Pool D Goes Wild at the World Baseball Classic

usp-baseball_-world-baseball-classic-mexico-vs-uni_001-4_3_r536_c534Another wild day of World Baseball Classic has given us another wild round of surprises. Italy opened the day in Pool D with a romping victory of Canada and in the nightcap in Arizona, Adrian Gonzalez led Team Mexico to a win over the United States. Both outcomes were unexpected to say the least. Italy is now 2-0 in pool play with a +11 run differential and only a game against the Americans left. Barring an utter disaster, they appear to be a good bet to advance and if Canada can top Mexico today they are a lock for the 2nd round.

Yesterday’s results also leave the United States and Canada teetering on the edge of disaster. A Canadian loss in the early game would toll the death bell for the Maples and it would put the U.S. in a win-or-go-home scenario as well. “We need to win, but not only win,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “We need to put up some runs. We’ve got to kick some butts.” The U.S. has a run differential that 14 runs worse than Italy currently, something that doesn’t bode well if the United States ends up in a tie-breaker scenario. They need to put the pedal to the medal and really take the game to the Italians on Saturday.

Handling Italy may be something that’s easier said than done at this point. The Italians absolutely throttled the Canadians and their offense is humming right now. Chris Colabello, a Double-A 1st baseman in the Twins system, is hitting .500 with 4 RBI and 1 home run. Centerfielder Chris Denorfia has a pair of 2 hit games at the top of the lineup and he’s scored 3 runs. Mariners’ 3rd base candidate Alex Liddi has been on base 6 times in two games, racking up 4 hits and 2 RBI while scoring 4 runs. And let’s not forget Drew Butera, a light-hitting catcher with a batting average of .183 in 3 big league seasons. Butera’s got a homer and 4 RBI in the classic at the bottom of the Italian lineup, proving you can’t rest for a second against any professional hitter.

Tasked with shutting down that red-hot Italian lineup will be San Francisco Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong. He may be the perfect antidote against the free-swinging Italians thanks to his large repertoire of pitches that he can locate at the drop of a hat. Vogelsong primarily relies on his sinker, but that doesn’t mean he won’t sprinkle in the occasional 4-seamer, 2-seamer, or curveball. He’s also a veteran of international competition, spending 3 years in the Nippon Pro League in Japan, and thus far in his career Vogelsong has excelled in big game situations. He was 3-0 in the 2012 postseason with a 1.80 ERA in 24.2 innings, helping the Giants capture the 2012 World Series title.

Opposing Vogelsong on the mound is going to be Luca Panerati, a 23-year-old lefty from the Tuscany region of Italy. He’s played a bit of minor league baseball in the States, throwing 4 years in the very low levels of the Reds’ minor league system, toping out at Single-A Dayton in 2011. He spent his 2012 season in the Italian Serie A Professional League where he went 7-3 with a 2.57 ERA. I fully expect the United States and their high-powered offense to make up for yesterday’s poor showing by jumping all over Panerati, and since the Italians were able to save most of their bullpen yesterday, I’m guessing they will have a quick hook. Italian hitting coach and former Mets catcher Mike Piazza said as much.

“There’s some interesting strategy in this tournament. It’s a little unorthodox. We have to watch our pitching and then there’s the run differential. We have some [pitchers] rested, who are going to be able to pitch tomorrow, but right now we’re just going to let it all hang out and play a good game against the U.S. You see from one to nine, guys are really battling. It builds great unity and energy on the team.”

Over in the other end of the pool, we have a de facto elimination game between Mexico and Canada. Mexico will ask Marco Estrada of the Brewers to toe the rubber while Canada is sending Pirates reliever Chris Leroux to the bump. Both pitchers have some good strikeout ability out of the bullpen and with both teams playing for their lives I think the managers will end up using their starters for 3 innings max, letting them act more like relievers. I’d be surprised if Canada didn’t come out with a much better showing after being embarrassed by the Italians in a 10-run mercy rule loss yesterday. Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, and others are All-Star players with a lot of country pride and a don’t imagine that they enjoyed the thumping.

Game 1 starts at 2:30 Eastern time and the Red, White, and Blue will take the field against Italy in Game 2 at 9 Eastern.

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