The game between Japan and Puerto Rico, on paper, should belong to the Japanese team, a seasoned squad that relatively breezed into the San Francisco round and which will be playing with far more rest than Puerto Rico, which will be playing it’s third game in as many days. But, as has been shown time and time again, in baseball weird and unexpected things can happen. Go below the jump for a more in-depth preview.
Tale of the Tape:
Starting Pitching Matchup: Kenta Maeda, Japan’s likely starter, is one of the finest pitchers in Japan and could be headed to America within the next few years. In NPB action last season, the righty went 14-7 with a 1.53 ERA, and he has been just as impressive in WBC action, having given up only 2 hits in 10 innings during his two starts, while chalking up a tournament-leading 15 strikeouts. Puerto Rico will counter with Mario Santiago, a right-handed Dodgers farmhand who has a career 4.04 ERA over parts of seven Minor League seasons. So far in the WBC, Santiago has been less-than-stellar, having given up 3 earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched in his lone start. Advantage: Japan.
Bullpens: Puerto Rico’s bullpen has been a bit troubling during the WBC- almost blowing it against Team USA, for example. The fatigue of playing three games in three days doesn’t help it that much, either. Japan, on the other hand, will be relatively well rested, and Japan has had some good success in the past by stacking their starting pitchers. While Puerto Rico’s pitching statistics are better on paper than Japan, Japan’s opponents have in general been better-hitting than those that Puerto Rico has faced. Advantage: Japan.
Hitting: Japan has better stats than Puerto Rico in almost every offensive category, and although Puerto Rico has faced better pitching than Japan has, the differences in statistics- and my eyes- have suggested to me that Japan is still probably the better hitting team than the Puerto Ricans. Advantage: Japan
Depth: Every player on Team Japan is a NPB player, so it is perhaps safe to say that every player on Team Japan- including reserves- is at least AAA in quality, with many of them being Major League in quality. Puerto Rico, by comparison, is more of a mix of various minor league levels, especially after you leave the starting lineups. So… Advantage: Japan.
Managers: Sorry, I don’t know enough about Koji Yamamoto and Edwin Rodriguez to really say either way, so I’m going to leave this part blank. Advantage: ????
Experience/Intangibles: The World Baseball Classic is one of the biggest sporting events in Japan, and they go at it more seriously than perhaps any other nation: they have more scouting done, they have more training done, and they try to have video available for their players to study of their opponents. Add to that the experience that some members of the Japanese team have had in previous WBCs, and they definitely have an intangible edge. This isn’t to say that Puerto Rico doesn’t also have some things going for it: they have players with plenty of experience in both the WBC and postseason baseball, most notably the Molina brothers and Carlos Beltran, and they probably are more in game mode right now since they haven’t had as long a wait, but I still have to say… Advantage: Japan.
So, as you can see, Japan has a big edge in this game… but, well, you know what I’m about to say:
Games aren’t played on paper.