The United States and Puerto Rico will fight for the World Baseball Classic championship tonight.
In the final game of the 2017 WBC, a first-time champion will be crowned. Puerto Rico has been in the title game before, but fell in the end. Meanwhile, this is the USA's first trip to the finals in WBC history.
In 2013, the Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico 3-0 in the championship game. The Dominican team had a strong run again this year, but was knocked out of the tournament by the Americans. Puerto Rico beat the Kingdom of the Netherlands to advance to this contest. The USA knocked off previously undefeated Japan on Tuesday evening to punch the other ticket.
Five days ago, these two squads went up against one another in the second round of the WBC. Puerto Rico came out on top in a thrilling 6-5 game. While that was not an elimination contest, it still was a significant game. This time around, it is one and done. The winner will take home the title, while the loser will have to settle for second place.
The USA will send Marcus Stroman out to the mound, for one of the biggest starts of his career. Stroman has pitched in the playoffs before, but never even in a World Series game. This contest could have the feel and atmosphere that is typical of game seven of a World Series.
Stroman is 0-1 with a 3.86 E.R.A so far in two WBC starts. The Toronto Blue Jays' ace has struck out six in 9.1 innings. The one loss came in the aforementioned game against Puerto Rico. In that one, Stroman allowed four runs on eight hits in 4.2 innings. The right-hander is going to need to do a better job against the same lineup, and that could prove to be very challenging.
Seth Lugo will start for Puerto Rico, and he was also the man on the mound in the game against Stroman and the United States. Lugo won that contest, even though he did not pick up a quality start. Lugo allowed three runs in 5.2 innings, but did enough to help his team win.
Pitching in New York can be challenging, and Lugo's experience with the New York Mets may be paying off in the sometimes rowdy tournament. With loud and boisterous crowds, Lugo has kept his composure and is 2-0 in the tournament overall. The 27-year old has a 0.64 WHIP in the WBC, which is one of the best marks in the entire tournament. Keeping runners off base has helped Lugo compile a very respectable 2.45 E.R.A.
The managers in this game could potentially make all the difference. Every decision and pitch is magnified in an elimination game, and USA skipper Jim Leyland has more experience in that department than Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez. Leyland has won multiple elimination games in this tournament, and also led the Florida Marlins to a game seven win in the 1997 World Series.
Rodriguez is a respected and experienced manager in his own right, and was the manager of the Puerto Rican team in 2013 as well. After seeing his tournament end with a bitter shutout loss that year, Rodriguez will undoubtedly have his team well-prepared for this contest.
The WBC championship game will begin at 9:00 p.m.