Taipei setting realistic goals
Pitching as its strength, club strives to reach second round
By Stephen Ellsesser / Special to MLB.com
Taipei's team is clearly divided, in the sense that it is loaded with pitching, but at the same time has suspect offensive potential. Nonetheless, Chinese Taipei fully believes that it is capable of making it through Pool A with only one blemish. Given the regard with which it holds the Japanese team, Taipei will know a whole lot about its chances to leave the Tokyo Dome in the top two after the day-one game versus Korea.
Chinese Taipei's goals for the Classic are reasonable. It hopes to make the second round, and anything beyond Anaheim would be icing on the cake for a nation that has struggled on the international front recently. Chinese Taipei was fifth in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and it was a disappointing 10th at last year's Intercontinental Cup in the Netherlands. Also, the Chinese Professional Baseball League champion Sinon Bulls won just one game -- against the Chinese national team -- at the inaugural Asia Series in November, also played at the Big Egg.
After facing Japan on March 4, Taipei will close pool play against China, which may seem like a breath of fresh air after running the gamut. It will be a good rivalry game for Taipei and represent either a chance to recover face in the event of losses to Korea and Japan or a final obstacle on the road across the Pacific.
Baseball in Chinese Taipei: Taiwanese baseball established itself internationally with a dominant run in the Little League World Series from 1969-82, winning 13 championships. Chinese Taipei's first professional league began in 1992, and the CPBL saw the Sinon Bulls top the Macoto Cobras, 4-0, in the best-of-seven Taiwan Series in 2005. The CPBL has survived a game-fixing controversy as well as the rise and eventual assimilation of a competing league. New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang is the biggest baseball star in Chinese Taipei today.
Projected lineup: Chun-Chang Yeh (C), Tai-Shan Chang (DH), Chia-Hsien Hsieh (1B), Chin-Feng Chen (LF), Cheng-Min Peng (CF), Lung-Yi Huang (RF), Ching-Lung Hu (SS), Yung-Chi Chen (3B), Sen Yang (2B).
Likely starters: Ying-Chieh Lin, Wei-Lun Pan and En-Yu Lin.
Strengths: Chinese Taipei has enough pitchers, with or without Chien-Ming Wang, to keep things interesting against Korea, Japan or China. With arms like Ying-Chieh Lin, Hong-Chih Kuo and Wei-Ming Chu, Taipei will be playing to win in Group A. If Wang stays away from the Classic, Ying-Chieh Lin will earn the start in Chinese Taipei's Classic opener against Korea, which the Taiwanese view as a must-win. Lin's 2005 numbers with the Macoto Cobras (12-10, 2.33 ERA, 174 strikeouts) fell short of his stellar 2004 season, in which he set records with a 1.73 ERA and 203 strikeouts. Chinese Taipei manager Hua-Wei Lin is also very high on Wei-Ming Chu. Just 24 years old, Chu was 2-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 47 innings as a reliever for the China Trust Whales in 2005. Chu's fastball tops at 90 mph. If the pitchers live up to their billing, Chinese Taipei will be a tough out.
|Here are some things you may not know about each of the 16 countries taking part in the first World Baseball Classic.|
|Capital:||Taipei (2.7 million)|
|Popular Sports:||Baseball, golf, ping-pong, basketball, soccer|
|Favorite Foods:||Hsiew (marinated duck), "drunken" chicken (marinated in wine), o-a-zen (oyster omelet) muaji (sticky rice), "stinky" tofu|
|Favorite Music:||In mountain regions, oral histories are sung; Taiwanese pop, Mandarin pop, KTV (a combination of MTV and karaoke), Bayin instrumental music|
|Famous Athletes:||Olympic gold medalists Shih-Hsin Chen and Mu-Yen Chu, Chien-Ming Wang, bronze medalist Cheng Chi, silver medalist Chuan-kwang Yang|
|Fun Fact:||Slow-motion shadowboxing called taijinquan is a popular health movement in Taiwan, often drawing practitioners out of bed before sunrise in large groups|
Weaknesses: Players like Chien-Ming Wang and Ying-Chieh Lin are great for Chinese Taipei, but the problem is that sooner or later -- and probably sooner -- they get picked up by teams in bigger leagues with deeper pockets, whether it be in Japan or the United States. This means that flamethrowers are pretty tough to find on the island, and as a result, hitters don't see much heat. Chinese Taipei is not a team built to be an offensive juggernaut, and even against CPBL pitching, Taipei's biggest gun has 23 home runs, and that hitter -- outfielder Chia-Hsien Hsieh -- is one of only two Taipei hitters with more than 70 RBIs last season. If Chinese Taipei has a miracle three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth against anyone, it really will be miraculous considering its power numbers. Taipei has several batters who hit for average, and they will have to hope that's enough.
Keep an Eye on ... Chin-Feng Chen. The outfielder is probably the best hitter in Taiwan, and after a stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chen is headed back to Taiwan. He will look to continue his success in international play and hope to return as a hero for Opening Day in Kaohsiung County.
Big Question: Where will the RBIs come from? Chinese Taipei lacks the offensive oomph, and there is not one hitter in the order who will make opposing pitchers quiver. The table can be set all day long, but if there is no one to red it up, the dishes will never get done.
Quotable: "Their whole team can throw. They have a lot of pitchers who throw nasty breaking balls. It left an impression." -- Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, on seeing Chinese Taipei's pitchers
They'll advance if ... Their pitchers keep Japan and Korea close long enough for their hitters to time up the opposing pitchers. There will be an adjustment period, but Taipei will need it to be pretty short. There is not much margin for error.
Stephen Ellsesser is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.