Opening Round Record: 2-1
Team Batting: .336/.395/.467, 10 XBH (2 HR), 21 RBI, 22 R
Team Pitching: 2-1, 4.85 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 26 IP, 29 H, 13 BB, 20 K
Not even Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, playing for the Italian squad despite being born and raised in Florida, expected to still be participating in the WBC, as he told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune when he swung by Cubs camp to pick up some things from his locker:
"I expected to be back in camp today (March 10). But that's the beauty of this game, on any given day, any given team can win. This is huge for the country of Italy."
Win is exactly what this scrappy group did, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat Mexico, 6-5, and then putting up five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning against Canada to end that game prematurely, invoking the WBC's mercy rule in a 14-4 trouncing.
The team faltered against the United States in the finale, blowing an early two-run lead and losing 6-2, but by that point Italy's ticket to the second round of the tournament, for the first time in team history, had already been secured.
Unfortunately for this group of upstarts, an All-Star-laden Dominican Republic squad awaits them in their opening game of the second round. Scrappy play and late-inning rallies may not be enough to get over the hump in this one.
Batters To Watch
Anthony Rizzo (3 G, .273/.385/.364, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R)
If Italy is going to find success in the second round, its most talented player, Rizzo, must produce at a higher level than he did in the first round of the tournament.
Rizzo has never faced Edinson Volquez, who is likely to get the start for the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Chances are Volquez won't give Rizzo anything that he can make solid contact with.
I expect Rizzo to find himself on base quite often in this game—via the free pass. The best way to neutralize Rizzo's talents is to take the bat out of his hands. Pitching around him accomplishes that goal.
Chris Colabello (3 G, .455/.455/.727, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R)
Raise your hand if you knew anything about Chris Colabello before the World Baseball Classic started.
Mr. and Mrs. Colabello, you can put your hands down.
A 29-year-old infielder who spent the first nine years of his professional career playing Independent ball in the Canadian-American Association, Colabello finally latched on with a major league franchise in 2012.
While Anthony Rizzo is by far the more talented player, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Colabello has been Italy's leading run producer after he hit .284 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats last season.
That said, Colabello's success has come largely at the expense of pitchers who couldn't cut it in the major leagues—if they made it that far at all.
Those expecting big things from him against the Dominican Republic are sure to be disappointed in the results.
Pitchers To Watch
Tiago Da Silva (1 G, 2.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K)
While 27-year-old right-hander Tiago Da Silva didn't get an official start for Italy in the first round of the WBC, he was one of the biggest reasons that Mexico wasn't able to blow the Italians out of the park in the team's opening game of the tournament.
Da Silva utilized a deceptive delivery and his changeup to keep Mexico's batters off-balance, something he'll need to do against the Dominican Republic if Italy has any chance of keeping the game close.
As catcher Drew Butera told Baseball America's J.J. Cooper, Da Silva has the ability to frustrate the opposition:
He has kind of a funky motion, and I think a little deception that helped him as well. He has a couple of speeds to his changeup. He has one that jumps at you and another one that's like a Bugs Bunny changeup. It just seems to never get there.
Unfortunately for Da Silva, against a Dominican lineup full of major league All-Stars, deception and offspeed pitches will only take you so far.
He may be effective for an inning or two, but sooner or later, the Dominicans' overwhelming talent will send those Bugs Bunny changeups into orbit.
Jason Grilli (1 G, 0.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 1 IP, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 1-for-1 SV)
Should Italy find itself with a lead late in the game, veteran reliever Jason Grilli has the ability to lock things down, regardless of the lineup he'll be facing.
Grilli has flourished over the past two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching to a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings of work—including many of the bats he'd potentially face against the Dominican Republic.
If Grilli gets into the game, he'll do his job and keep the Dominican Republic off the scoreboard.
But that's a rather big if.