Big League Stew - MLB

Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed on what's going on, BLS will be running occasional team previews as the event nears.

Venezuela

Pool: C, Toronto

'06 WBC finish: Eliminated in Round 2 of pool play, went 3-3 overall 

First game: Sat. March 7, vs. Italy

Five questions to ask about Venezuela

Has Venezuela recovered from its '06 disappointment? The folks back at home weren't too happy with their county's performance in the inaugural WBC. Despite wielding one of the best pitching staffs in the field and earning a pre-tournament status as one of the favorites, Venezuela went a middling .500 and was sent home empty-handed. For a country that loves its baseball and worships its star exports, that was far from acceptable. The pressure is always on in Venezuela and this year will be no different.  

• Will Luis Sojo be able to regain his lost troops? After the '06 letdown, a rebellion of sorts formed among the Venezuelan players, many of whom charged the national committee was ill-organized and ill-equipped to do simple things like set up tickets and meals for the players' families. Though many of the country's biggest stars threatened to sit out in '09, return manager Sojo has straightened a few feathers and calmed the storm. "We all failed," Sojo told the AP last year. "The committee, the manager, the players. We've got to get better, and I look forward to (doing) that."

• Will it again assemble a feared pitching staff? Last time around, the Venezuelans put together an impressive rotation that centered around Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano and Freddy Garcia. But with Santana being held back by the Mets, Zambrano's status up in the air and Garcia a shell of his former self, there might be a rebuilding project in the air. Fortunately, they may be able to turn to Felix Hernandez, Armando Galaragga and Francisco Rodriguez to help with the bounce-back.

• Who's going to answer the call?  According to Sojo, he'll have the potential roster down to 40 potential players on Jan. 16 and will announce the final cut by mid-February.  A quartet of Detroiters — Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Galarraga — could form the team's core with strong players like Dioner Navarro, Victor Martinez and Galarraga Bobby Abreu also possibly answering the call of service.

• Can Venezuela beat the Dominican Republic? They won't be able to meet until the second round in Miami — can you imagine that festive scene?  — but there is little doubt that the Venezuelans are eager for another shot at one of their fiercest rivals. The Dominicans were victorious in two '06 matchups, including a 2-1 win in the second round when its pitching staff limited Venezuela to only one hit. If you only plan to catch a few WBC games this year, that should be one of them — if both teams make the second round, of course.

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Previous WBC previews: Korea (Jan. 9)

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