Team Italia battles Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in 2017 World Baseball Classic

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Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri will have his mixed roster of seasoned MLB players and up-and-coming prospects ready for combat in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara will be declared a war zone beginning March 9th when 2017 WBC host Mexico seeks revenge against a ‘never say die’ Italian squad that attacked closer Sergio Romo to pull off a miraculous 6-5 come-from-behind victory in the opening game of the 2013 WBC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Team Mexico will be managed by Edgar Gonzalez, who will be depending on his brother Adrian Gonzalez to lead the Mexican’s offensive charge with the support of sluggers Khris Davis and Danny Espinosa. In the opening battle on March 9th, Team Italia will most likely face starting pitchers Jamie Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez or Oliver Perez. It will be critical for Team Italia to strike first and score runs early because the Mexican bullpen is filled with some of the MLB’s finest relievers including: Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres.

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Team Italia’s Tiago Da Silva pitched 3.1 innings of relief against Mexico in the 2013 WBC. The Brazilian-born 31-year-old kept hitters off-balance and allowed only one run.

Team Italia will use a day off to strategize and prepare their troops for the March 11th clash versus Venezuela. Not only will this be one of the Team Italia’s biggest challenges of the 2017 WBC, but it is life-or-death for Venezuelan-born catcher Francisco Cervelli–who played for Team Italia when Venezuela eliminated the Italians from the 2009 WBC competition following their devastating 10-1 defeat. Fellow Venezuela native Luis Lugo, a 22-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching prospect who secured a Team Italia roster spot in the 2016 European Championship, would absolutely love the opportunity to get the ball and turn the tables on Venezuela. However, it will not be an easy task for Team Italia as Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel’s roster of MLB All-Stars includes Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Altuves, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Martin Prado, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera and Sandy Leon.

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Team Italia lefty Luis Lugo would like nothing more than play in the 2017 WBC and help the Azzurri pitching staff diffuse a lethal Venezuela lineup loaded with powerful dynamite.

Team Italia will face Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez’s talented roster on March 12th. Starting pitcher possibilities include Seth Lugo and Hector Santiago. Relievers include Alex Claudio, Edwin Diaz, Joe Jimenez and Joe Colon. Puerto Rico boosts a strong MLB All-Star caliber lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Yadier Molina, T.J. Rivera and Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico, the runner-up of the 2013 WBC, eliminated Team Italia in the second round of play when they rallied late in the eight inning from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Azzurri with a 4-3 victory. As with the 2013 WBC, the first round will again be a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to one of two second-round pools. However, for the first time in the worldwide tournament’s history, a single-elimination tiebreaker game will be played if necessary to determine the second advancing team in both the first and second rounds. In the case of the first round in Guadalajara, the tiebreaker contest would be played on March 13th. The two top teams will then move on to the second round of action slated to begin on March 14th at San Diego’s Petco Park.

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Team Italia starter Alex Maestri threw 4.1 scoreless innings versus Puerto Rico in the 2013 WBC.

Team Italia and host Mexico have a favorable advantage over rivals Venezuela and Puerto Rico due to the scheduling of the round-robin tournament. Both teams have a day off following their head-to-head combat match-up on opening night March 9th. However, when Team Italia returns recharged for a day game against Venezuela on March 11th, the Italians can take advantage of a sleep-deprived and fatigued Venezuela pitching staff that will have been taxed after being used the night before versus Puerto Rico. Team Italia will once again enjoy the same luxury when they play their second consecutive day game against a tired Puerto Rico squad that will have undergone back-to-back night battles versus Venezuela and Mexico. Although Team Italia remains the underdog, manager Marco Mazzieri’s army of blue-collar baseball players will fight to the death to repeat as they did in the 2013 WBC and advance to the second round.jal

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Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri challenged by international baseball’s best minds in Premier 12

Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Manager Marco Mazzieri led Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 WBC in Miami, Florida.
f04da2db112212b49c5641Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri faces some of the best international baseball minds this week during the inaugural 2015 Premier 12 in Taiwan. On November 10th the Italian skipper and LA Dodgers international scout will lock horns with Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodríguez. The former Yankee and Padre infielder became the first Puerto Rican-born manager in major league history when he managed the Florida Marlins (2010-2011). The last time the two teams met in the 2013 World Baseball Classic Italia nearly upset WBC runner-up Puerto Rico.
The Premier 12 takes place in Taiwan and Japan.
The Premier 12 takes place in Taiwan and Japan.
Kingdom of the Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens
Kingdom of the Netherlands manager and SF Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens speaks at 2013 WBC.
On November 11th the eleventh-ranked Italian squad takes on fourth-ranked Chinese Taipei, a tough customer managed by Japan’s NPB all-time leading pitcher Tai-Yuan Kuo, who amassed 117 wins during his 13 seasons with the Seibu Lions and most recently served as pitching coach for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (2013-2014). After Team Italia gets a one day reprieve, they tackle fifth-ranked Kingdom of the Netherlands on November 13th. Holland defeated Italy in the 2014 European Baseball Championship under current Premier 12 bench coach Steve Jannsen. Curacao native Hensley Meulens, who made his MLB debut for the Yankees in 1986 and has spent the last six seasons as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, reclaims the Kingdom of the Netherlands manager role after leading the Dutch to the semifinals in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Team Canada manager  and former Toronto Blue Jay catcher Ernie Whitt
Team Canada manager and former Toronto Blue Jay catcher Ernie Whitt
Having been defeated by Team Italia in both the 2009 and 2013 WBC, Canada is out to make amends in the Premier 12. Manager Ernie Whitt, a fifteen-year veteran MLB catcher and former Blue Jay bench coach, and current Blue Jay first base coach Tim Leiper will lead Canada’s charge. When it was announced that five-time MLB all-star Larry Walker would be joining the seventh-ranked Team Canada coaching staff, an ominous feeling filled the air with supernatural powers. Walker’s superstition with the number three may be just what the doctor ordered for the Italians to upset Canada for the third consecutive time on November 14th. To understand this ironic twist, one must remember that as a player Larry Walker wore number 33 and would take three, or any multiple of three, swings in the batter’s box before every at-bat. In fact, it is reported that he was married on the third of November at 3:33 PM. It remains to be seen if Walker’s obsession with the #3 plays to Team Italia’s advantage in their quest for three straight wins over Canada.
Team Cuba manager Victor Mesa in 2015
Recent photo of Team Cuba manager Victor Mesa

Italia’s final game in the first round of Premier 12 action is a November 15th battle against third-ranked Cuba, managed by Victor Mesa, one of the greatest baserunners in Cuban baseball history and Olympic gold medalist. Mesa’s Cuban national team beat World Port Tournament host and runner-up the Netherlands in July to place first with teams from Curacao, Japan and Chinese Taipei rounding out the field. Most recently in Premier 12 exhibition games, Cuba split their two games against eighth-ranked South Korea, while Team Italia beat tenth-ranked Venezuela and lost a heartbreaker to twelfth-ranked Mexico.