Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Japan on verge of return to Classic semis

Japan is ready for a trip back to the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
The spot isn't clinched yet, but Tuesday's 8-5 win over Cuba put Japan clearly in control of Pool E. Japan can finish it off with a win over Israel on Wednesday at 6 a.m. ET on MLB.TV and MLB Network, and even a loss to the Israelis wouldn't eliminate Japan from the tournament.
While the Japanese are undefeated through five games at Tokyo Dome, their first two second-round games have been tight to the end. They needed 11 innings to get past the Netherlands, 8-6, on Sunday. Japan had to come from behind three times to beat Cuba on Tuesday, finally going ahead when pinch-hitter Seiichi Uchikawa's sacrifice fly brought home an unearned run in the eighth.
Uchikawa was part of Japan's team that lost to Puerto Rico in the 2013 semifinals. Japan won the World Baseball Classic in both 2006 and '09, and the '13 defeat has stuck with the Japanese players the past four years.
"I had big regrets in 2013," Uchikawa said. "The chemistry of our team now is very good. I hope we come out of here with a 6-0 record and go back to the United States [for the final round at Dodger Stadium]. That's what I'm hoping."
Tetsuto Yamada hit two home runs and scored four runs for Japan, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh had three hits and drove in two runs.
Cuba is 0-2 in the second round and faces a quick turnaround for an 11 p.m. ET game on Tuesday (noon local time Wednesday in Tokyo) against the Netherlands. Even a win over the Dutch wouldn't guarantee the Cubans a chance to move on. They would need to wait for the result of the Japan-Israel game.
Yamada leads the way: Yamada was 3-for-17 in Japan's first four games at WBC 2017. But after watching him take batting practice Tuesday, Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo put Yamada back in the leadoff spot. It worked, as Yamada reached base four times and scored four runs. He led off the first inning with a home run, doubled in the third, walked in the fifth and homered again after Uchikawa's sacrifice fly in the eighth.
"I told the coaches he's going to hit tonight, and he just hit." Kokubo said. More >
Uchikawa wins it: Uchikawa was a regular for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in both 2009 and '13, but he's a 34-year-old bench player this time around. Kokubo said he told him to be ready to pinch-hit in the eighth if Japan got a runner in scoring position, and he came up in a 5-5 game with runners at first and third and one out. Uchikawa's long fly ball would have fallen foul, but 20-year-old right fielder Victor Victor Mesa caught it.
"I was thinking, 'Please catch it, please catch it,'" Uchikawa said. "In that situation, scoring a run or not scoring is a big difference. But if I'd had an RBI single, it's a better story."
Cespedes sits: WIth Yoelquis Cespedes (half-brother of Yoenis) 0-for-6 in the past two games, Cuba manager Carlos Marti opted to start Mesa in right field against Japan. The switch paid off when Mesa came up with two outs, the bases loaded and the game tied at 2 in the fourth inning. Mesa's two-run single gave Cuba the lead. Mesa's father is former Cuban star and manager Victor Mesa, but he's known as Victor Victor because his older brother is Victor Jr. Marti said Mesa will be back in right field Wednesday.
Good news for the Dutch: The Netherlands didn't have a game Tuesday (local time), but the Dutch had to be happy to see Cuba use up multiple pitchers in its game against Japan. Yoennis Yera, a key left-handed reliever, threw 35 pitches. By tournament rules, he now can't pitch against the Netherlands. Miguel Lahera, a key right-hander, also went past 30 pitches against Japan and won't be available.
"I understand we have to win [against the Netherlands], but we still have two of the best pitchers from the Cuban league available," Marti said.
"If we beat Israel, we won't have to worry about any tiebreakers, and we go to Los Angeles. So we want to win." -- Kokubo
Cuba: Four years after missing the semifinals because of two second-round losses to the Netherlands, Cuba faces a must-win game against the Dutch at 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Right-hander Lazaro Blanco starts for Cuba, with 36-year-old left-hander Diegomar Markwell going for the Netherlands.
Japan: The Japanese will face Israel in their final scheduled second-round game, Wednesday at 6 a.m. ET. Right-hander Kodai Senga, who has appeared in relief in two games, makes his first start of the tournament for Japan. Right-hander Josh Zeid, who has been Israel's closer in the first five games of the tournament, will get the start Wednesday.

