Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
PREVIEW: Cuba, United States to tangle in WBC semifinal
Cuba is set to challenge the United States in a World Baseball Classic semifinal game that is sure to make history Sunday night in Miami.
Sunday’s crowd should be fascinating to watch because of Miami’s large concentration of Cuban-Americans.
And since Cuba has been a communist country for decades, protests are likely for Sunday’s game.
Since the late Fidel Castro took over as the island’s dictator more than 60 years ago, Cuba’s national team has never played in Miami — until Sunday.
Politics aside, Cuba is led by two Chicago White Sox standouts: outfielder Luis Robert and switch-hitting third baseman Yoan Moncada.
Robert, 25, has 40 doubles and 25 homers in 166 games over his past two major-league seasons. Moncada, 27, has three seasons with more than 30 doubles in his major-league career.
Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2020, also will compete for Cuba.
But many other Cubans who are star major-leaguers have opted against playing for their native country, a list that includes closer Aroldis Chapman, first baseman Jose Abreu, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, outfielder Jorge Soler and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
It seems obvious that defections to the U.S. have weakened Cuba’s talent pool through the years. For example, Cuba failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021, and the country went 1-6 in last month’s Caribbean Series, finishing in last place among eight teams.
In addition, Cuba hasn’t been overly impressive in this year’s WBC, going 2-2 in pool play and then narrowly defeating Australia 4-3 on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.
However, Cuba manager Armando Johnson will disagree with anyone who knocks his roster.
“All the teams that get to this point in the tournament did so because of their own weight,” Johnson said in Spanish. “I think we deserve respect.”
Certainly, Cuba has a great history in the Olympics, winning gold in 1992, 1996 and 2004 as well as silver medals in 2000 and 2008.
But since finishing second in the 2006 WBC, Cuba hasn’t placed no better than fifth.
On Sunday, the Cubans will face a loaded American lineup that includes right fielder Mookie Betts, center fielder Mike Trout, third baseman Nolan Arenado, catcher J.T. Realmuto, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second baseman Tim Anderson, left fielder Kyle Tucker and designated hitters Kyle Schwarber and Pete Alonso.
The lineup is so deep that star shortstop Trea Turner bats in the nine hole.
Turner was the hero of the United States’ 9-7 win over previously unbeaten Venezuela on Saturday night. Turner hit a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning for what he called the biggest home run of his career.
“That’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of,” United States manager Mark DeRosa said. “Trea stepped up with an absolute bomb.”
Turner said the fans were electric on Saturday as Venezuela and the United States both had large rooting sections in the sold-out crowd of 35,000-plus, and things could get even rowdier on Sunday against Cuba.
“We’ve been having team meetings, talking about how big this is for everybody — not just us but all sides,” Turner said of the WBC. “We wanted to match (Venezuela’s) energy. We knew we would be basically playing on the road. The fans were electric.”
–Field Level Media