Pool B in the 2017 World Baseball Classic will get kicked off on Tuesday with Japan vs Cuba. Two of the favorites not only in Pool B, but to win the tournament, will face off with each other in a rematch of the 2006 World Baseball Classic Championship match.
Japan is looking to get back to the championship game, which it won the first two editions of the tournament in 2006 and 2009. Getting the nod on the hill for Game 1 will be Ayumu Ishikawa from the Chiba Lotte Marines. The right-handed hurler had a great year in 2016 for the Marines going 14-5 with an ERA of just 2.16 over 162.1 innings. He will not blow you away, striking out just 6.1/9 over his career, but has great stuff.
Getting the start for Cuba will be Noelvis Entenza. The big righty has pitched for most of his career with the Elefantes de Cienfuegos of the Cuban National Series. In 2016, split with two teams, Entenza went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.20 over 70.1 innings. Like Ishikawa, Entenza will not blow you away striking out just 6.3/9 over his 13 year career in Cuba.
Players to Watch
Alfredo Despaigne – Slugger and former teammate of Japan starter Ishikawa, Despaigne will lead Team Cuba against the no. 1 world ranked Japan. Playing with Chiba Lotte in 2016, he belted 24 home runs while hitting .280. He will play for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2017.
Roel Santos – The speedy outfielder had a couple of hits in a warm up game against the Orix Buffaloes. He could set the table for the big bats like Despaigne and use his speed to wreck havoc on the bases.
Tetsuto Yamada – He led off a recent warm up game against a Taiwanese All-Star team with a home run. The young middle infielder from the Yakult Swallows has had back-to-back huge seasons in the NPB with two straight 38 home run seasons.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo – The Yokohama Bay Stars slugger will be an imposing force in the middle of the Japan lineup. He hit 44 bombs last season for Yokohama while hitting .322. Look for him to have a big impact at the plate the entire WBC.
Eric Bynum is Managing Editor here at BaseballdeWorld. He spent three years as an ESL teacher in South Korea, and is now working on his master's degree in history with a focus on baseball and WWII. He has played and/or written about baseball for the past 30 years and is an avid Atlanta Braves fan.