After an unprecedented spending spree by billionaire owners to millionaire players in recent weeks, the chains are on Major League Baseball.
After an unprecedented spending spree by billionaire owners to millionaire players in recent weeks, the chains are on Major League Baseball.
Who knows what awaits, but most are expecting a long, drawn-out winter of rhetoric and futile negotiations possibly putting the start of the 2022 season in peril.
As the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred did the expected and issued a lockout of players, triggering pro baseball’s first work stoppage since 1994.
Even as owners handed out more than $1.4 billion in future contracts this off-season, last-ditch talks between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association created zero traction.
Given the laughable attempt at negotiations — and given all the money tossed around in recent days — it’s impossible for the average fan to pick a side in this dispute. And expect the bitterness from both parties to escalate the closer we move towards spring training.
Choosing such a hard line in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and within a sport that has had multi-layered challenges over the past number of years will be difficult to stomach for fans already disillusioned with the game.
And with negotiations broken and the lockout chains in place, both the league and the players are already launched in the blame game of the opposite side.
Claiming he was “forced” to impose the lockout, Manfred said in a letter “to the fans” that from the outset the MLBPA has been unwilling to compromise or collaborate.
And thus began what we’d expect to be months of bitterness before any hope of a settlement is reached.
“Simply put, we believe that an off-season lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” Manfred wrote. “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.
“This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for (MLB) would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.”
Manfred said that imposing the lockout now gives both sides the opportunity to reach labour peace in time for the season to begin on time in late March. Naturally, the union dismissed that narrative.
“The shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing,” MLBPA president Tony Clark said in a statement. “It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits and abandoning good-faith bargaining proposals.”
The effects of the lockout will be felt immediately.
All dealings between teams and players — including offers to free agents and trade talks — are on hold. The annual Winter Meetings, which encompasses a wide variety of league and player business and was scheduled to be held in Orlando next week has been scrapped.
And as of Thursday, players are forbidden to show up at team facilities for workouts.
It will affect teams across baseball in different ways, including Canada’s lone team, the Toronto Blue Jays, which had been riding the momentum of a positive off-season. Jays general manager Ross Atkins was active in free agent and trade talks and the team spent more than US$250 million in free agent deals and contract extensions since the season ended in early October.
As well, the team’s state-of-the-art training facility in Dunedin, Fla., a significant asset used by many players for off-season development, is effectively off limits.
Though both sides are talking in the tone and language of any work stoppage, the bitterness is evident. There were three reported meetings this week in Texas, the last of which lasted just seven minutes.
Realistically, there is indeed time for a deal to get done, albeit no visible middle ground that will get a deal done. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training sites on Feb. 14 — which now seems highly unlikely — and the sense is the start of the season can be salvaged if agreement is reached by March 1.
The issues are many, ranging from restrictions on free agency, to players accusations that too many teams in the league are “tanking” to accumulate better draft picks, to talks of an expanded playoff format.
The players association certainly seems determined to dig in its heels.
“These tactics are not new,” MLBPA president Clark said in his statement. “We have been here before and players have risen to the occasion time and again. We will do so again here.
“We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated agreement that is fair to all parties.”
There’s plenty of ground to cover before that happens, clearly. And given the tenor of dealings between the league and union over the past couple of years, the unwillingness to play ball at the negotiating table is risking the prospect of playing ball in stadiums across the league.
Premier League sides can apply for a fixture postponement only if they have a minimum of four positive COVID-19 cases in their squads, the league said on Wednesday following a meeting of representatives of all 20 clubs.
A total of 22 games have been called off this season due to COVID-19 outbreaks and the subsequent unavailability of players, with the league being criticised by some clubs for their handling of the crisis.
Earlier, a match could be postponed if one of the teams did not have 13 available outfield players — and one goalkeeper — “either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players”.
“Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold,” the league said in a statement.
“From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.”
The new guidelines will kick in ahead of the game between Burnley and Watford on Feb. 5.
The previous rule came under heavy scrutiny, with some clubs being accused of “manipulating the system” in order to get games postponed during the busy festive period.
Tottenham Hotspsur were most vocal in their criticism following the postponement of the north London derby earlier this month, saying they were “extremely surprised” that the request from Arsenal, who had one COVID-19 case, was accepted.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta had also called for more clarity around postponements related to COVID-19.
