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WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Scouting the OTHER Final Four -- in baseball's WBC

World Baseball Classic semifinalists Japan, Korea, U.S. and Venezuela all have their strengths and weaknesses, but if pitching is the determining factor, the Americans could be in trouble.

March 21, 2009|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

Times staff writer Kevin Baxter looks at the World Baseball Classic as it moves to Dodger Stadium for the final rounds beginning today:

On deck

Venezuela vs. South Korea, today, 6 p.m. -- Carlos Silva, who will be Venezuela's starter, has been spectacular in the WBC, giving up one run in 11 innings over two starts. Those outings came against Italy and the Netherlands, so Silva will be taking a major step up in class against the Olympic champion. South Korea's pitchers, who avoided Cuba in pool play and have played four of their seven games against light-hitting Japan, haven't faced an offense that compares to Venezuela's, which has 12 home runs and 36 extra-base hits in the tournament.

U.S. vs. Japan, Sunday, 5 p.m. -- The U.S. comes in banged up, having lost three-fourths of its starting infield and a key part of its bullpen. Two others -- third baseman David Wright and outfielder Ryan Braun -- are playing hurt. Long Beach State product Evan Longoria has been added to the roster to give the Americans some depth, but runs will probably be hard to come by against a Japanese staff that has three shutouts in seven games. Japan has injury problems of its own, having lost home run and runs-batted-in leader Shuichi Murata, who has a strained hamstring. U.S. Manager Davey Johnson will start Houston Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt (1-0, 3.52 earned-run average in 7 2/3 innings). Japan's Tatsunori Hara said Friday that he would go with Boston Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka over 22-year-old Yu Darvish; each has given up two earned runs in 10 innings.

Stat watch

Japan's pitching -- The staff has given up two home runs in 60 innings and hasn't given up a run to a team other than South Korea. Yet for all the attention paid to starters Matsuzaka, Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma, who have a combined 1.38 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, the bullpen, led by left-hander Toshiya Sugiuchi (4 2/3 innings, no hits, five strikeouts), has been even more impressive, giving up two runs in 27 innings, an ERA of 0.67.

The U.S. offense -- Eight hitters are batting .300 or better and Adam Dunn has a team-high three home runs and nine runs scored in only 19 at-bats. The team is averaging nearly seven runs a game.

South Korea's balance -- The reigning Olympic champion has eight home runs and eight stolen bases without getting caught. They also field well -- before making three errors in Thursday's relatively meaningless game with Japan, they had just two errors in 13 games over two tournaments.

Star watch

Jung Keun Bong, South Korea -- The former major league reliever has emerged as the ace of South Korea's staff, beating Japan twice and giving up one run in 13 2/3 innings.

Brian Roberts, U.S. -- The Baltimore Orioles second baseman didn't join the U.S. team until the second round but he's batting a team-high .545 and has scored five runs in three games.

Francisco Rodriguez, Venezuela -- The former Angels closer has pitched in five of seven games, earning three saves and striking out eight in 5 2/3 shutout innings.

Dud watch

Magglio Ordonez, Venezuela -- The Detroit Tigers slugger is batting .208 with one extra-base hit.

Ichiro Suzuki, Japan -- No player was more relieved to see Japan qualify for the semifinals than the eight-time major league All-Star, who would have received much of the blame had the defending WBC champs been eliminated early. Suzuki was 0 for 12 in the second round and is batting .212 for the tournament.

The U.S. pitching -- The team ERA of 6.18 is more than five times higher than Japan's. With 77 hits and 26 walks, the Americans are putting nearly two runners on per inning and their 41 earned runs is nearly double any other team in the Final Four.

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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