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Seven-inning games at WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup: A new era in international baseball and boost to competitive balance

Seven-inning games at WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup: A new era in international baseball and boost to competitive balance
25/09/2021
With two less innings per game, pitching depth might not be a huge factor anymore in international baseball events.

In January 2019, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) approved some important changes regarding international tournaments. Among them, Baseball World Cups would shift from nine innings to seven innings across the board -- except for the six-inning U-12 Baseball World Cup -- in an innovative decision aimed at boosting the competition level and reducing the length of international baseball games.

The first taste of this revolutionary change arrived on Thursday, with the start of the WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup held in Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon, Mexico. U-23 managers have thus far reacted positively to the move, which has created the need for revised game strategies and action from start to finish.

Two of the top three ranked nations in the tournament were stunned in their debuts in the U-23 Baseball World Cup. World No. 16 Czech Republic clinched a historic 5-1 win over No. 5 Mexico, the defending world champions, while No. 14 Nicaragua knocked off No. 2 Korea, 6-4.

"Seven-inning games are very different from the usual nine-inning games,” said Czech manager Vladimir Chlup, after his team’s stunning victory over defending U-23 world champion, Mexico. “You can rotate pitchers in a different way, saving a lot of energy.”

With two less innings per game, pitching depth might not be a huge factor anymore in international baseball events, which has been a major hurdle for up-and-coming nations, like those in Europe and Africa.

A complete-game dominant performance by Colombia’s starter Elkin Alcala proves it. He needed just 69 pitches, 54 for strikes, to complete seven innings in his team’s victory against the higher-ranked Panama, 7-1. Czech Republic used only one reliever in the game.

The move to seven-inning games also means pitchers on pitch-count restrictions from their professional clubs can now pitch a higher percentage of the game, arguably boosting the integrity of the international game.

"We have 50% of the roster made of players under contract with MLB organisations, (but) it was hard to get permission for the pitchers," Colombia U-23 National Team Manager Jose Mosquera told media at the pre-tournament press conference.

Seven-inning games can place immediate pressure on the managers from start to finish, pressing the action and strategy. “When you score early, you have a bigger chance to win," commented Chlup.

Seven-inning games also add schedule flexibility to a 10-day international event, which traditionally has a small margin for delays and rainouts. It also gives more rest to teams and players, who previously had to play nine games within a 10-day stretch to win the world title for their countries.

It’s still early in the era of seven-inning games, but it’s been a great start for a decision that could change the way international baseball is played, which could have ripple effects in leagues around the world.