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Blue Jays celebrate homecoming, choose to live for now with Berrios trade – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Amid the maelstrom of excitement, emotion, stress and pressure created by the intersection of the 4 p.m. trade deadline and the first baseball game at Rogers Centre in 670 days, the Toronto Blue Jays made a choice with ramifications for years to come.

Bold trades converting prospect capital like Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson into present value like Jose Berrios were always going to be the next logical progression for the franchise after the mega-contract signing of George Springer last winter.

But the timing of that next step was never certain and getting it right is essential, because cashing in 12 years of two premium but untested talents for 1½ years of elite big-league performance at the wrong time can be perilously detrimental to the entire program.

That’s why the blockbuster GM Ross Atkins pulled off with the Minnesota Twins around noon Friday, hours before a 6-4 homecoming win over the Kansas City Royals, was described by one executive as “a little bit scary – for both sides.”

Berrios, 27, is an increasingly scarce commodity, a front-end starter with a blend of talent, durability and character that are exceedingly difficult to groom and even harder to acquire, either through trade or free agency. The Twins, described earlier in the week by another executive as “hoping a team will do something stupid,” may very well rue his loss.

But Martin, 22, has top percentile bat-to-ball skills and control of the strike zone, although where he fits on the diamond remains a question. And Woods Richardson, the key piece back from the New York Mets in the 2019 Marcus Stroman trade, is only 20, already at double-A and an American Olympian.

So this can go boom or bust for one, or both, and there’s no turning back for the Blue Jays now that they’ve sacrificed high-ceiling potential from their mix in 2023 and beyond to supplement the present with the best starter available not named Max Scherzer.

That this leap came during the best deadline seller’s market in recent memory, when executives suddenly abandoned their prospect hoarding and the teams the Blue Jays are chasing for the post-season all got demonstrably better, too, makes it even more significant.

Inflation struck the trade market. They didn’t flinch at the moment of truth.

“You’re trying not to,” Atkins said when asked if the deals made by others influenced his team’s deliberations. “You’re trying to discipline yourself, because I think any research you do, any studying you do about decision-making, about running a good business or running a good sports team, is about being disciplined and about being patient. In this case, we felt as though we were still doing that and felt as though the value was worth it.

“The opportunity to acquire Berrios was exciting for us and a very difficult decision, not something that we just walked into. Austin Martin will be a great player. Simeon Woods Richardson is going to be a great pitcher and we’re going to be pulling for them. This was just an opportunity that we wanted to take.”

The action Friday, and in the days leading up to the 4 p.m. cutoff, was dizzying and the returns in many deals staggering. Front and centre in that regard was the Chicago White Sox sending impressive but injured infielder Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer for a season and a half of Craig Kimbrel.

The Los Angeles Dodgers gave up their two best prospects plus two others to get Scherzer for the next two months plus shortstop Trea Turner through 2022, while the New York Mets gave up their first-round pick last year, Pete Crow-Armstrong, to rent Javy Baez.

The New York Yankees gave up six prospects ranked between 12 and 24 in their top 30 by Baseball America for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, and then traded two others for Andrew Heaney.

Even a middle-tier rental like Brad Hand, acquired by the Blue Jays from the Washington Nationals on Thursday, cost Riley Adams, a triple-A catcher with a chance to be a backup, while prying reliever Joakim Soria away from Arizona required two players to be named later.

Compared to the returns from recent summers, it was like baseball turned into the irrational Toronto real-estate market.

“As we were going through it, we felt as though the asks were very high compared to what we were accustomed to. And then as we saw moves occurring, it appeared that those asks were being met,” Atkins said. “It’s a hard thing to really pin down and say one reason why. There are subjective reasons with that excitement and energy around being, for us the first time back on our own home field, but throughout the game, people are just so excited to be playing baseball in front of fans again. That probably has some impact.

“But everything is a bit cyclical in the world and in business and maybe we’re seeing a bit of a shift here. It really is exciting to see this deadline. It was one of the more invigorating deadlines that I can recall in a while and that’s ultimately good for baseball.”

Another driving factor is that middle-tier contenders like the Blue Jays, who began the day with FanGraphs calculating their playoffs odds at 26 per cent, all decided to push in. Cincinnati, Atlanta and Philadelphia, each with playoff odds of 20 per cent or less, all made add trades, as well, when they could have justifiably gone the other way, adding pressure on the market.

Teams like Cleveland (the Blue Jays made a run at Jose Ramirez but it’s unclear how far that got), Miami, the Angels and even Minnesota could have sold far more aggressively and didn’t, providing more leverage for the Cubs, Nationals and Rangers, who reset their bases with massive hauls.

The frenzy counterintuitively turned the Blue Jays’ early strikes for Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson from the Marlins and Trevor Richards from Milwaukee into relative bargains, as teams didn’t have to back off their asks as the clock ticked down. That allowed them to stay in the market for Gallo and come close on a handful of other potential deals.

Take the six new pieces and add the looming return of Nate Pearson to the Blue Jays relief corps – he is “already full steam ahead in a bullpen, electric stuff again,” said Atkins – and perhaps Julian Merryweather, a desert oasis or mirage, depending on your outlook, and the roster got a sizable bump.

That all of it came just in time for the team’s homecoming only added to a uniquely memorable day. During the emotional pre-game ceremonies, the Blue Jays took the field via the centre-field fall, ran through two columns of intensive-care unit workers from Toronto General Hospital and lined the infield as a series of videos tugged at heartstrings.

