Saturday, February 4, 2017

Iginla powers Avalanche past Jets 5-2

Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist, and the reeling Colorado Avalanche beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 on Saturday.
Matt Nieto scored twice and Matt Duchene added three assists, helping Colorado stop a nine-game losing streak. Nathan MacKinnon and Carl Soderberg also scored, and Calvin Pickard had 23 saves.
Colorado improved to 5-24-2 in its last 31 games. It also snapped a five-game skid at Pepsi Center, where it is 6-18-1 overall.
Adam Lowry scored each of Winnipeg's goals, stopping a 21-game drought. The Jets had won three in a row.
Nieto broke a 2-2 tie midway through the second period, and Soderberg made it 4-2 2:04 into the third with his fifth of the season.
The game got heated midway through the third when Colorado defenseman Nikita Zadorov delivered an open-ice check on Mark Scheifele. It was the second hard check Zadorov had on the Winnipeg center, and Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba went after Zadorov. Both received fighting majors and Trouba a game misconduct.
The Jets pulled Ondrej Pavelec for an extra skater with 2:20 left and Nieto scored into the empty net in the final minute.
Pavelec finished with 23 saves.
Iginla, who has talked openly about wanting to finish the season with a contender, assisted on Soderberg's goal and scored on the power play 5:27 into the game. He has seven goals and seven assists in 49 games this season.
NOTES: Jets C Bryan Little was helped off the ice off midway through the third period after taking a shot off his left skate. ... D Mark Barberio made his Avalanche debut. He was picked up off waivers from Montreal on Thursday. ... Jets RW Drew Stafford missed his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury. He practiced Friday and could return when the Jets start a four-game homestand on Tuesday.
Jets: Host Minnesota on Tuesday night.
Avalanche: Host Montreal on Tuesday night.

Braden Holtby lifts Capitals past Canadiens

Braden Holtby made 20 saves to extend his winning streak to 10 games when the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at Bell Centre on Saturday.
Holtby has not lost since a 2-1 shootout loss against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 29.
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Nicklas Backstrom's power-play goal at 5:16 of the third period turned out to be the game-winner for Washington (35-11-6), which got goals from Jay Beagle in the first and Andre Burakovsky in the second.
The Capitals, who lead the NHL with 76 points, have won four straight games in Montreal, and 11 of 12 since 2010-11.
Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty each had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens (30-16-7).
Carey Price made 27 saves for Montreal, which has lost two straight, including a 3-1 at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
Backstrom scored his 15th goal on a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle to give Washington a 3-1 lead. Pacioretty's 25th goal at 7:49 of the third made it 3-2.
Beagle put the Capitals up 1-0 with his 11th goal on a wrist shot into the top right corner from the slot at 3:02 of the first period.
Radulov tied it at 1-1 with his 13th goal at 7:32.
Burakovsky gave Washington its second one-goal lead at 2-1 with his 11th goal at 9:26.
The Canadiens appeared to tie the game at 2-2 1:30 later, but Radulov's second goal was waved off for goaltender interference at 10:56 because Pacioretty crashed into Holtby.
The game was delayed for 11 minutes at 5:16 of the first to replace a broken piece of the boards behind Washington's goal.

Budaj, Carter lead Kings over Flyers in OT, 5th win in row

 Peter Budaj posted his NHL-leading seventh shutout, Jeff Carter scored midway through overtime and the Los Angeles Kings won their fifth in a row, 1-0 over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
Budaj, who wasn't even on the Kings' roster on opening night, extended his shutout streak to 143 minutes, 55 seconds. He made 17 saves.
Anze Kopitar set up the winning goal at 2:35 with a backhand pass across the crease to Carter, who whizzed a wrist shot past Michal Neuvirth. It was the 27th tally of the season for Carter, who entered trailing Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby by two goals for the NHL lead.
Neuvirth made 27 saves for Philadelphia, including a sensational glove stop in the second period.

