ITALY – With the finish line at the 2009 IBAF Baseball World Cup in sight, the only thing certain is that Team USA is in all likelihood one win away from advancing to the Gold medal matchup on Sunday. But the race between Cuba and the Netherlands remain a heated contest with three games remaining in the final round.
The Cubans plated two early runs against Australia and then leaned on their standout pitching corps to stay in the hunt for the World Cup crown. The Dutch teed off against Taiwan and now will embark on a tough three-game set against a trio of solid squads (Australia, Canada and USA)
Canada still has a remote chance at reaching the title game. The Maple Leafs, who need the United States to drop their final three games, must run the table against Venezuela, the Netherlands, and Cuba. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.
Here’s a look at Wednesday’s World Cup matchups.
UNITED STATES (4-0;10-1) vs PUERTO RICO (2-2;8-3)
Team USA can all but wrap up a berth in Sunday’s title game with a win over an inconsistent Puerto Rican group. But that might be easier said than done. Puerto Rico struggled to beat lightweights Great Britain (5-4) and South Korea (3-2), but knocked off Cuba (5-2). Now, the big question is if this squad can rebound quickly after a heartbreaking loss to Canada? The Americans feature a bevy of offensive contributors, and a talented cast of starting pitchers that have successfully masked a suspect bullpen. Winning 10 games in a row is never easy – claiming 14 wins in a row (and the Gold medal) is an even more daunting task.
CHINESE TAIPEI (1-3;6-5) vs CUBA (3-1;10-1)
The Big Red Machine will be looking to get back on track with the lumber after Australian starter Dushan Ruzic retired the final 17 batters on Tuesday. Alfredo Despaigne, whose two-run dinger was the only offense Cuba could muster up against the giant 6’8″ Aussie right-hander, has cracked seven long balls while hitting at a .447 clip. Taiwan has struggled at the plate against quality pitching, and the Cubans have a surplus of talented arms. This game might be close early, but expect Esteban Lombillo’s squad to finish strong with a barrage of extra-base hits.
NETHERLANDS (3-1;7-1) vs AUSTRALIA (1-3;7-4)
The tough-luck Aussies will be looking to stay in the hunt for a medal when coach Jon Deebles’ squad meet the Dutch in a key World Cup matchup on Wednesday. Australia, which has surrendered just 14 runs in their last five games, should pose a big threat to a Dutch squad whose pitching depth will be tested with upcoming games against Canada and the United States. Middle infielder Hainley Statia looks more polished at the plate than in previous stints with the Orange and Black, and SF Giants farmhand Sharlon Shoop has upgraded the Dutch offensive lineup in a significant way. Still, Australia needs a win in a bad way and should scalp a solid Dutch team.
CANADA (2-2;9-2) vs VENEZUELA (0-4;6-5)
Pitching – not hitting – has the Canadians on course for a medal in this year’s World Cup. Take away the 35 runs that Canada posted against the Netherlands Antilles and Italy, and Ernie Whitt’s group averaged just three scores an outing in the second round. However, the Maple Leafs allowed just a whisker more than four runs a game on the mound while limiting four second round opponents to three runs or less. Don’t be fooled by Venezuela’s record. This remains a dangerous foe for opposing teams and Canada’s medal hopes will suffer a severe blow if Rene Tosoni and Co. strand too many runners in scoring position.
FINAL ROUND SCHEDULE:
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
Cuba 2 – Australia 1
Canada 3 – Puerto Rico 0
United States 6 – Venezuela 3
Netherlands 11 – Chinese Taipei 2
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
Canada (G) vs Venezuela (F)
Australia (G) vs Netherlands (F)
Puerto Rico (F) vs United States (G)
Chinese Taipei (G) vs Cuba (F)
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
United States (G) vs Cuba (F)
Chinese Taipei (G) vs Puerto Rico (F)
Canada (G) vs Netherlands (F)
Venezuela (F) vs Australia (G)
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
Cuba (G) vs Canada (F)
Venezuela (F) vs Chinese Taipei (G)
Australia (G) vs Puerto Rico (F)
Netherlands (F) vs United States (G)
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
Pool F 4th Place vs Pool G 4th Place (7th-8th Place Game)
Pool F 3rd Place vs Pool G 3rd Place (5th-6th Place Game)
Pool F 2nd Place vs Pool G 2nd Place (3rd-4th Place Game)
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
Pool F 1st Place vs Pool G 1st Place (Championship Game)
Photo courtesy of Marco Vasini/IBAF
Marvin Moore is a former European coach and the Managing Editor at BaseballdeWorld.