Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Japan defeats Cuba 8-5, improves record to 2-0 in second round of WBC

1 Comment

Team Japan is atop Pool E in the second round of the World Baseball Classic after defeating Team Cuba 8-5 on Tuesday morning. The game was a back-and-forth affair, but Japan was able to rally when it mattered most to remain undefeated.

Tetsuto Yamada set Japan up with an early lead, swatting a solo home run to left-center in the bottom of the first. Cuba responded in the second thanks to a two-run home run from Yurisbel Gracial. In what would become a theme, Japan tied the game again shortly thereafter in the third inning when Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh singled in a run, knotting the game at 2-2.

Cuba plated two more in the fourth on a two-run single from Victor Mesa. Japan rallied again for a tie in the fifth when Norichika Aoki drove in a run with a ground out and Tsutsugoh singled in another run, making it a 4-4 contest.

Cuba’s Yosvani Alarcon broke the tie with an RBI single in the sixth and Japan re-tied the game in the bottom half on Seiji Kobayashi’s RBI single.

In the bottom of the eighth, Japan regained the lead for the first time since the first inning. The rally began when Nobuhiro Matsuda reached safely when first baseman Willian Saavedra couldn’t scoop a low throw on a routine grounder. Shogo Akiyama singled to left-center, pushing Matsuda to third. Seiichi Uchikawa then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, giving Japan a 6-5 lead. Tetsuto Yamada followed up by swatting a two-run home run to left field — his second homer of the game — bumping Japan’s lead to 8-5.

Japan reliever Kazuhisa Makita started the ninth inning protecting a three-run lead. He struck out Yosvani Alarcon, got Jeferson Delgado to ground out, then struck out Mesa to end the ballgame in an 8-5 victory.

Japan will play Team Israel on Wednesday morning. A win will certainly push them into the semifinals against the runner-up of Pool F. Cuba will attempt to stave off elimination when they play Team Netherlands on Tuesday night.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.