Team USA is one win away from a second consecutive World Baseball Classic championship. Sunday night in Miami, Team USA cruised to a 14-2 blowout win over Cuba (box score) to clinch a spot in Tuesday's championship game. USA will face the winner of Monday night's Japan vs. Mexico game. Cuba has been eliminated.
USA is the third team to appear in back-to-back WBC championship games, joining Japan (2006 and 2009) and Puerto Rico (2013 and 2017). They will look to join those 2006 and 2009 Japan teams as the only back-to-back champions in WBC history. Before winning the 2017 WBC, USA advanced no further than the second round in the 2006, 2009, and 2013 WBCs.
Sunday's game is believed to be the first time the Cuban national team played in Miami since the Cuban revolution in 1959. Miami is home to the largest Cuban population in the U.S. and there were protests condemning the island's dictatorship outside the ballpark. Three separate fans also ran onto the field during play with signs and flags.
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Here are three takeaways from Sunday's game and a look ahead to what's next.
1. Cuba missed a golden opportunity early
Is the first inning too early for a turning point? I don't think so. Cuba loaded the bases in the top of the first inning on three infield singles, and when cleanup hitter Alfredo Despaigne spit on Adam Wainwright's 3-2 curveball to draw the bases loaded walk and give Cuba a 1-0 lead, it appeared Cuba was primed to put a crooked number on the board. It was a Big Moment early.
Rather than let Cuba blow the game open, Wainwright & Co. limited Cuba to just that one run. A ground ball to third base (force out at home), a pop up to second, and a ground ball to short snuffed out the rally and limited the damage. And three batters into the bottom of the first, it was 2-1 USA. Mookie Betts doubled, Mike Trout lined out, and Paul Goldschmidt went deep.
Cuba's win expectancy sat at 74% following Despaigne's RBI walk. That's a big number for the first inning. Another big number: 2.37. That is the number of runs MLB teams averaged following a bases loaded, no outs situation last season. Rather than put a (needed) dent in the scoreboard Cuba, settled for just the one run. That inning was a huge missed opportunity.
Despaigne, it should be noted, now owns that longest on-base streak in WBC history. The first inning bases loaded walk extended his on-base streak to 18 games dating back to 2009. Robinson Canó held the previous record at 17 games.
2. USA kept piling on
Two runs in the first, one run in the second, two runs in the third, two runs in the fourth, two runs in the fifth, four runs in the sixth. USA scored in each of the first six innings, thanks in part to Trea Turner's second inning solo home run. He of course hit the clutch game-winning grand slam against Venezuela on Saturday. Here is Turner's second homer in as many WBC at-bats:
Turner, the $300 million No. 9 hitter, added another home run later in the game and is 7 for 19 (.368) with four home runs in the WBC. The four home runs lead this year's WBC and are the most by a USA player in a single WBC. Here is the single-WBC home run leaderboard:
- Seung-Yuop Lee, Korea: 5 HR in 2006
- Adrián Beltré, Dominican Republic: 4 HR in 2006
- Wladimir Balentien, Netherlands: 4 HR in 2017
- Trea Turner, USA: 4 HR in 2023 (and counting)
Turner is the second Team USA player with two homers in a WBC game, joining Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. in 2006. Griffey is serving as USA's hitting coach this year. Turner has dominated in the No. 9 spot and Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have been a two-man wrecking crew in the Nos. 3-4 spots. They went a combined 4 for 7 with 5 RBI on Sunday.
All told, Goldschmidt is 7 for 21 (.333) with 9 RBI and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (five) in the WBC. That works out to a .517 on-base percentage. Arenado is 9 for 23 (.391) with three doubles and a triple in the WBC. Like I said, Goldschmidt and Arenado have been a two-man wrecking crew in the middle of the lineup.
It wasn't until the seventh inning that USA was held scoreless (that was the game's first 1-2-3 inning). Things got so out of hand that bench players Jeff McNeil (replaced Tim Anderson at second), Bobby Witt Jr. (replaced Arenado at third), Cedric Mullins (replaced Trout in center), and Kyle Higashioka (replaced Will Smith at catcher) got into the game. USA emptied the bench.
Arenado, by the way, exited the game after taking a pitch to the hand in the fifth inning. It appeared to be precautionary -- Arenado was seen high-fiving his teammates in the dugout -- and X-rays came back negative. Still, that was briefly worrisome after the Jose Altuve injury Saturday.
3. Wainwright settled down
To be fair, Cuba's first inning rally was hardly Wainwright's fault. I mean, three straight infield singles? That's some tough luck. Despaigne put a good at-bat together to work the bases-loaded walk, but after that, Wainwright retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced, and he got USA through four innings. There was a point it looked like he'd only go four batters.
Now 41, Wainwright did not throw a pitch over 88.6 mph against Cuba, and that's about the best you'll see out of him these days. Velocity is not his game. He cuts and sinks his fastball, and still has that Hall of Fame curveball. Cuba was close to breaking the game open in the first inning, but Wainwright escaped, and he continued on to have a strong outing. Solid work by the veteran.
The WBC pitch limit is 80 in the semifinal, though Wainwright was pulled after 64 pitches, possibly because of a mandate set by the Cardinals. Wainwright gave way to St. Louis teammate Miles Mikolas, who gave USA four innings of one-run ball. Aaron Loup got the final three outs in the ninth inning to seal the win and championship game berth.
Team USA's offense scored early and often and that made life easy on manager Mark DeRosa, who hasn't exactly stood out for his bullpen management in the WBC. USA's go-to high leverage relievers (Jason Adam, David Bedner, Devin Williams, and Ryan Pressly) all got the night off and will be well-rested for Tuesday's championship game.
4. Up next
For Cuba, a trip home. They have been eliminated. For USA, it's the championship game Tuesday night in Miami. They will take on the winner of Monday night's Japan vs. Mexico semifinal game. Team USA has not yet announced a starting pitcher and they may not announce one until they know their opponent. It will likely be one of Kyle Freeland, Merrill Kelly, or Brady Singer.