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World Baseball Classic: United States can edge past Cuba

We have reached the final four of the tournament with reigning champions USA completing the semi-final teams with a comeback win over Venezuela.

Cuba were the first team to qualify for the semi-finals four days ago, followed by Mexico and then Japan.

Will we see new champions or will the USA and Japan reach the final as expected?

WhatCuba v United States
WhenLoanDepot Park, Miami, Florida 
Where7pm ET Sunday March 19th
How to watchFox Sports
OddsTo win the tournament outright - USA +110, Cuba +1200

USA progress in dramatic fashion

The defending champions are being pushed to the limit as they attempt to defend their crown.

A big loss to Mexico in the group stages gave the USA a huge wake-up call and showed that they would have to be at their best if they were to retain the World Baseball Classic and win the championship for a second time.

The quarter-final win over Venezuela led to USA reaching a second consecutive semi-final thanks to a dramatic grand slam from the Philadelphia Phillies’ shortstop Trea Turner. A decade had passed since the last Team USA player had hit a grand slam in the World Baseball Classic.

Jason Varitek did it in 2006 and David Wright in 2013, while on Saturday night, it was Turner’s turn. loanDepot Park erupted in Miami as USA clinched a 9-7 win over the previously unbeaten Venezuela and booked their place in the semi-finals.

USA trailed 7-5 after Venezuela had capitalised on pitching errors by Daniel Bard for a four-run fifth inning as Bard handed Luis Arraez his second homer of the game in the seventh inning.

Tim Anderson opened the eighth inning by drawing a walk, while Pete Alonso grabbed a pinch-hit single. Jose Quijada hit JT Realmuto to load the bases for Turner who had been 0-for-3 on the night.

On an 0-2 count, Turner spotted a 85.5 mph fastball and launched it into the seats, the bases were cleared and the USA grabbed the lead which would eventually win them the game.

Turner spoke to FOX Sports afterwards, and said: “Today was electric, the energy is in the stadium, and we can feel it as players and I know the fans feel it as well.

“This is pretty much a postseason atmosphere and we’re getting it right in the middle of Spring Training. It’s a great team (Venezuela) over there and it almost makes me want to play Winter Ball a little bit and see how rowdy these fans get. It looks really fun and I was glad to be a part of it.”

On the mound for USA will be Adam Wainwright, who hasn’t pitched since the opening game against Great Britain.

Cuba stand in the way

Cuba have reached the semi-finals by playing in the Far East, initially in the group stages hosted in Taiwan, followed by a quarter-final win against Australia in Tokyo.

And while that won’t be a problem for the Cubans as they have had four days off to get over the travel to the United States, they will have had to sit and watch the dramatic events unfold.

Cuba qualified for the knockout stages by first of all losing to Netherlands in their opening match. They then lost their second game to Italy, 6-3 in 10 innings.

Since then, Cuba have realistically been playing knockout baseball. Victories over Panama and Chinese Taipei led to Cuba advancing on the tiebreaker rule after every team had a record of 2-2. Cuba recorded the fewest runs per defensive out to win the group ahead of Italy.

It meant Cuba faced Australia in the quarter-finals and they squeezed through 4-3 in Tokyo.

This will be the first matchup between Cuba and United States in World Baseball Classic history. USA are -400 to win the game with Cuba +310.

There is a 12-hour time difference between Miami and Taichung in Taiwan. Cuban outfielder Alfredo Despaigne spoke to about how it affects him, saying: “In my experience, you need at least one week to get used to the new time, but we are warriors. We’re going to go out and fight.

“These days off shouldn’t affect us, we’re trying to make some adjustments. We’re trying to stay awake during the day so we can be ready for the game, yes, we needed rest. We trained yesterday, by the way, and today. Yesterday, training was optional but some of the players said we need to practice.”

Cuba will have Roenis Elias on the mound as they try and reach their second WBC final after losing to Japan in 2006.

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