And Then There Were Two! 2020 Italian Finals Preview

Bologna’s top hitter, Ray-Patrick Didier of the Netherlands (Credit: PhotoBass)

After a summer like no other, Italy’s Serie A baseball season is nearing the finish line, with a best-of-seven championship — the 2020 Italian Series — kicking off this Thursday, Sept. 17. 

But before the games begin, Le Baseblog has a preview to help orient readers and get them caught up on what they may have missed in a shortened season that took just about forever to get rolling, but once it did, featured some pretty impressive feats and performances.

The six-team league (down from 10 clubs in 2019) began play on July 8 (just about four months after much of the northern half of the country went on strict lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic). Coronavirus or not, Italy was determined to play an official 2020 season.

Of the six teams that laced up the spikes this summer, two separated themselves from the pack: Fortitudo Bologna and San Marino. Both won exactly 23 games this year, and both are ready to fight tooth and nail, come Thursday night, for this year’s Serie A title.

Homegrown talent

Bologna (23-6) finished just percentage points behind San Marino (23-4). The reigning Italian (and European) champion, Bologna, lost several key players following their championship run last year. Most notably absent from Lele Frignani’s club were first baseman Osman Marval, ace right-handed pitcher Raul Rivero, and France’s own Andy Paz.

Bologna didn’t slow down, however. Led by a strong contingent of homegrown talent (the trend across the league in the post-COVID world in general), the club jumped out to an 8-0 regular season start. Italian outfielder Lorenzo Dobboletta appeared in every game this season, batting a very respectable .307 with 10 doubles, three triples and homer. Oakland Athletics catching prospect Cesare Astorri (.259, 5 HR, 18 RBI) and outfielder Niccolo Loardi (.309 avg, .429 OBP) were also key, middle-of-the-order bats all season. 

What Bologna lost in international talent from 2019 they replaced this season with “European” talent. Dutch infielder Ray-Patrick Didier, who suited up in AA for the Atlanta Braves organization last year, finished 2020 with an eye popping .413 batting average, to go along with 2 bombs and 15 steals in just 22 games played.

Several other late-season additions to the squadra made immediate impacts, including fellow Aruban-born and Netherlands national team members Eugene Helder (he batted .407 in the final eight games of the season) and the power-hitting outfielder Randolph Oduber (.348, 1 HR, 8 RBI in the final eight games of the season). 

A Triple Crown!

Located two hours southeast of Bologna, San Marino put together an equally impressive season, and with a first place regular season finish, has home field advantage in the Italian Series. And if Ray-Patrick Didier’s season numbers seemed impressive, wait until you take a look at what San Marino’s power-hitting outfielder Federico Celli accomplished at the plate.

Mr. Triple Crown himself, Federico Celli (Credit: PhotoBass)

The former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect not only out hit the Aruban shortstop, he finished first in the league in batting average (.473), homers (10), and RBI (36) — in just 27 games played! Yep, you read it right, the big bat in the middle of Mario Charini’s lineup (he also posted an eye popping .935 slugging percent and .538 OBP) took home the coveted Triple Crown, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in Italy since 2010.

But while Celli has grabbed most of the media attention, San Marino is more than a one man show at the plate. Cuban utility man Maikel Ceseres (.380, 2 HR, 22 RBI), Spanish national team infielder Oscar Angulo (.316, 1 HR, 15 RBI), and Italian outfielder Mattia Reginato (.369, 3 HR, 23 RBI) all had great seasons, and round out the middle of the San Marino order.

Strong arms, deep bullpens

If offense sells tickets (and yes, in Italy clubs do actually sell tickets), pitching and defense wins championships. And so with that in mind, let’s compare the two pitching staffs.

Bologna’s two main starting pitchers were Italian Matteo Bocchi (7-1, 2.58 ERA, 44 K in 43.1 IP), and Mathias Zotti (4-0, 2.68 ERA, 29 K in 31.1 IP). Bocchi, who pitched as high as AAA for the Cubs in 2019, returned home to Italy when the minor league season was called off due to…. you guessed it, coronavirus. The former Texas Longhorn figures to start game 1 of the Italian Series for Bologna.

In the bullpen, Bologna will count on support from the Brazilian righty Murilo Gouvea (5-0, 1.12 ERA, 46 K in 31.1 IP), Alex Bassani (4-2, 1.34 ERA, 40 K in 36.2 IP) and veteran right-hander Filippo Crepaldi (2-0, 2.16 ERA, 31 K in 22.2 IP and 2 saves).

Maestri has been a total maestro for San Marino this season (Credit: PhotoBass)

If anything, San Marino’s staff — led by Italian national team ace Alessandro Maestri — has even better numbers (slightly). Once again, the now 35-year-old righty, who has previously played in the NPB (Japan), KBO (Korea) along with stops in Mexico and Australia following his double A stint with the Chicago Cubs, proved why he definitely belongs in the conversation of the best European pitcher ever. Back in Italy this year, Maestri was almost unhittable, with 7-0 record, 0.82 ERA, and 60 K in 42.2 IP.

Not to be out done, San Marino’s other ace, LA Dodgers current minor leaguer Markus Solbach of Germany, put together an equally impressive run since arriving in Italy in July. In 30.1 IP, Solbach posted a 3-0 record to go with a 0.23 ERA (Yup, he earned just one run all season) while walking just 8 and punching out 53.

San Marino’s bullpen will consist of Spanish national team lefty Riccardo Hernandez (1.08 ERA in 13.0 IP), Dimitri Kourtis (1.88 ERA in 26.0 IP), Nicola Garbella (2.71 ERA in 31.0 IP), Luca Di Raffaele (1.75 ERA in 20.0 IP, 2 saves) and Fernando Baez (2.00 ERA in 21.0 IP, 2 saves).

Our money is on…

Trying to predict a winner in this battle of the twin titans is no easy task. On the one hand, Bologna has back-to-back titles and didn’t seem to lose a beat this year. One the other hand, San Marino finished first and looks to have the better pitching staff, which in a seven-game series, could be the difference.

We’re stepping out on a limb here but, Le Baseblog is going with… San Marino in six. All games can be watched on fibstv.com, starting this Thursday at 8 PM CET.

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