MARYVILLE, Tenn. – Despite two attempts by upstart New Zealand to defeat them, Chinese Taipei put on a baseball clinic in the fourth 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifier, winning three straight games. New Zealand, who was unranked by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) before the tournament, surprised both the Philippines and Thailand to place second in the group.
Taiwan, who hosted the tournament, was the undisputed favourite entering the tournament. The No. 8-rated nation showed off their pitching and offense, outscoring their opponents by a 35-0 margin. They committed only one error and demonstrated strong baserunning skills in swiping five bases, second-most among 16 teams.
Each of Chinese Taipei’s three starters had no trouble mowing down their opponents, and manager Chang-Heng Hsieh tested nine bullpen arms in preparation for the main draw of the WBC in the spring. All three other teams had bloated team ERAs by the time than Chinese Taipei had swept through the bracket, but New Zealand and the Philippines did have several strong performances from their hurlers.
The Diamondblacks used minor league veteran Lincoln Holdzkom in three of their four games, while teenager Makauley Fox Rolfe had their best start. Fox Rolfe, only 17, shut down Thailand, giving up only two hits, one by Johnny Damon. The southpaw walked three and struck out five.
The Philippines used a pitching staff comprised mostly of hurlers from their domestic league. Two in particular impressed in Jon Jon Robles and Charlie Labrador. Robles tossed 4 1/3 frames without an earned run in the opening game against Thailand. After pitching in relief in the opener, Labrador drew the start against New Zealand, and battled through five innings, allowing only two earned runs.
Chinese Taipei had six of the top 10 hitters in the qualifier, but each other team had at least one in that list. Tops on the list was New Zealand’s Scott Campbell, a former Toronto Blue Jays top prospect. He hit .583, tying for the lead among all qualifier players in average and hits (7).
Taiwan had six players hit over .400, with Chien-Ming Chang leading the group at .545. Yi-Chuan Lin lead players in all four qualifiers with three doubles, and the team accumulated 13 two-baggers, six more than any other country. Chang was one of two players to drive in six runs, which was more than four teams in the pools.
As a result of their impressive efforts, Chinese Taipei features heavily on the unofficial All-Tournament Team and awards list.
MVP: Chien-Ming Chang (Chinese Taipei). Chinese Taipei so thoroughly dominated the qualifier that it is difficult to even choose a standout player. As a team, Taiwan hit .347 with a .988 OPS, drawing 25 walks compared to only 12 strikeouts. Chang was 6-for-11 with two doubles, leading Taiwan in hits and RBI (6). (Honourable mention: Scott Campbell)
Best Pitcher: Yu-Ching Lin (Chinese Taipei). Taiwan’s pitchers combined for 23 hitless innings, allowing only 11 hits while whiffing 29. Three different hurlers earned wins and 12 pitchers toed the rubber. Lin was likely the most impressive, giving up only one hit in four frames against the Philippines. He struck out five. (Honourable mention: Kai-Wen Cheng)
Best Fielder: Alan Schoenberger (New Zealand). Chinese Taipei was the best-fielding team to appear in any of the four qualifiers, but Taiwanese pitchers were in such total control that their fielders had very little work to do. Among the 69 outs recorded, 29 were via a punch out and only 11 outs were recorded by outfielders. New Zealand, on the other hand, had plenty of action up-the-middle and to the outfield, and Schoenberger displayed superb range in recording 22 chances without an error. His double play partner, Campbell, handled 15 chances perfectly. (Honourable mention: Campbell)
Best Runner: Alan Schoenberger (New Zealand). Schoenberger was easily the most impressive runner in the four qualifiers, stealing five bases without being caught. He was a constant threat on the basepaths, clearly disrupting the less-experienced pitchers of Thailand and the Philippines. (Honourable mention: Chih-Shen Lin)
C –Chih-Kang Kao (Chinese Taipei). Kao was 2-for-4 with a double in two games, but was perhaps the chief catalyst in preserving Taiwan’s 23-inning shutout streak. Kao donned the tools of ignorance for both games against New Zealand, throwing out 1-of-2 baserunners attempting to steal. The Kiwis stole seven bases in their other two games.
1B – Cheng-Ming Peng (Chinese Taipei). Taiwan’s first baseman was 3-for-8 with a .643 on-base percentage. He scored five runs and even stole a base. Peng was easily the top fielder at the first sack in the bracket.
