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Everything you need to know about Japan All-Star Series

Cano, Puig headline big league squad that will play seven games in Japan

LOS ANGELES -- Some big league stars have been lounging at home for five full weeks now. Others, for one.

Yet for a select few, there is no time to rest. A team of the game's biggest names, including Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria and Yasiel Puig, descended upon Los Angeles this weekend in advance of a five-game All-Star Series in Japan. All games will be broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.TV. A longtime tradition dating to 1986, the All-Star Series -- partially due to the emergence of the World Baseball Classic -- has been on hiatus since an MLB team last crossed the Pacific in 2006. Its return includes a few tweaks, though its spirit will remain unchanged.

What is it?
Every two years from 1986-92, and again from 1996-2006, Major League Baseball sent an elite crew of players overseas to play against an All-Star team from Nippon Professional Baseball. This month, instead of facing All-Stars from Japan's top domestic league, MLB stars will take on Japan's national team -- dubbed Samurai Japan. The big leaguers will travel to Osaka, Tokyo, Sapporo and Okinawa, playing a five-game series against Samurai Japan, as well as two exhibitions.

Who is playing?
Manager John Farrell's 29-man roster is star-studded, with Cano, Puig, Longoria and Jose Altuve headlining the MLB team. Others include Justin Morneau, Lucas Duda, Ben Zobrist, Mark Melancon and -- fresh off their American League pennant in Kansas City -- Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Guthrie. Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada are slated to appear for the MLB team, not Japan.

Headlining a young Samurai Japan team is Shohei Otani, Shintaro Fujinami, Tetsuto Yamada and Takahiro Norimoto. World Baseball Classic fans may recognize third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda, first baseman Sho Nakata, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto and outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa from the 2013 event.

Of particular interest to American fans should be right-handed pitcher Kenta Maeda, who starred in the 2013 Classic and could land with an MLB club this winter.

When is it?
The five-game series takes place from Wednesday through Nov. 18, with travel days on Thursday and the 17th, along with exhibitions on Tuesday and the 20th. The complete schedule is as follows:

Tuesday: Exhibition game vs. Hanshin Tigers/Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium, Osaka (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
Wednesday: Game No. 1 at Kyocera Dome, Osaka (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
Thursday: Travel day
Friday, Nov. 14: Game No. 2 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
Saturday, Nov. 15: Game No. 3 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
Sunday, Nov. 16: Game No. 4 at Tokyo Dome, Tokyo (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)
Monday, Nov. 17: Travel day
Tuesday, Nov. 18: Game No. 5 at Sapporo Dome, Sapporo (7 p.m. JT/5 a.m. ET)
Wednesday, Nov. 19: Travel day
Thursday, Nov. 20: Exhibition game vs. Samurai Japan, Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Okinawa (6 p.m. JT/4 a.m. ET)

How do I watch it?
MLB Network will broadcast all seven games of the Japan All-Star Series, and MLB.TV subscribers in the U.S. and around the world can watch live and on-demand streams of every game as well.

MLB.TV subscribers and anyone wanting to sign up now for the $24.99 MLB.TV Offseason Package can watch exclusive live and on-demand streams of all five games in the Japan All-Star Series 2014 plus the two exhibitions, starting with the first pitch at 4 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

What are the rules?
Most of the irregular rules of the series revolve around pitch counts, in an attempt to keep players safe during a time of year when high-level competitive baseball doesn't often take place. The skinny:

• Pitchers may not throw more than 80 pitches in a game. If a pitcher exceeds that limit while facing a batter, he is allowed to finish the plate appearance, but he must leave the game immediately upon its conclusion.
• If a pitcher throws more than 30 pitches in any one outing or appears in two consecutive games, he must have a day of rest before pitching again. This rule does not apply for either of the exhibition games (Nov. 11 and 20).

Other rules:

• The designated hitter will be in play in all games.
• If there is a tie after the 10th inning, the game will go into a tiebreak with runners on first and second base. The batting order will not change, with the two last batters from the previous inning starting on the bases. The game will end as a draw if both teams are tied after the 12th inning. The two exhibition games will end as a draw if tied after the ninth.

When did this all get started?
The history of Major League Baseball in Japan dates back more than 100 years. In 1908, the first All-American Team traveled to Japan and went undefeated in a 19-game barnstorming tour. Over the ensuing century, various All-Star teams, Negro League teams and individual clubs have traveled to the Pacific's biggest baseball hotbed.

Beginning in 1986, Major League Baseball began sending a team to Japan every two years to compete against All-Stars from Nippon Professional Baseball. MLB won the first series, 6-1, with Tony Pena earning MVP honors. Future Hall of Famers such as Tony Gwynn, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken Jr. competed in that first series, known locally as Nichibei Yakyu.

The series chugged on every other year for two decades, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season. But the advent of the World Baseball Classic made the series in Japan somewhat redundant, and the teams stopped playing until this year.

With Samurai Japan looking to develop its young players against top-level competition prior to the 2017 Classic, and MLB always looking to showcase its product abroad, there was mutual interest to rekindle the series.

"We don't see these games as exhibitions," Samurai Japan senior staff member Kenjiro Kato told the Japan Times. "We are treating them as meaningful competition. And the players association is, too."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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