The United States and Puerto Rico face off to begin Pool 2 play tonight. The Americans were expected to reach this point, although they faced a lot more pressure than expected to secure a spot, while the Puerto Rican squad is a minor surprise.
It was able to advance as the second seed out of Pool C behind the expected winners from the Dominican Republic. Venezuela was expected to claim the other spot, but a win in their head-to-head meeting allowed Puerto Rico to move on.
There were some tense moments for the United States against Canada over the weekend in what amounted to a win-or-go-home matchup. It pulled away late, though, and now has a chance to reset and make a run at the championship.
Here's a look at all the viewing information for the game, followed by a preview and a prediction for which country will move one step closer to the semifinals.
Where: Marlins Park in Miami, Fla.
When: Tuesday, March 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Watch: MLB Network
Gio Gonzalez, who didn't pitch for the United States in the opening round, joins the rotation to start the first game of Round 2. The Washington Nationals lefty went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP during his terrific 2012 campaign.
Getting Gonzalez into the mix is a major boost for Team USA, which received some lackluster starts in group play. Ace R.A. Dickey gave up four runs in four innings in the team's loss to Mexico. Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland were only marginally better.
Gonzalez should bring some stability to the rotation starting tonight. The limit on pitches increases to 80 for this stage after being at 65 to start, which will help the starters have a bigger impact on the outcome.
Puerto Rico will counter with Mario Santiago. He last pitched in the U.S. in 2011 with the Kansas City Royals organization. He went 3-3 with a 5.70 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 19 appearances. He pitched for SK Wyverns in South Korea last year.
Based on that matchup, the advantage is clearly in Team USA's favor. The only problem, and it's been a concern throughout the event, is that the American hitters don't know Santiago like they would another MLB pitcher. So it takes time to adjust, which causes some slow starts.
On the other hand, every American player should feel like a massive weight was lifted off their shoulders by surviving the first round. An early exit would have been a gigantic disappointment, and they were able to avoid that.
It's almost like they've been given a second chance, and that should help them play loose. David Wright is already hitting well and it wouldn't be a surprise to see guys like Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton get hot, too.
Puerto Rico can't match that type of offensive firepower. Expect another close game in the early innings, but the second time through the lineup, the United States should be able to have a couple big frames to pick up the victory.
Prediction: United States 6, Puerto Rico 3
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