Sports·The Buzzer

Canada's Olympic baseball qualifier is heating up

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at the Canadian men's baseball team's path to the Olympics now that it's reached the final four of its regional qualifying tournament.

Men's team faces U.S., Dominican in the final four of its regional tournament

Manager Ernie Whitt's team needs to win some more high-stakes ballgames to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

It's crunch time for the Canadian men's baseball team

Canada took care of business in the group stage of its regional Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida, going 2-1 to advance to the four-team "super round." The primary goal now is to win the tournament and the ticket to the Tokyo Olympics that comes with it. But a second- or third-place finish is OK too. Those teams will get another chance at the final Olympic qualifier in Mexico later this month. What you don't want to do is finish last in the super round. That eliminates you from Olympic contention.

Unfortunately, Canada is behind in the count before the first super-round pitch has even been thrown. That's because yesterday's 5-0 loss to Venezuela, which gave the unbeaten Venezuelans first place in the group, carries over. So Canada starts the super round with an 0-1 record. Venezuela is 1-0, and so is the United States by virtue of its group-stage win over the Dominican Republic — the other team that advanced from the Americans' group.

What happens next is everyone plays the two teams that advanced from the other group. When that's over, the team with the best super-round record gets the ticket to Tokyo, and the second- and third-place finishers head to Mexico June 22-26 to face Australia and the Netherlands for the final spot in the six-team Olympic tournament. Originally, the final Olympic qualifier was supposed to have six teams too. But China pulled out last month and Taiwan followed suit yesterday (both over COVID-19 concerns), making it a four-team event. That obviously boosts Canada's chances of reaching the Olympics, assuming it doesn't complete the task this weekend in Florida.

That task looks like a tall one. To have a chance at winning this tournament, Canada will have to win both its super-round games — against the United States (Friday at 7 p.m. ET) and the Dominican Republic (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET).

The Americans are ranked second in the world, they're playing on home turf, and they went unbeaten in the group stage. They're managed by two-time American League Manager of the Year Mike Scioscia, and their roster is sprinkled with former big-leaguers you may recognize. Edwin Jackson and Homer Bailey pitched a combined 31 years in the majors, Todd Frazier was a two-time all-star third baseman, and Matt Kemp was the National League MVP runner-up a decade ago. The 10th-ranked Dominican team has some guys you might remember too: former Blue Jays star Jose Bautista, former Blue Jays scrub Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera, who had one bad and one good year with the Jays after they signed him coming off an all-star season with San Francisco. Canada is ranked 13th, and its most recognizable players are probably John Axford (led the NL in saves in 2011, pitched for Toronto in '18) and Scott Richmond (a Jays starter in '08 and '09).

You can stream Canada's games, and every other super-round contest, on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Read more about the Canadian team's quest to qualify for the Olympics here.

Venezuela hands Canada 1st loss in Olympic qualifier

8 months ago
Duration 1:00
Carlos Perez hit a two-run homer while Venezuela limited Canada to one hit in a 5-0 victory in the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier in West Palm Beach, Fla. 1:00

Quickly...

Mark Scheifele's hit was "clean," according to Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice. Most people seem to disagree, and the NHL was holding an over-the-phone hearing with Scheifele today before deciding whether to punish him for running Montreal's Jake Evans late in last night's 5-3 Canadiens win. Sheifele got five minutes and a game misconduct for charging. Evans left on a stretcher. Maurice conceded today that it was a "heavy, heavy" hit, but not dirty. Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme called it "vicious" and "useless." While we wait to find out whether Scheifele will be suspended for Game 2 (and maybe longer), you can watch the hit here and judge for yourself.

The top two women are now out of the French Open. World No. 1 Ash Barty quit her second-round match today because of a hip injury that hampered her in the first round. No. 2 Naomi Osaka, you may have heard, withdrew after her opening-round win as she clashed with organizers over her refusal to do press conferences. Pre-tournament favourite Iga Swiatek now looks like an even better bet to win her second consecutive French Open title. She advanced to the third round today with a 6-1, 6-1 win. On the men's side, the top three seeds remain intact. No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev have advanced to the third round, and No. 3 Rafael Nadal was playing his second-round match at our publish time. Read more about today's French Open results here.

The U.S. Women's Open teed off today. It's taking place at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. The top Canadian, world No. 5 Brooke Henderson, had yet to get started at our publish time. She's looking for her second major win and first since the 2016 Women's PGA Championship. Henderson and the rest of the Canadian golf world got some bad news yesterday when the country's lone LPGA event, the CP Women's Open, was cancelled for the second year due to the pandemic. It had been scheduled for late August in Vancouver. Read more about the cancellation here and see the updated U.S. Women's Open leaderboard here.

And finally…

The couple that competes in the Olympics together, stays together. That time-honoured saying (that I just made up) is embodied in Canadian athletes Georgia Simmerling and Stephanie Labbé. They met five years ago, at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where Simmerling was competing as a track cyclist and Labbé as the starting goalie for the Canadian women's soccer team. Both won bronze medals. Now they're helping each other prepare for what they expect to be their final Olympic appearance. With Pride month underway, they're also reflecting on the challenges faced by LGBTQ Olympians while at the same time feeling grateful to be competing at a time when, as CBC Sports' Devin Heroux writes, "it has never been easier to be out, proud and authentic in the field of play." Read Devin's story on Simmerling and Labbé and what it means to be an LGBTQ Olympic athlete in 2021 here.

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