Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down China

Team China's Classic manager John McLaren returns to coach the squad for the second time, and he may have more Major League weapons at his disposal this go around. With Chen (former big leaguer), Worley (free agent), Brice (Marlins) and Kolten Wong (Cardinals) possibly joining the fold, the 2017 team has the potential to be stronger than it has been in previous years. Chang returns to the Classic after his two-run single helped beat Brazil in '13.
How they fared in the past
Team China won its first World Baseball Classic game when it eliminated Chinese Taipei with a 4-1 victory in 2009. In '13, China scored five runs in the eighth inning to overcome a two-run deficit in a surprising win over Brazil, the country's signature victory thus far in the history of the Classic. Chinese catcher Wei Wang hit the first home run of any player ever in the Classic's history in '06, a claim to fame for a squad that has yet to advance past the first round.
What they should do well
Chen, Worley, Kwon and Brice all have professional experience, giving Team China a core of hurlers it can rely on when it takes the mound. Chen pitched for 11 teams over 17 MLB seasons and has the veteran savvy to anchor the team's rotation. Worley went 2-2 with a 3.53 ERA for Baltimore in 2016, and his ability to start games or pitch out of the bullpen will provide the staff with some versatility. Kwon is a pitcher in the Korea Baseball Organization, and McLaren has said he could be a fifth starter for a big league club.
Where they could struggle
Aside from Wong, who has batted .248 over his four years as a Cardinal, Team China is lacking Major League hitters. Chang's heroics in the 2013 Classic suggest he could be a middle-of-the-order guy in McLaren's lineup, but he has never reached MLB, playing 12 seasons in the Minors. Runs may be hard to come by for McLaren's offense.
How far they could go
Playing in Pool B along with Cuba, Japan and Australia, China could find it hard to finally take that next step to the second round. McLaren told MLB.com's Lindsay Berra "winning a game is monumental" to the team, so expectations are not as high as they are for some other teams. Advancing past pool play is a long shot, but winning a game is certainly within the realm of possibilities for Team China.

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