As a baseball fan who is (unfairly) deprived of baseball through the winter months, I eagerly await spring training every year. This year we baseball fans have another reason to eagerly await the snow melting...The World Baseball Classic.
The World Baseball Classic has been reasonably controversial in its infancy, mostly because the best pitchers do not tend to play. Despite that, it is an event that is taken seriously by the players who do show up, and the fans who are eager to see international baseball played by the finest players.
The real question for Canada is will we advance beyond the first round? Firstly, we are in a very tough pool. Team USA is a strong team, and Team Venezuela will be troublesome as well. Fortunately, we have home-field advantage at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Our main problem will be pitching, mainly that we have none. Despite Canada having many excellent major league hurlers, very few of them are coming to Toronto. Only Scott Richmond, and Jesse Crain have any major league experience. And even then, not too much of it. They will be forced to rely on the bats, which are not in short supply.
Our position players include All-Stars Russel Martin, Jason Bay, and Justin Morneau. We also have Major League veterans Matt Stairs, and Corey Koskie. They are joined by the the new kids Joey Votto, and Mark Teahen who have shown a lot of potential in their first few seasons. Top to bottom that is a batting order that should strike fear into opposing pitchers. But, will it be enough to make up for sub-standard pitching and a tough pool?
Team USA does not have their top pitchers either, but they will still have a formidable rotation with guys like Peavey, Oswalt, and Lilly. Their bullpen is also strong and will be anchored by JJ Putz and BJ Ryan.
Their line-up is tough, with infielders like Pedroia, Youkilis, and Rollins making their World Baseball Classic debut alongside Jeter, and Chipper Jones. Good luck crafting an infield better than that. Their outfield is solid too with Hawpe, Granderson, Braun, and Sizemore.
However, they do not have the ability to hit for power that one would expect. But, they will have a lot of speed on the base-paths which Russel Martin will need to keep an eye on. I think they are stronger than Canada, but I do not think they are as good as their 2006 team (which Canada defeated).
The good thing about this tournament is that Canada only has to finish second to advance. Venezuela will be no cake-walk, but I believe that Canada is a better team. Venezuela is bringing a veteran team with a couple of strong pitchers in Carlos Zambrano and Francisco Rodriguez.
Their order is highlighted by Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez. But, I do not think they have the balanced hitting that Canada will have. If Canada plays its best, and gets a reasonable outing out of its pitchers we should beat Venezuela.
Regardless, this is a fun tournament that I am really excited for. In tough economic times when the news is becoming more and more depressing, it is nice to have some real baseball to look forward to.