Miggy, Odor spark Venezuela over Italy to advance

Venezuela is moving on to the second round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Italy is going home.
Venezuela rallied to beat Italy, 4-3, in the Pool D tiebreaker on Monday at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico, to earn a trip to San Diego and a meeting with Team USAon Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) tied the game at 2-2 with a leadoff homer in the top of the ninth and Rougned Odor (Rangers) singled to score Victor Martinez (Tigers) with the go-ahead run as Venezuela stormed back to reach the second round for the third time in tournament history.
"Wow, we keep coming back from behind," Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said. "The team never dies. We keep fighting until the end."
Odor later scored on a suicide squeeze by Alcides Escobar (Royals) to give Venezuela an insurance run, which proved necessary as Italy's Alex Liddi homered to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
Italy's John Andreoli homered to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning, briefly giving the Italians hope of making the second round for the second straight Classic. Andreoli stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth, but Venezuela closer Francisco Rodriguez (Tigers) got him to ground out to third.
"It was a long wait," said Venezuela reliever Deolis Guerra (Angels), who recorded eight outs. "It was short, but for us it was long. We wanted this opportunity. We wanted to make it up to ourselves and our nation, and thank God, due to some very little difference, we had a chance today, and I believe we got all the energy out and we could get the victory.
Miggy keeps mashing:
 Cabrera's game-tying homer was his first of WBC '17 and his sixth overall in Classic play, tying him for second all-time with Nate Freiman (Israel) and Frederich Cepeda (Cuba).
Andreoli stays hot: Italy scored two batters into the bottom of the first, as Andreoli led off with a double and Daniel Descalso (D-backs) followed with a single to bring him home. Andreoli, an outfielder in the Cubs' system, finished pool play with a .316 average, three homers and seven RBIs. More >
"That kid is just to me incredible," Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said of Andreoli. "He's so prepared, so much detail. He hustles all the time. Just a leader."
Taking advantage: Venezuela tied the game, 1-1, in the sixth when Ender Inciarte (Braves) scored Odubel Herrera (Phillies) with a single. The Venezuelans benefited from some shaky defense by the Italians, who committed an error and followed the miscue with a poor throw across the diamond that prevented a double play.
Morris mows 'em down: Italy starter A.J. Morris pitched five hitless innings, striking out five against one walk. Morris was able to face the minimum over his five innings thanks to a double play in the fourth that saw Rob Segedin (Dodgers) double off Inciarte at first base on a fly-ball out to right field.
"Miguel Cabrera has been known to us. He's been doing it for 15 years now. It's all right. We'll take it. We've got to swallow it. It's not going to be easy, but eventually we have to." -- Mazzieri
"Well, I remember when I played in Game 7 of the World Series in 1997. That night before the game it was really stressful, and I hadn't felt that way until last night. It's been a really hard road. … You know, I've had butterflies all over my body every day, and we finally came up with a win." -- Vizquel
Venezuela: Up next for Venezuela is a matchup with Team USA in the second round. The game will be played on Wednesday at Petco Park in San Diego with first pitch scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.
Italy: With Monday's defeat, Italy has been eliminated from WBC '17.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Machado dazzles with leather, adds big hit

Manny Machado continued his assault on the Pool C Most Valuable Player Award Sunday, accounting for runs on both sides of the ball early for the Dominican Republic in its thrilling 10-3, 11-inning win over Colombia at Marlins Park.
Machado is one of the best two-way players in all of baseball, and he showed why against Colombia. He gave the Dominicans a 2-1 lead with an RBI double in the third, scored a run and saved several others with a series of difficult plays at third base, all in the first few innings.
"To me, it's not a surprise, the job that Manny Machado did, because he's one of the best baseball players," Dominican manager Tony Pena said after his team capped a 3-0 run through Pool C to advance to the second round in San Diego. "Nothing that Machado has done surprises me. That young man prepared very well, because last year he was saying, 'I'm going to go to play in the Classic, and he's here and he's doing everything.'"
The Orioles' third baseman seemed to make a highlight-reel play defensively every inning.
It started with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning and the score tied 1-1 when Machado had to back up on a chopper off the bat of Mauricio Ramos. Machado gloved the ball, fell to his knees, spun, and somehow still had time to complete the play with a long, strong throw across the diamond. All in style, as usual.
Another time, Machado ranged into foul ground to make a backhanded pick behind the third-base bag and made a strong jump-throw to first. It would have been a highlight-reel play, but Dominican first baseman Carlos Santana dropped the throw.
Then in the fifth, Machado started a pretty double play, diving to his left to stab a hot shot off the bat of Giovanny Urshela. Machado spun and sprang to his feet in an instant before unleashing a strong throw to second.
If that wasn't enough, Machado drove in the go-ahead run with his double in the third before scoring an insurance run when Jose Bautista reached on an error a few batters later.

