Why is it that anytime a Canadian athlete or team has the smallest modicum of expectations placed upon them, they immediately seize up and become ripe for an upset?
World Champion hurdler? She's falling at the first hurdle.
Unbeatable speed skater? On his ass 10 feet out of the starting blocks.
Defending Hockey Gold Medalists? Shut out by Switzerland
Rowing Champion who hasn't lost in two years? How do you feel about eighth place?
So it is with the latest edition of Team Canada at the WBC. In front of a home crowd, with a reasonable expectation of moving on to round two, and they fall to an Italian team that would probably struggle to succeed at the AA level.
It's not that Canadians can't or don't achieve on the world stage, but they generally do a great deal better when unheralded, when they can sneak up on people.
Witness the 2006 WBC. Canada barely survived an opening game scare against South Africa, so there were no expectations against the powerhouse U.S. Bingo! 8-6 upset, in arguably the biggest international baseball victory the country has ever enjoyed. Of course, that created expectations of going to the second round and suddenly it's 9-1 Mexico and vaya con dios.
This time around, with an improved lineup and on home soil, Canada wasn't going to sneak up on anyone, and they battled the U.S. in a terrific game before coming up just short. Still, all wasn't lost, since Venezuela was hardly a juggernaut, and all you had to do to play them was beat Italy. In a sport low on yellow cards and pretend injuries, that should be no problem, right? Ah, but that wouldn't be the Canadian way.
This is why the current round of 2010 Olympic ads, in which children boast of how well Canadian athletes are performing and predict that Canada will "win the games" (not really sure how that's possible at an Olympics) are fairly nauseating. Maybe these kids are just too young to realize Canadian S.O.P. at the Olympic games. As they point out, no Canadian has ever won a gold medal at home... there's a reason, kids.
Plus, the boasting seems just a little too... American. It works for the U.S., because, with their staunch commitment to their drug programs, their athletes usually come through. At least until they get caught for doping years later.
But all this smack talk is just Un-Canadian. After all, beating someone that we're supposed to beat, that just doesn't seem very friendly, does it?
Who Are These Guys? Part III
Our final stop on the pitchers the Jays have collected and invited to spring training.Matt Clement, 34, RHP
The most famous of the off-season pickups, Clement is a one-time all-star who rebuffed the Jays to sign a 3-year/$25 million contract with the Red Sox prior to 2005. After a decent first season, he fell off the rails in 2006 (5-5, 6.61) before undergoing season-ending surgery. Not Tommy-John-see-you-in-18-months-stronger-than-you-were-before surgery, but rotator cuff surgery, which is nowhere near as predictable or successful. Clement was back pitching in the Cardinals organization last year, (32 innings over 3 levels) but didn't impress them enough to earn a call up. With his history, (87 major league wins) Clement has a chance for a comeback, and while asking him to go Chris Carpenter is pure wishcasting, he can certainly be the next Frank Castillo.Excitement Factor: Mike Maroth, 31, LHP
You know you have a pitching crisis when... The last time Maroth was healthy enough to pitch in the majors, he coughed up a 6.89 ERA and an opponents' batting line of .347/.406/.597. In case you're thinking, ok, small sample size, this was over 116 innings. That's almost 13 full games of turning every opposition hitter into Rogers Hornsby. Oh, and he's injured! Maroth's knee is ailing, and could hamper his comeback bid. Maroth doesn't have killer splits, so a bullpen role is unrealistic. The Jays must be hoping for the return of the Maroth who logged 600 innings between 2003 and 2005, but he wasn't all that good back then, either.Excitement Factor: Reid Santos, 26, LHP
A waiver claim for Cleveland, Santos is relatively young and boasts a 3:1 K/BB ratio and 470 Ks in 509 pro innings, so he's what you could call a live arm. He did get pretty badly waxed in his first foray into AAA last season, but had success before that, so it could be a case of adjusting to the level. He has also worked previously as a starter, so the Jays may see that role in his future. Either way, don't expect to see him in the majors to start the year.Excitement Factor: Ken Takahashi, 39, LHP
If Clement is the biggest name among the retreads and castoffs, Takahashi is the most intriguing. A Japanese League lifer, Takahashi will finally get a crack at North America's version of The Show at 39. A swingman with a lifetime 66-87 mark - all for the Hiroshima Carp - doesn't seem like the sort of profile to get anyone excited, but Takahashi's recent history is out of the ordinary. After being a reliever for much of his career, Takahashi was used exclusively as a starter over the past two seasons. His numbers suggest a careful usage pattern, likely due to his age - 20 starts in both 2007 and 2008, but he responded well, going 13-9 with two of the three best ERAs of his career. His peripherals aren't eye-popping, but combine the motivation of finally pitching in the big leagues with the fact that no one in North America has seen him before, and he could be a sleeper at the back of the rotation. Expect him to be the most popular Japanese player in Blue Jays history, eclipsing the very short-lived Ohka-mania of 2007.Excitement Factor: