WBC Round 2 Preview: Pool rankings, notable names
Japan had a very similar experience to the U.S. in Round 1. Many thought the margin of victory in its first game, a 4-0 win over China, was too small, but Japan made up for it by mercying pool-rival Korea 14-2 in seven innings to advance to Round 2. Japan then lost a tight, 1-0 seeding game to Korea. That last result exposed the fallacy of the seeding game -- Japan outscored Korea 14-3 in Round 1, yet enters Round 2 as the second seed behind No. 1 Korea. Despite that seeding, the defending WBC champs remain the best team in Pool 1, and will get a chance to prove it with a rematch of last year's final against Cuba on Sunday afternoon. Japan's All-Star lineup does need to perk up a bit, but the pitching staff, which I noted as its primary strength in my
One of just two undefeated teams entering Round 2, Cuba had a tougher path to 3-0 than undefeated Puerto Rico. Yet, Cuba also came out of the weakest pool in Round 1 and still needed an eighth-inning pinch-hit home run from backup catcher
Korea won three games in Round 1, but two of them came against the desperately overmatched China and Chinese Taipei. Korea scored 23 runs in those two games, but just three more in their two games against Japan. So despite Korea's monstrous heart of the order, there remain doubts about the team's ability to hit quality pitching. Rather, look for Korea to play tighter, low-scoring games in Round 2, as its pitching has impressed. Though Korea was mercied by Japan in their first meeting, the team didn't allow a run in any of its other three games, including the seeding-game rematch with Japan, and allowed an average of just 4.3 hits in those three shutouts. The 1-0 seeding-game victory over Japan proves that Korea can surprise, but a trip to the semifinals seems unlikely.
Mexico's 10.25 runs per game edged out Cuba for the highest Round 1 average, but most of those runs came in a pair of games against South Africa and Australia in which the Mexicans outscored their competition 30-4. In its other two games -- an upset loss to Australia and seeding-game loss to Cuba -- Mexico was outscored 33-11. While Mexico scored the most runs in Round 1, it also allowed the most, posting a 10.74 ERA -- higher than every other team except 0-2 South Africa. Worse yet, Mexico was mercied in both of its losses. Mexico's best pitcher is Royals closer
As I said above, the U.S.'s Round 1 performance mimicked that of Japan. After eking out a 6-5 win over Canada, Team USA nearly mercied Venezuela (16-5) to advance to Round 2. But then the U.S. lost a tighter, low-scoring contest to Venezuela in the seeding game (5-3) and emerged from Pool C as the second seed behind Venezuela despite having outscored them 18-10. It's interesting to note that the U.S. gave up exactly five runs in each of its Round 1 games. That leaves it with the second-highest ERA of teams entering Round 2 behind Mexico. Part of the reason for that is manager
Puerto Rico went undefeated in Round 1, but did so by facing the Netherlands twice and Panama once, giving them the easiest Round 1 schedule of the tournament. Faced with such underwhelming competition, Puerto Rico allowed just one run in all of Round 1. That tally came off Pirates starter
By upsetting the Dominican Republic twice and becoming the only "second-division" team to impinge the second-round hegemony of the tournament's presumptive elite eight, the Netherlands have been the story of the WBC to this point. The secret to their success has been pitching and an ability to take advantage of opponents' mistakes. The Netherlands scored just one earned run in the two wins over the Dominican Republic, but allowed just three runs to the powerful Dominican offense and capitalized on six Dominican errors to score four unearned runs. In the first matchup against Puerto Rico, the Netherlands took a 1-0 lead into the eighth, but Puerto Rico played errorless ball and the Dutch pitching, which leads the field in walks issued with 50 percent more than the next wildest staff, just couldn't hold down the powerful Puerto Ricans, who prevailed 3-1. In the seeding-game rematch, Puerto Rico again avoided making any errors and the Netherlands were shut out. It's been a great story, but there's little hope for the Netherlands in Round 2. As a team, the Dutch hit a tournament-worst .151/.207/.175 in Round 1 -- a line worse than those of Panama or Chinese Taipei, two teams which combined to go 0-4 and score a grand total of one combined run in Round 1. Not to mention a whopping 48 strikeouts in 126 at-bats. The Netherlands' 5-0 loss to Puerto Rico in the seeding game looked like a sign of things to come.