Yes in-Didi: Gregorius powers Dutch past Israel

Four years ago, the Netherlands was the World Baseball Classic's surprise team. Now, the Dutch are an offensive powerhouse, and on Monday, they made life miserable for the surprise team of WBC 2017.
Striking early in a game they had to win, the Netherlands' hitters didn't let up in a 12-2 win over Israel on Monday that was shortened to eight innings by the tournament's early-termination rule. Didi Gregorius of the Yankees doubled, homered and drove in five runs as the Dutch evened their second-round record at 1-1, keeping alive their hopes of advancing to the semifinals for a second straight tournament.
"We wanted to play like it was Game 7 of the World Series," said Netherlands cleanup hitter Wladimir Balentien, who had three hits and drove in three runs. "We had to win."
The Netherlands will need to win again when it faces Cuba at 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday (on MLB.TV and MLB Network), in its final scheduled second-round game. Israel plays Japan in the game that follows, at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, with the Israelis likely needing a win for a chance to advance to the semifinals.
The Netherlands was disappointed by Sunday's 11-inning loss to Japan, but that game of missed opportunities left the Dutch more determined to start strong against Israel.
"We are a great hitting team," Balentien said, "so we believe in ourselves."
Netherlands starter Jair Jurrjens -- who pitched in the Major Leagues for eight seasons with the Tigers, Braves, Orioles and Rockies -- held Israel to one run in six impressive innings. Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Balentien and Yurendell de Caster each had three hits for the Netherlands.
"We didn't execute pitches," said Israel manager Jerry Weinstein, whose team beat the Netherlands in a first-round game last week in Seoul. "We fell behind and threw too many non-competitive pitches."
Coco, Coco: Balentien is a local star, having played the past six seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and he set a Japanese single-season record with 60 home runs in 2013. So Japanese fans came to Monday's game with signs showing his nickname, "Coco." They also serenaded him with "Coco, Coco Balentien" when he came to the plate. In two games at Tokyo Dome the past two days, Balentien has a home run, three singles and five RBIs.
"I feel like I'm playing at home, even though I'm not playing for my Japanese team," Balentien said. "That gave me more confidence to give the fans what they want to see."
Rough night for Baker: Israel has a strong bullpen, but the Israelis need to get to it with a chance to win. That happened Sunday when Jason Marquis went into the sixth inning against Cuba, but Cardinals right-hander Corey Baker didn't get an out in the third inning against the Netherlands.
Bunting for runs: Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens opted against having Jurickson Profar bunt when the 11th inning began with runners at first and second Sunday against Japan. Profar did bunt with first and second, none out in the third inning Monday. A big difference: Balentien had been removed for a pinch-runner Sunday. He came up behind Profar on Monday and delivered a two-run single.
Didi the DH: There's nothing wrong with the way Gregorius plays shortstop, but Simmons is one of the best defenders in the world at the position. So Gregorius has been the Netherlands' designated hitter for four of the first five games in the tournament. He was 6-for-16 (.412) in the first four games, and he added a run-scoring double and a three-run home run in the first four innings against Israel. More >
"I know right now the guys need some rest, but we're not going to relax. We have to have our A game [against Cuba] so we can beat them and advance to the final round." -- Meulens, on why he would give his team a day off before returning to action
Netherlands: The Dutch team plays its final scheduled second-round game Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET against Cuba.
Israel: Israel will be back in action Wednesday at 6 a.m. ET against Japan.

