Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.
Despite having the same 2-1 record like Team USA and Mexico, Canada was eliminated after the first round in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Three years later they again face their North American rivals in Pool C of the WBC and hope to at least reach the second round.
Canada hosts Pool C of the preliminary round at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The home of the Major League club Blue Jays will see an opener between the Maple Leafs and Team USA on Saturday, March 7th. Depending on the result Canada would face Italy or Venezuela in the second match on March 8th or March 9th. If they are able to advance into the second round, Canada would travel to Miami to take on the two top teams from Pool D with the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico and Panama, starting on March 14.
Recent Tournament History
As mentioned before, Canada had a pretty decent inaugural edition of the World Baseball Classic in 2006, though were unlucky in the tiebreaker procedure. They defeated South Africa (11-8) and the USA (8-6), before losing to Mexico 1-9, finishing in third place in the round robin.
In the following 2007 Baseball World Cup in Taiwan Canada repeated their ninth-place finish from 2005. Again they were unlucky in the tiebreaker during the preliminary round. They had the same 4-3 record as the advancing Korean team, but finished fifth. They had lost the opener against South Korea 0-5 and also failed to win the thrilling last match of the first round against Australia (6-7).
A few months later Canada was back in Taiwan, playing the Final Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They lost just one of the seven games and easily secured a spot in the Beijing Olympics last August. In China the team only defeated the host (10-0) and the Netherlands (4-0), but went unlucky in the other five contests, losing each by a single run.
Tuesday, March 3:
Canada – Toronto Blue Jays
Wednesday, March 4:
Canada – Philadelphia Phillies
Thursday, March 5:
Canada – New York Yankees
Canada trains at the Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training facilities in Dunedin, Florida during the last preparation phase.
If Canada would be able to rely on all of their Major League players they would receive consideration as one of the favored teams. But after starting pitchers Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden (Cubs), Erik Bedard (Mariners) and Ron Francis (Rockies) opted out of the World Baseball Classic due to injuries or focusing on their MLB teams, the pitching staff will be led by Scott Richmond of the Toronto Blue Jays, who was a spot starter last year.
At least top prospect Phillippe Aumont (Mariners) re-joined the team, but only in a relief role. He will be supported by Jesse Crain (Twins) at the backend of the bullpen. Eric Gagne (Brewers) also opted not to participate.
Now Canada has to rely nearly solely on the offense to win the games. They will have one of the best catchers of the game behind the plate in Russell Martin of the Dodgers. 2006 American League MVP first baseman Justin Morneau (Twins) and up-and-coming superstar Joey Votto (Reds) should be able to drive in some runs. The outfield features more solid hitters in Jason Bay (Red Sox), Mark Teahen (Royals) and Matt Stairs (Phillies).
Additionally fan favorite infielder Stubby Clapp probably will play his last big tournament for the Canadian team. Infielder Corey Koskie hopes for a comeback after being side-lined for nearly two years due to post concussion syndromes.
Ernie Whitt will lead the Canadian coaching staff into the World Baseball Classic. The 56-year-old manager is a former catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves and is currently a minor league manager for the Clearwater Treshers. He also managed Canada in the 2006 WBC. Whitt will be supported by coaches Larry Walker, Paul Quantrill, Paul Boucher, Tim Leiper and Greg Hamilton.
It will be nearly impossible for Canada to reach the semi-finals without the missing number-one starting quartet Harden, Bedard, Dempster and Francis. The lack of depth in the pitching department is especially hurtful, because of the pitch count limitations in the tournament. Of course, with the talent on the offensive side of the game they will win a few games and also have a chance to advance into round two. But it is not going to be easy.
Photo: © Marco Vasini, IBAF, www.ibaf.org