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DYK: Pool D sure to captivate at WBC '17

Mexico vs. Italy opens play Thursday; Puerto Rico, Venezuela face off Friday
MLB.com

With a mix of traditional powers and rising baseball nations, Pool D of the 2017 World Baseball Classic could be the most wide-open group of the tournament.

Puerto Rico is looking to take the final step after falling to the Dominican Republic in the '13 final. Venezuela seeks redemption after not advancing past the first round four years ago. Meanwhile, Mexico and Italy, who staged one of the tournament's most exciting games last time around, are seen as nations on the verge of reaching the next tier of international play.

With a mix of traditional powers and rising baseball nations, Pool D of the 2017 World Baseball Classic could be the most wide-open group of the tournament.

Puerto Rico is looking to take the final step after falling to the Dominican Republic in the '13 final. Venezuela seeks redemption after not advancing past the first round four years ago. Meanwhile, Mexico and Italy, who staged one of the tournament's most exciting games last time around, are seen as nations on the verge of reaching the next tier of international play.

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The venue for this group of games is Estadio Charros in Jalisco, Mexico, and action begins on Thursday night with Italy against Mexico at 9 p.m. ET.  Games will air on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. can also watch every tournament game live.

Who will advance from Pool D? That remains to be seen, but here are some facts fans should know about these four clubs:

• Pool D features four of the six players who will participate in their fourth World Baseball Classic: Miguel Cabrera of Venezuela; Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina of Puerto Rico; and Adrian Gonzalez of Mexico.

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• Team Venezuela should have no trouble putting runs on the board, as it features eight position players who boast at least one All-Star selection in their careers. Those include Jose Altuve and Cabrera, winners of the last six American League batting crowns; former NL batting champ Carlos Gonzalez; '15 World Series MVP Salvador Perez; and former All-Stars Alcides Escobar, Odubel Herrera, Victor Martinez and Martin Prado.

• The 10 Major League All-Stars on Venezuela's roster are third-most of any nation in the tournament, behind the 19 suiting up for Team USA and the 16 representing the Dominican Republic.

• Cabrera has clubbed five homers in the WBC, tied with Cuba's Yulieski Gurriel and South Korea's Seung Yuop Lee for the second-most in the tournament's history. Cuba's Frederich Cepeda holds the all-time record with six homers, meaning Cabrera could make history this year with a couple of blasts over the wall.

Video: Miggy to appear in his fourth World Baseball Classic

Felix Hernandez is back to anchor a Venezuelan pitching staff that also includes recognized MLB starters Jhoulys Chacin and Martin Perez, and relievers Jeanmar Gomez, Francisco Rodriguez and Bruce Rondon. King Felix has yet to allow a run in WBC play, as he went 2-0 while holding the opposition scoreless, while racking up 11 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings back in '09.

• Puerto Rico's two members in the "Four-Timers Club" -- Beltran and Molina -- have both fared well over their WBC careers. Beltran owns a .278 average with three home runs, nine RBIs and four steals over 21 career Classic games, including a tournament-high four doubles during Puerto Rico's run to the final in '13. Molina, who backed up Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez in the inaugural '06 Classic, has batted .289 over 14 games for his home country and made the All-Tournament team in '13.

Video: Molina representing Puerto Rico for fourth Classic

• Outfielder Angel Pagan is still looking for a team heading into the '17 MLB season, but he is on Puerto Rico's roster after proving himself as a valuable contributor in international play. In the '13 Classic, Pagan paced Puerto Rico in hits (12), average (.364), OPS (.932) and steals (2) on his way to an All-Tournament team selection.

• Puerto Rico has tallied 13 total wins in WBC play, tied with Cuba for the third-most in tournament history behind second-place Dominican Republic and South Korea (14) and first-place Japan (16).

• Eight players on Puerto Rico's WBC roster -- pitchers Hiram Burgos, Miguel Mejia, Joel Pineiro, Dereck Rodriguez, Orlando Roman, JC Romero and Andres Santiago, and outfielder Eddie Rosario -- were also on the Criollos de Caguas club that brought the '17 Caribbean Series title home to Puerto Rico for the first time since '00. Criollos went 0-2 against clubs from Pool D competitors Mexico and Venezuela in round-robin play, but came back to defeat Venezuela's Aguilas de Zulia in the semifinal round.

• Over his previous three Classic appearances, Gonzalez has been a force for Team Mexico. Gonzalez has batted .275 with three homers and 13 RBIs over 17 Classic contests, including a memorable two-homer performance against South Africa in an elimination game in '09. A-Gon also homered off Team USA's R.A. Dickey in Mexico's final first-round game of the '13 tournament.

Video: Gonzalez, Romo to lead Mexico in WBC 2017

• Mexico infielder Brandon Laird hasn't played in the Major Leagues since '13, but he's thrived recently on the international stage. Laird paced Japan's Pacific League last season with 39 home runs, and has averaged 37 homers and 97 RBIs in his first two seasons on the Pacific Rim.

• Pitching figures to be a strength for Mexico with a rotation that includes rising talents Jorge De La Rosa and Julio Urias, and established relievers Roberto Osuna and Joakim Soria, among others. That was certainly true in the qualifying rounds held for the Classic held last year, when Mexico allowed only two runs in three wins against the Czech Republic and Nicaragua.

• Italy will miss the talents of Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo this time around, but the Indians' Chris Colabello returns after pacing the Italians with two homers, seven RBIs and 12 total bases in '13.

Video: Butera talks about playing for Italy in Classic

• Italy was one of the biggest early stories of the '13 Classic when it reached the second round for the first time, and if pitchers Tiago De Silva and Alessandro Maestri can repeat their stellar performances, the Italians could turn heads once again. Last time around, De Silva and Maestri combined for a 2.25 ERA while striking out 14 batters over 16 innings.

The World Baseball Classic runs from Monday through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament will be distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.