Mexico edges Venezuela but out of Classic

In a wild game with huge implications for Pool D of the World Baseball Classic, Mexico held off Venezuela in an 11-9 victory on Sunday night at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco.
As a result, Mexico, Venezuela and Italy all finished with records of 1-2 in pool play. UnderClassic tiebreaker rules, the two teams with the fewest runs allowed per defensive inning among the teams tied during the tournament play a tiebreaker, and the other is eliminated.
Major League Baseball announced that Venezuela (1.11 runs allowed per defensive inning) and Italy (1.05 runs allowed) will play tonight at 9 p.m. ET to determine which team from Pool D joins Puerto Rico in the second round. Mexico filed a protest after the game.
The razor-thin margin that decided the tiebreaker is reflective of how three evenly matched these 1-2 teams are. And given the fact that they all lost to Puerto Rico and allowed at least a run per inning in the games against the other two, no team had an obvious case for advancement.
Mexico protested that ruling based on how those figures were calculated. The general manager of Team Mexico, Kundy Gutierrez, told reporters after the game that discussions regarding the ruling were taking place between MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre and senior vice president of baseball operations Kim Ng. The ruling was later confirmed, and Venezuela will play Italy for the Pool D tiebreaker.
Mexico finished with 1.12 runs allowed per defensive inning, edged out by the slimmest of margins by Venezuela with Sunday's head-to-head outcome. Even though Mexico gave up five runs in the ninth inning of a loss to Italy on Thursday, only eight defensive innings were counted from that game toward the calculation because an out was never recorded in the ninth.
Mexico jumped out to an early 8-1 lead, thanks in large part to a pair of three-run homers from Esteban Quiroz and Brandon Laird. But Venezuela refused to go quietly, scoring eight times between the fifth and seventh innings.
Martin Prado continued to swing a hot bat for Venezuela, driving in two runs with a single and a double. Robinson Chirinos and Victor Martinez each drove in two, with Martinez homering in the seventh.
Roberto Osuna, who was unable to close out Italy despite a four-run lead in the ninth inning of Mexico's Classic opener, got the final two outs after the tying runs reached base.
Pouncing on Petit: For the second time in four Classic at-bats, Quiroz launched a home run, this one a three-run shot with two outs in the second inning off Venezuela starter Yusmeiro Petit to give Mexico a 5-0 lead. Quiroz battled back from an 0-2 count and capped a nine-pitch at-bat with the blast over the right-field wall.
Primetime Prado: On the heels of a 5-for-5 performance in Venezuela's 11-10 victory over Italy on Saturday, Prado stroked an RBI single to right-center field against Mexico starter Luis Mendoza in the third. Prado drove in another run with a fifth-inning double.
Laird leaves the yard: Laird gave Mexico additional breathing room with a three-run homer to left off Venezuela's Wil Ledezma in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 8-1. Laird, an infielder for the Yankees and Astros from 2011-13, has spent the last two seasons playing in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball organization, hitting 73 homers in that span for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Roberson to the rescue: With Mexico's advantage cut from seven runs to three by the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Chris Roberson delivered a two-run infield single. Second baseman Jose Altuve dove to his left and nearly corralled the sharp grounder, but he could only knock it down in short right field.
'V' is for Venezuela -- and V-Mart: Venezuela responded yet again in the seventh, with Martinez belting a two-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole off Venezuela reliever Sergio Romo. The blast pulled Venezuela to within three runs, at 11-8.
Osuna's redemption: Three days after he was unable to close out Italy despite a four-run lead in the ninth inning, Osuna got the final two outs against Venezuela. The right-hander yielded a single to Alcides Escobar and walked Ender Inciarte, but then struck out Chirinos and got Altuve to fly out.
"The offense had a difficult time coming from behind in all the games. We received runs early, and we have been against a wall all the time. We have done a lot in order to score some runs and come back in games, and that wasn't the mentality that we had or we thought we were going to play with. With the players we have, I thought we were going to play better ball, but it has cost us because we have been coming from behind all the time." -- Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel
Venezuela: A tiebreaker with Italy on Monday at 9 p.m. ET awaits Venezuela, with the winner moving on to Round 2 of the Classic, and the loser eliminated.