The league added: “Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Premier League Board examines a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of COVID-19.”
On Monday, the league said it had reported 16 new infections of COVID-19 in the previous week, continuing a downward trend in the number of positive cases for a fourth week.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
There it was, on a silver platter.
A chance for a losing team to build on its first win in eight games, Saturday’s heartening 5-3 victory over Calgary still coursing through the veins. An opportunity to build some momentum against a Vancouver team in the throes of a COVID-19 shortage, ripe for a home loss against what was supposed to be a confident Oilers club.
This should be easy, right?
What? The Canucks are starting Spencer Martin in goal?
Piece of cake, right?
Down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play on Tuesday, Ryan McLeod slipped a shot between Martin and the near post. It was Martin’s only mistake on a 50-shot night, but by the time they were done the Oilers had fought back for a 3-2 overtime victory.
In recent losing streaks of six and seven games, it was usually Edmonton’s netminder who would surrender that queasy goal at an important moment. But now, after winning two straight games, if ever you wanted evidence that perhaps Edmonton’s luck has turned, look no further than the smelly goal that opened the floodgates in Vancouver.
“It’s 16 games. It’s tough to blame it all on bounces,” Connor McDavid admitted of their woes of late. “We weren’t playing our best hockey, but bounces do go a long way, and ‘Clouder found a way to sneak one through.”
“(Martin) was playing unbelievable, shutting the door all game,” said McLeod, who has five goals in 27 games this season. “It’s just the little squeaker ones that go in first and open the door for the rest of the guys. Early in the shift, I had a chance to shoot and I made a pass. They’ve been telling me to shoot a little more. I decided to shoot.”
From there the Oilers dominated a Canucks team that has been gutted by COVID cases, showing up to play Tuesday with no Bo Horvat, no Tanner Pearson, no Conor Garland and neither of the goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko nor Jaro Halak.
Cue Martin, the third-stringer who faced an even 50 shots and held Edmonton to two regulation goals. He had preceded McLeod with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and played against Connor McDavid back in their minor hockey days around the GTA. So the Oilers knew of him, if not how to beat him through the opening 45 minutes.
But once McLeod broke the seal, you could see Edmonton gain life. The Oilers outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the third period and 9-1 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl’s 29th tied the game halfway through the third off a lovely pass by the returning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid scored his first since Dec. 31 to capture the second point in overtime.
The Oilers captain has been slumping for a few weeks. The jump has been there, just not the usual production.
“I’ve been a bit snake bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my chances, but haven’t been able to put one away. It was nice to be able to contribute and find a way to score a goal.”
Nice to win two straight, something the Oilers last did in the two games between six- and seven-game losing streaks. They are still right in thick of the Pacific Division race with half a season to go, but only if they can win a goodly share of their games in hand.
“It’s important — we want to get on a little roll here. That’s the main focus,” said McDavid, whose team faces Nashville on Thursday before hitting the road for Montreal, Ottawa and Washington. “It was a big win on Saturday, it’s a big win tonight. We’ve got to keep marching forward.”
It was the second straight game that Edmonton fell behind 2-0 and then battled back to win. “Not exactly a recipe for success,” said McDavid.
They still never score first — this was the 10th straight game and 25th of 28 games they’ve gone down 1-0 — but give the Oilers credit. They dominated this hockey game, outshooting Vancouver 50-27 while garnering 62.5 percent of scoring chances and 81.25 percent of the high danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen was his usual self in goal. And by that we mean you wondered about one goal, an Elias Pettersson snapper from the outside edge of the circle, but he stopped Tyler Motte on a crucial short-handed breakaway that immediately preceded Draisaitl’s game-tying goal.
In the end Koskinen allowed two, and in a 3-2 league his team won by that exact score. Consider it a game well goaltended.
Felix Auger-Aliassime was one point away from a win over world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and a spot in the Australian Open semifinals.
But the young Canadian couldn’t finish the match off, and the Russian veteran made the most of his reprieve.
One hour and 14 minutes later, Medvedev had come back from a two-sets-to-none deficit at a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in his career and stunned Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-4.
“You step on the court, you want to have no regrets,” Auger-Aliassime said after the four hour, 42-minute quarter-final marathon that ended early Thursday morning in Melbourne. “I can go back and think I wish I’d made different choices or wish Daniil didn’t play as well in certain moments. But, yeah, it was a good effort.
