Just got back in. What a game. As bad as it was that Japan lost, it was a pretty exciting game. It would have been better if Japan had won, but this isn't over yet, so I'm not that sad.
That said, this is a game that really should have been won by Japan. The pitching did a great job keeping the team in the game. And the defense was sparkling through out the entire game. This game was SCREAMING to be won by Japan. But the offense was absolutely putrid.
So what exactly went wrong?
First, I'm not quite sure why Hara decided to change the line-up from the first Japan/Korea game. Hey, it worked and it scored 14 runs, why not go with it again tonight when you have another lefty on the hill again?
But I suppose this is a moot point since it was only a difference between Ogasawara and Inaba DH'ing in the 5 hole. Still, I would have just played the same exact line-up.
Second, the hitters weren't taking enough pitches. Bong, the starting pitcher, managed to last 5.1 innings while throwing only 69 pitches.
Nakajima is a great example of this:
Nakajima AB 3/7 3/9 1st 3 2 2nd 8 4 3rd 7 4 4th 3 2 5th 5 - ============== 26 12
Things got even worse the later innings as players started pressing to get on base. There were even a couple of players that were trying to tie the game in one swing.
This isn't what Japan's offense is about. Japan isn't going to knock any one down with their power. This team is about small ball -- getting on base, moving runners, sacrificing for runs. The minute Japan gets away from that, the minute this offense no longer works.
Third, Ichiro. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Ichiro is the player that sets the tone for the entire offense. It might be going a bit far when I say that the offense looks to Ichiro to see how good a pitcher is, but I think there's something to be said when your "best" hitter can't get the ball out of the infield.
Fourth, the other sleeping bats. Iwamura is now 0-for-9. Ogasawara is 1-for-11. And Inaba, who was red hot during the exhibition games, has cooled off significantly and is now 1-for-8. The hero from the first Korea/Japan game, Murata, also went 0-for-4 in the game (with 2 strike outs). So four different batters accounted for almost half of the outs and none of the hits in the game (0-for-13).
What needs to happen moving forward?
If Japan is going to advance, they need to re-group and re-focus. They need to get back to working the count and making the pitcher work.
Ichiro also needs to figure out how to break out of this funk he's in. Take out the first game against Korea and he's only got 1 hit in 9 trips to the plate. Whether it means he tries to take more pitches (which I don't really see happening), volunteering / demanding that his order in the lineup be changed (this probably won't happen either), or trying to bunt to get on base, Ichiro needs to figure out a way to get on base.
I don't want to put all the resposibility on Ichiro's shoulders, but if he doesn't get going, Japan's exit could be fast and quiet.