After watching dark horses like Israel and the Netherlands enjoy some opening-round triumphs over the last few days, the most compelling division of the 2017 World Baseball Classic is primed to get underway Thursday with Canada and the Dominican Republic – the reigning champions – opening the Pool C Round Robin slate from Marlins Park in Miami.

Here are three things to know as their showdown looms:

Canucks coming in confident

Expectations aren’t high for this bunch of “misfits, beer drinkers, and fighters,” as Eric Gagne put it last week, but this motley crew is heading into the tournament on a high after thumping their beloved Toronto Blue Jays, 7-1, in a Tuesday exhibition at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

Comprised largely of career minor leaguers, non-prospects, and long-since-past-due stars, the Canadians aren’t going to bash a lot of home runs, or have one of their pitchers win a game for them single-handedly, but if they can continue to put up quality at-bats (they took five walks and struck out only nine times vs. Toronto), make effective use of their bullpen (seven relievers combined to allow two hits over seven scoreless innings), and play flawless defense (they turned three double plays and didn’t commit an error), the boys from up north may give the Dominicans a run for their money.

Dominican dominance

Momentum is good, and all, but it’s important to remember that the Dominicans won this thing last time around – they haven’t lost a WBC game since 2009, in fact – and have a demonstrably superior roster to Canada in pretty much every way. Assuming manager Tony Pena sticks with the same group he used in Tuesday’s exhibition against the Baltimore Orioles, the top six hitters in the Dominican lineup boast a combined 24 All-Star appearances. Canada, its most accomplished players being Justin Morneau, Gagne, and Ryan Dempster, has nine in total.

To further compound the mismatch, the Dominican squad has Carlos Martinez, an All-Star who just signed a $51-million extension, on the mound for the tournament opener – with a terrifying triumvirate of Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, and Fernando Rodney waiting down in the bullpen. The Canadian club will trot out 39-year-old Dempster, who threw his last professional pitch in 2013. Canadian stick-to-itiveness notwithstanding, this could be a real bloodbath.

Beltre boost

Because they weren’t stacked enough already, the Dominicans will also have Adrian Beltre, the four-time All-Star and presumptive Hall-of-Famer, at their disposal for Thursday’s bout despite the 37-year-old being slowed by a calf strain early in spring training. (He didn’t play Tuesday against the Orioles, either.)

“I am proud to represent my country,” Beltre said earlier this week. “I enjoy playing the game, and then to be able to do that for the people back home is special. We know the people in the Dominican are behind us.” Beltre, who wasn’t able to represent the Dominican in the last two installments of the WBC due to injuries, may not start against Canada, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the reigning champs: not only would it give him a little more recovery time, but Beltre is also 3-for-18 (.167) with four strikeouts and no home runs in his career against Dempster.

Menu