2017 WBC: Dutch headed to semis after routing Cuba
Stacked with Major League stars, the Netherlands were a team to watch heading into the World Baseball Classic. Now the Dutch will make a return trip to the semifinals, and their lineup is clicking.
A 14-1 win in seven innings over Cuba on Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome left the Netherlands with a 2-1 record in Pool E. And with Japan's 8-3 win over Israel, the Netherlands will advance to next week's final round at Dodger Stadium.
Former Major Leaguer Wladimir Balentien homered twice and drove in five runs for the Netherlands, which scored in double-digits the last two games and finished Wednesday's game in seven innings because of the early-termination rule. Jurickson Profar of the Rangers had three hits, and 36-year-old left-hander Diegomar Markwell allowed one run in six innings
"All I asked was they not take anything for granted and that they just play hard, the way we did against Israel," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "We feel great. We've played great all tournament. We could actually be 6-0 right now. We feel great about our chances."
The Netherlands scored 11 runs in three games in the first round and followed it up by scoring 32 runs in Pool E.
Cuba was runner-up in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, losing in the final to Japan. But the Cuban roster has been weakened by players leaving for the Major Leagues, and this year's team lost all three of its games in the second round.
"Our first goal in the tournament was to make it through the first round, and we did that," Cuba manager Carlos Marti said. "Today, the Netherlands offense just attacked our pitchers. The Netherlands offense was too strong for our pitchers."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Coco's a hometown hero: Balentien, who played three seasons in MLB with the Mariners and Reds, has spent the last six seasons in Japan with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The Swallows play down the road at Jingu Stadium, but Balentien has made himself at home this week at the Tokyo Dome. His two-homer game against Cuba left him 8-for-13 in Pool E, with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
"I want to show everyone I can be the player I was when I was younger," the 32-year-old outfielder said. "Hopefully this will open a couple more doors for me, maybe, going back to the States. But I'm happy I'm having a great tournament right now."
Balentien told Meulens before the game that he would hit a home run in his first two at-bats.
"I really meant it," he said. "At the time, I was joking, but inside I meant it. I wanted to hit a home run."
Profar stars again: The Rangers plan for Profar to play multiple positions this season, but he has been a full-time center fielder for the Netherlands. He's been been a big-time hitter, too, going 12-for-23 with six extra-base hits through six games of the tournament. Meulens had Profar hitting third for a second straight game, and Profar responded with three hits vs. Cuba.
"He's proven to the world what kind of player he is," Meulens said.
Making his mark: While the Netherlands has plenty of Major League position players, the Dutch are a little short on top-flight pitching. After starting former Major Leaguers Rick van den Hurk and Jair Jurrjens in the first two games of the second round, they gave Wednesday's start to Markwell, who never made it beyond Double-A and has spent the last 10 years playing in the Dutch league. Markwell gave the Netherlands all it could have hoped for, allowing just two hits through the first four innings before giving up a run on Victor Mesa's two-out double in the fifth.
Quick turnaround: Cuba caught a tough break with the schedule, which gave the team only about 13 hours between the final out of their 8-5 loss to Japan and the first pitch of its game against the Netherlands. The Dutch had a similar quick turnaround before their first-round meeting with Israel, but they had already clinched advancement to the second round.
"Yes, we played a day game after a night game, but that's not an acceptable excuse," Marti said.
"I think the Netherlands is growing up. They have younger players, and they have a bright future. Many of them have a good future in Major League Baseball, and they have players with experience, too." -- Marti
"It's not a secret anymore. These guys are proven Major League stars. Hopefully we can win two more games." -- Meulens
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