Korea heads into WBC’s second round
After shutting down Taiwan 2-0 and crushing China 10-1, Korea turned a 2-0 deficit against Japan into a 3-2 victory Sunday on a go-ahead, two-run home run by Lee Seung-yeop in the top of the eighth.
While Korea can relish its victory in the regional grudge match, more serious challenges await the team next week.
The top two finishers in Pool A, Korea and Japan, will fly to Anaheim, Calif., to play in the four-team round-robin format against two teams from Pool B, which comprises Mexico, South Africa, Canada and the tournament favorite, the United States.
Despite missing some of its top stars, the United States should breeze through the preliminary round, with Canada and Mexico likely batting for second.
That means Korea not only gets another match against Japan, which will be out for vengeance, it will likely face the United States, the expected Pool B winner, as its first opponent of the second round next Monday.
The top two teams from Pool C and Pool D will square off in another second round group to see who advances to the semifinals. However, rather than have each round’s two winners play the other pool's runner-up in the semifinals, creating new opponent pairs, the Pool 1 winner plays the Pool 1 runner-up, and the two Pool 2 advancers play each other as well.
That means Korea and Japan could meet for a third time, if the two nations finish in the top two in the second-round pool.
Thanks to its sheer depth in major league talent, the United States was able to assemble a formidable team despite some of its players opting out because of injuries and, in some cases, out of concern that they may not be in proper playing shape this early in the year.
The U.S. team boasts perhaps the best infield in the tournament, featuring the lethal combination of superb offense and Gold Glove-caliber defense. The American League’s reigning most valuable player, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, has suited up for the U.S. team's hot corner at third base, after much-publicized vacillation over whether to play for the country of his parents, the Dominican Republic, or for the place of his birth, the United States.
His teammate, Derek Jeter, two-time Gold Glove winner, will play shortstop, pushing the AL batting champion Michael Young of the Texas Rangers from his usual position to second base. Derrek Lee from the Chicago Cubs, the runner-up for the National League’s most valuable player, brings his powerful bat and smooth glove to first base.
The U.S. team is without some of the major league’s best starters such as Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays and Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the Cy Young Award, but the U.S. squad is loaded with talented relief pitchers. Six closers on the U.S. team ― Chad Cordero (Washington Nationals), Brad Lidge (Houston Astros), Joe Nathan (Minnesota Twins), Huston Street (Oakland Athletics), Brian Fuentes (Colorado Rockies) and Todd Jones (Detroit Tigers) ― had a combined 226 saves last season. Should Korea find itself trailing the United States in the seventh inning and beyond, its chances of coming back will be slim to less than none.
For the Korean team to win, it will have to get stand up to the U.S. starting pitcher early and often and hope its own pitching can somehow keep the U.S. offense quiet.
Korean captain Lee Jong-beom, of the Haitai Tigers, has gone 5-for-9 in three games at the leadoff and second spot, and must continue to get the offense rolling early. Lee Seung-yeop has three homers and seven runs batted in, and will need more help from major leaguer Choi Hee-seop of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Choi has only three hits in 11 at-bats with no home runs.
The Korean pitchers with major league experience have performed flawlessly so far. Park Chan-ho of the San Diego Padres has two saves, and Koo Dae-sung, who pitched for the New York Mets last season and returned to Korea this year, kept the team in the game with two late strikeouts against Japan.
Against the United States, Korea will likely start the Dodgers’ Seo Jae-weong, who is coming off an 8-2, 2.59-ERA season and was effective in 3 2/3 shutout innings against Chinese Taipei.
by Yoo Jee-ho