WBC Japan @Cubs, Mesa game review

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It's been a very exciting baseball season so far. I know, I know, "pre-season."

The whole Classic thing sure converted me. I wasn't prepared. I would have been laid-back, catch one or two spring training games before the game-that-really-matters start April 6. But I watched the Asian series (Pool A at Tokyo), and the grit and passion pumped me up.

And I ended up writing this: http://chicagocubsonline.com/community_blog/2009/03/wbc-marmol-trax.php -- which I should have followed with the final WBC Marmol Trax (2). Got caught up, and now, this one game deserves some attention. (I'll get back to Marmol Trax later tonight.)

The game that started 3:05 p.m. CST today was more of a "try your best stuff" kind of warm-up, for the fierce competition coming up, than just an exhibition game.

Let's go through some knows about the Cubs opponent first. We need to know whom are we dealing with. This is the 2009 national team of Japan ("Samurai Japan," they officially named themselves). In general, it features great defense, great pitching, great speed, great bat control, and O.k. power (well, not so okay if we consider that Team Korea, Cuba, and USA--in an ascending order--have much more power), the sort of the 1995 Braves.

I've been following Japanese baseball for 3 years now, and I say that this Team Japan is not about wining with homeruns and fastballs, but do the little things as a whole, somehow unlike their predecessor of 2006. Japan's outfield features four Gold Glovers out of Ichiro, Fukudome, Aoki, and Inaba. This is probably the best outfield that any manager can dream of: speed, arm, great bat control, ready to bunt, ready to advance on bases, and with some pop--the Do All. The infield of Uchikawa/Ogasawara, Iwamura, and Nakamura is another Gold Glove All Stars. Their only relative weakness would be the catchers. But as long as they can call the game, their other talents will not be a concern.

I'll go through Japan's pitchers along the way. I'll also throw in some thoughts about our talents, especially newcomers and younger pitchers. Here's how the Cubbie fare against Japan throughout the game, pointer-style:

- Z pitched more flyouts than groundouts, a concern to me

- For example, to Fukudome: Z pitched a 1-1 count (2 sinkers down inside), led a 2-2 but a fastball middle to Fuk made a outfield flyout with a broken bat

- Yu Darvish, with a nasty slider that's top-of-the world class, did not fool Fontenot. Fonte handled the breaking pitches very well. He selected throughout the plate; e.g. 3-2 count, Fonte let go of an inside pitch which he tried to swing but missed earlier in the count.

- Bradley hit well off Japan's second pitcher, Komatsu, a fastball not too fast

- This is my first time seeing Kevin Gregg pitches (at least my first remembered). He seems to be comfortable throwing 2 or 3 breaking pitches. He has good control of his fastball that takes the corners--seems to me as a finesse pitcher.

- I'm glad that Soto is playing for Puerto Rico and thriving. We don't need to worry about the Rookie of the Year's conditioning for season 2009, and we got to see our backup catchers. They'll get more time to work with our core staff of pitchers and build from there.

- Lee got good bat control, as always. Yamaguchi, the Rookie of the Year from Tokyo Giants last season, shined during the World Series of Japan. This is not the kid you can easily crush.

- Yamaguchi lost his best stuff today, probably because he's more relaxed. That's the thing about most young players--one day he's King, the other he's playing like a midget.

- The same goes to David Patton. He pitched against Japan's more powerful Murata, was probably trying to take the corners, but tried too hard.

- Angel Guzman was not confident throwing all his pitches, even though his fork bites and his curve works

- HOFF POWER

- If Neal Cotts can strikeout Inaba, he can strikeout any lefthanded batter. We are talking about an Ichiro-caliber here.

- Andres Blanco sure has the glove.

- Good job by Jake Fox, who worked ten+ pitches against a notorious Kyuji (Fujikawa), Japan's one-pitch closer (when's the last time we see a one-pitch closer???)

- Taguchi = X FACTOR

That's all for now... Excuse me to catch the Mexico HOME game... Can't miss the Fiesta!