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Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays Have Stumbled to two-game ALCS Deficit by the Slimmest of margins



TORONTO — Jose Bautista probably rolls out of bed in the morning angry at umpires.

For as long as he has been a rock in the middle of the Toronto lineup, Bautista has been chagrined at strike calls that go against him. He’s a patient hitter, he knows his strike zone, and does not like it when the guy behinds him disagrees. It’s his thing.

And so, it would not shock you to learn that, with an 0-for-6 and five strikeouts on his resume in the ALCS, the Toronto cleanup hitter had some things to say about the umpiring, even if he did it in code.

“I’m having great at-bats. It’s just sometimes the elements and the circumstances that we have to deal with as hitters sometimes don’t necessarily go our way,” Bautista said on Sunday before a workout at the Rogers Centre. “But I’m not trying to really get into that.”

Did he mean that if a call here or there urned a count into one favourable to the pitcher, that made things tougher?

“Like I said, I’m not trying to get into that,” he said.

Hint, hint. When he was asked if he had seen the Cleveland pitching staff make many mistakes, Bautista said he had not.

“All you have to do is go look at video and try to count the number of pitches they have thrown over the heart of the plate. It hasn’t been many,” he said. And then he started with the vague subtleties again. “But they’ve been able to do that because of” — meaningful pause — “the circumstances.”

The circumstances?

“That I’m not trying to talk about,” Bautista said. “Because I can’t. That’s for you guys to do.”

Ah, OK, then. Let us recap the inferences: Cleveland pitching has been good, they haven’t made many mistakes, but they’ve been able to keep balls away from the heart of the plate because calls have gone their way. Or, at least, because of undefined “circumstances.” You know, those.

Leaving aside the accuracy of his thoughts on the umpiring — whether or not you think the ball-strike calls in this series have been good is probably dependent on your rooting interest — Bautista is absolutely right about the razor-thin margins in the ALCS so far. When the team with a 2-0 series lead has only three batters who have hit safely and has scored four total runs, it is true that a call that turns a count from, say, 3-1 to 2-2 can have a huge bearing on the outcome of the game.

“And that’s something we’re going to have to deal with,” Bautista said. “We’re not going to use it as an excuse. We’re not going to complain about it. I don’t think we have, as a group, considering what we have had to deal with. We’re just trying to perform with what we have to deal with.”

One can puzzle for sometime on the question of whether anything Bautista said counts as a complaint, but let the record show that he also said it is up to him to overcome the, um, circumstances.

“I’m trying to swing at strikes and not get out of the zone,” he said. “I’ve noticed how they’ve been pitching me, and it’s been tough, but I continue to have the same type of at-bat, because they’re pitching me the same. I just haven’t been able to (hit) the pitch that I get every three at-bats that’s over the plate. I seem to keep fouling it off, so I need to stop doing that.”

This is the crazy thing about playoff baseball, and about this ALCS in particular: it really has been just a swing or two that has made the difference between the Blue Jays coming to Toronto to try to romp to a series victory and them trying to stave off sudden defeat. It’s not just Bautista who has been unable to come up with the key hits at the right moment; it’s everyone not named Josh Donaldson. Russell Martin and Michael Saunders have both struck out four times, part of the 25 total strikeouts that the Jays have managed against just 10 hits.

But it’s Bautista for whom the missed chances feel that much more weighty. With his pending free agency, and his days in Toronto possibly dwindling to a final few, he is expected to keep mashing until the end. When the Blue Jays were on their way out of last year’s ALCS, it was Bautista who homered twice in Game 6. That is, also, his thing: big hits.

“I’m going to go out there and continue to be aggressive in the zone and hopefully not miss the pitch that I’ve been missing,” he said on Sunday, “because I’ve had two or three in the first two games that have been pretty hittable pitches.”

It’s been an odd thing to watch, these last few games, the guy with a penchant for blasts instead connecting with nothing but air.

It probably won’t last. He’s not going to go out like that, is he?

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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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