good luck has to end at some point. The tiny commonwealth has been lucky to get this far, going just 4-3 in the tournament up to this point. They’re pitching staff has been throwing above their talent level for most of the tournament and at some point somebody is going to jump on one of those juicy hanging breaking balls. I think a very discipline, very professional Japanese lineup will be just that team.

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