By Julian Guilarte
World Baseball Network
At the last World Baseball Classic in 2017, Marcus Stroman threw six no-hit innings of the championship game for Team USA against Puerto Rico.
Stroman won the MVP of that World Baseball Classic. But this year, Stroman will join team Puerto Rico as their likely ace.
Stroman’s father was born in the United States, but his mother is Puerto Rican, and the pitcher has had an interesting journey these past few years. Can he help guide this inexperienced pitching staff in a difficult pool and get them back into position to win the World Baseball Classic?
Pool D will be stacked at the top with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Puerto Rico will have to overcome at least one of them to advance to the single-elimination tournament. Stroman looked like he was set to become one of the premier pitchers in MLB at age 25 after his dominant performance in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was a Toronto Blue Jay at the time, and had pitched 361 innings with 295 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.91. Stroman was never a strikeout specialist and that hasn’t changed during his time with the New York Mets, and now, the Chicago Cubs.
He got traded to the Mets in 2017 and signed with the Cubs last offseason. From 2017-22, he pitched 805 innings with 677 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.49. His strikeouts per nine innings went from 7.3 during 2014-16 to 7.6 in 2017-22. His FIP increased from 3.38 to 3.75 during that same time period.
Stroman seems to have plateaued at this point, at 31, his career ERA is 3.66 and his WAR is 20.3. Stroman is not an Major League ace, but he’s a solid No. 2 pitcher on a good day in an MLB rotation.
For this Puerto Rican team, Stroman is their best starting pitcher, and he will be followed up by Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher José Berríos. In the bullpen, Mets closer Edwin Díaz is their anchor, and his brother, Cincinnati Reds pitcher relief pitcher Alexis Diaz, will provide tremendous help. Minnesota Twins reliever Emilio Pagan will provide a nice veteran presence for PR. Berrios and Diaz have pitched the last two World Baseball Classics, and Pagan pitched in 2017.
‘‘I’m big into intuition, so it just felt right. Felt like I needed to play for Puerto Rico. I’m excited to play for Puerto Rico and represent my mother’s side,” Stroman told Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times ofhis decision to play for Puerto Rico before the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals game in St. Louis on August 4.
Stroman wants to show Puerto Rico what they missed out on in the last tournament and wants to make his mother’s side of the family proud. Berrios will be the second starter behind him, and he will look to rebound after a rough season where he posted an ERA of 5.23. Jose De León is expected to be the third starter. He pitched five years in the majors last for the Cincinnati Reds. The 30-year-old posted an ERA of 2.08 in 47 innings with Criollo de Caguas in the Liga Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente.
Puerto will need to rely on their bullpen to get a lot of outs. Edwin Díaz will be the key. He was the best closer in MLB last season. Diaz pitched 62 innings with 118 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.31. He almost had two strikeouts per inning, with a staggering 17.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Diaz shut the door with 32 saves and made the Timmy Trumpet’s song “Narcos” famous as his entrance music.
Puerto Rico will hope for a lot from Stroman and Diaz to lead them to the promised land.