Brazil gives Japan a scare before falling 5-3

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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.).

Didi Gregorius continues to be ridiculous

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Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius had another fantastic night last night. He went 3-for-3, hitting a home run for the fourth game in a row, had an RBI single and reached base safely in all five of his plate appearances in New York’s 7-4 win over Minnesota.

For the year that gives Gregorius a line of .372/.470/.833, putting him atop the American League in average, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. He also leads the league in total bases (65) and RBI (29). He leads all of baseball in fWAR at 2.2, edging out Mike Trout despite the fact that Trout has played in two more games. He’s second behind Trout in homers with nine.

After last night’s game he insisted that he is not a home run hitter:

“I do have a lot of home runs, but it’s not like I am going out there to try to hit them . . . I’m not a power guy like Judge and Stanton, who hit 50 to 60 and up. Those are the guys who actually hit home runs. One year, let’s say, I hit five — then you ask me where that part went . . . if they go out, they go out. I’m just mostly trying to barrel it up and get a good swing . . . I try to hit line drives and if you check most of my home runs they were line drives,” he said. “It’s not like I am going up to hit deep fly balls.”

Given that he hit 25 homers last year and 20 the year before, he’s being a bit modest, even if he’s not likely to keep up this torrid pace. That modesty is not stopping some people from getting a bit carried away, of course:

 

We’ll forgive Bob for the hyperbole. Didi has been fun to watch.