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USA & Japan Set to Square Off in WBC Semifinal

   03-21-2017

Japan thwarted Team USA the last time it had a chance to reach the World Baseball Classic championship game.

But the team assembled by the United States this year somehow seems a more formidable opponent than the Derek Jeter-led team that fell short in 2009.  To a player, everyone in the USA clubhouse feels like something special has clicked with this group.

“I think it's camaraderie,” said Adam Jones, who has inspired the team offensively and defensively. “You figure it out. Especially in a tournament this intimate, you get a good sense of the guys around you because we're going into battle with each other. I look at it like the military, you go into it not knowing who is to your right and to your left, but you figure out very quickly who is to your right and to your left.”

Japan, however, has been dominant in the World Baseball Classic since its inception in 2006,
winning the first two tournaments and reaching the semifinals in all four. This year, the Japanese team didn’t suffer a loss on its way to the 9 pm ET semifinal on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh, the 25-year-old slugger who led Japan’s Pacific League with 44 home runs, has hit three of the team’s 10 homers so far in the tournament. Tomoyuki Sugano, who will start against the US, posted a 2.01 ERA and struck out 189 batters in 183 innings for the Yomiuri Giants in 2016.

“I trust him,” Team Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through an interpreter. “Among the pitchers, he's the best, so we're entrusting him. As for a pitcher, we checked him out. He pitches and lets the hitter ground out, so has very good control, the pitcher. He throws to the corners.”

The only major league player on Team Japan’s roster is Norichika Aoki (Astros) but the American players have been paying close attention and watching the other WBC games.

“I think that's what makes this tournament so unique is especially when you get this far you start digging into the other brackets and you see the different type of style of play, you see the different players,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who is batting .381 with a .435 on-base percentage and a homer in the tournament.

“We get so caught up in playing against the guys in the league that we compete against all the time. There is so much more talent out there, especially the Japanese players. We've heard about some of these guys, so to actually get to compete against them on the field and see their style of play is going to be a fun experience for all of us.”

Team USA starter Tanner Roark, who emerged as one of the NL’s top right-handers with the Nationals in 2016, hasn’t pitched since giving up three earned runs on three hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings of the team’s first-round loss to the Dominican Republic, but he told the media that he felt strong and ready to go.

“Everything feels great, body feels great,” Roark said. “Yeah, it's been a little bit since I've been in there facing live hitters, but the key is to pitch to my strength, and that is throw strikes and get outs. I mean, as a starter, that's what you're supposed to do. So I'm going to go out there and give it my all for as long as I can until they take me out.”

The winner advances to play Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic championship game on Wednesday at 9 pm ET at Dodger Stadium.



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