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Olympic Berth Within Team USA's Reach at Premier12

Team USA is through to the second round of the Olympic qualifying tournament. Now comes the hard part.

The U.S. will open the next round of WBSC Premier12 against the tournament’s two most dangerous teams in Japan and South Korea.

Japan, the top-ranked team in the tournament, went 3-0 in Group B and outscored opponents by a combined score of 20-5. South Korea went 3-0 in Group C and outscored opponents 15-1.

Mexico, Australia and Taiwan make up the rest of the six-team field.

Team USA went 2-1 in Group A to finish as the group runner-up behind Mexico. It opens the second round Monday against South Korea and will face Japan on Tuesday. Both games are in Tokyo and start at 7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET).

It’s a difficult start to the round for Team USA, but the good news is it doesn’t have to finish atop the six-team Super Round to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

All Team USA has to do is finish with the best record of the participants from the Americas.

Australia’s shocking 3-1 upset of Canada on the final day of group play eliminated the Canadians and made Team USA’s path a little easier. With Canada’s elimination, Mexico is the only other team from the Americas to reach the Super Round.

As long as Team USA finishes higher than Mexico, it will clinch a berth to the 2020 Olympics.

Whether Team USA can do so will largely depend on its pitching. The staff entered the tournament as a question mark and surrendered eight runs in each of the final two games of group play. Now, that staff will be tasked with facing a South Korea team that features many of the Korean Baseball Organization’s top hitters and a Japan team loaded with Nippon Pro Baseball All-Stars.

If the pitching staff can hold up—or get through the two games without using too many arms—the remaining games are a little easier. Team USA will face Australia on Nov. 13 and Taiwan Nov. 15 to complete second-round play, games in which the U.S. will be favored.

Mexico faces the same slate of Taiwan, Australia, Japan and South Korea. It’s head-to-head win over Team USA in group play gives it an edge for an Olympic berth.

The team that finishes highest among South Korea, Taiwan and Australia will also clinch a spot in the Olympics as the highest finisher from Asia/Oceania. Japan, the favorite to win the tournament, has automatically qualified for the 2020 Games as the host nation.

If Team USA fails to finish ahead of Mexico, it will get another shot to qualify for the Olympics next March at the Americas qualifier in Arizona.

Frank Thomas Focusonsport

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