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LA Consequential! Classic semis tonight, Tuesday

Hollywood setting fits, as two of tourney's top storylines converge in first semifinal @philgrogers

Go ahead. Catch your breath.

Following the exhilarating, draining way in which Team USA advanced to Dodger Stadium late Saturday night, with Adam Jones sailing into the California night to give manager Jim Leyland's team its signature victory, the schedule-makers kindly built a day of rest into the schedule for the World Baseball Classic.

Go ahead. Catch your breath.

Following the exhilarating, draining way in which Team USA advanced to Dodger Stadium late Saturday night, with Adam Jones sailing into the California night to give manager Jim Leyland's team its signature victory, the schedule-makers kindly built a day of rest into the schedule for the World Baseball Classic.

Anyone participating in or closely following the Classic must need it because the journey from Seoul, Korea, to Dodger Stadium has been quite a ride for all 16 teams. Now it's down to the Final 4, with Team USA looking for its first title in the event and Japan, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands trying to stop it.

4 teams, 3 games, 1 champ: Classic heads to LA

It's lose and go home from here on out, and no team has handled this format better than Japan. It won the inaugural Classic in 2006 and repeated in '09, and is trying to get the magic back again.

The first semifinal will be played tonight (9 p.m. ET on MLB.TV and MLB Network), featuring two teams who epitomize both the Classic itself and the growth of baseball around the globe. Team USA will then take on Japan in the other semifinal matchup on Tuesday at 9 p.m., with the winners of the two semis facing off for the title on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

USA set for showdown with two-time champ Japan

There are two questions to weigh before settling in to watch the Netherlands-Puerto Rico semifinal.

The first is can anyone stop Wladimir Balentien and the high-octane lineup from the Netherlands? Even without Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who left the team Monday due to an injured shoulder, the Dutch lineup is imposing. The other is when was the last time you saw a game with infields that are better defensively than the ones anchored by Puerto Rico's Francisco Lindor and the Netherlands' Andrelton Simmons?

It's the beautiful thing about this intriguing event.

There are some qualities you can see coming, like the quality of these infields, and some storylines, like Balentien being the most productive hitter in a cast that includes the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Nolan Arenado and Robinson Cano, that you just have to see to believe.

"I would like to play 162 games with these guys, because this is a special moment," said Puerto Rico's Carlos Correa, who has moved to third base in a nod to Lindor's brilliance. "We love each other, we take care of each other. We've got each other's back. We are having an incredible moment. I have to go back to Spring Training [when this is over], but this is something very special."

Video: Carlos Correa discusses Team Puerto Rico's momentum

Correa has got that right.

The Classic gets better every time it's held. If you haven't noticed, then check out Monday night's semifinal between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico needs a victory to move on to the championship game for the second consecutive time in this event, which can be maddening for the teams that don't go the distance.

While it would have been great to see teams like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Korea, Venezuela, Mexico or Israel at Chavez Ravine, can you beat a matchup like Puerto Rico -- with Javier Baez's warrior markings and all those bottle blondes -- going against the one entry representing Europe?

Dutch baseball has a history going back to 1905 and is using some truly homegrown pitchers to back a lineup built around Major League islanders like Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar and Simmons.

This Kingdom of the Netherlands team was a huge surprise when it knocked off the Dominican Republic to reach the second round in 2009, but it has backed up that success by twice advancing to the championship round.

"This kind of success, it's not a secret anymore," said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens, who is the Giants' hitting coach. "These guys are proven Major League stars, and hopefully we can win a [couple] more games."

Video: NED@CUB: Meulens on 14-1 win over Cuba

Puerto Rico will be disappointed with anything less than two more victories, which would give it the championship.

It was beaten by the Dominican Republic in the 2013 championship game and has gone 6-0 this year, sweeping the round-robin format in its two pools in Jalisco, Mexico, and San Diego.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

When this roll began with an 11-0, mercy-rule stunner against Venezuela, it was a lineup including Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Correa, Lindor and Baez that had our attention. But Edwin Rodriguez's pitchers have been a trump card, allowing only 15 runs to this point.

The highlight was a 3-1 victory over the Dominican Republic last Tuesday at Petco Park. Well-traveled right-hander Orlando Roman and the Twins' Hector Santiago outpitched Carlos Martinez and Hector Neris, both of whom begin 2017 on the All-Star watch list.

"After every game we play as a team, the confidence [keeps] getting better and better," Rodriguez said. "Not only winning, but also the quality of the teams that we've been beating. I mean, we faced Dominican, we faced Venezuela, we faced United States. Quality teams. ... We feel very confident going to L.A. right now."

Video: USA@PUR: Rodriguez on Puerto Rico's confidence, win

Beware Balentien. The 32-year-old outfielder from Curacao last played in a Major League game in 2009, but he is on a mission to get a second chance, like the Brewers have granted first baseman Eric Thames after his turn as a star in Korea. Balentien is 13-for-22 with three home runs and a WBC '17-high 10 RBIs for the Netherlands, which went 4-2 in pool play in Seoul and Tokyo.

Video: JPN@NED: Balentien crushes two-run shot off foul pole

While the Dutch lineup includes Major Leaguers Bogaerts, Schoop and Profar, it's the Yakult Swallows' Balentien who has earned the cleanup spot. This is no surprise to fans of the Japanese Central League, who cheered Balentien as he hit 60 home runs in 2013.

Balentien was 3-for-4 and homered twice in the Netherlands' last game, a 14-1 elimination-game victory over Cuba last Tuesday. He said he tried to view every at-bat "like it's my last one."

Jorge Lopez, a 24-year-old right-hander who is ranked as the Brewers' No. 13 prospect by, will get the first chance to stop Balentien. Rodriguez said he'll start on Monday, with the Twins' Hector Santiago and Jose Berrios behind him.

Video: PUR@MEX: Lopez fans five over 4 1/3 inning vs. Mexico

Meulens chose Rick Van Den Hurk to start against Puerto Rico from a trio of options, which also included Dutch league veteran Diegomar Markwell, who shut down Cuba, and former Major Leaguer Jair Jurrjens. Van Den Hurk, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2012, has allowed five runs (all earned) on 10 hits and four walks over seven innings in two starts for the Dutch. 

Meulens will also have a huge new option for the late innings.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was a catcher on the 2009 Netherlands team that upset the Dominican Republic. He's arrived from Arizona and will be available to pitch in the semifinals and, if Balentien has anything to say about it, the championship game. So Puerto Rico better do its damage early.

Video: Jansen on playing for Netherlands in the Classic

This is going to be fun.

The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at

Phil Rogers is a columnist for


United States, Puerto Rico, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Japan