WBC Round 2 Preview: Pool rankings, notable names
Japan's stellar pitching staff allowed just three runs in three first-round games
The U.S. has the most talented team in its pool, but needs its offense to get going
Puerto Rico's Carlos Delgado leads tourney in all three major hitting percentages
Pool 1: Petco Park, San Diego
1. Japan (2-1)
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 Round 1 preview, has allowed just three runs in three games. Only Puerto Rico, which never had to play intended pool rival the Dominican Republic, was stingier.
Round 1 MVP: Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS.
2. Cuba (3-0)
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 Yosbany Pereza to beat the surprising Australian team. The greatest concern to arise from that game was veteran ace Pedro Luis Lazo's poor relief appearance. Cuba's offense has been firing on all cylinders, averaging 9.7 runs per game, but the team's pitchers need to step it up in Round 2.
Round 1 MVP: Yoennis Cespedes, CF.
3. Korea (3-1)
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.
Round 1 MVP: Jung Keun Bong, LHP.
4. Mexico (2-2)
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 Joakim Soria, who only threw one inning in his team's four first-round games. Mexico's best starter, Mets lefty Oliver Perez, was smacked around by Australia. It will be interesting to see how the initial matchup with near-opposite Korea plays out, but Mexico seems likely to be the first Pool 1 team eliminated.
Round 1 MVP: Karim Garcia, RF.
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