With the first couple days of World Baseball Classic games under our belts, let’s take a moment to analyze what we saw before the rest of the tournament gets underway, starting with that red-hot ball club from Taiwan.
Chinese Taipei silences Australia and the Netherlands
Game one of the WBC was a sinkerballer’s delight as Chien-Ming Wang threw 6 of the most efficient innings you will see all tournament to pick up the 4-1 victory for Chinese Taipei. Wang was picked up on offense by Cheng-Ming Peng, who hit a first inning RBI single and a 5th inning solo shot. Astros fans will also be happy to note that farmhand Che-Hsuan Lin had a pair of hits while scoring a run in support of his country. But the real story of the game
The former Yankees and Nationals’ pitcher put together an absolute perfect start, moving his sinker all over the plate, keeping the Aussies of balance. By my estimation, somewhere around 75-85% of Wang’s pitches, which is right where he wants to be to generate a lot of outs. He was able to paste the strike zone all game long, throwing strikes 68% of the time, forcing the Aussies to swing away.
The Aussies weren’t able to do much with those strikes when they put them in play either. Time after time the Aussies drove Wang’s offerings into the dirt. They managed just 4 weak-hit singles, and three of those were immediately erased just a couple batters later by double plays. Add in the fact that the Aussies were practically jumping out of there shoes just to swing at anything Wang dealt up, and you have a recipe for success for Chinese Taipei.
Wang’s effort also set up the Taiwanese bullpen perfectly for Game 2, and boy were they brilliant when called upon. The Dutch squad was quick to capitalize on starter Yao-Lin Wang’s wildness, turning 3 walks into 3 quick runs by the middle of the 2nd inning. Manager Chang-Heng Hsieh wasted no time heading to his rested bullpen, and boy were they brilliant in a pinch. The bullpen combined to throw 7.2 innings, allowing just 1 hit and 4 walks while generally limiting the Dutch to a series of futile shallow pop-ups.
The Taiwanese offense took over the game from that point on, racking up 8 unanswered runs on 7 hits and 4 walks. The big blow of the game came in the 6th inning off the bat of Dai-Kang Yang, who blasted a 2-run homer to deep centerfield despite a very strong inward-blowing wind. From that point on the game was elementary, as the Korean bullpen wound down the game to finish a combined 1-hitter. The Chinese Taipei pitching staff has been extremely impressive so far and barring an absolute disaster in their final game against Korea, they should be advancing to the 2nd round for the first time ever on the strength of a 12-4 aggregate.
Ismel Jimenez struts his stuff to lead Cuba past feisty Brazil
One of the great joys of the World Baseball Classic is the fact that for most fans across the world, this will be one of their only chances to watch Cuba’s greatest players. Ismel Jimenez, the opening game starter for the Cubans, is definitely among that group. He’s the all-time wins leader in the history of the Cuban league, and his career winning percentage is better than .750, which means that anytime he takes the mound his team has a chance to win.
Jimenez showed off some of his finest tricks for the world to see against the Brazilian lineup, punching out 6 batters while scattering 4 hits in 4.2 innings. His slider was absolutely electric and he used it to his advantage against a free-swinging Brazilian squad. Jimenez went to the pitch for all 6 of his strikeouts, opting to use it mostly off the outside corner of the plate, where hitters were helpless to swing-and-miss.
Reliever Raciel Iglesias was also impressive in his WBC debut, allowing just one measly while picking up 5 K’s over the game’s final 3 innings. Iglesias has a smooth, natural deliver that allows his fastball to jump up on batters at the plate, making it appear faster than it actually is. He also did a nice job working a 2-seamer in around the corners against the Brazilians and if Iglesias continues to pitch this well he could be a big weapon out of the bullpen.
One quick note on Brazil
Thanks to a tough early schedule (Brazil played host and defending-champ Japan and then had to face the always talented Cuban squad 12 hours later), there was plenty of reason for the Brazilians to put up a lackluster showing. After all who would blame the team? They’re thousands of miles away from home, playing in hostile territory, and they’re hopelessly outclassed in talent. But none of that stopped the Brazilians from nearly stealing the opener away from Japan before playing the Cubans extremely tough. That speaks volumes about manager Barry Larkin and the job he did to prepare a roster of mostly unknowns for battle. Larkin’s team has shown an admirable amount of fight in both games and despite their modest pedigrees on the field, the players have been fundamentally sound. If he’s not already in the running to manage a big league team he should be.
-Man are the Asian crowds enjoyable to watch, especially when their home country is on the field. Both of the games featuring Chinese Taipei have featured a festive and intelligent audience despite the rainy, cold weather. They respond to the game perfectly. They have unique chants and cheers for every player, they know when to make noise and when to let their pitcher concentrate, and they know how to try to work the umpires. Basically they make the game more fun to watch. It’s the same way with the Japanese fans as well. We Americans could learn a thing or two from these fun, intelligent fans.
-Pool A appears to be headed toward a winner-take-the-group clash between Cuba and Japan. That should be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, and a rematch of the 2006 final. Cuba would love nothing more than to grab a little payback so set your alarm for 5 AM Eastern time on Wednesday morning to tune in.