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Feb '09 21

World Baseball Classic Previews: Venezuela



Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.

Venezuela

It is without question that Venezuela produces every year first-class Baseball players. However it is difficult for the National Team to translate this into wins at International Baseball Tournaments. They will try for another time in March in the World Baseball Classic.

Opponents
Venezuela is the first opponent of Italy in the WBC 09 on March 7 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, home of the MLB club Toronto Blue Jays. It is a rematch from 2006, when Venezuela shut out Italy 6-0. In game two in the 2009 tournament they would face Team USA or host Canada. In the second round they will face the advancing teams from Pool D with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands. These games would be played at the Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida, beginning on Saturday, March 14.

Recent Tournament History
As mentioned before Venezuela‘s recent tournament history isn’t impressive. Their teams regularly win the Caribbean Series, like a few weeks ago, when Aragua took home the trophy. But the National Team hasn’t won in a while. Their best result in the past few years might be the seventh place at the 2006 World Baseball Classic. They celebrated shutout wins against Italy (6-0), Australia (2-0) and Puerto Rico (6-0), but also lost against the Dominicans (5-11, 1-2) and Cuba (2-7).

One year later they truly disappointed in the Baseball World Cup in Taiwan, winning only against the heavy underdogs Germany and Thailand to finish with a 2-5 record in twelfth place. They missed out on the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament last March due to a fifth place in the Copa Americas in 2006. In last September’s Continental Championship they also were fifth, securing a spot in the Baseball World Cup next September in Europe.

Venezuela pitching at Baseball World Cup 07These results also explain their 15th position in the IBAF World Rankings.

Exhibition Schedule
Tuesday, March 3:
Venezuela – Detroit Tigers
Wednesday, March 4:
Venezuela – Houston Astros
Thursday, March 5:
Venezuela – Atlanta Braves

Venezuela uses the Spring Training facilities of the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida during the pre-tournament phase.

Roster
The provisional roster of Venezuela reads like an all-stars squad. However a few of the top players are skipping the tournament. The list unfortunately head starting pitchers Johan Santana of the New York Mets (insurance issues after knee surgery) and Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs. Also not aboard are starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (FLA), catcher Pablo Sandoval (SF), infielder Maicer Izturis (LAA) and outfielder Juan Rivera (LAA). Carlos Guillen of the Detroit Tigers will not play, if he is not in left field.

But still, especially the offense has some high-caliber guys in the tournament, if you’re looking into the direction of Miguel Cabrera (DET), Magglio Ordonez (DET) or Bobby Abreu (LAA). The pitching staff features young guns like Felix Hernandez (SEA) or Armando Galarraga (DET) and highly regarded closer Francisco Rodriguez (NYM).

Catcher Dioner Navarro (TB) delivers some kind of European touch, as he is the brother of Dewis Navarro, the Spanish National Team standout, who left the Spanish champion MARLINS PUERTO CRUZ this winter for Italy’s DANESI NETTUNO.

Coaches
The five-time World Series champion with the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, Luis Sojo, again will manage Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. The former Major League infielder worked as a base coach with the Yankees in the past and is currently managing their Single-A affiliate Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League. He also is coaching in the Venezuela Winter League.

Chances
Venezuela has a tough road to reach the World Baseball Classic finals. They open the WBC against Italy, which is, on paper at least, an easy start. A win in the first match is much more important this March due to the double elimination format and the waiting teams from the US and Canada. However the two North American opponents in Pool C have problems recruiting players for the Classic, so this could favor the squad of Sojo. Nonetheless the missing pitchers Santana and Zambrano definitely hurt their chances before the beginning of the event as well.

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Australia

Photo: © IBAF, www.ibaf.org




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