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Armchair manager: How should Blue Jays approach must-win Yankees finale? – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Technically speaking the Toronto Blue Jays’ season won’t end if they lose Thursday night, but when Robbie Ray takes the mound opposite Corey Kluber shortly after 7 p.m. ET, it’ll certainly feel like a must-win game for the home team.

After a dramatic 6-5 win over the Yankees Wednesday the Blue Jays will be looking to take advantage of their final chance to gain ground on a fellow wild-card contender. Meanwhile, the Yankees will send a former Cy Young winner to the mound in the hopes of creating some separation in the standings.

The day begins with the Yankees 1.0 game ahead of the Boston Red Sox and the Red Sox 1.0 game ahead of the Blue Jays. And in between the Blue Jays and Red Sox, the Seattle Mariners are just 0.5 games behind Boston for the second wild-card, 0.5 games ahead of Toronto.

It’s close, but with just four games remaining, there’s no time to waste — which means every tactical decision takes on added importance. With those high stakes in mind, we look ahead at some of the big decisions the Blue Jays will soon be facing.

How should the Blue Jays line things up against Corey Kluber and the Yankees?

Ben Nicholson-Smith @bnicholsonsmith

With Robbie Ray pitching, it makes sense to start Alejandro Kirk, the catcher with whom Ray has developed the greatest sense of comfort on his way to a Cy Young calibre season.

Assuming Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will still be limited to DH duty, you’re choosing between Corey Dickerson and Randal Grichuk for the final outfield spot. Of those two, I’d go with Grichuk because Kluber has struggled against right-handed hitters this year and Grichuk’s glove could make a difference on a day a fly ball pitcher starts for the Blue Jays. Santiago Espinal rounds out my projected lineup at third base:

1. George Springer, CF

2. Marcus Semien, 2B

3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B

4. Bo Bichette, SS

5. Teoscar Hernandez, LF

6. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., DH

7. Alejandro Kirk, C

8. Santiago Espinal, 3B

9. Randal Grichuk, RF

Arden Zwelling @ardenzwelling

Kirk gets the call behind the plate as he has for Robbie Ray’s last 12 starts. But his bat’s been cold of late (4-for-38 over the last three weeks) so I’m hitting him behind Dickerson, who has a decent track record against Kluber (5-for-14) for what little that’s worth. I also like getting Dickerson’s left-handed bat a little higher in the order to avoid a run of six straight righties late in the game. And Dickerson’s making a ton of hard contact lately — six of his last seven balls in play have come off his bat at 98-m.p.h. or harder.

Kluber will mix and match, but one thing you can count on seeing is plenty of curveballs. It’s been his most-used pitch in four of five starts since coming off the injured list. And Dickerson has a .365 wOBA against curveballs this season with nine extra-base hits. Who’s been Toronto’s worst performer against curveballs? Gurriel Jr., who has a .252 wOBA.

And that’s not the only reason Gurriel’s on my bench. After watching him the last two days, I don’t believe he’s healthy enough to contribute. His fingers are mangled from Grichuk’s spikes and it’s clearly impacting him at the plate. Over eight plate appearances in this series he’s struck out twice and hit six groundballs with an average exit velocity of 86-m.p.h. Credit to him for trying to gut it out — but I need a guy in there who can properly grip a bat.

That guy for me is Cavan Biggio. We’re all aware of the tough season Biggio’s had. But all I’m asking him to do here is get on base once or twice against Kluber out of the nine hole — something he’s more than capable of with his selective approach. Even in a down year, Biggio’s OBP (.316) is still comparable to Gurriel’s (.326) and the club was impressed with the plate appearances he was putting up at triple-A prior to his promotion. And if Biggio runs into one of New York’s many left-handed relievers late in the game, I can always pinch-hit with Grichuk.

1. George Springer, CF

2. Marcus Semien, 2B

3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B

4. Bo Bichette, SS

5. Teoscar Hernandez, RF

6. Corey Dickerson, LF

7. Alejandro Kirk, C

8. Santiago Espinal, 3B

9. Cavan Biggio, DH

How long should Robbie Ray’s leash be? At what point are you getting someone warmed up behind him?

Arden Zwelling @ardenzwelling

If anyone’s earned his rope this season it’s Ray — I’m running him as far as he’ll take me. I’ll of course have a close eye on his live pitch data, looking for any clues in his velocity, spin rate or movement that suggest his stuff’s losing effectiveness. But provided everything’s copacetic and he’s getting efficient outs, I’m not hesitating to let Ray start his third trip through New York’s order.

Still, for as well as Ray’s performed this season, he hasn’t been immune to the third trip penalty. His OPS against balloons from .587 his first trip through, and .569 during his second. to .863 in his third. I won’t let Pete Walker stray too far from the bullpen phone once DJ LeMahieu comes back up for his third plate appearance.

