Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Other Tournament That's Happening This Weekend

After a grueling schedule, and an exciting two weeks, we're finally down to the Final Four.

What's that you say? March Madness just started? Well, you're correct, but today also marks the Semi-Finals of the World Baseball Exhibition/Classic.

The first matchup sees the Cubans face off against the Dominican Republic, with the first pitch coming just after 3pm Eastern - any minute now. Later on tonight, the Koreans and the Japanese meet for the third time in the tournament, with Korea having won the earlier two matchups.

Some things to watch:

Dominican Republic vs. Cuba
How Do You Say Cy Young in Spanish?
The Dominican Republic sends Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon to the hill to face the mighty Cuban lineup. Bartolo has been money in his two previous starts, scattering 7 hits and giving up only 1 run over his 8 innings of work. He's only struck out 3 batters though. If the Cubans put the ball in play, he could get into some trouble.

Arms Shortage in Cuba?
The Cubans have hit 6 home runs in 6 games, have as many runs as the Dominicans, and a slightly higher Team Batting Average (though a lower OBP and OPS). That may not be enough to make up for what has so far been a subpar pitching performance from the Cuban sqaud.

Their 4.17 Team ERA is over a run and a half higher than that of the Dominicans, and their WHIP isn't much better. The Cubans better hope that Yadel Marti continues his lights-out performance from his earlier tournament appearances (0 runs in 9 innings of work). If they have to go to the bullpen early, they could be in serious trouble.

"Which Way to Mr. Steinbrenner's Office?"
It's always worth watching to see if any Cubans try and defect. Watch for camera shots of George Steinbrenner dangling his chequebook in front of the Cuban bullpen.

Forecast: A pitching duel until the enforced pitch count comes into play around the 5th-6th inning. The Dominican bullpen hemmorages less than the Cuban one, and Big Papi comes through with a big hit to win it late. Dominicans 4-3.

Korea vs. Japan
Team of Destiny
The Koreans are a White Sox-esque 3-0 in 1-run games in the tournament. They've been doing all the little things right, and seem to have great chemistry as a team. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that they have the lowest Team ERA and have yet to commit an error. Some say they're due for a bad break, and I've probably just jinxed them with the above paragraph.

Home Crowd Advantage?
Will the crowd give either side a virtual home field advantage? If it happens, my money's on the Koreans getting the advantage. I saw Korea play the United States at the World Junior Baseball Championship in Edmonton 6 years ago, and their fans were incredible. They stood, and cheered, and sang, and chanted all game.

I loved those fans, and will probably be cheering for the Koreans simply because of that.

That being said, I understand that there are sizable contigents of fans for both sides in Southern California, so I don't see the crowd going one way over the other.

Third Time a Charm?
Korea has won both meetings in the tournament, are (on paper superior) Japanese due?

Forecast: The Japanese get even by squeezing out a 3-1 win over the Koreans. Look for Ichiro to break out of his slump and have a big game.

Prediction for Monday's Final: Dominican Republic vs. Japan


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