Mexico faces semifinal test against Japan, winner faces USA in the final of the World Baseball Classic
Japan phenom Roki Sasaki will start in what is Mexico’s first-ever appearance in the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
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Mexico is two wins away from their first ever World Baseball Classic Championship and it’s because of their strongest-ever assembled tournament roster.
After a five-year wait, the WBC returned in 2023 for the first time since 2017. In WBC’s fifth iteration, more so than any other year, the squads featured are some of the greatest ever rosters of players ever assembled, including the best of Major League Baseball (MLB).
Mexico is the sole Latin American team left in the tournament.
However, they face a tough semifinal test against one of the hottest teams on the planet other than USA — Japan — on Monday night, March 20, at loanDepot Park in Miami, Florida.
The winner faces team USA — the reigning 2017 WBC champions with a roster stacked from top to bottom with elite MLB talent.
Tonight is Mexico’s first-ever semifinal appearance at the WBC, while the Japanese have never failed to reach the semifinals and are also the WBC leaders in overall titles – two – more than any other nation, as they move towards a third title.
Japan has had an outstanding tournament in 2023. Aside from being unbeaten thus far, they’ve outscored their opponents 38-8, and their pitchers have a 63-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. An upset tonight would undoubtedly be a disappointment for the team and the nation who had championship aspirations.
Mexico is playing with house money as this is their first ever semifinals appearance, and previously beat Team USA in group play on the back of great performances from Randy Arozarena and Joey Meneses.
Arozarena, the Mexico and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, has been instrumental and almost did not make it onto the team. He needed the help from Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to ensure he earned his Mexican citizenship.
He’s responsible for nine Mexico runs in just five games and his catch against Puerto Rico will likely go down in history as one of the biggest moments at a WBC tournament.
The 28-year-old Cuban-Mexican star was born and raised in Cuba before leaving the island in 2015 and going to Mexico. There, he played winter baseball, had a daughter and found love for his new home.
He became a Mexican citizen in April to represent the nation.
For Japan, all eyes are on superstar pitcher Roki Sasaki. The 21-year-old has made a name for himself so far in the tournament. Against the Czech Republic, Sasaki topped 100 miles per hour 21 times and in just 66 pitches, with eight strikeouts in just three and two-third innings pitched.
Much has been made about whether he will make the jump to the major leagues and gave an update after the team’s workout on Sunday.
"I will play in Japan, and then I think something will become clear when I'm going to shift over [to America]," Sasaki said.
The two nations have only met once before in 2006, and Mexico fell 6-1. The MVP of that tournament — Daisuke Matsuzaka — gave up just one hit in five shutout innings in the victory.
For Mexico, much like the heroics from their 5-4 victory over Puerto Rico, the team will have to create more heart-stopping moments to get past the well-oiled Japanese side.
Mexico’s lefty Patrick Sandoval of the Los Angeles Angels will get the start but it's Arozarena of the Rays who will have to come up with the plays.
The road to the semifinals has been one to remember for Mexico — and unexpected. Colombia beat them in the tournament opener, but the team has gone unbeaten since. They beat the U.S. in a shock win in their first meeting.
They defied pundits and baseball experts in their quarterfinal win against Puerto Rico and their superior roster, and are underdogs in Monday night’s matchup.