Venezuela combines talented pitchers with fearsome bats for the Clásico

Finding himself this week with the full range of talent Venezuela has available for the World Baseball Classic, manager Omár López raised questions about whether putting together a lineup was too complex for him.

“I love challenges, in fact, I get bored if I don’t have them,” said López, current first base coach with the Houston Astros, the reigning World Series champions. “See the way to put together the puzzle.”

Talent is what is left over in Venezuela.

López used his experience of 24 seasons in that organization, half of them as a coach in its subsidiaries, to form the “best possible team”, making difficult decisions when it came to including some and leaving others out, despite to have enough credentials to integrate the Venezuelan roster.

José Altuve, Ronald Acuña Jr., Luis Arráez, Salvador Pérez, Andrés Giménez, Gleyber Torres and Eugenio Suárez and Anthony Santander stand out on offense. The historic Miguel Cabrera, Triple Crown winner at bat a decade ago, will provide his leadership as he tries to cap off his career with a world title.

Openers abound. Pablo López, Martín Pérez, Ranger Suárez, Eduardo Rodríguez, Luis García and Jesús Luzardo have filming in the majors, and the Venezuelan plan suggests that some have to act as relievers. You have to get around the restrictions that Major League Baseball organizations impose on starters and relievers.

In the group stage, the maximum pitch number is 65 pitches and at least four days off if he throws 50 or more pitches, which has been a headache for managers in the past.

The Venezuelan pitchers will have the presence of three catchers with a long history in the majors, outstanding on defense and ready to guide them in pressing moments: Pérez (Royals), Omar Narváez (Mets) and free agent Robinson Chirinos.

Bats and defense are perhaps Venezuela’s greatest strengths. In addition to Altuve and Acuña Jr, spark plugs in Houston and Atlanta, the Venezuelan team will have a respectable offense led by Arráez, the current American League batting champion.

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Cabrera, by far the most decorated Venezuelan baseball player of all time, will serve as captain and designated. Suárez had 31 home runs and 87 RBIs last season for the Mariners, while Santander hit 33 home runs and drove in 89 runs for the Orioles.

In the outfield, in addition to Acuña (center) and Santander (right), Venezuela will have David Peralta (left), silver bat in 2018 and winner of the Gold Glove in the National League in 2019.

López’s confidence in them is such that he considered it unnecessary to summon a fourth ranger who, in his opinion, would be condemned to the bench.

If necessary, he will have players like Luis Rengifo at his disposal, with the ability to defend all positions in the box and outfield.

“We have a balanced team. We have power, contact hitters and runners that can advance in some way,” Lopez said.

Venezuela — a South American country where baseball, not soccer, is the number one sport — is considered an important source of top-tier talent for the Major Leagues, but that hasn’t translated into a strong performance for the team in the World Classic.

The best Venezuelan performance was in the 2009 edition, with a third place. They went home early on the other three. Luis Sojo directed him in the first three tournaments and Omar Vizquel in the previous one.

“We are going to beat the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Israel and Nicaragua,” proclaimed a very enthusiastic Cabrera when he began the preseason with the Detroit Tigers and identifying the four rivals in the first round. “You have to win those four and then continue.”

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