Well, Pool 1 of Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic is all set. Go below the jump for a preview of the pool, and also consider looking back at my predictions for Pool A and Pool B of the first round, which include a good amount of other information, such as the history and culture of the nations.
About the venue: The Tokyo Dome, also known as the “Big Egg”, is probably the best-known venue in Japan to Western Audiences, having hosted games in the previous WBCs as well as a few season-opener series by MLB teams. Opened in 1988, the Tokyo Dome is usually the home of the Yomiuri Giants, the New York Yankees of Japanese Baseball, although it sometimes hosts games for other teams as well. It also has hosted concerts, the occasional American Football game, and professional wrestling. It looks like this and it’s capacity is somewhere between 42,000 and 50,000 (sources differ).
About the pool: This is going to be a fun pool, with Japan and Cuba as established favorites with Taipei and the Netherlands being extremely dangerous dark horses. Any of these teams could get out of this pool and go to San Francisco for the semi-finals.
Got here by: Going 3-0 in Pool A, winning pool.
What they call baseball: Béisbol
First Round Star: Alfredo Despaigne, who was named MVP for the pool by going .500 with a HR and 5 RBIs.
Biggest Rival in the Pool: The Netherlands, who have had Cuba’s number of late, defeating them in the 2011 World Cup and during a warm-up game before this tournament. And, guess what? Cuba won’t be able to escape the Dutch, having to face them in their first game of the pool. A loss to them will leave Cuba a loss away from elimination.
Will get out of the pool if: They keep hitting like they have been. No other team in this pool can beat Cuba in a slugfest.
Will be eliminated if: The bats go dead.
Got here by: Going 2-1 in Pool B, winning it on tiebreaker.
What they call baseball: Bangqiu
First Round Star: Dai-Kang Yang, who won MVP of Pool B.
Biggest Rival in the Pool: Japan. While having nowhere near as big a rivalry with Japan as Japan has with Korea, the Asian rivals still are, well, rivals.
Will get out of the pool if: The pitching holds up. The Taiwanese staff had the lowest WHIP in the first round, and if the other team can’t get men on base, it becomes much harder to get a “big inning”.
Will be eliminated if: They play like the CT team of previous WBCs. The Taiwanese played great in front of their home crowd, but the Tokyo Dome has traditionally been less than ideal for them, with them going 1-4 in the past WBCs. If they regress to playing like they did in their previous Tokyo Dome appearances, then it could be a quick visit to Nippon.
Got here by: Going 2-1 in Pool A, finishing second to Cuba
What they call baseball: Yakyu
First Round Star: Kenta Maeda, who threw five scoreless innings against China, giving up only one hit.
Biggest Rival in the Pool: Cuba. Oh, sure, Taipei is a regional foe, but Cuba has just beaten the Japanese in front of the home crowd, and became only the third team (after Korea and the USA) to ever beat Japan in the WBC. Samurai Japan will want revenge.
Will get out of the pool if: The offense starts revving up. The Japanese’ OPS was .579, the lowest of the teams to advance into this pool… and that was in a pool where they were facing the Chinese and Brazilians.
Will be eliminated if: They play like they did in the last round. Never before has Samurai Japan looked so vulnerable as they did in the last round, coming close to losing to Brazil and being beaten by Cuba in front of their home fans. If they play like that in this round, their odds of reaching San Francisco are going to be dangerously low.
Got here by: Going 2-1 in Pool B, finishing second to Taipei and edging out Korea by virtue of tie-breakers.
What they call baseball: Honkbal
First round star: Andruw Jones, who, while not getting any RBIs, was seemingly always getting on base, turning in a .667 OBP.
Biggest Rival in the Pool: Uhhhm… probably Taipei, since they were the only reason that the Dutch didn’t go undefeated in the first round.
Will get out of the pool if: Honkbal magic. The Dutch do not excel at any one part of the game, but they cannot said to be a jack of all trades either. It’s kind of hard to really say how the Dutch do it, they just kind of do, taking advantage of other team’s mistakes and making their opportunities count.
Will get eliminated if: The Honkbal magic runs out. The Dutch are a good team, but they are not yet a great one, and if the luck runs out, so will their WBC run… until they show up again in 2017 even better.
I predict that Cuba and Japan will advance from this bracket… but I’m not exactly positive. Any of these teams could get out of the bracket, but on paper Cuba and Japan remain the best teams.