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World Baseball Classic: Second final spot up for grabs

With United States having booked their place in the World Baseball Classic final with a 14-2 drubbing of Cuba, Mexico and Japan will battle it out to join them.

Mexico defeated Puerto Rico in the last eight, while Japan made their way past Italy in the quarter-finals.

WhatMexico v Japan
WhereLoanDepot Park, Miami, Florida
When7PM ET, Monday March 20th 2023
How to watchFOX
OddsMexico +220, Japan -280

Now or never for Japan

Everything is on the line for both sides with the final beckoning against a boisterous United States team, who are looking to repeat their 2017 World Baseball Classic Championship win.

For Japan, they have never failed to reach the semi-finals and will be looking to add to their two WBC titles, picked up in 2006 and 2009. For Mexico, this is the first time they have reached the final four of the competition, having made the quarter-finals on three occasions.

The Samurai Blue have not lost a game so far in the tournament with a unblemished record going into the knockout stages. On home soil, they managed to dispatch China, South Korea, Czech Republic and Australia before getting past Italy in the quarter-finals.

Shohei Ohtani took the mound in the quarters for Japan, he struck out five Italian batters over four and two-thirds of an inning, he even scored twice while at the plate. A superstar game for Japan’s superstar player.

Speaking to MLB.com after the win against Italy, Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama said: "This is Shohei when he plays a must-win game like tonight, this is how we see who Shohei is.

"Not only Shohei, but Yu Darvish as well, when we see Shohei playing, all the nation is feeling something extra about the way he works."

On the mound for Japan for the semi-final will be Roki Sasaki, the 21-year-old will get the ball and he hasn’t disappointed so far in the tournament, his first for his country. Facing the Czech Republic, Sasaki topped 100mph, a remarkable 21 times in just 66 pitches, striking out eight batters.

MLB fans may see him sooner rather than later as he hopes to come and play in the United States. Speaking to MLB.com he said: "I will play in Japan and then I think something will become clear when I’m going to shift over to America."

Japan have never scored less than seven so far in their games, so to score 8.5 or over is +525.

Mexican fever growing

Throughout the tournament, the Mexican fans have lit up the stadia, first of all at Chase Field in Phoenix, followed by LoanDepot Park in Miami.

Their comeback win over Puerto Rico in the quarter-finals was something to behold and what the World Baseball Classic is all about, making baseball a world game.

As this is Mexico’s first semi-final in the World Baseball Classic and they have never had a stronger roster in WBC history, they are now just two wins away from their first championship.

Not many predicted that Mexico would get this far, but the Mexicans have picked up where perhaps the Dominican Republic failed and they hope to continue their run with dominant performances from players such as Randy Arozarena and Joey Meneses.

Mexico and Japan have only met once before in World Baseball Classic and that was in 2006, with the Samurai Blue winning 6-1 as Daisuke Matsuzake gave up just one hit in five shutout innings, on his way to winning the World Baseball Classic MVP award.

Mexico’s journey hasn’t been an easy one to reach this stage. They lost their first Pool game to Colombia to immediately put themselves on the back foot.

However, victories over the United States, crucially, and predictably over Great Britain and Canada saw them qualify for the final eight. Then, Mexico squeezed past Puerto Rico in a comeback win for the ages in front of a passionate crowd.

Mexico will have Patrick Sandoval on the mound, the left-handed pitcher has a 1-0 record in the tournament with two strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA.

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