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Chinese Taipei

The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has kept quiet to this point on potential players for its roster. What is clearer is who will likely not be on the roster for the team's opening-round games in South Korea.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan decided to boycott the World Baseball Classic and deny its support to the national team. Fortunately, three of the four CPBL teams decided independently to allow their players to participate in the Classic, but the Lamigo Monkeys followed suit with the league and held out. That means Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang -- who were projected as three of Chinese Taipei's top hitters -- will not be on the roster.
Meanwhile, potential ace Wei-Yin Chen said he would let the Marlins decide whether to allow him to participate in the Classic as he continues to recover from the elbow injury he suffered last summer. Many MLB fans will recognize former Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, who's coming off a decent 2016 season in the Royals bullpen, but at age 36, he could forgo the Classic to focus on making one last Major League roster in Spring Training.
How they fared in the past
Chinese Taipei made headlines in the '13 Classic when it won Pool B and came just an inning shy of sweeping its way through the opening round, before blowing a late lead against South Korea. The island nation kept surprising when it held a 3-2, ninth-inning lead on two-time defending champion Japan in Round 2 before eventually losing in extra innings. It then ran out of steam in a 14-0 elimination loss to Cuba. Still, after opening-round knockouts in '06 and '09, the most recent Classic represented a major step forward for Taipei.
What they should do well
While it's hard to project Taipei's strengths without any confirmed names in hand, the team has historically fared well at the plate. Infielders Chih-Hsien Chiang, Chih-Sheng Lin and Yi-Chuan Lin are talented hitters who could form the middle of Chinese Taipei's order.
Where they could struggle
Taipei's fortunes could ultimately rest with its starting rotation, and someone will need to step up if Chen and Wang do not make the trip to Seoul. The team may end up looking to its under-23 squad for starting options. Former Tigers reliever Fu-Te Ni has a good chance to be the closer.
How far they could go
Chinese Taipei has a proud baseball history that stretches back for decades, and its current No. 4 ranking in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rankings indicates it's a bigger power in the baseball world than many might think. Pool A is wide open, and Taipei could still win at least two games against Israel, the Netherlands and South Korea and move on to Round 2. But without some of its biggest stars, it's hard to see Chinese Taipei advancing any further once it squares off against other nations that are filled with Major League talent. In the end, Taipei's thin pitching staff could prove to be its undoing.

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team Canada

There's still plenty of potential names out there for Canada who haven't confirmed their participation, most notably infielders Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Brett Lawrie of the White Sox, as well as rising young pitchers James Paxton of the Mariners and Jameson Taillon of the Pirates.
Orr hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2013, but the utilityman is a legend north of the border after scoring the game-winning run in extra innings against Team USA to win the 2015 Pan American Games final in Toronto. He'll join Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina among the players who are representing their country for the fourth time at the Classic.
Reds slugger Joey Votto, a Toronto-area native who played for Canada in 2009 and 2013, announced last month that he was declining his invitation to play for the team, opting to focus on getting ready for the 2017 regular season.
How they fared in the past
Canada burst onto the international scene in the inaugural 2006 Classic, when it upset the U.S., 8-6, and won two of its three opening-round games before missing the Round 2 cut on a tiebreaker. The Canadians lost to Team USA by just one run in 2009, and held a 3-2 lead over the U.S. in the sixth inning in 2013 before their southern neighbor stormed back with a late-game rally.
All in all, Canada has been competitive, but it is still looking to punch its first ticket to Round 2. However, as its gold medal at the '15 Pan-Ams prove, the nation has talent beyond a handful of recognizable Major Leaguers.
What they should do well
The Canadians' biggest asset is clearly their bats. Martin has seen his average decline in recent years, but he's also coming off back-to-back 20-homer seasons. Morneau is in the twilight of his career, but is still a threat to run into a homer with any swing. Saunders is coming off his first All-Star season. If Freeman joins this lineup, opposing pitchers are in for a long night.
Where they could struggle
Just as it's no secret Canada can hit, it's no secret they've struggled to keep runs off the board. The Canadians have allowed nearly eight runs per game over the first three installments of this tournament, and they appear to again lack the top-line starter that other Pool C nations (Max Scherzer for Team USA, Jose Quintana for Colombia) will have.
Manager Ernie Whitt told that he expects Paxton and Pivetta (who went a combined 12-8 with a 3.27 ERA between the Phillies' Double-A and Triple-A clubs last season) to head the rotation, but even if Taillon joins that duo, it could be a tall task for them to contain the profoundly deep lineups that the Dominican and the U.S. will field.
How far they could go
With what we know about the rosters so far, Canada will be a heavy underdog to supplant the Dominican and U.S. clubs and advance to Round 2 for the first time. The Canadians will need to ride their offense and hope for just enough clutch pitching late to surprise people -- something they have done sporadically in the past.

