Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring Is In The Air

And what does that mean? Baseball. Spring training has begun for Major League Baseball, and this weekend marked the start of the second World Baseball Classic, an international 16-country tournament. Already, there's been an enormous upset in the double-elimination first round with the Netherlands managing to hold onto a 3-2 win over the Dominican Republic, putting the Dominicans on the chopping block.

This afternoon, though, if you were lucky enough to see the Canada vs. USA game, you saw a great one. It was an intense game through and through, and while it's a shame that Canada came out on the wrong end of a 6-5 score, I enjoyed every second of that game. My thoughts on the Canadian team:

On the mound: Canadian starter Mike Johnson pitched a solid four innings, after running up onto his pitch count. He clearly has a great mental makeup, very cool and collected on the mound, and has solid stuff on the mound as well the confidence to throw any pitch at any time (including striking out David Wright on a 3-2 slider).

Another pitcher to make a note of is Seattle Mariners farm hand Philippe Aumont, a 6'7" right-hander. Similar cool manner, brings a hard mid-90s fastball with some nasty inside-out movement, and a hard 82-mph slider, with a seldom-used curve to go with it. Aumont looked a little shaky early on with a couple walks and ended up loading the bases with none out, but buckled down very well and stopped the threat with a pop-up and two strikeouts.

The Canadian pitching staff definitely boasts some great arms; the only knock on them is experience. Few of them have played on a stage quite as big as this, but they've showed themselves to be quite a solid bunch. Almost a pity that four of the starters that were originally going to come out for Canada couldn't (or didn't) do it for some reason or another (Ryan Dempster opted not to compete; Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, and Erik Bedard are all injured).

At the plate: Canada appears to be boasting quite an impressive lineup, featuring both MLB veterans and some minor league prospects in various organizations. Star of the show today proved to be Joey Votto, with a terrific 4-5 performance, with a double, a towering homerun off Jake Peavy, and two RBIs. Votto is a future all-star with the Cincinnati Reds, and with days like today, you can see why.

Russell Martin and Jason Bay showed why they're in the show as well. Martin had a homerun and a double himself today, and Bay, though hitless, had three walks, and demonstrated just how good a hitter he can be, and why he's an all-star. Canada also bears a remarkably dangerous 2-6 stretch in the batting order, with the aforementioned Martin and Votto in the 2 and 3 holes, 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau batting cleanup, Jason Bay batting fifth, and the lightning-fast swing of Matt Stairs in the sixth spot.

With the loss, Canada does face elimination on Monday, against the loser of tonight's game between Italy and Venezuela, but with this lineup, expect Canada to at least survive to contend for a second-round berth, much like they did in 2006, where their only loss in the first round was to Mexico, and even managed to upset the USA team 8-6 with a great pitching performance from Adam Loewen.

This is going to be a great tournament.

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