For Canada to have success at the World Baseball Classic, manager Ernie Whitt says his hitters will need to grind out every at-bat.
Fortunately, he has a couple of hitters in Justin Morneau and Joey Votto who can work the count against pitchers.
Votto, who confirmed on Monday he would play in the tournament after testing the health of his knee at Cincinnati Reds spring training, posted a .474 on-base percentage in 111 games last season.
Morneau is only two years removed from a .437 OBP with the Minnesota Twins, but more importantly has been healthy this spring (8-for-17) after missing much of the 2010 and 2011 seasons with concussions and other injuries following surgeries to his neck, left knee and right foot.
Whitt told CBCSports.ca last week that Morneau, a native of New Westminster, B.C., would be the Canadian squad’s leader, saying “everyone is going to circle around him because of his experience, not only in international play, but what he’s done at the major league level.”
But will Morneau be the Canadian to make the greatest impact at the WBC, which starts for Canada on Friday at 2:08 p.m. ET against Italy at Chase Field in Phoenix?
Morneau, 31, is coming off a 19-homer, 77-RBI season in 2012 during which he hit at a .267 clip in 134 games.
Many consider the 29-year-old Votto to be Canada’s biggest offensive threat after he hit .337 with 14 homers, 56 runs batted in during an injury plagued 2012 season.
Perhaps Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, who is expected to hit behind Votto and Morneau in the fifth spot, will take charge.
The 26-year-old changed his hitting approach prior to last season and went out and had a career season, posting a .247 batting average in 139 games with 19 home runs, 57 runs batted in and 21 stolen bases.
Saunders, who hails from Victoria, can offset the speed the Canadian squad would have had with Brett Lawrie in the lineup. The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman withdraw from the WBC on Thursday after straining a rib in a pre-tournament game on Wednesday night.
On the mound, Whitt will be hoping for the 2011 version of closer John Axford, who converted 46 of 48 save chances and 43 in a row to finish the season.
In 2012, the Port Dover, Ont., native lost the stopper’s job in Milwaukee to Francisco Rodriguez after blowing six saves in June and July. He finished the season with 35 saves and a 4.67 earned-run average in 75 appearances.
The 29-year-old Axford has also struggled this spring, allowing four earned runs in 2 2/3 innings pitched in three exhibition games with the Brewers.
Another Canadian pitcher to keep an eye on is Jameson Taillon, a 21-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates prospect.
The six-foot-six, 225-pound right-hander, whom Baseball America recently ranked the 23rd best prospect in the majors, could surprise at the WBC. He spent last season in A and AA ball, going 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA.
Vote in the poll above and write a comment below telling us who will be the difference maker for the Canadian team.