When the International Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball joined forces to create the World Baseball Classic, it was with the hope that every year the event was held there would be matchups like the United States vs. Canada on Sunday in Pool D.
Not only do these two teams have the star power needed to market the game to a casual baseball audience, but the stakes are exactly what you want from this kind of game. The winner advances to the second round, while the loser goes home.
Italy has already clinched a spot in the second round out of Pool D. The United States and Canada enter today's game 1-1. The United States can actually win the group, depending on what happens with the modified run differential tiebreaker.
Canada will be stuck settling for the runner-up spot with a win in this game thanks to its 14-4 loss against Italy on Friday.
Here are the keys to victory for the United States and Canada in the World Baseball Classic showdown.
Keys to victory for United States
Use that deep bullpen to your advantage; string some hits together
One of the things that USA manager Joe Torre was notorious for when he was leading the New York Yankees was his willingness to burn through a bullpen more than almost anyone else in the game.
Because he is dealing with other team's property in this tournament, Torre has to be a lot more conservative. He used just two relievers over five innings in Saturday's win over Mexico, letting Ross Detwiler, who has been used as a starter or reliever in Washington, throw the last four innings.
Now, against a very good Canadian lineup that features Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders, Torre will have virtually all of his relievers available—Detwiler being the obvious exclusion—to close this game out.
Derek Holland starts the game for the United States, but he has always been inconsistent and can lose his control in the zone. Torre can't afford to let this game get out of hand early if he wants to give his team a chance to win.
On the other side of the field, the United States has to start stringing hits together with runners in scoring position.
Tony Lastoria of IndiansBaseballInsider.com had a great note on how inept Team USA had been in the first two games of the World Baseball Classic before David Wright hit a grand slam in the fifth inning against Mexico on Saturday night.
USA needed that. The hitters have been REALLY pressing the first two games. Were 2-for-19 with RISP prior to that inning.— Tony Lastoria (@TonyIBI) March 10, 2013
Even though people started talking like the floodgates came open after Wright hit that grand slam, that was the last time the United States scored in that game. This team still struggles to put anything together for a whole inning.
Team USA gets more than its share of hits to create scoring opportunities. It has just struggled to cash in on them when they are there. If that happens again, this team will be heading home much sooner than anyone expected.
Keys to victory for Canada
Cut Jameson Taillon loose; Find some help in the lineup
Which team has the advantage heading into Sunday's game?
Team Canada is placing its hopes on 21-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon, who has just a handful of innings at Double-A. He has the size, stuff and upside to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but is still working through a few bugs before he can get there.
It is not going to happen in one start on March 10, so expectations for Taillon should be kept in check. But if Taillon is on his game early, Canada will be in a great position to win this game because the United States has shown an inability to put runs on the scoreboard.
Even though Canada had success scoring against Mexico on Saturday scoring 10 runs, the bulk of it came from two players: Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders. Those two accounted for eight hits, six RBI, four extra-base hits and four runs scored.
Canada's lineup isn't nearly as deep as the United States', so it will have to find ways to manufacture runs and not wait for the big home run to come. But with Votto in the No. 3 spot and Taylor Green hitting .444 in the first two games, there is more for this lineup to do than it has shown so far.