Saturday, March 11, 2017

WBC: Mexico hopes to rebound against Puerto Rico Saturday

After dropping a shocking 10-9 World Baseball Classic Pool D opener against Italy on Thursday in Guadalajara, the Mexican National Team will try to keep their hopes for advancement to the quarterfinals alive Saturday when they take on Puerto Rico, a team that crushed Venezuela and starter Felix Hernandez, 11-0, Friday night before 14,806 fans at Estadio Charros.  Mexico faces the daunting task of sweeping both Puerto Rico and Venezuela in their final pool play games to punch their ticket to San Diego's Petco Park and the WBC Elite Eight.  Israel, The Netherlands, Japan and Cuba have already qualified out of Pools A and B.

Thursday night's loss was an epic collapse on the part of Mexican relievers Roberto Osuna and Oliver Perez, who allowed five Italian runs to cross the plate without recording a single out.  Osuna in particular had a rough outing for the Verdes Grande, looking every bit the pitcher who has not rounded into shape.  A fair amount of criticism south of the border has been directed toward Mexico manager Edgar Gonzalez for his use of a pitching staff considered one of the WBC's deepest, but it's hard to fault the older brother of Dodgers All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for turning to Osuna in the ninth.  The 22-year-old wunderkind posted 36 saves last year for Toronto and was a key figure as the Jays reached the American League Championship Series for the second season in a row.

However, the Osuna who regularly sent batters back to the Skydome visitors dugout muttering was not the same Osuna who took the mound Thursday at the mile-high launching pad that is Estadio Charros, where the two teams combined to belt six homers, four by the Italians.  After five batters reached base safely, punctuated by a two-run double from the newest Tijuana Toro, Alex Liddi, Gonzalez pulled Osuna in favor of 14-year MLB veteran Oliver Perez.  Although Perez stayed in shape over the winter by pitching in the Mexican Pacific League, he gave up a bases-loaded, run-scoring single to Brandon Nimmo and a two-run safety to John Andreoli that ended the contest and sent 14,296 homeland fans home in stunned silence.

Things won't get easier Saturday for Mexico, who'll send White Sox starter Miguel Angel Gonzalez to the mound against a powerful Puerto Rican squad that systematically demolished the former Cy Young winner Hernandez and Venezuela Friday night after a slow start.  King Felix did not pitch badly, allowing a pair of third inning runs in 2.2 innings, but relievers Jhoulys Chacin and Deolis Guerra were scorched for a combined nine runs in the sixth and seventh inning as the mercy rule was invoked with the Boricuans leading 11-0 after seven frames.  Right fielder Eddie Rosario led Puerto Rico with a single, double and triple while scoring twice and driving in two more runs while Yadier Molina, Carlos Correa and T.J. Rivera all homered for the winners.  Not that he needed that much support, but starting pitcher Seth Lugo dominated the Venezuelan lineup by allowing one hit and no walks until being relieved with one out in the sixth with a 2-0 lead.

The Mexico-Puerto Rico game will be played at 8:30PM Central Time (0330 GMT) after Italy and Venezuela meet in Estadio Charros at 2:00PM Central (2100 GMT) in Saturday's first game.  Sunday's docket has Italy and Puerto Rico squaring off at 1:30 Central Daylight Time (2130 UTC) while Mexico and Venezuela lock horns at 8:00PM CDT (0200 UTC).