Newsflash: Canada has produced more athletic talent than just Wayne Gretzky.
Unfortunately for Team Canada, it landed in Pool C of the 2009 WBC. Also in Pool C are baseball powerhouses USA and Venezuela, along with that-one-country-shaped-like-a-boot-who-tried-playing-baseball-a-few-times-and-claimed-that-Mike-Piazza-guy (Italy). On a very serious side note: anyone who wants to support Piazza should check out this hair/mustache combo— you’ll change your mind.
Canada has been universally projected to finish third in Pool C, behind Venezuela and the United States’ MLB All-Star Parade. USA’s starting lineup boasts former MVPs 3B Chipper Jones (1993), SS Jimmy Rollins (2007), and 2B Dustin Pedroia (2008) along with former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy (2007). Venezuela also boasts an All-Star caliber roster, featuring players like 3B Miguel Cabrera and OF Magglio Ordonez. While Canada features less big-name players than its competition, it produced an outstanding performance in Saturday’s near-upset of the United States.
Every 2009 WBC Preview/Prediction that I saw picked the United States and Venezuela to advance from Pool C. Upon further review, however, Team Canada features enough talent and experience to play this year’s Cinderella.
Check out Canada’s starting lineup from Saturday:
- C – Russell Martin – 2x MLB All-Star
- 1B – Justin Morneau – 2006 AL MVP
- 2B – Pete Orr – Washington Nationals
- 3B – Mark Teahen – Kansas City Royals
- SS – Chris Barnwell – Houston Astros
- LF – Nick Weglarz – Cleveland Indians
- CF – Jason Bay – 2x MLB All-Star
- RF – Matt Stairs – 17yr MLB Veteran
- DH – Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds
There are obvious holes in the lineup. Pete Orr has only been a utility player in his Major League experience, while Chris Barnwell and Nick Weglarz are currently in the Minor Leagues. Despite this inexperience, several bright spots are also prevalent in Canada’s lineup. Canada features a plethora of young Major League stars. Russell Martin (age 26) is considered one of the three best offensive catchers in the Major Leagues, Justin Morneau (age 27) is a former American League MVP, Jason Bay (age 30) is a former NL Rookie of the Year, and Joey Votto (age 25) is one of the brightest offensive prospects in baseball. This young corps of players also has a source of veteran leadership in OF Matt Stairs, who boasts 17 years of MLB experience, 252 career home runs, and a 2008 World Series Championship with the Philadephia Phillies.
Canada’s weaker side is clearly its pitching staff. Canada has only two pitchers on its roster who are over the age of 30, and only three of their pitchers are currently playing in the Major Leagues. Despite a lack of experience, Canada does feature a number of high-caliber prospects. SP Philippe Aumont is a 2007 1st-Round selection (Seattle Mariners – 11th overall) who pitched one scoreless inning and struck out two against the United States on Saturday. Aumont is barely 20 years old, and at 6’7″ he is an intimidating presence on the mound. SP Scott Richmond is another Canadian pitcher who will gain MLB experience in the near future, as a number of injuries have thrust him into Toronto’s starting rotation for 2009. While this experience is not impressive, it is better than nothing (see South Africa and/or Chinese Taipei).
This article is not to say that Canada will win the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In actuality, the winner should be Japan or the United States. Several prominent countries have fallen victim to early upsets (e.g. Dominican Republic’s loss to Netherlands and Mexico’s loss to South Africa), but both Japan and the United States have looked nothing short of stellar thus far. Japan mauled Korea, its best competition in Group A, by a final score of 14-2 on Sunday. Later that same day the United States destroyed Venezuela, the alleged next best team in Pool C, by a final score of 15-6. This article is only meant to highlight the vast amount of young talent that Canada has stockpiled on its 2009 WBC team.
The 2009 World Baseball Classic will be won through offensive production. To date, 13 games have been completed in the World Baseball Classic. In each game, the winning team has scored an average of 9.0 Runs Per Game. Canada has a strong enough offense, anchored by Morneau and Bay, to keep pace with other countries. If Canada’s pitching and defense can limit opposing offenses (as they did while yielding only 6 runs to the United States) then it stands a chance of playing deep into this years World Baseball Classic.
Team Canada has shown moments of brilliance. If these moments can find a way to tie themselves together, Canada could make a second round push in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
If Canada loses the elimination-game to Italy on Monday… Forget that I ever wrote this.