Japan is now 1-2 against Korea in this year's WBC tournament. More and more it looks like Korea is solidifying itself as the team to beat.
So why did Korea win tonight?
First, and foremost, Korea was the first team to score. They took advantage of Darvish's wild start and quickly plated 3 runs in the first.
Second, they were aggressive on the base paths. Give credit to Korea's lead-off hitter, Yong-Kyu Lee for singling and then immediately stealing second. Lee set the tone for Korea's offense and made Darvish's wildness stand out even more.
Third, they contained the top of the order. Suzuki, Kataoka, and Aoki went a combined 0-for-10 -- throw in Kawasaki's AB and it's 0-for-11.
This is just inexecusable.
Fourth, Japan kept giving up free passes. Whether or not this was Korea working on Japanese pitchers or Japanese pitchers just not having any control, I'm not sure, but Japan walked 7 pitchers over 8 innings.
THIS is also quite inexcusable.
And of the 35 batters Japan faced, 17 of them started with balls (including an intentional walk). Also of note: 6 different pitchers combined to throw 151 pitches and only 85 were for strikes. Compare that to Korea's 134 pitches and 87 strikes.
And fifth, Japan simply couldn't figure out how to get a hit off Bong. I was hoping that Japan would make better use of the data they culled during their last game against Bong, but apparently they couldn't. Bong continued to baffle Samurai Japan with his sneaky fastball and change.
Of the 16 outs he recorded, 12 were groundouts, 3 were flyouts, and he had 1 strike out.
There were a couple of questionable moves by Hara during the game, but I think this loss goes a lot deeper than that.
I think these games against Korea are really starting to take a toll on Japan. Most of the players seem tired of having to face them. On the other side, you've got Korea constantly getting revved up for these games and looking as if they want it more than Japan. I think emotionally and mentally, Korea has been a lot more prepared than Japan in these last two games.
The question Japan now faces is, what's the pitching situation going to be like against Cuba. And then if they proceed, who goes against Korea?
Iwakuma will most likely get the starting nod against Cuba. Both Matsuzaka and Darvish can't pitch in this round any more. All the relievers that came into the game today are eligible to play against Cuba, but put them in tomorrow and they won't be able to go against Korea.
But then, all Japan really has to do is win tomorrow in order to advance, so it's entirely possible they go all out tomorrow and then just go with what they have left against Korea.
Here's to hoping that Japan rebounds from this loss tonight against Korea and can at least play a competitive game against Cuba tomorrow. The last thing I want to see is Japan go off quietly into the night.