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WBC: USA vs Japan – some pre-game thoughts

by on Mar.22, 2009 @ 2:38 pm, under WBC

For a view from the US, take a look at Mike's pre-game notes.

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I haven't had the chance to watch any games featuring the US so I don't feel confident about providing any in-depth commentary on what Japan needs to do in order to win today's game, but here are my thoughts on the game nonetheless.

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Daisuke Matsuzaka's MLB experience makes his selection to start the game a no-brainer. Couple that with Kenji Johjima's knowledge of the MLB and you've got a pretty good battery mate to face off against the US.

Japan also has 3 other players on the roster with MLB experience: Ichiro Suzuki, Akinori Iwamura, and Kosuke Fukudome. You can bet all of these guys are giving the rest of the team as much information as they can about the opponents they'll be facing.

The one potential downside here is that they only have one player from the NL.

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Japan's pitching staff owns a 1.20 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP over 60 innings of work. And in those 60 innings of work, they've scattered 36 hits, walked 21, and struck out 54. Of the 3 teams remaining, they have given up the least amount of home runs (2).

The only knock on the pitching staff is the walk. And interestingly enough, in the two games Japan has lost in the WBC, the pitchers collectively walked 14 batters. 14! That's 14 batters over 17 innings of work.

And that means they've only walked 7 over the other 43 innings.

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The offense is slowing improving. Take a look at the numbers from the first and second rounds:

        1R    2R
AVG    .258  .307
OBP    .342  .382
SLG    .402  .372
R/G     6.0   4.5
AB/BB   5.4   6.5
AB/K    7.5   9.1
R/BR   .474  .300

On top of this, Ichiro and Norichika Aoki have finally begun working together at the top of the line-up -- over their last 2 games they have combined to go 12-for-20 with 4 runs and 3 RBI. If these two players continue to hit and create situations, Japan should be in pretty good shape.

Iwamura, who was held hitless in the first round, has also started to heat up. In the second round he went 6-for-12 with 3 runs and 4 walks.

Johjima, on the other hand, has cooled off a bit: 4-for-14 in the second round, and 2 for his last 10.

And it's really too bad about Shuichi Murata because he was having a pretty decent second round (5-for-13 with 2 runs and 2 RBIs) when he went down with a hamstring injury.

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It was nice to see Japan getting aggressive on the base paths during the second round. They stole 6 bases (caught three times and picked off twice, a byproduct of their aggressiveness) in the second round compared to the 3 they stole in the first round.

The team was also starting to do more of the little things in the second round, like moving runners over and dropping bunts down.

Since this team has very little power (now even less since Murata is gone) it'll be extremely important for them to continue manufacturing runs by doing the little things.

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Japan was flawless on the field during the first round. They made some really great plays on the field that helped out their pitchers more often than not. But a change in playing surface and going from a dome to an open air stadium seemed to really mess with Japan's fielding as the team committed 6 errors over 4 games in the second round.

The last thing Japan needs is to give the US extra opportunities because of miscues on the field.

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It'll be interesting to see how Japan ultimately ends up using Yu Darvish. From some of the reports I've read and news programs I've seen, it appears as though Japan will throw out everything it can against the US. Makes sense, but then you also don't want to throw out all your options and be left with none should you advance.

And that's where things become a little grey. Do you trot him out there for 30+ pitches? Or do you limit him to 29 so that he can pitch again the next day?

I know one thing for sure: I won't want to be Hara if Darvish is in the game and comes out after 29 pitches and the next pitcher called in stinks up the joint.