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U.S. advances to WBC finals after defeating Japan 2-1

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The United States eked out a 2-1 victory over Japan in the World Baseball Classic semifinals on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. moves on to face Puerto Rico in the finals on Wednesday.

Andrew McCutchen broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning, singling in Christian Yelich who reached on a fielding error and advanced to second base when Eric Hosmer walked.

Japan wouldn’t respond until the bottom of the sixth when Ryosuke Kikuchi sneaked a solo home run over the right field fence, victimizing Nate Jones.

The U.S. took the lead for good in the eighth. With one out, Brandon Crawford singled and Ian Kinsler doubled, putting runners on second and third base. Adam Jones brought in the go-ahead run with a 5-3 ground out, giving the U.S. a 2-1 advantage.

Mark Melancon and Pat Neshek teamed up to get three outs in the eighth. In the ninth, Luke Gregerson got Sho Nakata and Hayato Sakamoto to ground out, then struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda to end the ballgame, sending the U.S. to the finals.

Japan won the first two World Baseball Classic tournaments, but will settle for a third-place finish in 2017. Puerto Rico was a runner-up in the 2013 tournament, losing to the Dominican Republic. The U.S. finished in fourth place in 2009.

The WBC final between the U.S. and Puerto Rico will be held at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, starting at 9:00 PM ET.

Yasiel Puig is still a free agent

Yasiel Puig
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Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.

There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.

The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.