After opening Pool D action with an upset win over the Dominican Republic, Venezuela ran through the rest of its schedule to finish undefeated through four games.
Its reward for a perfect run to open the tournament?
A quarter-final matchup with a star-studded USA team that finished second in Pool C with a 3-1 record. Watch the game on SN ONE and SN NOW at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.
As the World Baseball Classic moves into its win-or-go-home rounds, games cannot be taken for granted, as only powerhouse teams remain with established talent lining each roster.
Contrary to expectations, the Americans did not dominate. However, they still come into the quarterfinals winners of two straight after dropping their highly anticipated game with Mexico.
As the USA tries to repeat as WBC champions, a Venezuelan team that has allowed the fewest runs in the tournament and gotten timely hitting stands in its way.
Projected Pitching Matchup
After getting the start and outdueling reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara in Venezuela’s opening win over the Dominicans, Martín Pérez will be tasked with shutting down another MLB All-Star-level lineup on Saturday.
The Texas Rangers’ lefty threw 3.1 innings, allowing just three hits and one run, setting the table for Venezuela’s win.
The 31-year-old is coming off the best MLB season of his career, in which he posted a 2.89 ERA and was named to his first All-Star team.
Getting the ball on the other side for the USA will be Chicago White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn.
Lynn is coming off a dominating outing of his own, allowing only three Canadian baserunners in five innings of work while striking out six.
Of course, starting pitching will be important for both sides, especially with the WBC pitch-count limits expanding from 65 to 80 for the quarterfinals. But the bullpens could decide the outcome of the game, and the advantage may belong to Venezuela.
Despite both teams featuring a strong group of relievers, the USA bullpen was slightly worse in pool play, allowing nine runs in 19.1 innings in its opening four games, while Venezuela’s relievers held their Pool D opponents to just five runs in 22 innings.
2B Jose Altuve
1B Luis Arraez
CF Ronald Acuña Jr.
C Salvador Perez
RF Anthony Santander
DH Miguel Cabrera
SS Andrés Giménez
3B Eugenio Suarez
LF David Peralta
RF Mookie Betts
CF Mike Trout
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
DH Pete Alonso
LF Kyle Tucker
2B Tim Anderson
C J.T. Realmuto
SS Trea Turner
Key Players to Watch
For the Venezuelans, one player to continue to watch will be Baltimore Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander. The 28-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters in the World Baseball Classic, slashing .462/.533/1.154 with two home runs and five RBI.
In his MLB career against Lynn, Santander is 1-for-5, with that one hit being a home run, so he could very well be in line to continue his success in Miami.
On the USA side, Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts has struggled atop the order, collecting only four singles in 17 at-bats.
However, Betts holds a pretty impressive track record against Pérez, having gone 6-for-14 in his career against the southpaw, with two doubles and a home run.
The matchup of the Venezuela bullpen and the Americans lineup later in the game will be a storyline to watch as well.
Outside of its 12-run explosion against Canada, the U.S. lineup has slightly underwhelmed – compared to expectations – piecing together 14 runs in its other three games. And with Venezuela holding relief options such as Jose Alvarado, Carlos Hernández and Luis Garcia, late-game runs might be tough to come by on Saturday night.
The winner moves on to the semifinals, where Cuba is waiting after knocking off Australia, 4-3.
Cuba won Pool A after going 2-2 and winning the five-way tiebreaker.
It started Yariel Rodriguez in its win over Australia and might send 34-year-old righty Elian Leyva to the mound for the semifinals. Leyva started one game in pool play and held Chinese Taipei scoreless through 2.1 innings of work, with four strikeouts.
The semifinal will be played on Sunday night in front of what promises to be an electric crowd in Miami.