Japan and Chinese Taipei are close to locking up trips to the second round and Korea, even without playing, is in a whole mess of trouble. Brazil was pretty much eliminated as US audiences got their first look at a Cuban team that looked to have a lot of major league quality talent.
There was a minor internet sensation last night with Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena last night, or at least as much as one can be at one in the morning. It all stems from this picture of the back of his uniform.
Notice to Al. If this guy defects and signs with the Cubs, I quit.
If you want some evidence that the quality of play in the World Baseball Classic is improving, we've now gone six games and all six games have gone the full nine innings as the mercy rule has yet to come into effect. In fact, no team has won by more than five runs.
Chinese Taipei vs. Netherlands
Chinese Taipei put themselves in a commanding position in the Taichung Pool with an 8-3 one-hit victory over the Netherlands. With the win, they have almost assured themselves a trip to the second round in Tokyo, just four years after the Chinese Taipei team was bounced from the World Baseball Classic without a victory.
The story of the Taiwanese has been their pitching, and today six pitchers combined to hold the Netherlands to one hit. The starting pitcher was Yao-Lin Wang, who is a Cubs prospect and was the closer for the Peoria Chiefs part of last season. Battling a cold, Wang retired the Netherlands in the first inning 1-2-3, striking out Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Orioles top prospect Jonathan Schoop before getting Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina to pop out to the shortstop. Wang started the next inning well when he struck out former Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien, but he got into trouble when he walked the bases loaded, issuing free passes to Andruw Jones, Xander Bogaerts and Curt Smith. (In fairness, it looked to me, the MLB announcers and the 20,035 fans at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium that he had strike three on Smith twice.)
At that point Wang was relieved by Wei-Lun Pan, who hit the first batter he faced, forcing in a run and giving the Netherlands a 1-0 lead. The next batter, Dashenko Ricardo, who played for the Giants short-season team in Salem-Keizer last season, hit a clean single to right field, scoring two runs and extending the Netherlands lead to 3-0.
But that would be the only hit that the Netherlands would get, as Pan retired the next two batters and would go on to collect the win, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings (although he did allow the three inherited runners to score), giving up just the one hit, one walk and one hit batsman. He did not strike anyone out.
The rest of the game was all Chinese Taipei, as the home team thrilled the sell out crowd with eight unanswered runs. Chinese Taipei would cut the lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the second on a Chien-Ming Chang RBI single. Then the host country chased Twins farmhand Tom Stuifbergen from the game in the fourth inning when they exploded for four runs after loading the bases with no outs.
Chinese Taipei put the game out of reach in the sixth inning when they scored three runs off of former Nationals pitcher Shairon Martis. The key blows were a ground-rule RBI double by Hung-Yu Lin, followed by a two-run home run by Dai-Kang Yang. All three of the runs were unearned after a Dutch error by Simmons.
The game ended when former Cubs farmhand Hung-Wen Chen pitched the ninth for the second straight day. He allowed no hits, one walk and he struck out two.
Stuifbergen took the loss. He allowed five runs on four hits and three walks over three plus innings. He struck out one.
The win comes very close to guaranteeing a trip to the second round for Chinese Taipei, as they would advance with an Australian win over either Korea or the Netherlands, or by beating Korea or losing to Korea by fewer than six runs. (At least as far as I understand the tiebreakers.) It also puts Korea in a terrible position, needing to beat both Chinese Taipei and Australia and having Australia beat the Netherlands. If the Netherlands beats Australia, Korea will need to defeat Chinese Taipei by six runs in order to advance.
Brazil vs. Cuba
In the end, the talent gap between Cuba and Brazil was just too much. One day after giving Japan all it could handle in the World Baseball Classic opener, Brazil fell to Cuba 5-2.
The game was scoreless for four innings as White Sox prospect Andre Rienzo, who played for Double-A Birmingham last season, actually kept the powerful Cuban lineup from even getting a hit, although he did walk three in those first four innings. But he was matched by Cuban starter Ismel Jimenez, who ended up with the win after throwing 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing four hits, no walks and striking out six Brazilian batters.
The wheels began to come off the Brazilian team in the fifth. Rienzo started the inning by walking his fourth batter and after a strikeout, allowed his first hit of the game on a perfectly executed hit and run by shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena. Rienzo was able to get the next hitter, lead-off hitter Guillermo Heredia to ground out, but that scored second baseman Jose Fernandez from third.
At that point, Rienzo had to be pulled from the game because he had reached his pitch count, and the Brazilian bullpen wasn't up to the task of keeping them into the game. Ernesto Noris replaced Rienzo and allowed another run on a single by right fielder Alexei Bell before getting the last out on a fly out.
(Ironically, Noris is actually Cuban who had a long career in Cuba's domestic Serie Nacional.)
Cuba extended their lead to 5-0 in the sixth inning off of Brazilian reliever Gabriel Asakura, the big blow being a bases-loaded, two-run single by that Arruebarruena guy.
Brazil made a game of it again in the bottom of the sixth when a walk and an error put two on with no one out. First baseman Daniel Matsumoto singled home one run, but then DH Reinaldo Sato hit into a double play, scoring one run but ending the rally.
Another potential Brazilian rally was snuffed out in the seventh inning when right fielder JC Muniz, another native Cuban, led off the inning with an apparent double, but was called out for failing to touch first base. Replays were pretty inconclusive either way, in my mind. In any case, Brazilian manager Barry Larkin didn't argue much.
Cuban Raciel Iglesias pitched the final three innings for Cuba to get the save. He only allowed one hit while striking out five and walking no one. Despite pitching very well for Brazil, Andre Rienzo took the loss.
The loss almost certainly eliminates Brazil from the second round as they would need to beat China in their final game, hope China beats the loser of the upcoming Japan/Cuba match and then hope to win on tiebreakers. Despite this, it was a good run for a team that wasn't expected to get past the preliminary round.
Japan vs. China
Two-time defending champion Japan all but guaranteed themselves of a trip to the second round with a 5-2 win over China.
Japan's pitching was too much for the inexperienced China team, as Japanese starter Kenta Maeda of the Hiroshima Carp pitched five shutout innings, allowing only one hit. Maeda walked one and struck out six Chinese hitters.
China countered with probably their best starter, Xia Lou, who kept the game close after giving up only one run over 3.2 innings. The run scored in the bottom of the second inning when right fielder Yoshio Itio walked, stole second and scored on a single by left fielder Sho Nakata.
But Lou had to leave the game in the fourth inning when he reached the 65 pitch limit, and Japan teed off on the soft Chinese bullpen. Japan took a 5-0 lead with a four run fifth, capped by a bases-loaded three-run double by Itio.
China was held scoreless until the top of the ninth inning when the led off the inning with back-to-back singles by Weigiang Meng and Xiao Cui. Both runners would score after two wild pitches and a ground out by Ray Chang, who played for the Twins Triple-A team in Rochester last season. But China never brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth and Yomiuri's Tetsuya Yamaguchi struck out pinch-hitter Wei Dong to end the game.
Japan's victory almost certainly assures them of a trip to the second round, as it would take a bizarre set of circumstances and tie-breakers to keep them out.
Tonight's games see the Netherlands taking on Australia and needing a win to have a chance to advance to the second round at 10:30 Central. Then Cuba and China will play at 1:30 and Korea will then take on Australia at 4:30 am, which is actually a night game followed by a day game for Australia in Taiwan, not two games in one day. Just seems like that from over here.