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One Blowout, Four nail-biters and Darwin Barney at Pitcher: How the Blue Jays Fared Against Cleveland in 2016



r hits tarnished Carrasco’s performance.

The loss was at least predictable — Cleveland arrived in Toronto riding a 12-game winning streak. This contest was over quickly: the game took two hours, 33 minutes, giving everyone plenty of time to rest up for the next day’s journey into oblivion.

Game 2: Cleveland 2, Toronto 1 (19 innings)

This battle of attrition exceeded six hours and saw 19 pitchers take the mound; nearly all of them left unscathed. The unfortunate Darwin Barney — yes, the Blue Jays utility infielder — bore the loss, giving up a solo home run to the first batter he faced in the 19th inning.

Carlos Santana’s dinger was the first run in 13 innings, ending a sequence that also saw Toronto infielder Ryan Goins show off his pitching chops. (He loaded the bases in the 18th, but induced a double play to preserve the tie. He also went on the disabled list the next day after his 15-pitch foray caused a right forearm strain.)

While the Jays sacrificed position players, Cleveland wrapped up the win, in part, by sending out Trevor Bauer, who was scheduled to be the starting pitcher the next day, in the 15th inning. He shut down Toronto for four innings, clinching a franchise-record 14th straight victory. Manager Terry Francona’s choices that day helped lead to the loss that broke the streak.

Game 3: Toronto 9, Cleveland 6

For his first four years in the majors, Zach McAllister was a fixture in Cleveland’s starting rotation. But he moved to the bullpen in 2015, and logged just two starts in 53 appearances this season. One came on this day, when he faced seven batters, yielded a three-run homer and was yanked after the first inning.

Although the Jays milked nine runs out of McAllister and four other relievers, the Canada Day marathon took a toll on their pitchers, too. Drew Hutchison, summoned from Triple-A Buffalo that day for reinforcement, entered in the seventh inning and promptly lost a one-run lead.

He was bailed out by Donaldson, who drove in the tying and winning runs on consecutive at-bats. Toronto’s final two runs came off Cleveland’s Tommy Hunter, who was called into action after throwing 25 pitches the day before — his highest total of the year.

Game 4: Toronto 17, Cleveland 1

Let’s let the following chart tell the tale of this barnburner.

Source: FanGraphs

The Blue Jays officially hit 100 per cent win probability just after the sixth inning, when they shook down Cleveland’s bullpen for eight runs to make the score 13-0. (Before Toronto batted in the sixth, their chances of winning were a paltry 97.5 per cent.)

There’s not much to analyze here, save for the lingering effects of the previous two days. While Jays starter J.A. Happ motored through seven nearly spotless innings, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber was gone by the fourth, exposing his team’s overworked bullpen — plus catcher Chris Gimenez, who pitched the last two innings — to further barrage.

The reliever who pitched most of the sixth inning for Cleveland was 33-year-old Tom Gorzelanny, who hadn’t allowed a run through six appearances in 2016. On this day, he gave up seven, and was swiftly demoted to the minors. He was released six weeks later.

Series 2: Aug. 19-21 at Progressive Field

Game 1: Cleveland 3, Toronto 2

The teams reunited in August with Cleveland leading the AL Central by six games and the Jays clinging to a newfound one-game lead atop the East. This time, Bauer got his chance to start, and seized it, recording 13 strikeouts over eight innings and allowing just two runs. His Game Score, a measure of individual pitching performance, was 75, tied for his second-best outing of the year.

Newly acquired Francisco Liriano also fared well for the Jays, limiting Cleveland to one run in six innings. The difference was Roberto Osuna; rather than locking down a 2-1 win, Toronto’s closer blew his third save of the year, suffering the indignity of conceding back-to-back home runs in the ninth to Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin. Naquin’s was an inside-the-parker.

It’s possible to lose in more painful ways — say, via walk-off home run in the wild-card game, or by a blown double-play relay in the ALDS. But at the time, this one stung.

Game 2: Toronto 6, Cleveland 5

The Jays outhit Cleveland 14-6 in this game, but stranded eight base runners and failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings while clinging to the 6-5 lead. Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez lost all of a 5-0 advantage in the fourth, when Cleveland scored five times to tie. Edwin Encarnacion chased Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin in the fifth with a lead-off homer to restore Toronto’s lead.

From there, the Jays’ bullpen carried the day. Toronto’s four best relievers — Joe Biagini, Joaquin Benoit, Jason Grilli and Osuna — combined to allow only two hits in the final five innings onward, with Osuna retiring Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall and Naquin in order in the ninth inning.

Game 3: Cleveland 3, Toronto 2

While Osuna needed just one day to redeem himself, it took Kluber seven weeks to avenge his early exit from Cleveland’s 17-1 loss. He pitched ably through 6.2 innings, but still departed behind 2-1, as Marcus Stroman, with nine strikeouts in 7.1 innings, submitted one of his strongest performances of the year.

Then it all went awry. Brett Cecil relieved Stroman with one out in the eighth and retired Jason Kipnis on a line-out to right field. Four pitches later, Cleveland led 3-2, by virtue of a single by Francisco Lindor and a home run by Ramirez that sent the win probability chart into a frantic lurch.
Source: FanGraphs

Cecil posted his worst ERA — by more than one full run — in his four years as a full-time reliever in 2016. But he rounded more into form over the season’s final stretch; this game was the first time in a month he conceded multiple runs, and it took another 16 appearances for an opponent to score on him again.

Of course, that’s all in the past — and for everyone involved, the ALCS will provide an entirely new challenge.

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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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