“At the end of the day, I can’t regret the effort that I put in, and the chances I gave myself.”
WATCH | Auger-Aliassime drops heartbreaker to Medvedev:
With the lion’s share of support from a good crowd held down somewhat by government-imposed limits due to COVID-19, the 21-year-old from Montreal was in control for much of the early going.
“Of course I would have loved to win. I love to win every time. It sucks to lose in the end, but that’s life. I just need to accept it,” he said.
A surprisingly erratic Medvedev looked subpar physically. An effortful grunt accompanied his every move, and he was sweating heavily. The 25-year-old had issues with everything from the crowd, to the editorial choices on the giant screens, to the moving roof atop Rod Laver Arena.
He was searching for solutions, and not finding any holes in Auger-Aliassime’s game.
“I was not playing my best, and Felix was playing unbelievable,” Medvedev said during his on-court interview after the win. “He was serving unbelievable. He was all over me. I didn’t really know what to do.”
And then, a little rain changed everything — at least for Medvedev.
With the Russian serving at 2-1 in the third-set tiebreak, there was a seven-minute delay as a brief shower led the retractable roof to be closed and the court dried off with towels by the ball kids.
Medvedev went off court briefly as Auger-Aliassime sat in his chair, muttering to himself.
The Russian returned and won five of the next points, and the third set.
“In the first set and in the tiebreak I was sweating like hell and made a few double faults, because my hand was really slippery,” said Medvedev, who tried swapping out his wristbands for dry ones but still couldn’t get a good grip.
“When they closed the roof, I felt the momentum changed, and I felt like I could go through the ball better.”
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Once the air conditioning kicked in, the temperature inside Rod Laver Arena dropped a good 10 degrees. And that helped.
There was no rain for the rest of the match. But the roof remained closed.
Auger-Aliassime conceded that there were small moments of opportunity even before that tiebreak — little openings that, if exploited, might have given him a straight-sets win.
The experienced champions recognize those moments, and put pedal to metal to finish things off. At 21, Auger-Aliassime is still learning.
Still, in the fourth set, serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Medvedev double-faulted and gifted the Canadian a match point.
And then he wrenched it away with a massive 213 km/hour serve — his fastest of the night.
Medvedev was trying everything. Even then, Auger-Aliassime had opportunities to break early in the fifth set. But every time the door was slightly ajar Medvedev found a solution, or Auger-Aliassime couldn’t quite make the play.
“I told myself: what would Novak [Djokovic] do?” said Medvedev, to a chorus of boos of the Melbourne crowd at the mere mention of the absent nine-time champion’s name.
“That’s what came to my mind, because he’s one of the greatest champions — and Rafa [Nadal] and Roger [Federer], to be honest,” he added. “I’m going to make him work.
“If he wants to win it, he needs to fight for the last point.”
Medvedev changed his return position from well beyond the Melbourne banner behind the baseline, moving up several metres into the court.
He wasted as little time as humanly possible between points on his serve — a couple of times, he was ready to serve before chair umpire Damien Dumusois had even started the 25-second serve clock.
He gave no time for his opponent to get set for the return, and Auger-Aliassime’s return effectiveness dropped.
Medvedev came into the net a lot more in the tiebreaks, and when he was behind.
Suddenly, none of the external distractions bothered him. He no longer looked as though he was struggling physically.
For Auger-Aliassime, who had a medical timeout at 2-3 in the fifth set to have some tape added to an already tightly wrapped right ankle, the plan in 2022 is to find the silver lining — no matter what.
“It’s no surprise [Medvedev] is where he is now. He fights, tries to find solutions. He plays well when he needs to,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I think he was just a little bit more clutch than me — a little bit more solid at times.
“It comes with experience as well, I think. But I’m looking forward to the next time I can put myself in that situation. I believe I can cross the line.”
Auger-Aliassime was looking to reach his second straight Grand Slam semifinal. He made it to the final four of last year’s U.S. Open, where he also lost to eventual champion Medvedev.
Still, the Montrealer has made it to at least the quarter-finals in his last three Grand Slams.
Medvedev is looking to become the first man in the Open era to win his first two Grand Slam titles in consecutive tournaments. He faces French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday.
Nadal, seeking a men’s record 21st major title to break a tie with Djokovic and Federer, will play Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini in the other semifinal match.
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