Day 2 of the World Baseball Classic gave us the debut of both the vaunted Cuban National Team and of the not-so-vaunted Chinese team. We also got to see Japan, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, and Brazil all in action for a second time. "See" being a subjective term relating to how much you like sleep. From a distance it looked like we had two pretty lopsided mistmatches and one exciting game, but it turned out that both the Brazil/Cuba and Japan/China game were closer than Chinese Taipei/Netherlands ended up being. So what happened? Follow along after the jump.
It was pretty difficult to figure out what sort of team Brazil had after they won their qualifier. Winning a bunch of games against a crippled Panama team, Colombia, and Nicaragua isn't exactly running a basebal gauntlet. That being said, it seemed clear that Brazil's pitching staff was head and shoulders above the teams in their qualifier and that if they had any hope at all in making an impression in their first World Baseball Classic, it was going to be with their pitching staff. Through two games, Brazil is 0-2, but losses to Japan and Cuba by scores of 5-3 and 5-2 are awfully respectable for Brazil. Heck, you could see Team USA losing to these two teams by a larger margin than Brazil has.
Enough about Brazil, though. It's Cuba that was one of the pre-tournament favorites and it's Cuba that everyone's always interested to see for the first time. Cuba bulit their 5-0 lead in the fifth and sixth innings last night, but they weren't all that impressive at the plate. They scored twice in the fifth with just two singles, and they scored three times in the sixth with four singles. Brazil's starter Andre Rienzo walked four hitters in his 4 2/3 innings and Gabriel Asakura faced three hitters in the sixth, giving up two singles and hitting one. In their whole lineup, only DH Frederich Cepeda (pictured above in the last WBC) and shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena had two hits. Really, it was Cuba's starter that impressed last night. Ismel Jiminez struck out six hitters in his 4 2/3 innings, scattering four hits. After Freddy Alvarez gave up Brazil's two runs, Raciel Iglesias finished the game off with five strikeouts over three innings of one-hit relief.
Cuba's next game is at 2:30 AM Eastern time against China. With a win, they can clinch a berth into the second round for both them and Japan. Brazil's mostly eliminated at this point, but they do have a chance to get a win in their next game, which is also against China at 3:00 AM Easter time on Tuesday.
I swore that I was going to stay awake for this game, but I've been battling a terrible cold all week and the long top of the second inning did me in. That was where the Netherlands jumped out to a 3-0 lead on just one hit thanks to Chinese Taipei's Yao-Lin Wang completely losing the strike zone in the inning. At that point, Netherlands looked like they were in a pretty good position to upset the hosts and go to 2-0 with a second round qualification all but locked up.
That's not how it went down, though. That one hit that they recorded in their second inning rally was all they'd get all night. Wei-Lun Pan shut them down over the next four innings and four other relievers closed out the final three innings, while the Taipei offense rallied with big innings in the fourth and sixth to put the game out of reach. There were quite a few offensive starts: Chien-Ming Chang had two singles, driving in a run and scoring a run, Szu-Chi Chou's double sparked the fourth inning rally, and Dai-Kang Yang's two-run homer (the first by anyone in the tournament!) in the sixth mostly put the game away.
With the win, Chinese Taipei goes to 2-0 and they're sitting pretty in Group B. Netherlands is still in fairly good shape at 1-1 with only a game against Australia remaning, but there is some danger of Chinese Taipe, Netherlands, and South Korea all finishing 2-1 and advancement being left up to the tiebreakers. The next game in this pool doesn't involve either of these teams; it's South Korea at Australia at 5:30 AM ET on Monday. Netherlands will then play Australia at 11:30 PM ET on Monday night and Chinese Taipei will wrap up the group against Korea at 6:30 AM on Tuesday.
Conventional wisdom figured that China didn't have much of a chance against Japan with one of the Japanese aces, Kenta Maeda, on the mound. Conventional wisdom was right. Maeda dominated, striking out six and only allowing one hit and one walk in five shutout innings. He left with a 5-0 lead, thanks mainly to a three-run double by Yoshio Itoi in the bottom of the fifth. The game was pretty uneventful from there on and probably not as close as the final score makes it seem. China struck out 15 times against Maeda, Tetsuya Utsumi, Hideaki Wakui, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Tetsuya Yamaguchi. They didn't get on the board until scoring twice against Yamaguchi in the top of the ninth.
Japan's now cruised to a 2-0 record with solid but unspectacular wins over China and Brazil. Figuring that Cuba will likely beat China overnight (as mentioned, China and Cuba play at 2:30 ET on Monday morning), they all but have advancement locked up. Unfortunately, if that happens it'll rob the Cuba/Japan game at 5:00 AM ET on Tuesday of most of it's drama.