US starts fast vs. Canada to book Round 2 ticket

Throw out all the tiebreaker scenarios. Team USA is moving on.
The Americans' mission was clear after the Dominican Republic outlasted Colombia, 9-3, in extra innings: Win and get in to Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic. A focused Team USA squad did just that by defeating Team Canada, 8-0, on Sunday at Marlins Park in Miami to punch its ticket to the second round in San Diego. The victory left the Americans with a 2-1 record in Pool C, good enough to claim a Pool F matchup against the Pool D runner-up Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET (6 PT) at Petco Park (live on MLB Network and MLB.TV).
"The expectations for Team USA are high," said manager Jim Leyland, "and I tried to downplay that, but it's a thrill to get out of here. It wasn't easy, to be honest with you. But when you look at it, we won two good games and we lost one tough game where we had a good lead. So, I'm very pleased with the performances and I'm excited to move on."
The U.S. got to business straight away Sunday, scoring three runs in the first and tacking on four more in the second to take a commanding 7-0 lead. Nolan Arenado delivered the big blow with a three-run homer in the second, and Buster Posey also homered as part of a three-RBI day.
That was more than enough offense for U.S. starter Danny Duffy, who struck out seven over four dominant, scoreless innings. U.S. pitchers dominated overall from the first pitch to the last Sunday, striking out 15 batters to tie the single-game tournament record. That total had only been accomplished twice before, by Mexico in 2006 and Japan in 2013.
The loss left Canada winless in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, meaning it will need to qualify the next time the tournament is held. The Canadians have yet to advance to the second round of the Classic in four attempts.
"We came up on the short end and it's unfortunate, but the guys are not going to change," Canada manager Ernie Whitt said of his club. "They're still great, quality people that we have in this system. I can't thank those guys enough for giving up their time and coming and trying to help out and play for their country."
Duffy dominates: Featuring one of the biggest fastballs of any left-handed starter in baseball, Duffy simply overwhelmed a lethargic Canadian lineup. The Royals ace threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 14 batters he faced, while generating 11 swinging strikes and allowing just one fly ball in fair territory. Duffy left the game with 63 pitches on his ledger, two below the first-round minimum, and he will remain with Team USA to potentially start again in Round 2.
"Every time I go out there and toe the rubber, I just try to keep it simple and as vanilla as possible," Duffy said of his approach. "The punchouts will come when you get them 0-2, 1-2, and just don't play around too much. I just try to give my team as many outs as possible."
Arenado breaks out: Arenado proved Sunday that he could only be held down for so long. His second-inning homer broke an 0-for-9 streak to begin the 2017 Classic, though he did make a major contribution by beating out a dropped strike three against Colombia on Friday. Facing reliever Andrew Albers with two on and one out, Arenado jumped on a first-pitch slider and elevated it to deep left-center for a slump-busting three-run blast.
Arenado's homer was a no-doubt barrel according to Statcast™, leaving the bat with a 104 mph exit velocity at a launch angle of 23 degrees and traveling a projected 404 feet. That was a more familiar feeling for Arenado, who led the Rockies with 43 barrels in 2016 en route to pacing the National League in home runs and RBIs for the second consecutive season. Arenado's blast gave the U.S. an early 6-0 advantage that it would not relinquish.
Posey tacks on: The U.S. still held a comfortable 7-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh when Posey added a powerful dose of insurance. With one out and the bases empty, Posey lifted a 1-2 fastball from Canada reliever Jim Henderson up and over the center-field fence.
It takes serious power to homer to that part of cavernous Marlins Park, but Posey's bop fit the bill. The ball left his bat with a 105.2 mph exit velocity and 27 degree launch angle, a barrel according to Statcast™, and traveled a projected 425 feet. That would have qualified as Posey's longest homer last season, and the second-longest for the Giants catcher dating back to the beginning of the Statcast™ era in 2015.
"This is probably the best, other than getting drafted and getting called to the big leagues, this is by far the best moment in my career. There's nothing better than playing in this and the atmosphere, I never been a part of anything like this." -- Arenado, on getting a taste of playoff-like energy in WBC 2017 for the first time in his Major League career
Though the U.S. had to fight to advance through Pool D, the performance of its starters should give the Americans some confidence heading to San Diego. The trio of Chris ArcherMarcus Stroman and Duffy scattered just five hits over 12 2/3 scoreless innings in the first round, striking out 14 batters while not issuing a single walk.
Team USA: The Americans will switch coasts for Pool F, beginning with a matchup against the Pool D runner-up Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET at Petco Park in San Diego. Who exactly that runner-up will be is still to be determined: Venezuela and Italy will play a tiebreaker to decide that spot on Monday at 9 p.m. ET at Estadios Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. Watch both games live on MLB Network and MLB.TV.