Second round set in Tokyo with four talented clubs

Second round set in Tokyo with four talented clubs

TOKYO -- The four teams in Pool 1 hit the field at Tokyo Dome on Thursday, and they got in one final practice session before the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which begins Friday.

The two first-round Pool winners, Cuba (Pool A) and Chinese Taipei (Pool B) are competing with second-place finishers Japan (Pool A) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Pool B) for two spots in the Classic's championship round, which will be held at San Francisco's AT&T Park beginning March 17.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands and Cuba will get things going at 12 p.m. locally/10 p.m. ET Thursday in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.

Here's a look at the four clubs and how they got here:

Chinese Taipei
Former Yankees and Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang set the tone for his team in the opener against Australia with a pair of strikeouts over six scoreless innings of work.

Chinese Taipei spotted the Kingdom of the Netherlands an early 3-0 lead in its second game, then roared back to earn an 8-3 win, during which the Taiwanese held the Dutch to a single hit.

The Taiwanese bullpen allowed a three-run eighth in a 3-2 loss to Korea in the Pool B finale, but they won the Pool by virtue of a superior Team Quality Balance.

Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Dai-Kang Yang, of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, has been one of the stars at the plate for Chinese Taipei, finishing the first round 4-for-12 with a home run and four RBIs. Yang was the Pool B MVP.

The Taiwanese have also put pressure on opposing defenses by putting a number of runners on base, producing at least seven hits in each of their three Pool B contests.

Cuba
The Cubans were no-hit for the first five innings of their opener at the Classic, then found their stride in time to ride a powerful offense to a 3-0 record in Pool A.

Cuba started slow but edged Brazil, 5-2, in its opening game, then blasted China in a 12-0 rout that was called after seven innings under the mercy rule. The Cubans ended the first round by beating Japan, 6-3, notching their first win over the Japanese in Classic play.

Jose Abreu, Alexi Bell, Alfredo Despaigne and Yasmani Tomas each homered in the first round for Cuba, which outscored its opponents by a combined score of 23-5.

Despainge was the Pool A MVP, finishing 4-for-8 with a double, a home run and five RBIs in three games. Frederich Cepeda also had a strong showing, finishing 5-for-10 with two doubles, a triple and a pair of RBIs. Abreu had a double and a grand slam among his five hits, and that was just the tip of the iceberg for the Cubans.

Cuba's starting pitchers also got off to a good start. Ismel Jimenez lived up his billing as Cuba's ace, tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out six against Brazil, while Danny Betancourt and Wilber Perez were solid against China and Japan, respectively.

The Cuban bullpen, however, has not been as sharp, which might be a concern for manager Victor Mesa, who has worn his displeasure with his relievers on his sleeve at times.

The Cuban starters have combined to throw 12 1/3 scoreless innings, with 17 strikeouts and two walks. Its relievers have combined to allow five runs (three earned) and seven walks in 12 2/3 innings.

Japan
The two-time defending Classic champions have gotten off to a slow start and look vulnerable despite being at home in Tokyo.

Offense has been the source of Japan's problems. The Japanese needed a three-run rally in the eighth to defeat Brazil, 5-3, in their first game, and didn't look particularly potent during a 5-2 win over China. Japan was held scoreless for 8 1/3 innings by Cuba before managing three runs in the ninth, a rally that was aided by the three consecutive walks issued by the Cuban bullpen.

Manager Koji Yamamoto's club was limited to one extra-base hit, left 21 men on base and was 5-for-25 with runners in scoring position in the first round.

Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Kingdom of the Netherlands made a powerful early statement with a 5-0 win over Pool B favorite Korea in its first game, and punched its second-round ticket with a 4-1 victory over Australia a few days later. Its lone blemish in the first round was a 8-3 loss to Chinese Taipei.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands heads to Tokyo with a lineup that demands respect and is flush with current and former Major Leaguers, including Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Andruw Jones, a five-time All-Star with the Braves and now a member of Nippon Professional Baseball's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

The Dutch pitchers performed well in Pool B. Starters Diegomar Markwell, who pitched four scoreless frames against Korea, and Robbie Cordemans, who shut out Australia over five innings, have helped carry the load, though Tom Stuifbergen and Shairon Martis had a rough time in an 8-3 loss to Chinese Taipei.

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