Japan v Cuba impressions and Olympic baseball
Posted by simon c on 2008 August 14日 Thursday
Olympic baseball has started. Canada trounced hosts China 10-0 (Canada has both Tim Burton and Stubby Clapp on its roster, how awesome is that!?… namewise), Taiwan breezed by the Netherlands 5-0, and Korea came from behind in the bottom of the 9th and scored 2 runs to win dramatically against the US 8-7 after allowing 3 runs in the top of the frame (EWC’s take on the game). That must’ve been one dramatic game. (Game results and rosters for all games.)
- Cuban batters’ control of the strike zone was impeccable, they were exactly the same as Puerto Rican umpire’s zone, coincidentally or not. The batters hardly swung at balls out of the zone, except for one batter trying to hit a sacrifice fly against Naruse. They made the Japanese pitchers throw A LOT of pitches. We’ll see if they’ll take the same approach to other teams (well, I won’t really be able to see them again until the medal rounds, probably).
- Darvish was far from his sharp self. He had good stuff at times, but his command was often off, leaving pitches hanging down the middle of the plate and the Cubans didn’t miss many of these, or completely missing the zone, seemed to be having a little problem with the game ball that other pitchers in the game seemed to be ok with. Reminded me of this season’s Matsuzaka, getting out of jam after jam, though he was charged with 4 runs in 4 innings and credited with the loss.
- Darvish was mercifully replaced in the 5th after he had thrown more than 100 pitches. Since he’s likely to pitch on 4 days rest against Canada on 18 Aug, and he was struggling, this was probably the right move.
- Naruse promptly let in the 2 runners he inherited from Darvish, but then managed to hold his own.
- Tanaka “Ma-kun” was pretty impressive, able to get strike outs when needed as he struck out the side in the 7th.
- Japanese bullpen ace Kyuji Fujikawa put down the Cubans in order in his inning of work, but the balls were hard hit and he was lucky to escape unscathed, not dominant at all like he is in NPB.
- Young OF Alexei Bell was impressive with a couple of extra base hits.
- Strike zone seemed both narrow and thin, with some inconsistent calls. Guess we’ll see how the rest of the umpires are.
- Long time closer 99 Lazo’s alive and well (35 year old is in his 4th Olympics). He doesn’t have dominating stuff anymore, but his pitches seem to have late movement, as there were lots of pop ups and fly outs by Japanese hitters against him in his 3 innings of work to save the game.
- Injured SS Kawasaki had hits in all 3 of his plate appearances despite a visible limp. Perhaps it ironically helped him by changing his weight shift during his swing(?) He should be rested, as Japan’s full of shortstops anyways, and having an player with range limiting injury in the most important defensive position is not advisable. He was replaced by the Lions Nakajima as a pinch runner in the 7th after his third hit. Though Nakajima’s got rather poor range to be the starting shortstop. Morino at second and Nishioka at short might be ideal under current conditions. (Or Araki at second for a defensive configuration, but he’ll be a blackhole in the lineup.)
- Guess red hot Lions and late additions to the roster OF G.G. Sato and SS/3B Nakajima are going to be platooned against left handed pitchers, otherwise why were they brough along to Beijing.. only to be used when some “trusted” players are in an obvious slump? I say, replace DH Abe with one of these guys, at least. But Hoshino is loyal, this trait better not be too costly.
- Japan was unable to get an extra base hit when in need, and grounded into lots of double plays into the hands of slick Cuban middle infielders.
- Veteran Cubans were very wily, often disrupting the rhythm of the game with unnecessarily stepping out of the box, taking extra long between pitches, and taking their time putting on body armour, and generally delaying the game (this is nothing new for them). This seemed to have distracted the younger Japanese team who are coddled mainly with domestic competition.
- Manager Senichi Hoshino almost got ejected from the game for disputing a Satozaki check swing (didn’t look like the bat went around). But he has to realize that only in NPB can managers really get in the face of umps and pressure them psychologically. (Japanese umps don’t have the same authority that American (and international?) umps seem to have.)
- Cuba looks like a lock for the playoffs, so Japan, Korea, USA, Taiwan, and Canada should be battling out for the other 3 playoff positions, with Taiwan and Canada being underdogs, but they can upset any of the top teams on any given day.
- Tomorrow (14 Aug, Day 2), Americans will breeze breeze by the Dutch, Korea will pummel China, Taiwan has a legitimate chance against Japan but they are looking to avenge today’s loss, and Cuba looks too strong for Canada.