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USA vs Japan Odds, Picks, Predictions | World Baseball Classic Finals Betting Preview

USA vs Japan Odds, Picks, Predictions | World Baseball Classic Finals Betting Preview article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout

USA vs. Japan

USA Odds-132
Japan Odds+108
Over/Under10.5 (-106 / -114)
Time7 p.m. ET
TV Fox Sports 1
Odds via FanDuel.

After two weeks and more than 40 games of drama, Japan and the United States are the only two nations remaining from the original 20 teams in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. On Tuesday night, the two baseball powers will vie for another WBC title (potentially Japan’s third and USA’s second).

The rivals have never met in the WBC Final, but Japan did eliminate USA in the semis en route to its 2009 championship, and the Americans returned the favor in a tense, 2-1 game in 2017.

Japan is undefeated in this tournament, and secured their trip to the final with a come-from-behind, walk-off, 6-5 win over Mexico on Monday.

USA — which has one loss this tournament, to Mexico — pulled a comeback of its own in the quarterfinals against Venezuela but had a much easier time in the semis on Monday, a 14-2 blowout of Cuba.

Below, I’ll provide my projections for Monday’s matchup (first pitch at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1) and utilize those projections to find an actionable betting edge for the game.

Statistical Comparison

Through six tournament games, here’s how Japan and the USA stack up, albeit against different levels of competition.

Using my pre-tournament power rankings, Japan faced six opponents with an average ranking of 12.8, while USA’s schedule average was 10.3. Moreover, the two teams played in different offensive environments.

USA was far more aggressive at the plate, swinging aggressively and producing more power than Japan, which is content to take pitches and work deep counts.

The teams saw similar results in pitching effectiveness and potential philosophy, with USA permitting more balls in play and relying on defense. At the same time, Japan has shown excellent command and control over the strike zone.

USA’s Projected Lineup and WBC Path

Whether it was awoken by an upset loss to Mexico or merely needed a couple of games to find their timing in Arizona, USA’s bats have been rolling for the past four games, scoring 38 runs on 46 hits.

The Americans have the pieces to torment a left-handed starter in Japan’s Shota Imanaga. Right-handed bats like Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tim Anderson, and Trea Turner own drastically superior splits against lefties compared to righties, and they are some of the best lefty-killers in MLB.

Moreover, USA can deploy elite pinch-hitters (Jeff McNeil) or pinch-runners (Bobby Witt Jr.) off the bench.

Merrill Kelly (3.64 xERA in 2022) is expected to start for USA. The righty had a breakout year last season after pitching coach Brent Strom arrived from Houston and reinvigorated the entire Diamondbacks pitching staff.

Still, Kelly owns fairly typical splits (3.28 xFIP vs. righties, 4.60 vs. lefties) and may struggle against the top of Japan’s lineup, which features five left-handed bats.

USA only has one left-handed reliever on their roster (Aaron Loup) and will need to rely on reverse-splits righties like Jason Adam or Ryan Pressly — or deploy left-handed starter Kyle Freeland out of the bullpen.

Manager Mark DeRosa will have his hands full attempting to navigate those five bats atop Japan’s order. Still, if he can successfully play the matchups, he might be able to keep Japan in check, because there is a significant drop off in potency from the top to the bottom of their lineup.

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Japan’s Projected Lineup and WBC Path

Instead of deploying Yu Darvish — or even Shohei Ohtani on five day’s rest — Japan will turn to Shota Imanaga, a 29-year-old southpaw for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and a future teammate of Trevor Bauer, who pitched to a 2.10 ERA last season across 24 starts (158 2/3 IP, 0.940 WHIP, 32 BB, 151 K) and tossed a no-hitter last season.

Advanced metrics like Imanaga’s fastball and USA should be prepared for him to use the pitch aggressively in the zone. Imanaga will emphasize his cutter against same-sided hitters and his splitter to neutralize the platoon advantage.

Japan will hope that he can get through USA’s lineup unscathed at least once and may lift him before a string of right-handed hitters.

Shōta Imanaga, 95mph ⛽️

— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 10, 2023

If Imanaga finds himself in early trouble, either Darvish (3.49 xERA in 2022) or Ohtani (2.68) will be the first man out of Japan’s bullpen. USA needs to construct its starting lineup for the left-handed Inamanga, but will have to pivot in the middle innings against some right-handed starters working in relief.

Japan mostly conserved its bullpen on Monday, turning to Atsuki Yuasa and Taisei Ota for 20 combined pitches. Back-to-back Sawamura winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto — who otherwise would have been a candidate to start the championship game — worked three innings in relief and saved Japan’s bullpen.

Japan’s offense has dominated the tournament, averaging 8.8 runs per game, and it has defeated its opponents by an average margin of more than six runs per game. Still, the first time Japan faced a team loaded with MLB-caliber players, it was in a competitive matchup.

While Japan’s lineup is loaded at the top, I prefer USA’s depth — both offensively and defensively — and view the Americans’ position player group as slightly superior overall.

And while I may give a slight starting pitching advantage to Japan, I prefer Team USA’s relievers, which project slightly better as an overall unit.

Japan’s primary advantage over the tournament field was starting pitching depth, and it was enough to see the team through to the final. Still, you can only throw one pitcher at a time, and depth is far less necessary with a fully rested bullpen.

Japan sees a lot of pitches and consistently takes good plate appearances on offense, but has some holes on the defensive end, particularly in the corner outfield and third base, where future MLB starts like Munetaka Murakami and Masataka Yoshida give back some of their offensive value.

Other position players likely to enter the mix include Tetsuto Yamada, who has started ahead of Maki at second base against southpaw starters or come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and catcher Yuhei Nakamura,

Projections, Price Targets, and Bets

I am firm on my price targets; that is the minimum price I need to place a bet.

Based on my projection, I bet USA’s moneyline (-125, Flat Risk 1u) at DraftKings and the Under 10.5 (-114, 0.25u) at FanDuel

I will update this column and post a note on Twitter if I add any additional bets before game time.

Bets: USA (-125, Flat Risk 1u) at DraftKings | Under 10.5 (-114, 0.25u) at FanDuel

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