In order for Japan to beat Cuba, I think Japan will have to focus on a number of things.
Incidentally, and this has nothing to do with the game, but I decided to stay awake for fear that I might oversleep and miss the start of the game. Wonder if I'll actually be able to last...
Focus on small ball
Japan will not be able to beat Cuba with power. If they try, Japan will lose miserably.
Aggressive on the base paths
From what I've been reading and hearing, it sounds like Japan will load the line-up with speed, going with players like Kawasaki and Kataoka. If we take the starting line-up Hara sent up against the San Francisco Giants, Japan will have their usual speedy top 3 and then a potentially pesky and speedy number 9.
Japan didn't really do much runner during the first round (only 3 steals) and I'm hoping that this will change starting from the second round.
And of course, by being more aggressive on the base paths, two things can:
- You could rush the defense
- You could rush the pitchers
Doing these things probably won't win anyone any awards, but they are exactly the things Japan needs to do in order to win.
Remember: small ball.
Top three batters hold the key
The top three batters will continue to be important for Japan. Not having Nakajima in the 2 hole could end up hurting Japan (especially since he also sees a lot of pitches and walks), but as long the top three hitters make the pitcher work and find a way to get on base, I think the rest will fall into place.
And it goes without saying, Ichiro will once again be key in setting the mood for the offense. He really needs to get on base.
Since the strike zone could be a factor in this round, I think it will be important for Japan to "zone in" on certain areas and forget about trying to hit pitches outside of that zone.
Depending on how much control Cuba's pitchers have, it might also be important to stay aggressive and attack the ball early in the count.
Japan also shouldn't be afraid to scratch for hits by dropping a bunt of two. The key is to get runners on base and to keep the inning going.
Paying attention to Cuba's defense and executing plays based on how they are set in the field could help buy Japan a hit or two.
Miscellaneous offensive numbers
Iwamura is 0-for-9. He did manage to pick up a couple of hits in the two practice games against the Giants and Cubs, so hopefully he's begun to turn a corner.
Michihiro Ogasawara is 1-for-11. He also managed to pick up a couple of hits against the Giants and Cubs, so perhaps he's beginning to turn the corner.
Atsunori Inaba is 1-for-8. He was pretty hot during the practice games prior to the start of the WBC, but has since grown cold. He went 0-for-3 (2 K, 1 BB) against the Giants and Cubs, making him 0 for his last 7 (which includes 4 strike outs).
G AB R H D T HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS 3 97 18 25 5 0 3 15 39 13 18 3 0 .342* .402* .258* .744*
*Only the Netherlands has worse numbers.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will now have 85 pitches to work with. But since Matsuzaka tends to throw a lot of pitches, the bullpen will also probably be active. How deep Matsuzaka can go might ultimately determine whether or not Japan beats Cuba.
NOTE: Matsuzaka managed to go 4 innings while using 65 pitches during his last start against Korea.
There were a few interesting comments in a show I was watching this morning that mentioned Cuba's hitters being fairly quick to make adjustments to pitchers. Because of this, it might behoove Japan to keep a short leash on all their relievers and yank them after an inning or two of work.
Interesting options out of the pen
Shunsuke Watanabe could be a good pitcher to turn to immediately after Matsuzaka -- his side-arm delivery could mess with Cuba's timing. But he might be best suited in a righty-righty match-up.
Hisashi Iwakuma held opponents to 3 home runs last season, fewest in the PL. The fact that he tends to keep his pitches down, coupled with a good fork ball (when it's working), could help neutralize Cuba's offense. Iwakuma could be a very interesting option should Matsuzaka leave the game early.
W L ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR HB BB SO WHIP HLD GF 2 1 1.08 3 3 0 1 0 25.0 13 3 3 1 1 11 16 0.96 1 3