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Indecision could prove costly for Japan

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Head Coach: Kozo Otagaki.

Key Players: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, a 19-year-old who leads the Pacific League in wins and strikeouts, will head the pitching staff. The league’s top two home run hitters, 3B Norihiro Nakamura and 1B Nobuhiko Matsunaka, will power the offense. Matsunaka is among the league leaders all three triple-crown categories.

How Qualified: Finished second in the Asian qualifying tournament last September.

Olympic History: Japan is the only nation to win a medal in every Olympic baseball tournament. Defeated the United States 6-1 to win gold in 1984. Lost to the U.S. 5-3 in 1988 to take silver. Defeated the U.S. 8-3 to win bronze in 1992. Lost to Cuba 13-9 in 1996 to take silver.

Players With U.S. Ties: None.

Notes: Like the United States, Japan has struggled with how to put together its best team for the Olympics without disrupting its major league season. Pacific League owners were willing to let players go (and even considered suspending their season), and each team contributed one of its better players. Central League owners wavered on the question all season and eventually contributed just two token reserves. As a result, the team will feature just eight professional players. Even the coach of the team is from Japan’s industrial league and not its major leagues.

Outlook: A team that many had regarded as a threat to Cuba in the spring hasn’t come together as expected, though it will still be formidable. Japan’s hopes will ride on how much of an impact its pros have and how good the amateur players are. It should be in the group behind Cuba competing for a spot in the medal round.

Roster

Pitchers: Yoseikazu Doi, Masanori Ishikawa, Masato Kawano, Tomohiro Kuroki, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Masanori Sugiura, Shunsure Watanabe, Akichika Yamada, Yuji Yoshimi.

Catchers: Shinnosuke Abe, Kosuke Noda, Fumihiro Suzuki.

Infielders: Jun Heima, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Norihiko Nakamura, Osamu Nogami, Yoshinori Okihara, Yukio Tanaka.

Outfielders: Nodihiro Akahosei, Jun Hirose, Tomohiro Iizuka, Yoshihiko Kajiyama, So Taguchi.

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