After beating Italy last night, the American team can control their own fate and guarantee themselves a place in the second round with a win tonight over Canada. The Canadians are coming off of a huge win over Mexico in a game that included a bench-clearing brawl. With the same 1-1 record as the US team, they also need a win here to secure a spot in the second round. The stage is set for an exciting early Classic elimination battle.
The US is expected to send Rangers pitcher Derek Holland to the hill for this crucial game. Holland went 12-7 for the Rangers last season with a 4.67 ERA.. He may be on a short leash in this winner-take-all contest, however. Manager Joe Torre has given himself a full range of options in bullpen for this game. In the game against Italy yesterday, Torre elected to use Nationals starter Ross Detwiler for four innings of relief after Ryan Vogelsong reached his pitch limit. That means Torre will have his bullpen fully rested for this elimination battle and ready to step in should Holland falter.
Team Canada will send Pittsburgh Pirates uber-prospect Jamison Taillon to the hill. The tall 21 year old righty is currently ranked as the 15th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and the number two prospect in the Pirates farm system. Scouts rave about his stuff, which includes a mid-nineties fastball and a hard-breaking curve, but he lacks Holland's major league experience. Taillon spent most of the 2012 season at High-A Bradenton before getting a taste of AA. The Canadian bullpen saw a bit more work yesterday as well, possibly limiting manager Ernie Whitt's option. One player to watch is closer John Axford, who pitches for the Brewers. He threw one inning in the win over Mexico and could be unavailable as a result. That may be an important difference maker should this game go down to the final innings.
The US team may look more offensively threatening on paper, with 2011 NL MVP Ryan Bruan, super-slugging right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and yesterday's hero David Wright at the heart of their lineup, but the Canadians have outscored Team USA in the Classic so far, 14-8. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders have lead the attack. Saunders tops the WBC leader boards with a gaudy 2.175 OPS and Morneau is second there with a 1.778 OPS. David Wright lead the US team with a 1.222 OPS.
Following the brawl, the World Baseball Classic has decided not to issue any suspensions, so Team Canada will not be at a disadvantage as a result of that unfortunate incident. Tensions are certain to run high again tonight, however, because after today, one North American team is going home.
NLB Network and ESPN Desportes (En Español) will be broadcasting live from Chase Field in Pheonix Arizona today beginning at 1:00 p..m local time, 4:00 p.m. Eastern time.
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