Japan The Clear Favorites For Women's World Cup Tournament
When the Women’s World Cup baseball tournament begins on Wednesday in Viera, Fla., the best women’s teams in the world will all be battling to dethrone Japan.
Japan has won the past five Women’s World Cups, stretching all the way back to 2008. The best in women’s baseball for the past decade has undoubtedly been Team Japan. Their last World Cup loss was a first-round defeat at the hands of Team USA in 2012—a loss Japan avenged with a 3-0 win against Team USA in the championship game later that year. Japan run-ruled their opponents in the championship game in 2008 and 2010 and shut out their opponent in the championship game in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Japan’s success has been fueled by dominant pitching. Team Japan does not boast the hardest-throwing pitching staff, but its starters are able to consistently locate their breaking balls, pitching backwards and staying ahead of hitters.
Japan allowed only two runs in the entire 2014 World Cup, with shutouts in five of their six wins. Similarly, Japan allowed four runs in the 2016 World Cup, with five shutouts in eight wins. There are teams that are more physically imposing than Japan, but Japan’s combination of excellent pitching and solid defense has been too much for anyone else to handle for much of the past decade.
Two-time World Cup MVP Ayami Sato, 28, returns as Japan’s ace. Sato is the only four-time World Cup participant on Japan’s roster. Miya Shimizu, 20, gives Japan a second dominating starter. She threw 8.1 scoreless innings during the 2016 World Cup in her first extensive international action.
Japan’s lineup will be led by 26-year-old outfielder Lori Miura, 29-year-old infielder Yuki Kawabata and 26-year-old infielder Ayaka Deguchi.
While Japan is the obvious No. 1 seed, it’s Canada (seeded second) and Team USA (seeded third) that have the best chance to dethrone them. The U.S. team is coming off a very disappointing 2016 World Cup. Team USA went 2-1 in the opening round, but fell to the consolation round because of tiebreaker rules. Canada won the silver medal in 2016, losing 10-0 to Japan in the championship game.
The U.S. team has an emerging star in 20-year-old shortstop Jade Gortarez. Gortarez had two doubles and a home run in three warm-up games this past week. The U.S. will also rely on 27-year-old righthander Stacy Piagno, who is expected to be one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the tournament.
Team USA also has plenty of veteran experience with four players (Tamara Holmes, Malaika Underwood, Meggie Meidlinger and Marti Sementelli) who played on the United States' last World Cup championship team in 2006. Laura Collins played on Team USA's 2004 World Cup championship team.
Canada is led by long-time star Amanda Asay. Asay has been a fixture on Canada’s team for 13 years and is one of the best sluggers in the tournament.
Each team in the 12-team tournament will play the other five teams in their pool in the opening round. Japan and Canada are in Group B, which also includes fourth-seeded Australia. Japan and Canada will meet in the first round this Friday at 6 p.m. ET.
The U.S. is in Group A, where its toughest competition is expected to be fifth-seeded Venezuela and sixth-seeded Taiwan.
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The top three teams from each of the two pools will then advance to the super round to play the three teams from the other pool. That top two teams at the end of that round will play for the gold medal on Friday, Aug. 31, with the next two teams playing earlier the same day for the bronze medal.
The tournament will also be the first to use the WBSC’s new, and rather extensive, speed-up rules. The WBSC will test having only 90 seconds between half innings, but more importantly, the WBSC has adopted a 12-second pitch clock between pitches that is far more drastic than the pitch clock rules adopted by any other baseball league.