Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team Canada

There's still plenty of potential names out there for Canada who haven't confirmed their participation, most notably infielders Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Brett Lawrie of the White Sox, as well as rising young pitchers James Paxton of the Mariners and Jameson Taillon of the Pirates.
Orr hasn't played in the Major Leagues since 2013, but the utilityman is a legend north of the border after scoring the game-winning run in extra innings against Team USA to win the 2015 Pan American Games final in Toronto. He'll join Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina among the players who are representing their country for the fourth time at the Classic.
Reds slugger Joey Votto, a Toronto-area native who played for Canada in 2009 and 2013, announced last month that he was declining his invitation to play for the team, opting to focus on getting ready for the 2017 regular season.
How they fared in the past
Canada burst onto the international scene in the inaugural 2006 Classic, when it upset the U.S., 8-6, and won two of its three opening-round games before missing the Round 2 cut on a tiebreaker. The Canadians lost to Team USA by just one run in 2009, and held a 3-2 lead over the U.S. in the sixth inning in 2013 before their southern neighbor stormed back with a late-game rally.
All in all, Canada has been competitive, but it is still looking to punch its first ticket to Round 2. However, as its gold medal at the '15 Pan-Ams prove, the nation has talent beyond a handful of recognizable Major Leaguers.
What they should do well
The Canadians' biggest asset is clearly their bats. Martin has seen his average decline in recent years, but he's also coming off back-to-back 20-homer seasons. Morneau is in the twilight of his career, but is still a threat to run into a homer with any swing. Saunders is coming off his first All-Star season. If Freeman joins this lineup, opposing pitchers are in for a long night.
Where they could struggle
Just as it's no secret Canada can hit, it's no secret they've struggled to keep runs off the board. The Canadians have allowed nearly eight runs per game over the first three installments of this tournament, and they appear to again lack the top-line starter that other Pool C nations (Max Scherzer for Team USA, Jose Quintana for Colombia) will have.
Manager Ernie Whitt told MLB.com that he expects Paxton and Pivetta (who went a combined 12-8 with a 3.27 ERA between the Phillies' Double-A and Triple-A clubs last season) to head the rotation, but even if Taillon joins that duo, it could be a tall task for them to contain the profoundly deep lineups that the Dominican and the U.S. will field.
How far they could go
With what we know about the rosters so far, Canada will be a heavy underdog to supplant the Dominican and U.S. clubs and advance to Round 2 for the first time. The Canadians will need to ride their offense and hope for just enough clutch pitching late to surprise people -- something they have done sporadically in the past.

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