Preview: Group B pits together top teams from Asia and the Americas

Preview: Group B pits together top teams from Asia and the Americas
03/11/2019
Group B at the 2019 WBSC Premier12 begins this week, as Japan, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in front of sell-out crowds.

TAICHUNG, Taiwan – Revenge will be a theme of Group B, with heartbreaking elimination games in the 2015 WBSC Premier12 still haunting three of the four teams in 2019.

The Taichung group pits together baseball powerhouses from Asia and the Americas, with world No. 1 Japan, No. 4 Chinese Taipei, No. 9 Venezuela and No. 11 Puerto Rico, with the best two heading to the Super Round in Japan.

Tickets for the for the opening round contest between rivals Chinese Taipei and Japan at the 20,000-seat Taichung International Stadium on 7 November took less than 30 minutes to sell out.

Japan

In the inaugural Premier12, Japan fell to eventual champion Korea in the semi-finals, but finished with the bronze medal. In their 2019 opener, Japan, led by Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) stars, will face South America’s top team, Venezuela. In 2015, Japan ended Venezuela’s tournament in the opening round with a 6-5 walk-off win thanks to a bases-loaded single from Akira Nakamura. Japan finished with a record of 7-1 in 2015, while Venezuela topped USA and Dominican Republic to finish with a 2-3 record.

After a breakout season for Orix in the NPB, 20-year-old Yoshinobu Yamamoto will play a key role in Japan’s quest for the Premier12 trophy. Yamamoto finished the season with a 1.95 ERA and allowed a mere 31 earned runs in 143 innings. Japan welcome back six members of their 2015 Premier12 roster, including Hayato Sakamoto, who was named the Outstanding Defensive Player in 2015.

Chinese Taipei

A 12-inning epic at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium ended Chinese Taipei’s tournament in 2015, with Aldo Mendez nailing a grand slam to send Puerto Rico to the quarter-finals. It took 4 hours and 41 minutes to separate the teams on that occasion, but Chinese Taipei will not have to wait long for revenge as the two teams match up in their tournament openers on 5 November.

Lin Li lead the Lamigo Monkeys to the 2019 Chinese Taipei Professional League (CPBL) Taiwan Series title, claiming MVP honours after nailing three home runs and 11 RBI in 25 at-bats. Lin hit .389 in the regular season for Lamigo, with 151 hits in 103 games. Six players who represented Chinese Taipei in 2015 return to the 2019 roster, including Wang Po-Jung, who went 8-for-18 with two doubles and a home run in the inaugural Premier12.

Venezuela

Henderson Alvarez will make his Premier12 debut for Venezuela and brings six years of MLB experience to the roster. Alvarez made history on 29 September 2013, throwing the 282nd no-hitter in MLB history, and made his first MLB All-Star game in 2014 after tossing two complete game shutouts in his first seven starts. Catcher Juan Apocada is the only returning player from Venezuela’s 2015 campaign. The 33-year-old catcher was one of Venezuela’s best four years ago, going 7-for-14 with two home runs.

Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican National Baseball Team finished in 8th Place at the inaugural WBSC Premier12 in 2015, ahead of Chinese Taipei (9th Place) and Venezuela (10th Place), but were knocked out by Samurai Japan and starting pitcher Kenta Maeda in the quarter-finals.

For the 2019 edition, six players on the Puerto Rican roster bring MLB experience, with infielders Iván De Jesús Jr., Ozvaldo Martínez and Jesmuel Valentín, outfielder Danny Ortiz and pitchers Fernando Cabrera and Giovanni Soto. Right-handed pitcher Andres Santiago headlines Puerto Rico’s returning players, after finishing the 2015 Premier12 with a 0.68 ERA in 13.1 innings of work.

Puerto Rico finished in 2nd Place in the last two World Baseball Classics (2013 and 2017).