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Double Play: Mixed bag for Canadians in MLB regular season

TSN.ca Staff
10/4/2010 1:38:03 PM
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With another regular season now complete, TSN.ca breaks down the performances of Canadians in major league baseball. Players from north of the border are as prominent as ever in the big league game, so we thought we'd examine the achievements of select Canucks from the 2010 campaign.

Becoming a Star: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

The 27-year-old had a massively successful year, hitting 37 homers and knocking in 113 runs, and his Cincinnati Reds are now bound for the post-season after finishing tops in the NL Central. Votto's .324 average was good enough for second in the National League. The Toronto native is a fan favourite both north and south of the border, having made the All-Star roster via online voting, despite not being initially named to the showcase. Votto graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in August and will now have a chance to shine in the playoffs for the first time in his young career.  He also stands a very realistic chance of being named the National League's Most Valuable Player at year's end. If Votto does win the award, he will become the third Canadian ever to win the MVP, joining Larry Walker (the '97 winner) and Justin Morneau ('06) in a very exclusive club.

Breakout Performer: John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers

Axford became the Brewers' closer in 2010, and the Ontario native finished up the year with some very impressive numbers. Starting the season with Milwaukee's minor league affiliate in Nashville, Axford was called up to the big leagues in May, when the Brew Crew's usual reliever (and future Hall of Famer) Trevor Hoffman began to struggle in save situations.  Axford was given the role of closer and excelled immediately. He finished the regular season with an 8-2 record and a 2.48 ERA. Axford also went 24 for 27 in save opportunities and had 76 strikeouts in 56 innings pitched.

With his performance, the 27-year-old has more than likely earned the closer's job in Milwaukee heading into next season.  If he continues to progress, he could help the Brewers (who finished the season with a 77-85 mark) get back into the playoff hunt in the evenly matched National League Central.

 Suffering Through Injuries:

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau got off to an excellent start in 2010. At the All-Star break, the New Westminster, B.C. native was batting an astounding .345. Naturally, the 29-year-old was voted to the All-Star Game, but in an unfortunate turn of events, he had to withdraw after suffering a concussion on July 7 sliding into second base. Struggling with post-concussion syndrome, Morneau was forced to miss the rest of the season and the playoffs, halting a promising campaign dead in its tracks.

Morneau wasn't the only Canadian plagued by injury troubles this season.

Jason Bay had a less-than-stellar go at things after signing a four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets in the off-season. The team finished well out of playoff contention and the 32-year-old B.C. native hit just .259 with 6 home runs and 47 RBI in 95 games. 

On July 25, Bay - like Morneau - suffered a concussion and didn't return for the rest of the season.  The loss was a significant one for the Mets as they expected Bay to perform like he did during his 2009 campaign with the Boston Red Sox, during which he was named an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger award.

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, an east Toronto native, also missed the second half of the season with a torn labrum in his right hip. Prior to his injury, Martin was hitting just .248 with five homers and 26 RBI through 97 games.

Martin's offensive numbers have been in a tailspin in the last few years and the 28-year old still needs to recover from his hip ailment.  While Martin will work to be 100% at the start of next season, there's a chance that he might not be ready come April.

Rich Harden was not particularly dazzling for the Texas Rangers this season but they booked a ticket to the post-season nonetheless, and nothing makes up for a rough year and earns redemption like clutch playoff performances. Last December, Harden signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Texas, but the 28-year-old put up less-than-solid numbers in 2010, finishing with a 5.58 ERA in 20 starts. In June, a muscle strain forced him on to the DL, and he returned in August.  Harden has great stuff, but in eight seasons in the major leagues, he's only surpassed the 150-innings-pitched mark once due to a multitude of injuries.

Colorado Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis went 4-6 in 19 starts in 2010.  He posted a 5.00 ERA and started the season late after missing the entire 2009 season with a shoulder injury.  The 29-year old was placed back on the disabled list in August and missed 27 games because of shoulder issues.

Perhaps the most snake-bitten Canadian when it comes to injury is Navan, Ontario's Erik Bedard.

Bedard came close to returning from his 2009 arm surgery, but the left-hander didn't end up making an appearence in the majors at all in 2010.  It's unclear if the Seattle Mariners will look to bring him back, as he's only made 30 total starts in the last three seasons.

Mr. Consistent: Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs

Dempster, who began his career as a starter, then switched to relief pitcher, only to be switched back to a starter when he was 30 years-old, posted his third straight season of throwing more than 200 innings.

The 33-year-old posted a 15-12 record with a 3.84 ERA for a disappointing Cubs squad.  Because of his age and the fact that he doesn't have the stuff that some of the other Canadian hurlers like Harden or Bedard have, Dempster sometimes tends to get overlooked, but he's shown that he's a durable innings-eater that every team needs.

Not to be forgotten:

Other Canadians that stepped on the field in 2010 include: Jesse Crain (Twins), Blake Hawksworth (Cardinals), Shawn Hill (Blue Jays), George Kottaras (Brewers), Christopher Leroux (Marlins), Scott Mathieson (Phillies), Mike Nickeas (Mets), Scott Richmond (Blue Jays), Michael Saunders (Mariners), Max St. Pierre (Tigers), Matt Stairs (Padres), Adam Stern (Brewers)




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