On paper, it was probably the biggest mismatch of the World Baseball Classic: two-time defending champion Japan got to open up Saturday against a Brazil squad denied the only major leaguer its ever produced (Yan Gomes opted to sit out the tournament to better his chances of making the Indians).
On the field, it was a different story. Brazil jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the fist and led 3-2 after five before Japan rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth to win 5-3.
Brazil still ended up outhitting Japan 9-7. Japan failed to collect a single extra-base hit in the game, but it was aided by six walks.
Japan was missing its best power source when catcher Shinnosuke Abe was scratched from the lineup with a right knee injury. Abe, though, did pinch-hit, and he broke the tie with an RBI groundout in the eighth. Even if it’s just as a DH, it’s very important that Japan get Abe’s bat back in the lineup as a middle-of-the-order threat.
Another concern for Japan is that top starter Masahiro Tanaka struggled through his two innings, giving up four hits and an unearned run. He was removed after 23 pitches, as Japan figured it was better off going to relievers. Tadashi Settsu ended up with the win after allowing one run and striking out four in three innings.
Next up for Japan is a similarly weak China team on Sunday. If things go according to plan in Pool A, Japan and Cuba will be 2-0 heading into Wednesday’s showdown, rendering the contest largely irrelevant (the top two teams advance). Cuba plays Brazil in its opener Sunday in Japan (Saturday night in the U.S.).
After Sunday’s win against the Angels, the Astros announced that the club is calling up infield prospect Alex Bregman. Danny Worth has been designated for assignment to create room on the roster.
Bregman, 22, is considered the Astros’ best prospect and #18 overall in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. He hit .297/.415/.559 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI with Double-A Corpus Christi before being promoted to Triple-A Fresno. In 18 games with Fresno, Bregman hit .333/.373/.641 with six home runs and 15 RBI.
Bregman doesn’t have an obvious positional opening with the Astros, particularly since the club also signed Yulieski Gourriel. As a result, Bregman played some third base and, recently, left field. So the Astros may have him play at a handful of positions, even giving the middle infield regulars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa a breather every so often.
The Yankees are believed to be close to trading closer Aroldis Chapman, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Saturday. Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reported on Sunday that owner Hal Steinbrenner hasn’t given authorization to sell “top guys,” which would include Chapman. The Yankees told other clubs they’re holding onto reliever Andrew Miller.
The Nationals and Indians have been the most aggressive in pursuit of Chapman. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported on Sunday that the Indians “have the best names on the table” for Chapman. ESPN’s Keith Law reported that the Nationals were offering prospects Erick Fedde and Koda Glover along with another unnamed prospect.
The Giants and Cubs have also been reported to have interest in acquiring Chapman. CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic didn’t sense that the Giants are in the “final mix” for Chapman, and the Cubs are more interested in Miller than Chapman, Heyman reported.
Since returning to the Yankees, Chapman has recorded 20 saves in 21 chances with a 2.01 ERA and a 44/8 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Chapman will become eligible for free agency after the season. In the event Chapman is traded, Miller will likely move into the closer’s role with Dellin Betances setting up the eighth inning.
[Content note: The following will contain descriptions of an incident during which Chapman allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.]
Chapman, 28, served a 30-game suspension beginning at the start of the regular season due to an offseason incident during which he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired off eight gunshots in his garage. The police didn’t file official charges.