But Ray essentially pitches like a high-leverage reliever, anyway. So I’m not lifting him any earlier than the seventh unless he’s getting rocked, his pitch count’s through the roof, or the quality of his stuff is giving me a compelling reason to.

Ben Nicholson-Smith @bnicholsonsmith

At this point, Ray may be the favourite to win the American League Cy Young. Or, put another way, he’s been the best pitcher in the league this year. And with that in mind, the Blue Jays shouldn’t be in a hurry to get him out of the game. When he’s on, he’s better than any reliever the Blue Jays have so, best-case scenario, he’s pitching deep into Wednesday’s game.

Ultimately, it’s the swings the Yankees take that will tell the Blue Jays how far they should be pushing Ray. The eye test matters. Yet the Blue Jays should at least be aware of the fact that opponents do better against Ray the more they see him, with an OPS of .863 the third time they face him in a game. Keeping that in mind while they watch how New York’s hitters handle Ray’s stuff will tell them when it’s time to make a move.

Bottom line, you’re expecting at least six innings from Ray, comfortable going seven and open to pushing him further if his pitch count is low and his stuff is electric. There are times to go to the bullpen early; this isn’t one of them.

In a close game, who should get the ball in the late innings?

Ben Nicholson-Smith @bnicholsonsmith

The Blue Jays are in a relatively good spot with respect to their bullpen. All of their key relievers should be available, including Jordan Romano, who threw just 12 pitches while closing out Wednesday’s win.

A couple variables to consider: Tim Mayza allowed two key runs to score late Wednesday, but there’s no need to shy away from going back to the left-hander if needed. Plus: Adam Cimber has pitched in four of the Blue Jays’ last five games, including a four-out appearance Wednesday. I’m guessing he’s yellow (available if needed) rather than red (unavailable) on the Jays’ bullpen card.

If Ray exits early or the game goes extras, the Blue Jays could confidently hand the ball to Nate Pearson, who has struck out eight of the last 20 hitters he has faced. That said, the Blue Jays are likely hoping it doesn’t get to that point.

If they need to cover three innings, Trevor Richards likely needs to figure in. If it’s just two innings, Mayza could handle the eighth. But if Judge and Stanton are due to lead off the eighth and the Blue Jays are protecting a narrow lead, that would be a good time to go to Romano, who already pitched two innings on two different occasions this season. You don’t want to make a habit of asking your closer for two-inning saves, but if not now, when?

Arden Zwelling @ardenzwelling

I’m checking in with Adam Cimber pre-game to see how he’s feeling coming off outings on back-to-back days. But he threw only three pitches Tuesday and 16 on Wednesday — presumably he’ll be available for a short outing if I need him. My only other workload concern is with Tim Mayza, who threw 20 pitches and gave up a two-run single to Kyle Higashioka Wednesday. But I’m not hesitating to throw Mayza right back into a leverage spot if he’s good to go.

Cimber or Mayza are the two guys I’m turning to if Ray leaves with a runner on first or second in the fifth or sixth inning. Cimber if I’ve got a right-hander like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton coming up; Mayza for a left-hander like Anthony Rizzo or Joey Gallo. A rested Trevor Richards is in that mid-to-late inning mix, as well. And Romano obviously has the ninth regardless of which team’s winning. I’d even ask Romano to give me four outs if things got dicey in the eighth.

I could envision a leverage spot for Nate Pearson. Say Mayza’s a little shaky again and I need to get him out of there. Or I end up in a spot with runners on second and third, one out, and a right-hander coming up. I’d prefer Pearson in that spot to Cimber, who doesn’t miss bats and is likely to allow a ball in play. I really need a strikeout there and don’t want to risk getting BABIP’ed. Plus, having first base open gives me a little cushion if Pearson takes a few pitches to find the strike zone.

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What 2022 Holds for the Canadian Sports Betting Sector

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After years of confusing legislation, Canada finally achieved some clarity with regard to its sports betting laws earlier this year. The passing of Bill C-218 saw single event betting become legalized for the first time, paving the way for sportsbooks and online operators to begin serving Canadian customers all across the country.

Since then, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Unsurprisingly, Ontario has led the way in terms of online competition, with a wide array of options for punters to choose from. Home to some 15 million people, Ontario is the fifth biggest jurisdiction in the USA and Canada and is expected to rival the likes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the coming years.

So with sports betting finally up and running in a more comprehensive format in Canada, what does the future hold? Here’s a quick look ahead to some of the biggest developments that are expected to occur in the next 12 months.

