World Baseball Classic Roundup: Puerto Rico Cruises In Opener

Puerto Rico 9, Nicaragua 1

What Happened: A five-run fifth inning that was fueled by RBI singles by Francisco Lindor, MJ Melendez and Javier Baez helped Puerto Rico pull away from Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic Pool D opener for both teams. A two-run single by Christian Vazquez in the seventh put the game away. Puerto Rico starter Marcus Stroman was effective, working 4.2 innings while allowing only two hits and one run (a home run by Elian Miranda).

Stars of the Game: Lindor went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. Vasquez went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. Baez went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Miranda’s home run was one of only four hits for Nicaragua. Norlando Valle had two of the other three. In addition to Stroman’s 4.2 innings of work, the Puerto Rico bullpen allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out seven in 5.1 innings. Other than Stroman, no Puerto Rican pitcher threw more than 20 pitches, which is important in a tournament with strict pitch limits and days of rest rules.

Prospect of the Day: RHP Carlos Rodriguez, Nicaragua’s starter, is the Brewers’ 14th-ranked prospect. He allowed only one run and two hits in four innings with one walk and three strikeouts. He sat 92-94 mph and mixed in a low-80s slider.

Why It Matters: This was a game where Puerto Rico was heavily favored. It took care of business, which is vitally important in a pool where three teams with legitimate chances to win the tournament (Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic) are fighting for only two spots in the quarterfinals.

J.J. Cooper

Venezuela 5, Dominican Republic 1

What Happened: The Dominican Republic jumped out to an early lead when Julio Rodriguez led off the game with a single and was driven home on a RBI double by Juan Soto one batter later, but the D.R. would not score again. Venezuela’s pitchers combined to hold the fearsome Dominican lineup to just six hits and one run, including 5.2 scoreless innings by the bullpen. Anthony Santander tied the score for Venezuela with a home run to the upper deck in right in the second inning and David Peralta gave it the lead for good with a two-run double in the third. Peralta added another RBI double in the sixth and Eugenio Suarez provided insurance with an RBI single in the eighth.

Stars of the Game: Santander provided pivotal moments on both sides of the ball, going 2-for-4 with a triple and a homer and making a diving catch in the eighth with two on and one out to preserve Venezuela’s lead. Luis Garcia pitched three hitless, scoreless innings of relief with two walks and seven strikeouts to shut down the vaunted Dominican lineup.

Prospects of Note: None.

What It Means: Venezuela is in the driver’s seat in Pool D after taking down the tournament favorite Dominicans. This shouldn’t be much more than a speed bump for the Dominican Republic, which possesses as much talent as anyone in the pool.

– Geoff Pontes

South Korea 7, Czech Republic 3

What Happened: Ha-Seong Kim hit two home runs to lead South Korea to its first victory of the WBC. South Korea scored five runs in the bottom of the first to take a commanding lead and Kim hit solo homers in the second and seventh innings to cap the scoring. South Korea’s pitching staff combined for 18 strikeouts and didn’t issue a single walk in a dominant performance.

Stars of the Game: Kim finished 2-for-4 with two homers, Byung Ho Park went 2-for-2 with a run scored and Baek Ho Kang went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored to lead South Korea’s offense. Righthander Se Wong Park pitched 4.2 scoreless innings, allowed one hit and struck out eight to lead the pitching staff.

Prospects of Note: Top South Korean prospect Jung Hoo Lee went 1-for-4 with an RBI single for South Korea and is batting .333 in the tournament. Kang, South Korea’s second-best MLB prospect, is now batting .444 in the tournament.

What It Means: South Korea (1-2) finally picked up its first win of the WBC, but it’s likely too late. Japan has already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals and Australia only needs to win one of its final two games against Japan and the Czech Republic to clinch the other quarterfinals berth from Pool B. South Korea wraps up pool play against China on Monday. The Czech Republic (1-2) finishes against Australia on Sunday.

Cuba 7, Taiwan 1

What Happened: Yoan Moncada went 3-for-4 with a double and a homer, Erisbel Arruebarrena added a two-run homer and Cuba cruised past Taiwan to wrap up pool play with a win. Cuba scored four runs in the first inning and two more in the second to take a commanding early lead and never let Taiwan get close. Five Cuban pitchers combined to hold Taiwan to just four hits and one run while combining for 12 strikeouts.

Stars of the Game: Alfredo Despaigne got the scoring started with a two-run double for Cuba in the first inning and finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in support of Moncada and Arruebarrena. Starter Elian Leyva struck out four over 2.1 scoreless innings for Cuba.

Prospect of Note: Rightander Miguel Romero, an A’s prospect, pitched 2.2 scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts for Cuba. Livan Moinelo, a top Cuban prospect who plays in Japan, pitched a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout.

What It Means: Cuba, Taiwan and Panama all finished pool play 2-2 and now await the result of the Netherlands-Italy game on Sunday. If Italy wins, all five teams will be 2-2, and tiebreakers will be used to determine who advances to the quarterfinals. If the Netherlands wins, it will advance to the quarters along with Cuba, which has head-to-head wins over both Taiwan and Panama.

– Kyle Glaser

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