WBC '17 Preview: Breaking Down Team Korea

South Korea's current roster features one current Major League player in the Cardinals' Oh, who is coming off an excellent rookie season in St. Louis. The bigger story, however, is the big leaguers who will be missing from Korea's roster. Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was removed from the roster because of off-the-field issues. Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim removed himself from consideration to focus on winning a starting job with Baltimore in Spring Training. The Rangers, meanwhile, have filed a formal request to tournament organizers to withhold Shin-Soo Choo from playing, out of concern for his injury history.
While Korea will lack Major League star power this time around, manager Kim In-Sik can still count on a wealth of KBO talent including All-Star starting pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang and 2016 KBO batting champion and RBI leader Hyung-Woo Choi.
How they've fared in the past
The South Koreans have twice come up just short at the Classic. In 2006, they were eliminated by Japan in the semifinals. Three years later, they made the finals but again fell to Japan in an extra-inning heartbreaker. In 2013, they were a surprise knockout in pool play, losing a tiebreaker with Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands.
What they should do well
On the mound, in addition to its KBO All-Star starters, Korea has seven relievers with KBO closing experience. But Oh's presence in particular should be a huge boost; he had 19 saves and a 1.92 ERA for St. Louis last season.
On offense, Choi (.376 average, 144 RBIs in the KBO last year) and former Mariners slugger Dae-ho Lee will still be tough outs for opposing pitchers. At age 37, Lee is searching for a Major League club in 2017, but he made the national team, according to Yonhap News. Lee has gone a combined 10-for-29 (.345) with seven RBIs over the last two Classics.
Where they could struggle
Even with Oh joining as a late addition, the pitching staff is thin. It's lost several pitchers to offseason surgeries, as Yonhap News reported. On the other side, Korea's offense will likely not be as deep as in years past without sluggers Choo, Kang and Hyun Soo Kim.
How far they could go
Korea has shown it can run with the other baseball powerhouses in the Classic. Even without some of their biggest stars, the South Koreans will be a co-favorite with the Netherlands to advance out of Pool A, and they could go even further. They've done it before.

