Friday, March 03, 2006

WBC: Japan vs. China

The World Baseball Classic kicks off to mixed reactions around the world. Here in Japan, people are lukewarm to the idea of the WBC, but anything baseball is a good sell in these parts and the TV coverage is extensive.

I write this piece as I sit in front of the TV watching Team Japan face China in the Tokyodome. The crowd is obviously pro-Nippon and the trademark chants are in effect. I expect that the real competition will start in a few weeks when we get down to the nitty gritty and the remaining teams are full of players on major league rosters. As for the Japan vs. China affair.....ahem.....uh......well......

China is awful. They are managed by ex-big league manager Jim Lefebvre, but that's were the interest ends. All I can say is that the pitching is basically flat sliders, mediocre fastballs, wild pitches, and an occasional curveball. Every Chinese pitcher has been badly shaken within an inning of entering the game. The hitting is equally inept. Every batter looks like a pitcher hitting. Ugly. Catcher, Wei Wang, managed a two run shot off of extraordinarily overrated starting pitcher Koji Uehara, but the bats have been quiet otherwise.

Uehara is the ace of the famous Yomiuri Giants, or Kyojin as they are called over here. That position affords him a status that he has yet to live up to in big games. He's better than average as his stats show, but Kyojin hasn't been competetive in years, in large part because their players are all overrated simply because they wear the legendary uniform.

Ichiro is typically great. He is a catalyst and the building is electric everytime he steps to bat. If he struck out every time he came to the plate in the WBC, his status would still perservere. As it is he's contributed hits, runs, and was the beneficiary of a hideous fielding error by Chinese centerfielder Lingfen Sung.

It's difficult to get a read on who the other heroes of Team Japan will be down the road. The score of this game is out of hand and there have been several home runs and a collection of extra base hits. We've seen stolen bases and just plain dominance since early on. I'm a fan of Nippon Ham Fighters first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara, a cleanup hitter batting 7th in this lineup (at left). Before him is Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows. The combination has been dubbed "Strong and Speed" by the Japanese color man.

The game is a horrifying rout and ends at 18-2 in a mercy finish. Yuck. We learn nothing about potential Major Leaguers in this "game", but I'm sure we'll get a peek at a few players on the Japanese roster that will post in the future and head to the States. Iwamura has already declared his intention to post. The main player to keep your eyes on is Seibu Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's up next against Chinese Taipei. You're on the edge of your seat, right?

Stay tuned for more analysis of the Asian WBC Tournament here at Canyon of Heroes......