Japan is once again set to take on Korea. This will mark the third time this WBC that the two teams meet.
Here are the pitching match-ups:
1-0, 2 G, 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 6 SO, 0.60 WHIP
Jung Keun Bong
1-0, 2 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0.60 WHIP
Japan and Korea have split the two games they have played: one was a blow-out win by Japan, the other a nail-biting 1-0 victory by Korea. The pitcher that started the nail-biter for Korea will get the start against Japan.
The first to score
I think the team that scores first will have the psychological advantage over the other.
I also think that...
...if Japan scores first, it most likely means that Ichiro is going to have a good day at the plate. And if Ichiro is on, Japan could end up scoring more than just a couple runs.
...if Korea scores first, it'll most likely mean that Darvish doesn't have his stuff. This isn't meant as any offense to the Korean hitters, it's just that when Darvish is really on, he can be extremely difficult to hit, but when he's off, he can be fairly easy to hit.
Keys for Japan to win
Against Korea, Ichiro's success at the plate will be much more important. Just take a look at how the team reacted in the two prior games: Ichiro led off the first game with a single and Japan scored 3 runs right off the bat. Ichiro grounds out to second in the first game and the next two hitters are retired on 2 pitches a piece. This is a very small sample size, but I don't think you can easily dismiss the psychological effects here.
If Ichiro does continue to struggle, the bottom of the line-up will have to pick up the slack (like it did against Cuba). If both Ichiro AND the bottom of the line-up get shut down, Korea will have shut down Japan's offense.
Japan will need to continue being aggressive on the base-paths. Their game against Cuba is a great example of what the running game can do to help set up scoring situations. Japan is a fast team and they need to take advantage of that. Players like Ichiro, Nakajima, and Aoki need to be thinking about stealing second the minute they step on first. And don't forget the power of the bunt.
Making the pitcher work will also be important for Japan -- the more they work, the more likely they'll make mistakes. Again, I can't really stress how great the Cuba game was for Japan and how they should use that as an example of how they should play every remaining game of the WBC.
Japan more or less pounded the inside corner against Korea during the first two match-ups. I'm not sure if this is real "weakness" or not, but I'd look for Japan to continue pounding the inside corner, at least until Korea proves that it can handle the inside corner. It's also possible that Japan takes the opposite course assuming that Korea will be more prepared to make contact on those inside pitches. I think the first few batters Darvish faces will help decide in which direction Japan pitchers will go.
Also, Darvish is a fairly easy pitcher to read, in terms of whether or not he's going to have a good or bad day. If he's spotting his pitchers early on, he should be good to go for 85 pitches. But early wildness usually isn't a good sign for Darvish, so if he isn't getting his pitches over for strikes, he'll probably end up being on short leash.
Other bits of news
Darvish made a 1 inning appearance against Korea during the second match-up and tossed 21 pitches. He also only threw two different types of pitches: the fastball (12) and slider (9).
Part of the reason for this was done to "hide" his other pitches -- there was a very good chance the two clubs would meet again and that Darvish would be making that start. Another reason is that he wasn't quite ready to show off his other pitches because he was still getting use to the WBC ball. After his practice start against the Cubs though, I think it's safe to say that he's feeling pretty good about his grip of the ball.
Like Darvish, Watanabe also made a 1 inning appearance against Korea (during their first match-up). And like Darvish, Watanabe also only threw 2 different types of pitches: the fastball (6) and the change (1). Neither of these pitches are considered Watanabe's bread and butter pitch though; the curve is his go to pitch.
For this reason, and because he has a fairly good record against Korea, Watanabe will probably be involved in the game in some shape or form.
Jung Keun Bong
Based on reports I've seen, Bong has a fastball that dives in to both lefties and righties. Scouting reports from his games in Korea apparently say that he's also primarily a change-up pitcher. But in his start against Japan, he relied quite a bit on his fastball. When asked why, he said that he felt his fastball was moving really well and that he wanted to use it.
Now during the regular season, his fastball is said to usually sits at about 89mph. But in the game against Japan, he actually touched 91-92 a number of times. That 2-3mph difference can be fairly large.
My feelings based on this information is that Japan was looking for a lot more change-ups from Bong but instead ended up seeing more fastballs. And the fastball they did see was much quicker (and had more movement) than they were expecting. But now that they've had a chance to see what he has (Bong faced 19 batters; 8 saw him twice and 1 saw him three times; 69 pitches), he probably won't get away with doing the same things he did in his last start.
To that end, Japan already has a plan: ignore pitches inside (which many were either weakly hit for grounders or pop ups) and focus on the outside pitches.
The news program I was just watching mentioned the media blitz in Korea regarding tonight's match-up. There was even one headline that apparently read something like:
You again? We'll beat you.
One paper even supposedly broke down Ichiro's swing and then came down to the conclusion that it's best to pound him with fastballs when you're ahead of the count.
Some other information
Potential Key Offensive Players (stats from the two games vs each other) Korea Kim, H 1-for-4, 2 BB, 2 SO Kim, T 3-for-7, 1 R, 3 RBI, 1 2B, 1 HR Lee, D 0-for-3, 4 BB Lee, Jin 1-for-2 Japan Ichiro 4-for-9, 3 R Iwamura 0-for-5, 2 BB, 3 SO Johjima 5-for-7, 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR Nakajima 4-for-7, 1 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 2B
March 7, 2009 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E JPN 3 5 0 1 2 2 1 x x 14 14 0 KOR 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 x x 2 4 1 Japan IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Matsuzaka (W, 1-0) 4.0 4 2 2 2 1 1 4.50 Watanabe 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 Sugiuchi 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 Iwata 1.0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0.00 Korea IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Kim, K (L, 0-1) 1.1 7 8 8 2 3 1 54.00 Jong 1.1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.00 Jang, W 2.1 4 3 2 3 2 0 7.71 Lee, Jae 2.0 3 3 3 0 1 1 13.50
March 9, 2009 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E KOR 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 0 JPN 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 Korea IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Bong (W, 1-0) 5.1 3 0 0 0 2 0 0.00 Jong (H, 1) 1.2 2 0 0 0 3 0 0.00 Ryu (H, 1) 0.1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0.00 Lim (S, 1) 1.2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.00 Japan IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Iwakuma (L, 0-1) 5.1 2 1 1 3 5 0 1.69 Sugiuchi 0.2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0.00 Mahara 1.0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 Darvish 1.0 1 0 0 1 3 0 0.00 Yamaguchi 0.0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.00 Fujikawa 1.0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0.00