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team USA

Max Scherzer was on the provisional roster, but on Monday, the Nationals announced that the right-handed ace will not be on the team because of a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.
However, big names can be found anywhere and everywhere on this depth chart. Looking for a Cy Young Award-winning, bona-fide ace? David Price (reportedly on Team USA's preliminary roster) fits the bill. At the plate, manager Jim Leyland will have the enviable decision over where to bat Arenado, Goldschmidt, Murphy, Stanton and Posey in the heart of the order -- though it's hard to imagine there's a wrong way for him to line them up.
How they fared in the past
It's hard to believe that Team USA has never played in a Classic final, especially considering the championship round was held on American soil in each of the first three tournaments. The U.S. has never finished higher than fourth, when it lost to Japan in the 2009 semifinals. The Americans fell in the second round of the inaugural 2006 tournament, and experienced the same result in the most recent '13 installment.
What they should do well
The five headline sluggers mentioned above represent only some of how much this lineup can mash. Elsewhere, Leyland will have the ability to mix and match right-handed bats like Kinsler, Jones and McCutchen with left-handed hitters Crawford, Hosmer and Yelich. There just doesn't appear to be an easy out.
The squad is just as deep on defense. Kinsler, who won a American League Gold Glove Award and tied Dustin Pedroia for the most defensive runs saved of any second baseman last season, is the least acclaimed defender of an infield that would include Arenado, Crawford, Goldschmidt and Hosmer on any given night. An outfield including Jones, McCutchen and Yelich is also solid, but it would become elite if Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- currently on the preliminary roster -- suit up in red, white and blue. And don't forget about Lucroy and Posey behind the plate.
Where they could struggle
With all the star power, it's hard to poke holes in Team USA's roster -- especially when more stars could still be added. Right now, the Americans boast right-handed starters in Archer and Stroman, but they could use a lefty ace to help balance the rotation. Price would go a long way toward achieving that balance, if he is indeed confirmed for Team USA's first-round roster. Furthermore, if teams are able to reset their pitching staffs for subsequent rounds of the tournament -- a rumored new rule change for the '17 Classic -- it's possible the U.S. could have some All-World lefty aces in the hole like Madison Bumgarner or Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings.
While picking up Miller was a huge boost for the bullpen, the back end of the staff -- which also currently includes Givens and Gregorson -- remains Team USA's biggest unknown. That need could be addressed by the time the final roster is announced.
How far they could go
At this point Team USA should be considered a co-favorite with the Dominican Republic -- the defending champions -- to take home the gold. There will be no shortage of other challengers; Japan has won the tournament twice, Puerto Rico will boast some of the brightest young infielders in baseball and Venezuela will be led by veteran stars like Jose AltuveMiguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Perhaps no team, however, will be able to match Team USA's wealth of talent on paper in all three phases of the game: Pitching, hitting and defense.

WBC 2017 preview: Breaking down Team DR

How they fared in the past
The D.R. will enter this year's Classic riding a lengthy win streak of sorts. In 2013, it became the first team in the brief Classic history to win the title with a perfect record -- it finished 8-0 with a plus-22 run differential -- as the first champion from the Western Hemisphere. Cano, who went 15-for-32 over that stretch, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
It hasn't been all outstanding for the Dominican Republic, though. In 2009, the Dominicans didn't make it out of pool play after dropping two major upsets to the Netherlands. In the inaugural World Baseball Classic in '06, the D.R. won five of its first six games to reach the championship round, but it finished fourth after losing in the semifinals to Cuba in a game in which Bartolo Colon pitched six scoreless innings.
What they should do well
There might not be a more defensively athletic bunch in this year's tournament than the D.R., which as of now owns 11 Gold Glove Awards, including five from Beltre, who returns after missing the past two Classics. With Beltre at third base, Machado figures to be the starting shortstop, the position at which he was drafted and where he played 45 games in 2016 for the Orioles. Also contributing will be the athletic Pirates pair of Polanco and Marte, who make up one of the Majors' best outfields.
The Dominicans also boast power, with five players who hit at least 30 homers in 2016 -- not including Sanchez, who blasted 20 in just 53 games last year, or veteran power source Bautista.
Where they could struggle
If the postseasons of late have proven anything, showcased most notably in 2016, an effective bullpen can be the catalyst for a championship run in a winner-take-all format.
As of now, Betances is the only reliever committed to the D.R., and the hard-hurling Yankees righty seemed to be bothered by fatigue at the end of the 2016 regular season, posting an 0-2 record with a blown save and 9.64 ERA in his final 11 outings. While Betances should be fresh come spring, he'll need strong bullpen complements, as D.R. general manager Moises Alou acknowledged at the Winter Meetings.
"We have the offensive weapons and the starting pitching," Alou said. "Hopefully, we can put together the best bullpen."
Other relievers who could join the D.R. include Jeurys Familia and Alex Colome.
How far they could go
With wealth of power and defensive versatility, the Dominicans have to be considered a heavy favorite to repeat; however, the field figures to be far more evenly competitive. Team USA figures to take a major step forward in contending for its first WBC title, and Puerto Rico boasts some of the best young infielders. Venezuela can't be overlooked with its veteran experience, and Japan has won two of the three titles.
If the Dominicans can complement their remarkable offense with strong pitching, they figure to make a deep run once more.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Colombia

