Probably, none of you have noticed – but there have been some interesting international games played this past week in the WBC. Japan and Cuba both won their first two games and will play each other to determine second round seeding. Neither team has any current major leaguers, but if we go by past precedent both teams probably have not only future major leaguers but future stars. Chances are, none of you will actually watch that game, though: it will be played at 5am (EST) and broadcast only on the MLB network. My cable provider doesn’t carry the MLB network (or ESPN Deportes) so I’m out of luck – not much chance of finding a sports bar open at that time.
What’s with the picture, you might ask? Well it’s the WBC, obviously. And for all the games I’m able to watch, might as well be the same WBC.
But that isn’t the really interesting thing that one particular upcoming WBC game will feature that typical baseball games do not. I’m referring to the upcoming game between Korea and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei). What does that game feature? Bizarre tiebreakers and an incentive – no, a necessity – to run up the score. In the four team pool in Taiwan, we have Taiwan, Korea, Australia and the Netherlands. After the tournament was kicked off with a 5-0 upset by the Netherlands over Korea, Korea now finds itself not only needing to beat Taiwan but needing to beat Taiwan badly to advance to the next round.
The way it works in this thing is that, if three teams sit at 2-1 after everybody plays everybody else once, the two teams that advance are the ones with the largest Runs Scored – Runs Allowed gap (after correcting for extra innings) but only in games between the three teams that are tied. The Netherlands plays Australia next, and assuming that they beat them as Korea and Taiwan have the Netherlands will have a +/- of ZERO in their games against Taiwan (lost by 5) and Korea (won by 5). That means that the Netherlands (assuming they take care of business against the Ozzies) are almost certain to advance as the pool runner-up. The odds for Korea are slim – they currently sit at -5 thanks to that 5-0 shutout against the Netherlands. Taiwan sits at +5, odds are good. Korea is desperate to not only win, but to run up the score against Taiwan. I doubt that I have ever before seen a game in which one team could be pinch hitting and stealing in the 9th in a desperate attempt to pad a 4-run lead. If the game risks ending in a 5-run Korea win, it would get even more interesting. In that event, the secondary tiebreaker will actually be batting average in the games between the teams that are tied atop the pool, if you can believe that. The Netherlands has a .186 BA in those two games – Taiwan could best that by going 5 for 30, Korea would need to go 8 for 30. I would assume (though this is not a given, if we saw a lot of walks and homers) that Korea would have to hit well to win by 5… but we could well see Taiwan celebrating a bases-empty single (otherwise pointless) that dragged their batting average up above .186 and put them into the second round. Weird. I would be looking forward to it, if only the game wasn’t on so darn early… With any luck we’ll get chances for such wackiness when the games in Puerto Rico and Arizona begin next week – and we can watch our fellow countrymen and Detroit Tigers play (probably against each other).