Mobile gaming

The ability to place bets on-the-go is something that customers have come to expect from their sportsbooks nowadays. Although the idea of sports betting on single events is still a relative novelty for many Canadians, it won’t be long before they begin to demand a truly mobile experience from their gambling provider, allowing them the freedom to lay wagers wherever, whenever and on whatever they please.

Thankfully, there is already a healthy infrastructure in place to deal with that demand. The list of sports betting apps in Canada is growing longer by the day, with sportsbook operators giving their customers round-the-clock access to better odds, up-to-the-minute stats and exclusive promotions and bonuses. There’s an app for everything these days – so it should come as no surprise that an increasing percentage of Canadians will choose to bet on their smartphone via the app in the coming months and years.

Greater competition

Even before the passing of Bill C-218 officially endorsed sports betting from a legal perspective, overseas operators had been serving a Canadian market for years. Although the practice was not legal prior to this summer, it wasn’t strictly illegal, either. This created a grey area which many foreign sportsbooks exploited, with some reports suggesting that billions of dollars were being funneled into them every year.

Now that the practice has become fair game for domestic operators, it should open the floodgates with regard to the number of available options. Early adopters and established names in the industry were quick to jump aboard the bandwagon, but more and more rivals will spring up as time goes on. This can only be good news for punters, since they will gain access to more lucrative incentives and better markets with the increased competition.

Booming popularity

As well as increased competition among operators, it’s also likely that this excess supply will be met by ballooning demand. Indeed, a particularly bullish report from Deloitte Canada speculated that the industry could be worth a massive $28 billion inside five years. Given that it isn’t projected to exceed $1 billion in its first 12 months of operation, that’s quite a seismic shift.

What that means for players is that sports betting is likely to become endorsed and advertised with greater frequency. Collaborations between teams and individual athletes will enhance the profile of the sector, while lucrative sponsorship deals will benefit both parties. And of course, the government itself is poised to cash in on a significant revenue stream, potentially swelling its coffers for reinvestment in other areas of policy.

Technological advances

Another exciting possibility is the increased incorporation of technological advances into the sports betting experience. Fans can already benefit from livestreams of their favorite matches, as well as real-time analysis and in-play betting opportunities. However, the sky is the limit when it comes to tech and sports betting, since there are a variety of tantalizing innovations currently on the horizon.

Chief among these is the possibility of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) becoming a more central pillar of sportsbooks. Imagine if it were possible to view a sporting event in 3D, as if you were in the stadium yourself, all from the comfort of your own home? That kind of tech breakthrough might seem lightyears away, yet similar software is already commonplace in the world of gaming. If it could be adapted to live sporting events, it would dramatically alter the way in which sport is consumed (and bet upon) all across Canada. Watch this space for news on potential developments of VR and AR in 2022.

Although sports betting is still in its infancy in Canada, it has already made quite a splash among punters, operators and regulators alike. As the practice becomes more and more mainstream, it’s to be expected that it will both deliver higher revenues and benefit from greater investment – potentially creating some exciting times ahead.

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Longtime NFL official Carl Madsen dies on way home from Chiefs-Titans – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Carl Madsen had worked for the NFL since 1997. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Carl Madsen, who had worked for the NFL as an official for more than 20 years, died on Sunday. He was 71.

According to NFL.com, Madsen died on his way home from Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, where he was working as a replay official.

While details are hazy on Madsen’s death, the Nashville Police Department told TMZ that early signs indicate Madsen suffered “a medical emergency” while driving on I-65 North. A spokesperson reportedly said officers answered a call about a motorist blocking a traffic lane and found Madsen unconscious at the scene.

Chest compressions were immediately administered once Madsen was removed from the vehicle, per the report, but he ultimately died after being transported to a nearby hospital. His exact cause of death remains unknown.

An Air Force veteran, Madsen spent 12 years as an on-field official from 1997 to 2008 before transitioning to his replay official role. He was reportedly tied with Paul Weidner as the league’s most experienced replay official.

From NFL.com:

“Carl Madsen was an NFL officiating fixture for more than two decades, first as a highly respected on-field official before transitioning to a replay role beginning in 2009,” NFL senior VP of officiating training and development Walt Anderson said in a statement. “A terrific friend and colleague, Carl’s love of football and dedication to officiating was ever-present, as he generously shared his time to mentor young officials at clinics across the country. A veteran of the Air Force, Carl had a tremendous spirit and will be greatly missed.”

NFL Referees Association president Scott Green also released a statement to Pro Football Talk:

“Carl will be missed by those who worked with him on the field and in replay,” Green said. “He had a nickname among his fellow officials of “Big Country” which was not only related to his size but to his big personality as a warm and generous man.”

