WBC Semifinal Preview: USA, Cuba set for heavyweight clash in Miami

After the USA’s thrilling quarter-final win over Venezuela on Saturday night, the World Baseball Classic’s “Final Four” is set.

Awaiting the Americans in the next round are the Pool A-winning Cubans, coming off a tight quarter-final of their own against Australia. Watch the game on Sportsnet and SN NOW at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.

Cuba won their pool after winning the five-way tiebreaker, setting themselves up to play the second-place team out of Pool B. In the first win-or-go-home game tournament, Cuba knocked out the upstart Australians with a 4-3 victory, sparked by a three-run fifth inning to move on to Miami.

The USA will be playing its second game in as many days on Sunday after besting the previously unbeaten Venezuelans. It bounced back from a bullpen meltdown in the fifth inning when Trea Turner launched a go-ahead grand slam to help his country advance.

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Playing in front of what was a pro-Venezuelan crowd on Saturday, the USA will almost certainly once again face a raucous crowd cheering against them. With Cuba making its WBC debut in front of “Little Havana” in Miami, the atmosphere at Loan Depot Park will make for can’t-miss TV.

Pitching Matchup

After working two innings of relief against Australia, Cuba is turning to seven-year MLB veteran Roenis Elías against the USA.

In pool play, Elías threw five scoreless innings against Italy, allowing just two hits and one walk before reaching the pitch limit.

The 34-year-old is currently a member of the Chicago Cubs organization after signing a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training this past off-season. He has logged 395.2 career big-league innings and most recently pitched with the Seattle Mariners.

Watch the World Baseball Classic on Sportsnet

The fifth ever World Baseball Classic begins March 6 with 20 teams in the mix for the championship. Watch the complete tournament on SN NOW.

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With five days separating Sunday’s semifinal and its quarter-final victory, Cuba will have the ability to call on any of its pitchers.

The extra rest may give the Cubans a slight advantage as their pitching staff has been one of the best across the entire World Baseball Classic so far, ranking third in team ERA (3.20). 

They also hold what have been two of the best relievers in the tournament in Miguel Romero, who has struck out 12 in 8.1 scoreless innings of work, and Livan Moinelo — who has thrown 4.1 scoreless of his own.

On the other side, 41-year-old Adam Wainwright will get the start for the Americans.

The longtime St. Louis Cardinals pitcher last threw in USA’s opening 6-2 win over Great Britain, allowing one run over four innings pitched while striking out four.

While it’s unclear which MLB teams have imposed restrictions on using their relievers on back-to-back days, the USA could be without Jason Adam, Daniel Bard, Adam Ottavino, David Bednar, Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly, all of whom threw on Saturday night. 

That would leave the likes of Miles Mikolas, Kyle Freeland, Brady Singer, Merrill Kelly, Aaron Loup and Kendall Graveman to pick up where Wainwright leaves off on Sunday. 

Potential Lineups

Cuba

LF Roel Santos 
3B Yoan Moncada
CF Luis Robert
DH Alfredo Despaigne
SS Erisbel Arruebarrena
RF Yoelkis Guibert
C Ariel Martinez
1B Yadir Drake
2B Yadil Mujica

USA

RF Mookie Betts
CF Mike Trout
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
LF Kyle Tucker
2B Tim Anderson
DH Pete Alonso
C JT Realmuto
SS Trea Turner

Key Players to Watch

Chicago White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada has been having an outstanding tournament for Cuba. The 27-year-old holds a slash line of .421/.522/.737 and went 2-for-2 in the quarter-finals with a double and two walks.

While Moncada has been Cuba’s best hitter in 2023, Alfredo Despaigne has arguably been the best hitter in the history of the World Baseball Classic. 

The all-time leader in WBC home runs, Despaigne has picked up right where he left off with seven hits in his four games played this go-around. 

The USA lineup proved its depth against Venezuela, with its nine-hole hitter, Turner providing the big swing with former MVPs Mookie Betts and Mike Trout set to come up behind him.

On Sunday night, Trout may be the player to provide USA’s lineup with that big swing. The Los Angeles Angels star is the only member of the American team to have totalled more than 10 major-league at-bats against Elías, going 3-for-14 with two home runs.

His familiarity with his former AL West foe could give the US captain a leg up in his early at-bats.

What’s Next?

The winner will move on to Tuesday’s championship game, where they will face the winner of Japan and Mexico.

That semifinal takes place on Monday night, with young Japanese star Roki Sasaki expected to face off against Angels lefty Patrick Sandoval.

Japan is the final undefeated team remaining in the tournament after winning its quarter-final game over Italy, while Mexico rallied from a 4-0 deficit to knock out Puerto Rico on Friday, earning its spot in the semifinals.  

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