Canada has a lot of talent on their roster, as they do every year. Last tournament they had a quick 0-2 exit in Toronto but this year they are guaranteed three games and will most likely need to win at least two of them to advance.
In the 2006 tournament Canada went 2-1 in pool play, after upsetting USA, and still did not make it to the next round due to run differential. This year they are in a pool with the United States, Mexico and Italy. Mexico and Italy have knocked Canada out of the last two tournaments, so Canada will be coming into this tournament with revenge on their mind.
Canada’s offense is strong, as usual, with major league talent in Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie, Russel Martin and Michael Saunders. However, one glaring hole that is missing is Joey Votto, who still has to pass a physical before the Reds allow him to compete in the tournament. If Canada does not have Votto in the lineup, their offense will be taking a huge hit. Votto is the cornerstone of this team and will be relied on heavily if there. He will be able to DH because Justin Morneau is more than capable of manning first base.
The other corner infield spot is locked up for Brett Lawrie who will likely be a main stay in the Canada lineup for years to come. Unfortunately, the middle infield is something to be desired. Cale Iorg, Jonathan Malo, Pete Orr and Taylor Green will fight for the middle infield positions. If Canada can get strong tournaments out of them they have a very strong chance at advancing. Their bullpen is one of the stronger ones in the tournament highlighted by John Axford, Jesse Crain and Phillipe Aumont. Their starting pitchers will be their Achilles heel. If starters Scott Richmond, Andrew Albers and Shawn Hill are able to get into the 4th inning or later with the lead, Ernie Whitt’s bullpen should be able to take them the rest of the way. The absence of Scott Diamond and Ryan Dempster do not help the case. Canada will most likely be behind in games going into the middle innings but their bullpen should allow them to stick around.
Canada opens the tournament against Italy at Salt River fields. This game is essential for Canada if they hope to advance. Italy is not as weak as some think with the additions of Anthony Rizzo and Alex Liddi. Canada does have the edge in offense and will need to capitalize on all opportunities they have. Canada left 11 runners on base in their 6-2 loss to Italy in 2009. If Canada can’t pull this one out, their chances of advancing are very slim.
Canada then moves to Chase Field to play what is arguably their biggest game of the tournament against Mexico. For arguments sake, let’s say that USA goes 3-0, and Italy goes 0-3. This leaves the Canada vs Mexico game as the one that will decide who is the second team to advance. Canada and Mexico have only met once in the WBC, with Mexico winning 9-1 in 2006. Mexico has a very well rounded team with perennial all-star Adrian Gonzalez as their cornerstone. This is the best supporting cast around Gonzalez with new additions Danny Espinosa and Luis Cruz. Mexico also bolsters one of the best complete pitching staffs in the entire WBC. First-timers Miguel Gonzalez and Yovani Gallardo help out the starting rotation and Sergio Romo and Fernando Salas will help out on the back end. Canada’s pitching will be the key to this game. The offenses stack up fairly evenly but Mexico has the advantage on the bump. If Canada’s pitchers can keep the Mexico offense off the board, Canada will have a chance to win and advance out of their group for the first time.
Canada’s finale will come against the US on the Sunday afternoon. This game could mean anywhere from the battle for first to absolutely nothing. Yes, this is Canada’s biggest rival and yes you should always play to win, but in the long run the first two games are potentially more important for Canada. Canada always plays the States well but they will come into this game as a heavy underdog. Ideally for Canada this game will be a battle for first and they don’t need to win to advance. If Canada can keep the States big bats off the board then they have a chance to keep this game close, just as they did in 2009
In order for Canada to be successful they will need their starting pitching to be stronger than anticipated because the offense and bullpen both stack up well against the rest of the field. Another key for Canada will be whether or not Joey Votto will be in the line-up come March 8th. Another big bat in the order will help hide the potential woes of the pitching staff. Canada will most likely be involved in high scoring games so another big bat that can drive in runs will help them in their style of play. This is probably the best Canadian team that has been fielded at the WBC and is therefore the best chance they’ve had to advance to the second round.