2B – Yen-Wen Kuo (Chinese Taipei). Kuo collected three hits and three walks in seven at bats to amass a .600 OBP. He did not go down swinging in Taiwan’s three games, but did score four runs. Kuo did not commit an error in nine chances.
SS – Scott Campbell (New Zealand). Shortstop was the strongest position in the bracket at Chinese Taipei, as three hitters had an OPS over 1.000. Among hitters with more than seven at bats, though, Campbell led all four qualifying tournaments in batting average (.583) and was sixth in on-base percentage (.611). He led New Zealand in both categories, as well as doubles (2), RBI (6), and runs scored (3).
3B – Yung-Chi Chen (Chinese Taipei). Chen was Chinese Taipei’s top player in the 2006 WBC and had a good start to his third go-around. Chen was flawless at the hot corner and ripped a pair of doubles and two singles in nine at bats. He walked twice, scored five runs, and swiped a base.
LF – Szu-Chi Chou (Chinese Taipei). Left field was also a position of strength in the tournament. Chou earned the distinction of tops among the four players with three hits, including a two-bagger, in seven at bats. Chou exercised incredible plate discipline, drawing six walks and avoiding a strikeout. His .692 OBP was tops among all players in the qualifier.
CF – Joseph Daru (Thailand). Daru, only 19, had just two games to flash his skills in centerfield, but Thailand will be counting on the college player in the future. Daru showed excellent range, recording nine putouts in two games, including the last four outs versus New Zealand. Manning the cleanup spot, he was 2-for-6 and worked two walks.
RF – Chien-Ming Chang (Chinese Taipei). Chang paced the hosts in hits (6), RBIs (6), batting average (.545) and slugging percentage (.727). He whiffed only once in 11 at bats.
1B – Boss Moanaroa (New Zealand): .286/.444/.500, three walks and the tourney’s only home run
2B – Schoenberger (New Zealand): .313/.421/.375, three walks, five stolen bases, six runs
SS – Ryan Pineda (Philippines): .500/.571/.750, two walks
SS – Chih-Sheh Lin (Chinese Taipei): .455/.538/.636, two doubles, two walks, two stolen bases
3B – Yi-Chuan Lin (Chinese Taipei): .333/.400/.667, no strikeouts, five RBI, WBC-leading three doubles
OF – Nathan Lorentz (Thailand): .429/.500/.429
All-Tournament Pitching Staff:
Right-Handed Pitcher – Yu-Ching Lin (Chinese Taipei). Lin was second on Taiwan’s staff in innings (4) and strikeouts (5), helping the home team advance to the championship game.
Left-Handed Pitcher – Makauley Fox Rolfe (New Zealand). While Taiwan’s Yao-Hsun Yang had the most remarkable totals of any hurler, Fox Rolfe gave the gutsiest performance on the mound. After a 10-0 loss by the Diamondblacks in their first game, New Zealand had to quickly right the ship against Thailand. Fox Rolfe was the man for the job, scattering five baserunners in five frames, whiffing five as well.
Relief Pitcher – Lincoln Holdzkom (New Zealand): The Kiwis needed Holdzkom enough to pitch him in three games during the tournament. After an abbreviated start against Chinese Taipei in the opening game, Holdzkom entered with one out in the eighth inning of game three against the Philippines. New Zealand had built up a 10-2 lead, but Kiwi pitchers had given up four runs in the frame and had two more runners on. Holdzkom calmly induced a grounder for an inning-ending double play and then set down the Pinoys 1-2-3 in the ninth for the save. The flame-thrower came in to keep the game close and got another key groundball out. He led the pitchers in the qualifier with 7 1/3 innings.
Kai-Wen Cheng (Chinese Taipei): 0-0, 0.00 (3 IP, 0 H, 5 K, 0.67 WHIP)
Yao-Lin Wang (Chinese Taipei): 1-0, 0.00 (3.2 IP, 0 BB, 3 K, 1.09 WHIP)
Yao-Hsun Yang (Chinese Taipei): 1-0, 0.00 (5 IP, 6 K, 0.80 WHIP)
Jon Jon Robles (Philippines): 1-0, 0.00 (4.1 IP, 4 K, 1.38 WHIP)
Geno Espineli (Philippines): 0-0, 0.00 (2 IP, 3K, 0.00 WHIP)