Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Chinese Taipei

The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has kept quiet to this point on potential players for its roster. What is clearer is who will likely not be on the roster for the team's opening-round games in South Korea.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan decided to boycott the World Baseball Classic and deny its support to the national team. Fortunately, three of the four CPBL teams decided independently to allow their players to participate in the Classic, but the Lamigo Monkeys followed suit with the league and held out. That means Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang -- who were projected as three of Chinese Taipei's top hitters -- will not be on the roster.
Meanwhile, potential ace Wei-Yin Chen said he would let the Marlins decide whether to allow him to participate in the Classic as he continues to recover from the elbow injury he suffered last summer. Many MLB fans will recognize former Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, who's coming off a decent 2016 season in the Royals bullpen, but at age 36, he could forgo the Classic to focus on making one last Major League roster in Spring Training.
How they fared in the past
Chinese Taipei made headlines in the '13 Classic when it won Pool B and came just an inning shy of sweeping its way through the opening round, before blowing a late lead against South Korea. The island nation kept surprising when it held a 3-2, ninth-inning lead on two-time defending champion Japan in Round 2 before eventually losing in extra innings. It then ran out of steam in a 14-0 elimination loss to Cuba. Still, after opening-round knockouts in '06 and '09, the most recent Classic represented a major step forward for Taipei.
What they should do well
While it's hard to project Taipei's strengths without any confirmed names in hand, the team has historically fared well at the plate. Infielders Chih-Hsien Chiang, Chih-Sheng Lin and Yi-Chuan Lin are talented hitters who could form the middle of Chinese Taipei's order.
Where they could struggle
Taipei's fortunes could ultimately rest with its starting rotation, and someone will need to step up if Chen and Wang do not make the trip to Seoul. The team may end up looking to its under-23 squad for starting options. Former Tigers reliever Fu-Te Ni has a good chance to be the closer.
How far they could go
Chinese Taipei has a proud baseball history that stretches back for decades, and its current No. 4 ranking in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rankings indicates it's a bigger power in the baseball world than many might think. Pool A is wide open, and Taipei could still win at least two games against Israel, the Netherlands and South Korea and move on to Round 2. But without some of its biggest stars, it's hard to see Chinese Taipei advancing any further once it squares off against other nations that are filled with Major League talent. In the end, Taipei's thin pitching staff could prove to be its undoing.

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