World Baseball Classic Odds
When Team Canada takes the field for its first World Baseball Classic game Friday against Italy, manager Ernie Whitt is well aware that his team isn’t likely to win many 2-1 games. Even though the rotation looks better than it has in the past, it’s still Canada’s clear weakness. In Wednesday’s warm-up contest against the Cincinnati Reds, Canadian starter Mark Hardy was hammered for six runs on seven hits in less than two innings of work during a 12-2 blowout loss. Now, it’s not like most of the WBC teams will have the same firepower as the Reds, but Canada’s going to have to put some runs on the board to have a chance to advance past the round-robin stage. That could be a problem after Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie left Wednesday’s game injured.
Questioning the Rotation
The pitching may end up being better than expected, though it remains a big question mark. Canadian Ryan Dempster turned the team down for the third time this year, while Erik Bedard and Jeff Francis are concentrating on trying to make an MLB club. That leaves Canada with some sort of rotation featuring Chris Leroux, Shawn Hill, Jameson Taillon, Phillippe Aumont and Trystan Magnuson. Hill gets the call to start Friday against Italy and if he can work into the later innings, he’ll have some strong help from the bullpen. John Axeford gives Canada a great closer and Jesse Crain is solid coming on in relief as well.
The Heart of the Matter
Without players like Russell Martin and Dempster on the squad, Canada will have to grind out every inning in this tournament. That’s something that veteran manager Ernie Whitt knows all about. “Canada doesn’t have a big depth pool [of players] so if all of our players are not playing, it makes it a little more difficult because we’re going against all-star teams like Venezuela, the United States and Mexico,” Whitt told reporters. “I’ll take our guys because of the fact they play the game aggressively with heart and leave it all on the field. When they do that, I can accept whatever the results are.”
Canada’s results will surely be much more positive if the injury Lawrie suffered is nothing major. Lawrie left the contest with a side strain and his status is uncertain. But he doesn’t want to risk further injury with the Blue Jays’ season just around the corner, so he could miss the entire tournament. Lawrie plays with the spark Whitt is looking for and could be ready to break out in a big way. Veterans Joey Votto and Justin Morneau can’t do it all anymore.
Canada shouldn’t have any problems getting past Italy Friday, but after that, it’s a crapshoot. Taillon has all the tools to make an impact from the mound while the middle of Canada’s order should be able to push some runs across. While the future looks bright for Canadian baseball, this team (set at +1800 to win the tournament) is at least a few years away from really competing.