Sports

Japan vs. USA WBC final is set! Predictions and what you need to know

What’s at stake Tuesday night in the World Baseball Classic final between the United States and Japan at Miami’s LoanDepot Park?

Oh, just global baseball bragging rights for at least the next three years.

It’s the matchup that most baseball fans have been not-so-secretly hoping for throughout the tournament — and it’s finally here, for the WBC trophy. Now all that’s left to find out is whether the defending champs, Team USA, repeat — or Japan wins its third WBC title after eliminating Mexico in a dramatic semifinal.

We asked our team of baseball experts to make their picks, break down the two finalists and share their favorite highlight from what has been an earth-shaking WBC tournament so far.


The matchup

First pitch: 7 p.m.

Japan (6-0 in 2023 WBC)
Starting pitcher: Shota Imanaga

USA (5-1 in 2023 WBC)
Starting pitcher: TBD


What to expect from Team USA

Why the U.S. can win: Because that lineup is devastating, particularly when it goes back-to-back-to-back with Trea Turner, Betts and Mike Trout in the Nos. 9, 1 and 2 spots. That’s three of the most complete offensive players in the sport, capable of beating teams with their speed, power and on-base ability. And Turner, who has homered three times in his last two games, is especially hot right now. — Alden Gonzalez

What can stop it: For as deep and talented as Team USA’s position player group is, the pitching staff seems a bit vulnerable, particularly the first 21 outs, before Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly can factor into the game. Performance from the middle relievers — a group consisting of Adam Ottavino, David Bednar, Kendall Graveman and Daniel Bard, the latter of whom suffered noticeable command issues in his last appearance — will be critical. — Gonzalez

Player to watch: Trout. The all-world outfielder has been waiting for this moment seemingly his whole career. It hasn’t come with the Angels yet, so this is the next best thing — a chance to lead Team USA to a WBC title. And imagine this: He could get a chance to bat against Angels teammate Shohei Ohtani in the championship game. — Jesse Rogers


What to expect from Team Japan

Why Japan will win: Because this team is incredibly talented, from Shohei Ohtani to Masataka Yoshida to Munetaka Murakami — the three players who capped the ninth-inning rally against Mexico to advance to the finals — and all the way down the lineup. Because their team, called Samurai Japan, has a long history of excelling in international tournaments. Because they have the better starting pitcher, Yu Darvish. And because it’s tough to pick against a team that still hasn’t lost in the tournament. — Jeff Passan

What can stop it: Team USA’s lineup is really, really good, with All-Stars from top to bottom, something Cuba learned in its 14-2 semifinal loss. Beyond the power of Team USA, though, there’s a matter of the bullpen. Even though these are the best of the best in Japan, the quality of stuff they have seen on their route to the final is just different than what the American pitchers, particularly the relievers, have to offer. Japan wants to grab an early lead, because clawing from behind against rested American relievers will be tougher than it was against Mexico. — Passan

Player to watch: Ohtani. Who else could it be for Japan? In truth, this team has several stars who have had great moments during the WBC, but Ohtani will start at DH and still could be called upon to pitch late in the game. If all goes perfectly, Ohtani will help get Japan a lead and then pitch his country to a championship in relief.— Rogers


Best moment of the WBC so far … and will anything in the final top it?

Gonzalez: Trea Turner’s grand slam in the eighth inning of Team USA’s thrilling victory in the quarterfinals. The atmosphere inside LoanDepot Park was electric, the excitement among the U.S. players was palpable — and it was the exclamation point for one of the most intense, back-and-forth games in recent memory, in any setting. As to whether something will top it in the final? Yeah, maybe. This year’s tournament has continually exceeded expectations.

Passan: Mexico-Japan, for a spot in the WBC finals. It’s the bottom of the ninth. Mexico leads by a run. The best player in the world steps up and whacks a double. A star in Japan, who will soon be one in America, draws a walk. The best hitter in Japan hammers a game-winning double off the wall to score both, bringing a chaotic, madcap, gorgeous baseball game to an end. Ohtani, Masataka Yoshida and Munetaka Murakami will go down in baseball lore for making Japan 6, Mexico 5 a reality. It was just a reminder that the WBC brings the intensity of October, only in March.

Rogers: Randy Arozarena doing just about anything could qualify for the best moment — the catches, the celebrations, the vibes. But can it really be anything other than Turner’s slam to save Team USA’s season? Yes, Japan’s walk-off Monday to reach the finals came close, but Turner’s slam is the moment.


Predictions: Final score and MVP

Gonzalez: USA 6, Japan 4. MVP: Mike Trout

Passan: Japan 2, USA 1. MVP: Shohei Ohtani

Rogers: USA 8, Japan 6. MVP: Mookie Betts

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