With weeks left until final 28-man rosters must be submitted on Feb. 6, Colombia's current look remains vague. Only 12 active MLB players were born in Colombia, according to, meaning most of the roster will be assembled with players who lack big league experience.
Brothers Jhonatan Solano and Donovan Solano -- who are in the Marlins' and Yankees' farm systems, respectively, and have played at the MLB level -- could be additional options, having competed for Colombia in the 2013 WBC qualifier.
And if he returns after playing for Colombia last March, Twins prospect Reynaldo Rodriguez could be another viable bat. Rodriguez posted a 1.300 OPS over the three qualifier games, and Mexican League slugger Jesus Valdez, who also played in the qualifier, posted a .455 batting average in that stretch. However, neither has committed to this point.
How they fared in the past
Colombia has not only never played in the World Baseball Classic, it didn't enter until the 2013 tournament, when it was eliminated in the semifinals of the qualifying round.
In last spring's qualifier, the Colombians convincingly defeated Spain in the preliminaries, then Panama twice after Panama rebounded in the losers' bracket to play in the final. In that dramatic win, Reds prospect Dilson Herrera lasered a go-ahead solo home run in the eighth inning that just barely cleared the left-field foul pole, pushing Colombia to a 2-1 edge.
"When I saw my team and that situation, I have no word to describe [it]," Herrera said after the game. "I'm so happy and so excited for this opportunity."
While this will be Colombia's first World Baseball Classic, it does own two gold medals (1947, '65) in the since-disbanded Baseball World Cup.
What they should do well
Although Colombia has just two players on its current roster, it's an All-Star pair. Quintana and Teheran are among the craftier strikeout pitchers in the Majors, both ranking in the top 50 in strikeouts per nine innings among starters in 2016.
The two will anchor a rotation that remains in question, but should at least give Colombia a chance in its first two games in a daunting slate of Pool C, which also houses Canada, the favored United States and defending champion the Dominican Republic.
Where they could struggle
With what figures to be largely a very green group of players who've never reached the Majors, Colombia could struggle to keep pace against the likes of Chris Archer and other big league aces in Pool C.
If he rejoins the national team, Herrera would likely be among the only Colombian players to log at least 100 MLB at-bats, and in his two seasons with the Mets, he hit just .215 with a strikeout rate of 23.7 percent.
The Colombians will need all the bats they can get.
How far they could go
With the juggernauts that also reside in Pool C, Colombia could struggle to simply get out of the gate. Given its gaping needs on offense and a pitching rotation that is really just two-deep at a competitive level, manager Luis Urueta's club, ranked 19th in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings, faces a huge uphill climb.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Mexico

Gonzalez represents the biggest name on Mexico's roster, playing for his older brother Edgar Gonzalez, who assumes managerial duties for Mexico just two years after he retired from his playing career. The Gonzalez brothers previously teamed up when they played for the Padres in 2008-09 and in two previous Classics.
Yasiel Puig is also rumored to be a possible addition to the roster, along with fellow Major Leaguers Anthony RendonMatt BushAaron Sanchez and A.J. Ramos.
How they fared in the past
Mexico has not advanced further than the second round, where it finished in 2006 and '09 prior to a first-round elimination in '13.
What they should do well
In addition to a potent lineup with offensive standouts like Gonzalez and Davis, the Mexican team will boast a strong collection of relief pitchers. Osuna, who turns 22 in February, owns a 2.63 ERA and has converted 56 saves through his first two big league seasons, while Perez and Romo are both veterans with extensive experience in the Majors and in prior tournaments.
Where they could struggle
Marco Estrada's status for this year's tournament is uncertain due to a herniated disc in his back, which puts Mexico's starting rotation in flux. Estrada himself has said he's unlikely to be ready to pitch in the first round, if at all. It's also not yet clear whether Estrada's teammate, Sanchez, will suit up for Mexico.
How far they could go
After not escaping the first round in 2013, Mexico had to qualify for this year's Field of 16 -- it defeated Nicaragua last March in Mexicali, Mexico -- and it will be eyeing a return to at least the final eight. Mexico fared well in exhibitions against Japan, the winning nation in the 2006 and '09 tournaments and last year's third-place finisher.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Italy

Although very little of this year's roster has been confirmed, a number of Major Leaguers are expected to be in the mix on manager Marco Mazzieri's squad. Colabello was among Italy's top performers in the last Classic, leading the team in home runs (two), RBIs (seven) and total bases (12). He returns alongside 2013 teammate Butera and Cervelli, who represented Italy in 2009. Nimmo and Conforto will be making their first appearance on the roster.
How they fared in the past
Italy enjoyed its best finish in 2013, advancing to the second round by defeating Mexico and Canada. It ranked 10th with just one win each in 2006 and '09.
What they should do well
Catcher should be a strength for the Italian squad, with two Major League-caliber backstops in Butera and Cervelli. Both are making their second appearance on the team, and each boasts several years of experience in the big leagues.
Where they could struggle
There will be a major void in the Italian roster left by Anthony Rizzo, who isn't expected to return to the Classic this year after representing Italy in 2013. Last fall's lengthy playoff run with the World Series-champion Cubs may have Rizzo opting for rest as he prepares to help Chicago defend its title in '17. Without Rizzo, Italy will have to look for power elsewhere in its lineup.
How far they could go
A repeat of 2013's upset victory over Mexico isn't out of the cards; Mazzieri is hopeful his team can capitalize on the experience from the last Classic. That second-round appearance was a step in the right direction for the Italian team, and it will look to improve upon that finish in 2017.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Puerto Rico

There's plenty of Major League talent already on the roster for manager Edwin Rodriguez, with more possibly more on the way. Molina and Beltran will represent their country for a fourth Classic, joining four other players as the only ones to hold that distinction. Rosario also returns after playing for Puerto Rico in the 2013 Classic. A trio of rising Major Leaguer stars -- Baez, Correa and Lindor -- should boost the offense and defense.
How they fared in the past
Puerto Rico finished as the runner-up in the 2013 Classic, getting shut out by the Dominican Republic, 3-0, in the finals. Puerto Rico finished fifth overall in both the 2006 and '09 tournaments. Puerto Rico won its first four games in 2009, but it was then blanked by Venezuela and later lost to Team USA on a walk-off single in the ninth inning, missing out on a chance to advance to the championship round.
What they should do well
Puerto Rico has the makings of a potent lineup, one that will provide Rodriguez with plenty of options and tough decisions. Beltran owns a .274 average, three home runs, six doubles, nine RBIs, 13 runs and 15 walks in 21 Classic games. Molina has a .289 average in 14 Classic games. Baez (Cubs) and Lindor (Indians) are coming off a meeting in the World Series. Correa won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and has hit at least 20 homers in each of his two Major League seasons.
Where they could struggle
Rodriguez will have some tough decisions to make with his young and dynamic infield. Baez, Correa and Lindor can all play shortstop. Baez has more experience at second base, while Correa and Lindor are entrenched as starting shortstops for their big league clubs. It will be worth monitoring how Correa and Lindor handle a potential move to third base, or a bench role.
"They're going to be all over the place," Rodriguez said. "They all have to be playing everywhere. They know that. We know that. Any one can start at shortstop."
How far they could go
Puerto Rico will be dreaming big after coming within one victory of winning the 2013 Classic. With the veteran influence of Beltran and Molina, a master when it comes to leading pitching staffs, and the incoming young star power of Baez, Correa and Lindor, look for Puerto Rico to make a second straight appearance in the finals.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Venezuela

Team Venezuela is stacked with big-name talent, and Guillen hopes to recruit more big leaguers. Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, Tigers pitchers Francisco Rodriguez and Bruce Rondon, Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and Brewers infielder Hernan Perez are all said to be interested.
Regardless, Venezuela already has the last six American League batting champions in Altuve and Miguel Cabrera, a former National League batting champ in Gonzalez, a former AL Cy Young winner in Hernandez and a reigning four-time Gold Glove catcher in Perez.
How they fared in the past
Team Venezuela finished in third place in WBC 2009, the nation's best showing to date. That year, Venezuela lost only two games, against Team USA in pool play and against South Korea in the semifinals of the championship round. In the inaugural Classic n 2006, Venezuela advanced to Round 2 after blanking Italy and Australia in pool play but still finished in seventh place. Venezuela was eliminated in pool play in the most recent WBC.
What they should do well
Team Venezuela is blessed with three of the best hitters in baseball, so the offense should be a strength, led by Altuve, Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, who is making his fourth Classic appearance. The Tigers slugger has an established track record, as his five home runs are tied for the second most all-time in the tournament. The trio has seven AL and NL batting titles between them.
Where they could struggle
Team Venezuela needs to improve its preparation, according to Vizquel. Despite fielding three teams loaded with big league talent, Team Venezuela has advanced past Round 2 only once. Vizquel will need to make sure his team is focused and ready to play.
"The preparation of players and the scouting reports and all that have to improve," Vizquel said. "The preparation we think is one of the biggest concerns from everybody. ... We're trying to spread the word that you have to prepare better for this tournament, because we've seen the advantage of other teams, that they're ready to play 100 percent and some of our guys are only going 60 percent. So they know about the challenge."
How far they could go
Team Venezuela certainly has the talent to make a deep run in WBC '17. But talent has never been an issue in the past. Vizquel will need to push the right buttons to get his team over the hump. Still, Team Venezuela has a very real shot of making the championship round.

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down the Netherlands

The infield is filled with top-tier big leaguers in Bogaerts, Simmons and Schoop, and the potential addition of Didi Gregorius would further strengthen an already solid group. Manager Hensley Meulens, the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants, has to like the offensive potential from this group as well. Former big leaguer van den Hurk is the only confirmed pitcher on the roster, though Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen could participate.
How they fared in the past
The Netherlands has increased its win total each year in the Classic, topped by four wins and a fourth-place finish in WBC 2013. The Dutch twice upset the Dominican Republic to reach Round 2 in '09 and had one win in '06, when Shairon Martis no-hit Panama. The Netherlands embraced its underdog status again in WBC '13, stunning Cuba twice in Round 2 to reach the championship round.
What they should do well
The infield is a clear strength, led by Bogaerts, Schoop and Simmons. At the plate, Bogaerts is a two-time Silver Slugger with the Red Sox and Schoop belted a career-high 25 home runs for the Orioles in 2016. Defensively, Simmons leads the way as a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors. Bogaerts and Schoop are also talented with the glove, which will help the pitching staff.
Where they could struggle
Pitching is a big question mark with Jansen not yet committed. The closer told reporters in April he was planning to pitch in WBC '17, but that was before he signed a five-year, $80 million deal this offseason with the Dodgers, who may look to protect their investment. A former Major League starter-turned-reliever, van den Hurk returns after pitching for the Dutch in WBC 2009.
How far they could go
With steady improvement in each of the three previous Classics, the Netherlands is tracking toward an appearance in the championship round. The loaded infield makes the Dutch a threat to any opponent, and they have already proven to be capable of pulling off huge upsets in this tournament.