Pitching was the story of USA’s 2-1 win that knocked out unbeaten Japan and advanced the United States to the World Baseball Classic title game against Puerto Rico.
Tanner Roark followed in the footsteps of some of the USA pitchers who opened the tournament with four strong innings. Unexpected closer Luke Gregerson rewarded manager Jim Leyland’s loyalty with his third save in four appearances.
Pitching could very well be the story in Wednesday’s title clash, a rematch of a pitching matchup from earlier in the tournament, won by Puerto Rico. Here are a few things to keep in mind for this contest.
Seth Lugo brings spin and unexpected success
Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, made the roster because his grandfather was from Puerto Rico. If you had projected Lugo to start this game last year, he would have been an unlikely pick.
He had a 6.55 ERA in his first 68⅓ innings at Triple-A. But once he made the major leagues, things turned in a big way. Lugo posted a 2.56 ERA in his final 11 appearances (eight starts) for the Mets. He has a 2.45 ERA in two starts in the World Baseball Classic and the lowest WHIP (0.64) of anyone who started at least two games in the tournament.
The pitch to watch from Lugo is his curveball, which has the highest spin rate of any such pitch in the majors (USA reliever Sam Dyson ranks second). But the pitch can be inconsistent (a lot of spin isn’t always a good thing). He threw it for a strike 54 percent of the time.
Stroman keeps his opponents grounded
Medford, New York, native Marcus Stroman took the loss against Lugo earlier in the tournament, but pitched all right after a rough start (the first six Puerto Rico batters reached base).
Stroman had a 4.37 ERA for the Blue Jays last season but pitched well late in the season. The pitch to watch from him is his slider, against which opponents hit .155. His curveball is useful too. He throws it for strikes about 60 percent of the time and gets misses on 40 percent of swings against it (the major-league average is 33 percent).
Those pitches yield a lot of weak contact. Stroman’s ground-ball rate in 2016 was 61 percent, highest among active pitchers.
One matchup to watch: Stroman against Carlos Correa. Correa is 3-for-6 in his major-league career against Stroman and went 2-for-2 with a walk against him earlier in the tournament.
Puerto Rico by the numbers
2: Puerto Rico is the second team in WBC history to start at least 7-0, joining 2013 Dominican Republic (won title at 8-0).
+37: Run differential in seven games so far this WBC; scored 55 runs, most of any team in WBC, allowed only 18, fewest of any team to make it to semifinals.
5: Combined home runs from Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. Correa’s three home runs are the most for any Puerto Rican player in single WBC.
USA by the numbers
5:Players on roster seeking to win WBC title to accompany a World Series ring (joining eight who have done so in prior tournaments): Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, David Robertson
-- Sarah Langs
One last revenge to get
USA’s past two wins have had a revenge component. They won a winner-take-all game in Pool F against a Dominican Republic team that had defeated them in first-round play. The win against Japan avenged a semifinal loss in 2009.
Puerto Rico handed the USA a loss that knocked them out of the competition in 2013 and beat them again earlier in this competition. The USA goes for the revenge win trifecta on Wednesday.
-- Sarah Langs