Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Taiwan head to Classic as underdogs

By Jackson Broder  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Taiwan’s national team finished with a 1-2 record against three of the CPBL’s four teams in the past week in a series of preparation matches for the World Baseball Classic.

The team’s lone victory came against the Brother Elephants on Monday, when the national team defeated the Taipei-based squad 6-1 in the series opener.

The national team then dropped the next two to the Sinon Bulls and Uni-President Lions, 7-5 and 9-4 respectively over the past week.

Cleveland Indians minor league side-armer Lee Chien-chang picked up the team’s lone victory in the series, throwing five innings and allowing just one unearned run, while striking out five. He showed impressive pitching that consistently sat above 145kph.

Chicago Cubs farmhand Chen Hong-wen also looked sharp in the loss against the Uni-President Lions, giving up a run over four innings, but saw his lead evaporate after Brother Elephants submariner Liao Yu-cheng was blasted for five runs in just a third of an inning.

With questionable pitching depth and inexperience in international competition at the higher levels, Taiwan will head into the World Baseball Classic as big underdogs. Their roster is comprised of US minor leaguers and unsigned amateurs, with only a couple of professional players from the CPBL. None of the players on the team have major league experience, but will face rosters from other countries stocked with major league talent.

Two of the CPBL’s four teams — the La New Bears and Sinon Bulls — refused to allow their players to play in the World Baseball Classic, leaving the national team without a number of regular players. CPBL top starter Pan Hui-lun and La New’s power-hitting duo of Lin Zi-shen and Chen Chin-feng are notable omissions from the roster.

The void left by the absence of those players, however, has created a good opportunity for Taiwan to give some younger talent a chance to shine and the team will rely heavily on US minor leaguers.

Lee, Chen and recent Detroit minor league signing Ni Fu-te will anchor the team’s pitching staff. The highly touted Boston Red Sox minor leaguer outfielder Lin Che-hsuan and infielder Chiang Chih-shen will hit at the top of the order and be counted on to get on base.

Brother Elephants first baseman Peng Chien-ming may be the team’s only consistent hitter in the middle of the lineup.

Recent Houston Astros minor league signing Lo Chia-jen did not look sharp during the team’s warm-up games, struggling to find the strike zone and giving up four runs in only two-thirds of an inning of work.

He will need to perform well to give Taiwan a chance during the later innings and will be a key part of the team’s bullpen.

Despite their slim chances — the team failed to beat even Australian club teams in friendlies prior to the warm-up matches against the CPBL squads — manager Yeh Chih-hsien is to be commended for looking to the future and selecting a group of young players with potential, rather than relying on the group of veterans that made up the previous national team.

While the team may struggle this year, Yeh’s forward-thinking selection will get the current group of young players some much needed experience at the higher levels and lay the foundations for Taiwan to be able to compete against tough squads at future World Baseball Classics.

The team will now head to Japan for a series of scrimmages against the Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions tomorrow and Tuesday, before heading to the US for the tournament.

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