Team Japan Faces Tough Test in World Baseball Classic Title Defense

By Christopher Gamble


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the World Baseball Classic about a month away from capturing the attention of baseball fans around the world, the Japanese team is gearing up to try and win their third WBC title. Team Japan has won the gold in the two previous Classics and could be looking at a third title.

It won’t be easy this time around as several notable names, especially here in the United States, will be absent this time around. Ichiro Suzuki, two-time WBC MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kosuke Fukodome, Akinori Iwamura, and Yu Darvish have decided not to participate as of this publishing. Also absent will be Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyuji Fujikawa. Iwakuma is trying to nail down a rotation spot with the Seattle Mariners.

Thirty-two-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who recently signed with the Chicago Cubs, will also be trying to impress his new club. Fujikawa has been called the Mariano Rivera of Nippon Professional Baseball and his absence will surely impact the Japanese team.

Right now, the roster isn’t set and players could have a change of heart. However, even if they don’t participate the Japanese team should still be a formidable opponent. Shinnosuke Abe is still the catcher and he will be a major threat on offense with his ability to hit for power and average. He was named the MVP of the 2009 Japan Series and has been a member of the national team since 1999.

On the mound the Japanese team features some very good arms. Kenta Maeda might be the best of them. The 24-year-old won the Sawamura award in 2010, the Japanese equivalent to the Cy Young Award. He features a fastball that can get up to 94 MPH at times and has superior command.

Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be making his second WBC appearance and could be ready to take a more prominent role. The 24-year-old has represented Japan in the Olympics, striking out the side against Cuba in relief in the 2008 Olympics. During the 2009 WBC, however, Tanaka pitched to mixed results. Against Team South Korea he gave up a home run in his first appearance. He did manage to strike out Team USA third baseman David Wright later in the tournament. Tanaka will play a bigger role for Team Japan this time around and could be vital in determining whether or not Team Japan can win their third straight WBC title.

Competition will be stiff this time around. Team Cuba always seems to field a good team and the team from the Dominican Republic lineup looks like an All-Star team. Team USA also could be a threat with an experienced roster full of major leaguers. However, Team South Korea could continue to be a thorn in Team Japan’s side. In the 2009 WBC, Japan’s only two losses came at the hands of the South Koreans who finished 6-3 with all three of their losses coming to Japan. There is a good chance South Korea emerges as a legitimate threat in the WBC and this could be the year they finally unseat Team Japan.

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