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Team Canada's manager Ernie Whitt (CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Team Canada's manager Ernie Whitt (CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

Canada ready to put past behind them at World Baseball Classic Add to ...

Major-leaguers Justin Morneau and Jesse Crain are among the returning veterans, although catcher Russell Martin is a notable absence after withdrawing from the team. Canada also features a bolstered bullpen with the addition of Milwaukee closer John Axford.

But the verdict is still out on whether Canada’s best hitter will join the team. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto remains on the fence after missing 48 games last season with a knee injury. He plans to make a decision prior to Canada’s first game. His participation will have a major impact Canada’s chances of advancing.

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ITALY

Record in 2009: 1-2

The victory against Canada is the only WBC win the underdog Italians have every enjoyed. With no star pitching or hitting, winning another game this time around will be an accomplishment.

But players like Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia could cause trouble for Canada, especially in a close game.

“Do they have the big household names, the Joey Vottos and the Justin Morneaus? No they don’t. But they didn’t have it the last time around either and they also play to a certain degree with house money. They don’t have a whole lot to lose,” said Hamilton.

“They’re going to come and play hard and they’re not expected to beat us. Any time that’s a reality you really need to respect it even more than they do in the sense that you better be ready because they’re going to play you hard. They always have and they will this time.”

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MEXICO

Record in 2009: 2-4

After opening the last WBC with an unexpected 17-7 loss to Australia, Mexico was eventually eliminated in the second round following a pair of losses to South Korea and Cuba.

This year’s team features 16 players in the major leagues, including several stars. Los Angeles Dodgers’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez returns, closer Sergio Romo joins the team after winning the World Series with San Francisco last year and longtime national team outfielder Karim Garcia is back after recording three home runs and five RBIs in ‘09.

Mexico can also expect plenty of fan support in Phoenix given its close proximity to the Mexican border.

“They’re going to be tough. They always are,” said Hamilton. “Their pitching staff’s pretty solid, pretty deep. They’ve got some key bats in the right spots, and they’re going to have a lot of guys that just finished in the Caribbean Series. So they’re coming off a high intensity winter ball environment where they just literally finished up competing at a big stage internationally and with a lot of patriotic flavour to it. They’ll have an opportunity to carry it into this tournament.”

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UNITED STATES

Record in 2009: 4-3, lost in semifinals

The United States enter the third WBC with something to prove. They were knocked out in the second round in 2006, and in lost in the 2009 semifinals to eventual champion Japan.

This time the Americans arrive with an intimidating lineup led by veteran manager Joe Torre. The U.S. squad looks like an all-star roster with Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and David Wright just some of the marquee names.

No team is invincible at the tournament – Canada stunned the U.S. with an 8-6 win at Chase Field in 2006, and pushed the Americans in a 6-5 loss in 2009 – but the U.S. will be disappointed with anything less than a championship now.

“You look at their lineup they’re good, they’re really good. From top to bottom they’re deep,” said Hamilton. “They’ve got balance where they need balance. They have a lineup that works well together in terms of that balance. They’re not missing anything really.”

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