Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
PREVIEW: Team USA, Venezuela confident heading into elimination matchup
Mike Trout, a 10-time All-Star who has yet to experience a postseason victory with the Los Angeles Angels, is enjoying his time as the captain for Team USA in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
The three-time American League MVP will lead the American squad Saturday night when they play Venezuela in a quarterfinal matchup at Miami.
The winner will face Cuba in Sunday’s semifinal game, also at Miami.
On Wednesday, Trout went 3-for-4 with three RBIs as Team USA eliminated Colombia 3-2 at Phoenix. Trout smoked a triple with a 112.5-mph exit velocity and added an RBI single and a two-run single.
“The best player in the world in Mike Trout stepped up in a big spot for us,” USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “(Trout) was coming off just 16 or 17 at-bats in spring training, and no one is in midseason form right now.
“But he looks really good at the dish. He’s super confident.”
Venezuela is also confident after sweeping its way through Pool D with a 4-0 record, including impressive wins over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Pitching is at the heart of the Venezuelan squad, as evidenced by its 5-1 win over a loaded Dominican Republic lineup. But Venezuela can also win a slugfest, as it showed by beating Puerto Rico 9-6. In fact, Venezuela has outscored its four opponents 23-9.
Now Venezuela will try to silence an American lineup that features sluggers Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Pete Alonso, and Kyle Schwarber in the middle of the order. And when the lineup turns over, there’s Trea Turner batting ninth, Mookie Betts leading off, and Trout in the No. 2 hole.
Then again, Venezuela is used to being underrated.
“When our group was unveiled, not many people talked about Venezuela,” manager Omar Lopez said. “They wouldn’t even talk about us in our own country.
“People have criticized us, but that has just filled us with more desire.”
After Team USA went with right-hander Adam Wainwright in its WBC opener last week against Great Britain, he will be skipped in favor of right-hander Lance Lynn, who started Monday in a 12-1 victory over Canada. The 35-year-old Chicago White Sox veteran gave up one run on two hits with no walks and six strikeouts over five innings while picking up the win.
Venezuela will send left-hander Martin Perez to the mound after he gave up one run on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings during last weekend’s victory over the Dominican Republic.
Perez, 31, is not overpowering, but the Texas Rangers’ All-Star is coming off his best season (12-8, 2.89 ERA). He uses a sinker, cutter, and changeup to induce a high rate of ground balls.
Venezuela, which lost to USA 4-2 the last time they played in 2017, has a potent lineup featuring center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., second baseman Jose Altuve, and catcher Salvador Perez.
Besides its talent, Venezuela is also loose. The team had a drum in its dugout for Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Israel and celebrated big plays by dancing. There’s also a sizable Venezuelan population living in Miami, which means fan support won’t be a problem as the tournament moves to the knockout stage.
Of course, the reigning champion Americans, who finished second to Mexico in Pool C with a 3-1 record, feel great about their squad, particularly with Betts and Trout at the top of the lineup.
Those two players share Los Angeles headlines during the season, and now they’re on the same side.
“We’re only 45 minutes apart, but it seems like we never get to see each other,” Betts said. “Being on the same side finally is fun.”
–Field Level Media