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Stroman Dominates in Blue Jays’ Demolition of D’Backs



PHOENIX — After stumbling out of the gate after the all-star break, the Blue Jays — and most importantly, Marcus Stroman — have flipped the switch.

The Jays are headed back to Toronto from this five-game road trip on a modest three-game win streak to start a nine-game homestand playing the same type of quality baseball that they displayed in winning eight of their final nine games before the break.

The best part of Wednesday afternoon’s 10-4 demolition of the Arizona Diamondbacks was not the 13-hit, two-homer performance of the offence. No, the most impressive aspect was Stroman’s dominance.

Stroman appeared to have overcome his early season inconsistency in his final three starts before the break but he regressed badly in his first second-half appearance last Friday in Oakland, unable to get out of the fifth inning.

Wednesday, he was thoroughly in control, tossing eight innings and appeared to have plenty in the tank had manager John Gibbons allowed him to go back out to get the complete game. He gave up a run on eight hits, all singles, maintaining impeccable control and command by not walking a batter. His 14 groundball outs was testament to his ability to keep driving the ball down in the strike zone. He struck out six and needed only three flyball outs. In all, he threw 99 pitches.

“He was really good,” said Gibbons. “He was on a nice little roll. Everybody wanted to hang themselves after that night in Oakland but, you know what? It’s a tough level of baseball. Nobody is going to be good every night out. That’s just the way it is. He’s a big part of who we are. Today it was on both sides of the ball. With the bat, he laid down a nice sac bunt, he ran the bases.”

Stroman just shrugged when asked to compare his Oakland start with this one.

“I can’t really weigh in much on previous starts,” he said. “I truly do wash them the next day and move forward. I didn’t command the ball as well in Oakland and my spinning pitches were left more middle. I had better action on my pitches today.”

He also pointed out that the difference between a good start and a bad one can be the finest of lines.

“It’s not that much,” he said. “It’s baseball. On certain days things can fall your way and on other days, they can’t. I know when I’m going well and I can tell by the ground balls in the holes that I’m getting beat. It’s a matter of staying with my strengths and the things that have gotten me here.

“I pitch aggressively in the zone because I have unbelievable confidence in the guys behind me to get the job done. That’s my mentality. If I get the ball on the ground, Donaldson, Tulo, Travis, Smoaky or Edwin are going to do whatever is in their power to turn it.”

Brett Cecil did not exactly cover himself in glory. He was summoned to mop up the ninth and gave up three hits and as many runs on Tuffy Gosewich’s three-run home run. Joe Biagini was called on to get the final two outs.

Meanwhile Edwin Encarnacion continued to torment the Diamondbacks smashing his ninth home run in eight games as a Blue Jay at Chase Field. This one was a monster 471-foot, two-run blast that delivered the game’s final two runs.

Before that, Josh Donaldson had belted his 24th homer of the season, accounting for two of his three RBI’s. Darwin Barney, installed as the left fielder and leadoff man for this game only, also drove in three runs with a triple, a single and a sacrifice fly and made two fine catches in the outfield. Devon Travis had three hits and scored three runs.

“We did well today, and the last two days, we executed,” said Donaldson, who missed a second home run by a matter of inches, some 420 feet in centre field.

“We got some timely hits, pitched well and played good defence. We were able to keep the pressure on through the entire game.

“Early on (in the road trip) some guys had a few days off and we were trying to get back in the flow of things. We didn’t play bad in Oakland. They won two but we didn’t hand them to them. It’s nice to finish strong here and we have a nice homestand ahead of us.”


Marcus Stroman was resting in a corner of the dugout, catching his breath after scoring a run in the top of the eighth inning when he heard, but didn’t see, Edwin Encarnacion connect with a Daniel Hudson pitch.

“That was the loudest ball I have ever witnessed live in any stadium, by far,” said Stroman. “I was under (the dugout roof) and I ran out and was able to see where it landed. It was special. Eddie is the man.”

Encarnacion’s 26th home run of the season caromed off the back wall of a distant second deck in left field, a shot measured electronically at 471 feet. It was his second home run in as many days at Chase Field and the ninth in this ballpark in eight games as a Blue Jay. Those eight games have also produced 16 RBIs.

“That was a bomb, a bomb,” marvelled Josh Donaldson. “He’s a strong man.”

Back in 2010, Encarnacion hit five home runs in a three-game series, including three in one game but this latest one was impressive to Gibbons.

“I haven’t seen many like that,” said Gibbons. “He rakes at this place. I don’t know whether it’s the backdrop or what it is but he’s having a hell of a year. Great time for Eddie.”

Encarnacion now leads all of MLB with 86 RBI. Boston slugger David Ortiz, who recently nominated Encarnacion as his heir-apparent as the Red Sox DH when he retires at the end of this year, is second, 11 RBI behind his fellow Dominican.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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