We’re on to the Championship rounds at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While the event continues to do a terrible job of marketing itself – who knows when the games are on, who is playing and where to find them? – the quality of the action has actually been fantastic. We’re down to four teams and we’ll see three games in three days at Dodger Stadium. The Netherlands will play Puerto Rico on Monday night while the United States will have a tough test against Japan on Tuesday.
Now that we’re out of pool play, it’s important to remember that the rules have changed. Pitchers are allows to throw a maximum of 95 pitches, which is up from 80 in the previous round. And if a pitcher throws 30 pitches or more, he must sit a day. That’s more relevant for the Japan-United States matchup because they won’t have a day off before the championship. Also, if the game is to go to extra innings, each team will start their at bat with runners on first and second base starting in the 11th inning.
Date: Monday, March 20
Time: 9:00 PM ET
Odds: Puerto Rico -230
Why The Netherlands Might Win…
They have the bats to test Puerto Rico’s pitching. Yes, Jorge Lopez looked decent in his first start but the Netherlands has a lineup that will test him some more. They have Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorius (may not play), Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Schoop. Strangely enough, none of those players with plenty of MLB experience has been the best bat on the team. That honor would go to Wladimir Balentien, who is hitting .519 with three home runs and 10 RBI’s in the World Baseball Classic. He last played in the Majors in 2009. While you may have thought that this Dutch team got through an easy group or lasted this long by accident, that’s not the case. They’re managed by the San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens and he’s done a great job to get all of those bats in the lineup.
Puerto Rico’s pitching staff is weak and this Dutch team will challenge them. Lopez, Monday’s starter, is merely the No. 13 ranked prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. This should be manageable for them.
Why Puerto Rico Might Win…
Because nobody has beaten them yet. Yes, that’s right: Puerto Rico is undefeated so far. They have easily been the most impressive team in the tournament as they have whipped their opponents, outscoring them by a margin of 51-5. That includes wins over Venezuela (twice), the Dominican Republic (twice) and the United States.
Their bats are led by Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros, who has been red-hot in this tournament. He has two home runs and seven RBI’s so far while batting .375. He’s not the only one swinging a hot stick for Puerto Rico, though, as Carlos Beltran is clubbing .471 and Francisco Lindor has batted .389 with a pair of home runs.
Nobody is too surprised about the bats, though as that was expected. What wasn’t expected was that the pitching would be quality. This was supposed to be an area of weakness – especially the depth – but manager Edwin Rodriguez has used five different starters and everyone in the bullpen, and they haven’t shown much weakness. Monday’s starter will be Jorge Lopez, who reached the Majors in 2015 but didn’t have a good showing, and then spent 2016 in the minors. It’ll be his second start of the tournament.
Puerto Rico is a team on a mission right now. They made it all the way to the Championship Game in 2013 and lost to the Dominican Republic and have been very focused to get back there in 2017. They have yet to lose and this looks like another winnable game in front of them. While the Puerto Rico pitchers look like a weakness on paper, they have only allowed 15 runs to this point.
The issue is do you want to lay -230 with Puerto Rico? It’s a big price tag in this spot and while they should win, I hate laying this type of number in baseball unless an ace is on the mound. Given the batting power on both sides, play the over instead. We should see at least 10 runs in this contest.
Pick: Over 9.5
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