2 of the last 3 games in the World Baseball Classic have been played, and the finals are set for tonight. Korea trounced Cuba 10-2 on Saturday. Sunday night the US played Japan, and the game started out with a HR by Brian Roberts in the very first AB off of Dice-K. Japan was able to score in the bottom of the second, but a 3rd inning in which Dice-K threw more than 30 pitches and the US score a run to go up 2-1 looked like the beginning of the end for Japan. After a quick bottom of the 3rd by Oswalt, the US was right back out hitting and Matsusaka had to start pitching again with barely a break. But the US went down in order, and that may have been the spark for Japan.
They started the bottom of the 4th with two singles, then Brian Roberts misplayed a sharply hit ball that could have been a double play. Instead it started the scoring. A sac fly and then a triple by Aki Iwamora and it was 2-4. The US was still very much in it at that point, but Oswalt was left in to face 3 more batters, and by the time he left it was 2-6 and the game was pretty much over against a team that has pitched so well. The US mounted something of a comeback in the 8th, to bring themselves within 2. But in the bottom of the 8th, Japan scored 3, thanks in part to a 2 out error by Derek Jeter when it looked like Hanrahan had gotten out unscathed, and then poor pitching by his relief, Scot Shields. There was no comeback in the 9th, Adam Dunn, who had 3 strikeouts, fanned to end the game.
The finals matchup is going to be a good one, as Japan and Korea are real rivals. And they have played back and forth all series. You may not know many of the players, or any on Korea, but it should be an exciting game.
Meanwhile, back in the US
Many questions arise from this game, and the announcers touched on it during the game. Manager Davey Johnson has responsibility to let his pitchers get their work in. Was this why he left Oswalt in way too long? It seems odd, but that is what the entire ESPN booth seemed to think. This is a major flaw with the situation if that is the case. Fans of the WBC, those people who were actually paying attention, or even paying money to see the games, should be pretty upset if pitchers were left in to get their work in.
The hitters seemed to be fine but there was pitching problems all tournament for this team. Steve Phillips had an interesting solution – instead of sending major league pitchers, send minor leaguers. That way they can pitch as the manager sees fit, and not screw up getting their work in for the spring. I like his thinking, but I’m not sure if I like this solution. Lots of teams have minor leaguers that are trying to make a squad (like the Nats). If it happened this year, Jordan Zimmermann could have been on the WBC team virtually eliminating any shot of pitching for the Nats come April.
Another idea is that the entire pitching staff should be out of the college ranks. There are plenty of solid college pitchers that can hold their own in this tournament and give the US a strong shot at winning. The problem with this is that college baseball has been going for a month at this point. So teams would have to give up their best pitchers, during the season. Maybe young pitchers in the low minor leagues are the best ones to use. I am not sure, but it’s something they’ll have to work on, because this problem is going to happen every season.