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Chinese Taipei to meet Australia in Pool B opener

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TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Chinese Taipei is hoping that two former Major League pitchers will suppress the Australian offense and help put the team ahead in Saturday's opening game of Pool B in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

With the top two teams from each pool qualifying for the next round, Chinese Taipei is striving to secure victories in its first two games against Australia and the Netherlands before running into group-favorite Korea in its last game of the first round.

Chinese Taipei has been suffering from uneven performances in international competitions in recent years. It was disparaged and called a "national shame" after being eliminated in the first round of the 2009 Classic without winning a single game. The team also disappointed in the inaugural tournament in 2006, when it only won one game in the first round.

While it is almost certain that former New York Yankees and Washington Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will start against the Aussies, former Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Hung-Chih Kuo will be ready in the bullpen to take over, should Wang run into trouble.

Known for his sharp sinkers and sliders, Wang became the Yankees' ace pitcher in 2006-07. He won 19 games in each season, tied for the most wins in the Majors with Johan Santana of Minnesota Twins in '06. However, Wang has faltered since due to various injuries.

Wang joined the Nationals in 2010 after the Yankees released him, but his contract wasn't renewed at the end of 2012.

Like Wang, Kuo has suffered setbacks due to injuries and is a free agent. He played intermittently for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2005-10, his seasons often cut short by injuries. He was a dominant reliever in '08 and '10, and his big moment came when he was selected to the 2010 All-Star Game as a replacement for Jason Heyward.

On the offensive front, Houston Astros farmhand Che-Hsuan Lin will lead the charge with Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters outfielder Dai-Kang Yang.

Australia is the underdog in the pool, as it is the lowest ranked among the four teams, but it still boasts players with previous Major League experience.

The Aussies have the capability to surprise, too, as they unexpectedly snatched the silver medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens under the guidance of manager Jon Deeble, who is again coaching the team this year. Australia was eliminated in the first round in each of the two previous Classics.

As Oakland Athletics pair Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley will be missing from action, the fate of the Aussies will likely depend on how left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith (of the Boston Red Sox organization), right-hander Chris Oxspring (Detroit Tigers) and infielder Luke Hughes (formerly of Minnesota Twins) perform.

While Rowland-Smith had experience in the Majors with Seattle Mariners, Oxspring received an Olympic silver medal, as he started and overpowered favorite Japan's batting lineup in the semifinal to bring the Aussies into the final in Athens.

Debby Wu is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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