What started as a 16 team tournament is now down to 4. Starting tonight, Puerto Rico, The Netherlands, Japan and The United States will square off to determine which country is truly the Baseball Capitol of the World.
There are five Astros players on the four remaining teams-- Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran for Puerto Rico, Nori Aoki for Japan, Luke Gregerson and Alex Bregman for Team USA. Each have played significant roles in their respective team's successes.
Puerto Rico, which kicks off the sem-final round tonight against The Netherlands, has relied heavily upon the bats of Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran, who anchor the lineup batting 3rd and 4th respectively. Beltran leads the team with 8 hits while Correa leads the team with 7 RBI’s. Correa also has two homers.
The Correa/Beltran duo got the scoring started in Puerto Rico’s critical matchup against the US, hitting back-to-back RBI singles in the bottom of the first. Puerto Rico went on to upset the US 6-5.
Japan—which faces the US in the second semi-final tomorrow— has been the cinderella of the WBC. With only one MLB player— Astros newly acquired outfielder Nori Aoki— Japan has managed to go a perfect 6-0, defeating the likes of China, The Netherlands, and Cuba (twice). Aoki has served as the centerpiece of Japan’s offense, batting 3rd in the lineup and posting a solid .360 average for the tournament.
Two Astros are represented on Team USA's roster, Luke Gregerson and Alex Bregman. Gregerson— who has become known as “America’s Closer”, has recorded two saves, the latest of which came in America’s must-win matchup against the Dominican Republic. Gregerson retired former Astro Jonathan Villar, Jose Reyes, and Manny Machado in order to seal the deal for the US.
Being the youngest player on the American roster, Bregman has seen limited playing time, but has made the most of his limited opportunities. In his first and only start against Venezuela, Bregman went 2 for 3 with a walk. He also reminded us why he used to play shortstop.
Jeter-esque. Plays like this make me wonder if Bregman and Correa need to switch places. I think it will happen eventually, but for now thats irrelevant. What matters is the Astros are showing out in the WBC, and the confidence these players will have going forward should help come the regular season.
Getting the chance to watch genuinely competitive baseball games rather than Spring Training has definitely been a treat. As an American, I’m rooting for Team USA, but at the same time, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of these: