The 2017 World Baseball Classic will finally have all its teams in play when Puerto Rico and Venezuela stage their much-anticipated opener Friday at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. local) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.Many eyes in the Western Hemisphere will be tuned to this battle of
The 2017 World Baseball Classic will finally have all its teams in play when Puerto Rico and Venezuela stage their much-anticipated opener Friday at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. local) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Many eyes in the Western Hemisphere will be tuned to this battle of Pool D's two presumed favorites, who boast a combined 13 All-Stars and two of the most talented infields in the entire tournament. On the hill for Puerto Rico is Mets pitcher Seth Lugo, who gained notoriety among Statcast™ trackers last season for the extreme spin rate on his curveball. Opposing Lugo for Venezuela is a man who needs no introduction: Felix Hernandez.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Making his second Classic appearance at age 30, Hernandez said there will be added motivation to bring hope to his home nation as it struggles through considerable political strife.
"It's really important to give Venezuela a victory after everything that is happening and the situation there being so bad," said Hernandez. "A win for Venezuela would be meaningful."
3 things to know about this game
• Puerto Rico general manager Alex Cora will navigate an embarrassment of riches with only two middle-infield positions for three of the game's brightest young talents in Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. It's a good problem to have. Cora will field Baez at second base, Lindor at shortstop and Correa at third to begin the tournament.
Meanwhile, one of the only infields in this year's Classic who could stack up to Puerto Rico is the one wearing Venezuela uniforms. The right side contains the past six American League batting titles in first baseman Jose Cabrera and Jose Altuve, along with Royals stars Alcides Escobar at shortstop and Salvador Perez behind the plate.
• Venezuela was the odd team out in the 2013 Classic, sharing a loaded pool that also included eventual finalists Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The Venezuelans hold a 2-1 edge all-time against Puerto Rico in Classic play.
• Hernandez allowed two runs while striking out five in his final tuneup start against the A's on Sunday. King Felix has yet to allow a run in the Classic, as he went 2-0 while holding the opposition scoreless and racking up 11 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings in his lone tournament appearance back in 2009.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.