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Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Spezza, Engvall, Calling Leaders – The Hockey Writers

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Where did Saturday’s game come from? In the three seasons that I’ve covered the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was one of the strangest games I watched. The team was overwhelmed. There was every chance to come in and play well against what should have been an under-manned Pittsburgh Penguins’ squad; but, a final score of 7-1 for the Penguins shows it didn’t happen. 

Related: Frederik Andersen’s Legacy: One of the Best Maple Leafs’ Goalies Ever

The question that remains for the Maple Leafs as a team is whether this current funk is a short one or whether it’s symptomatic of deeper issues. There’s a saying attributed to William Arthur Ward that “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

The question now is what the Maple Leafs will do to adjust the sails. Although there’s great value in optimism, for as optimistic a face as head coach Sheldon Keefe shows the public, having watched him in the Amazon Prime Documentary “All or Nothing,” you have to know Keefe isn’t singing “Kum Ba Yah” behind the scenes when he’s not answering the media’s questions. 

Keefe’s a realist and is surrounded by realists. What will happen now? In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Jack Campbell’s odd night. Second, I’ll look at Jason Spezza’s continuing contributions to the team. Finally, I’ll consider Maple Leafs’ current team leadership.

Item One: Time for a Jack Campbell Mulligan

The stats line shows that Maple Leafs’ starting goalie Jack Campbell let in five goals on 21 shots during Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Penguins. That isn’t the Campbell we know from either last season or thus far this season. The second period did him in when he let in four goals in 20 minutes.

By the third, coach Keefe had enough and put in Michael Hutchinson to close out the obvious defeat. Given that the 29-year-old Campbell entered the game with a 2-0-1 season’s record, a goals-against-average of 1.18, and a save percentage of .953 in four games, he deserves a mulligan. 

Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Honestly, it’s hard for me to lay a guilt trip on a goalie who had, until Saturday’s game, only given up two or fewer goals in each of his first four starts. Here’s hoping, although Campbell might have fallen in one game, that he can get up quickly.

Item Two: Jason Spezza Continues to Produce

No surprise, the one player whose game seemed unaffected by the circumstances was Jason Spezza. He scored a goal to tie the game early and gave Maple Leafs’ fans early hope that all was not lost. It was the last goal the team would score.

Related: Ron Francis’ 5 Best & Worst Moves as Hurricanes General Manager

Spezza continues to show up. In six games to start the 2021-22 campaign, he’s scored three goals and added two assists (for five points). Last season, he scored 10 goals and 20 assists (for 30 points) in 54 games. He shows no signs of a let-up.

Item Three: How Did Pierre Engvall Emerge with a Plus-One Rating?

One amazing scoresheet surprise has to be that Pierre Engvall emerged with a plus-one rating on the night. How does a player play 13:21 minutes during a 7-1 loss and come out on the positive side of the ledger? I have no comment on Engvall’s game because I didn’t notice the statistic until I looked at the box score after the game. 

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Engvall had an assist on Spezza’s goal but was miraculously not on for any Penguins’ goals. That just seems amazing and was perhaps the only positive statistic the Maple Leafs can show for the game.

Item Four: Considering Team Leadership

Each offseason the team’s management gets together to talk about what moves it can make during the offseason to improve the team. Last season, the management decided to bring in outside players to provide leadership. Chief among those players was Joe Thornton. I believe he provided that aspect of leadership and the team was better for his presence. Even if his play was less than expected, he helped the team.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ 7-1 Loss to Penguins

During this offseason, I believe management thought it was time for the team’s internal leadership to take the next leadership step. Specifically, it was time for Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner to take the reins. The team’s management reasoned that group had seasoned enough to do that job. In addition, Wayne Simmonds and Spezza remained to help.

As a result, this season, the team is different because management didn’t bring in outside players for leadership. That leadership now must come from within – starting with Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. The results on the ice suggest that it hasn’t happened yet. 

Auston Matthews John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews celebrates with teammate John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

As my sometimes collaborator and long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith emailed me after the game, if these players are to lead they’ll have to do it by example. So far, it isn’t happening – not yet anyway, 

If this team is to come out of its current crisis, that leadership must emerge soon.

What’s Next for This Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs must try to shake off this blowout before they meet ex-teammate Frederik Andersen and the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. You can only imagine that Andersen is waiting to exact some payback against his old team. 

Related: Frederik Andersen’s Unforgivable Sin According To Maple Leafs Fans

Winning in Carolina won’t be easy for the Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes are 4 – 0. Andersen’s only given up seven goals in four games, and he’ll be ready. It might be another disaster, or it could be a chance for redemption. That it’s the Maple Leafs’ third game in four nights, this one might take some lucky bounces or the immediate emergence of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Is it too naive for Maple Leafs’ fans to be optimistic?

The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).

If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.

Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.

He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf

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