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Israel, Ranked No. 20 in the World, Primed To Compete With the Best at World Baseball Classic

 Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network  |    Mar 10th, 2023 11:26pm EST
Ian Kinsler of Team Israel bats in the fifth inning against Team United States during the baseball opening round Group B game on day seven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Kinsler will manage Team Israel at the 2023 World Baseball Classic Photo by Yuichi MasudaGetty Images

By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Classic

Manager Ian Kinsler and general manager Peter Kurtz have developed a great group of players  for Israel’s second World Baseball Classic appearance. Some are Major League Baseball players, some are independent league players, others are  professional free agents, as well as high minor league players and players from various international leagues.  

During the last World Baseball Classic in 2017, Israel went 3-0 in Pool A in Seoul, beating the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, and Korea to advance to the second round of the double-elimination pool in Tokyo. Israel was 3-3 in the last World Baseball Classic, but they will have a tough road to reach the quarterfinals, as they will face the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela as well during pool play.  

“Kinsler is such a great baseball guy. He;s awesome to be around and has so much experience along with having at the helm will be very helpful,” said Ryan Lavarnaway

Lavarnway, a catcher, has journeyed throughout the majors during his 11-year career, which saw him win the 2013 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. During the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Lavarnway was named Pool A MVP, going 5-for-9 with a .556 batting average, one home run, 3 RBI, and four walks. Over the two rounds of the last World Baseball Classic, Lavarnway batted .565, going 8-for-18, and he can bring the same power this time around.

Israel will play Nicaragua the first game of Pool D in Miami at Loan Depot Park on Sunday at 12 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 2. 

Israel played their last exhibition game on Thursday at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, beating the Washington Nationals 9-0. Israel’s pitching staff allowed six hits, four walks, and nine strikeouts during their spectacular performance. Starting pitcher Jacob Steinmetz pitched one inning as the opener and retired the side in order. 

Chicago Cubs rising prospect Matt Mervis had two big at-bats during Thursday’s win. In the top of the fifth inning, Mervis singled on a line drive to right field, extending the Israel lead to 5-0 as Garrett Stubbs came in to score.  In the top of the ninth, Mervis tripled on a line drive to right field, and Zack Gelof scored Israel’s seventh run. The next batter, starting catcher Ryan Lavarnway, crushed a two-run home run over the left center field wall, driving in the final two runs of the game. 

Israel’s last senior event was the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where they won one game, beating Mexico 12-5 and losing one-run games against the Dominican Republic and Korea. Israel can advance if they can manufacture runs efficiently, play small ball, and get good pitching, but it won’t be easy. 

Israel, ranked 20th in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) rankings, is rising to become one of the top teams in the WBSC Europe, alongside the Netherlands, Italy, Great Britain and the Czech Republic, who are also in the field of the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

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Leif Skodnick - World Baseball Network