SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- It's supposed to be a cakewalk, a laugher. The Dominican Republic, widely considered one of the strongest teams in this year's World Baseball Classic, against Spain, thought to be one of the weakest among the 16 teams in this year's tournament.
Of course, there are no guarantees in this game or this event, which can be seen Saturday on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes at 11 a.m. ET. Just ask Mexico and Canada, defeated by the seemingly weaker Italy. Or the ever-growing list of The Kingdom of the Netherlands' victims, from Cuba just recently, to the Dominican Republic squad in 2009, which lost twice to the Dutch, keeping them from advancing beyond the first round. It is, as they say, why they play the games.
"Everything is unpredictable in baseball," said Robinson Cano, who went 3-for-5 with three RBIs to lead the Dominican Republic to a 9-3 win over Venezuela in the Pool C opener. "We are going to face a team, but we are not going to be overconfident, and we're going to give the best of ourselves."
Spain lost its first game in the round, 3-0, to host Puerto Rico on Friday. But the patchwork roster of Latino players with ancestral connections to Spain (one player, Eric Gonzalez, was born in Spain) showed it could be competitive on this larger stage. The Spanish offense will need to come alive to have any chance against the Dominican Republic, but it showed the ability to take a hit, in this case a three-run first inning, and hang around for the rest of the game in its first World Baseball Classic game, thanks to some extremely effective relief work.
"I believe that when you get here, you have to show that you can play at the level of those people," Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti said. "We played only one game, and now we have to show that we can play and we have to try to win. Nobody likes to come here and go back after three days."
Yoanner Negrin will be charged with keeping the Dominican offense at bay, one that pounded out 13 hits against Venezuela on Thursday. The 28-year-old right-hander is coming off of a solid 2012 season that began in the Mexican League, moved on to the Cubs' affiliate in the Pacific Coast League and ended with a very impressive turn in Venezuela over the winter.
One thing Spain might be able to rely on is a bit of the element of surprise. Aside from the one game on Friday against Puerto Rico, it's likely the Dominican Republic and starter Samuel Deduno don't know a whole lot about who they're facing on Saturday afternoon.
"That's one of the problems, that we don't know them very well," Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said. "That Venezuelan team, I have a scouting report of how to pitch to each one of those guys. The Spain team has a lot of players that I don't know, and I don't believe that there is any weak enemy in baseball. We have to play the same ball we played against Venezuela."
If they do, it will help erase the bitter memory of not getting past the first round at the last World Baseball Classic, with a 2-0 record heading into Sunday's game against Puerto Rico.