Puerto Rico, Netherlands begin semifinals tonight at Dodger Stadium
By Chad Thornburg
SAN DIEGO -- After two weeks of thrilling international play spanning multiple continents, four teams are left standing from the World Baseball Classic's field of 16: Japan, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands and the United States.
With a 6-3 victory against the Dominican Republic on Saturday at Petco Park, Team USA became the last team to advance to the semifinals in Los Angeles. After a day off, the tournament resumes tonight with Puerto Rico taking on the Dutch at 9 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
Puerto Rico swept its competition in Jalisco, Mexico, and San Diego, recording victories over Venezuela, Mexico, Italy, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. The Puerto Rican squad is seeking redemption after finishing as the runner-up to the Dominican Republic in the last installment of the global tournament in 2013.
"The key for [Monday's game] will be the same philosophy, same strategy that we brought from Arizona in our training camps and when we went to San Diego," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "So here, now in L.A., it's going to be aggressive. But at the same time, we're going to be selective in the face of pitches, on the bases, and not only stealing them, but throwing from first to third and so forth. And the pitchers are going to be aggressive, and we're going to attack the strike zone."
The Netherlands, meanwhile, has reached the semifinals for the second consecutive tournament. The Dutch were eliminated by the eventual champion Dominican Republic in 2013 and return to the semifinals with a more experienced roster this year. The Netherlands went 4-2 in Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo against Korea, Chinese Taipei, Israel, Japan and Cuba.
"I think these guys are four years older, with a lot of success in their Major League careers the last few years," Dutch manager Hensley Meulens said. "Also, we ran into a very hot Dominican team last time. We're going to run into a hot Puerto Rican team in this Classic. They were both undefeated when we played them. We know now these guys are ready for the challenge. We have our pitching together. We're ready to go."
Fresh off its exciting victory in San Diego, the U.S. heads north to L.A. hoping to medal for the first time in the Classic. The closest Team USA has gotten to the championship game was in 2009, when it lost to Japan in the semifinals. And once again, the U.S. draws the tough assignment of facing a formidable Japanese team in its semifinal matchup Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.
Like Puerto Rico, Japan was dominant in Rounds 1 and 2, going unbeaten against Cuba, Australia, China, Netherlands and Israel. Japan is among the most successful countries to participate in the Classic; it won the 2006 and 2009 tournaments and finished third in 2013.
"They're fun to watch," said Team USA's Giancarlo Stanton. "They're a very unique style, crisp. They have unique ways of pitching and the high leg kicks and all that. It's pretty cool.
"That's what makes this tournament very cool. You see all different countries' dynamics and how they do things different. So it's going to be fun."
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based on Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.