It didn’t take long for fans to serenade players with the first “Let’s Go, Blue Jays” chants in the building since 2019, and for the first time this year the crowd was not only decisively behind them, but also vehemently against their opponents.

“Really emotional,” Bo Bichette said of the entry to the field. “I was looking at Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.), looking at Teo (Hernandez), everybody’s looking at each other like, man, I got the chills, I’m holding back tears, stuff like that. It’s hard to explain the feeling.

“We’ve just kind of been trying to pretend like we had a home and it’s difficult to do for two years. So when we finally came back here, it feels like definitely a big weight off our shoulders. Just super excited to be here.”

A crowd of 13,446, considered a sellout with a maximum of 15,000 people allowed in the building, kept at it all game long and the type of night the Blue Jays envisioned when they poured $150 million into Springer back in January came to life before them.

“Today, honestly, was one of my best days in baseball,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who later added: “We felt love.”

The goal is to repeat that feeling, over and over, which is why the Berrios symbolized so much on a day of renewal at Rogers Centre. Yes, the price was high, and yes, so is the risk, but as baseball returned to Toronto, the Blue Jays decided to live for here and now.

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In final clash before potential playoff duel, Rays torment Blue Jays once more – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No team torments the Toronto Blue Jays quite like the Tampa Bay Rays, and adding insult to injury in their final regular season meeting was getting a beatdown from their archnemesis and then watching them clinch a playoff berth.

The finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field lacked the typical drama most of Wednesday afternoon after Ross Stripling got lit up for five runs in a six-run third that effectively decided a 7-1 Rays win. But theatre arrived in the eighth when Ryan Borucki hit Kevin Kiermaier, who triggered ill will Monday by grabbing a data card dislodged from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate, prompting words to be exchanged and the dugouts to empty.

Relative calm prevailed as Rays manager Kevin Cash ranted to the umpiring crew, which then gathered by the mound after and ejected Borucki. That prompted pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo to argue, and Walker was restrained before he was ejected, too.

David Robertson closed things out in an incident-free ninth inning and the Rays poured out on the field afterwards for business-as-usual handshakes.

As usual, the Rays got the better of season series with 11 wins, and at 94-59, now have a magic number of four to clinch the American League East in back-to-back seasons. Of their 19 clashes this season, it was only the sixth time the game was decided by four runs or more, in contrast to the 10 contests settled by two or less.

The Rays winning the East is an inevitably at this point and should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.

There are steps to be taken for them to get there, but the math remains fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.

With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, a total likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there.

A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.

Nothing should be taken for granted, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry.

Stripling, entering behind opener Julian Merryweather as the bulk pitcher, got through his first inning unscathed but didn’t survive the next, going single, double, walk, sacrifice fly, three-run homer by Austin Meadows and single before Montoyo came with the hook.

Taylor Walls added a two-run single in the frame before it was over and, with the Rays’ bullpen game going much more to plan, this was a hole the Blue Jays offence couldn’t dig out of.

Surviving as best as possible for Thursday became the priority at that point, and essential on that front was the 2.1 shutout innings delivered by Anthony Castro. That allowed the Blue Jays to both get Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards needed rest and keep Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza available for the Twins opener.

Pearson was pressed into duty after Borucki’s ejection.

Castro’s work may very well get him optioned, as Thomas Hatch, at one point a candidate to be activated from the taxi squad for Wednesday, is likely to join the bullpen Thursday.

Another reinforcement could be Santiago Espinal, whose return from a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo is suddenly more urgent with Breyvic Valera on the COVID-19 IL for coming into close contact with a family member.

Valera is fully vaccinated and produced a negative test, but when he’s eligible to return will be dependent on returning more negative tests and getting sign-offs from both MLB and the union. Kevin Smith was recalled from the Bisons to cover for the time being.

Cavan Biggio is a possibility to join the club next week, although the Blue Jays are hoping he can establish some rhythm at the plate before he’s returned from his rehab assignment.

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2020 Ryder Cup: The significance of the numbers on Team Europe's Ryder Cup golf bags – Golf Channel

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Analytics have become an increasingly important part of the entire Ryder Cup process, but European captain Padraig Harrington is taking his numbers game to a new level – literally.

Stitched on the golf bags of all 12 of Harrington’s players this week at Whistling Straits is a number. The digits are unique to each player and signify where they fit on Team Europe’s historical timeline, which has featured 164 players, from the first eight Brits in 1927 to Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who was the last rookie selected for this year’s squad.

“Mine is the smallest number, obviously: 118,” said Lee Westwood, who is competing in his 11th Ryder Cup this week.

The 48-year-old Westwood, who has played in 44 career cup matches, just three shy of Phil Mickelson’s record. His first match came back in 1997 at Valderrama, where the Europeans, captained by the late Seve Ballesteros, edged the Americans by a point.

It was a solid debut for Westwood, who went 2-3 and teamed with Nick Faldo for all four team sessions, but the Englishman doesn’t remember the birdies and bogeys from that week as much as the passion that exuded from the European team.

“I knew from day one, really, [how important the Ryder Cup was],” Westwood said. “Listen, that week the captain was Seve Ballesteros. There may have been one or two people over many generations as passionate as Seve about the game of golf, but I doubt there’s been many as passionate about the Ryder Cup as Seve was. … You just fed off him, really. With Nick Faldo as my partner, Seve and Nick both held the Ryder Cup in high regard, and just being around them, you could see how much it meant to them.

“Passion for the Ryder Cup was never something that I had to learn or gain. Pretty much like European team spirit is not something we have to work on; it’s just there.”

Sergio Garcia can attest. The Spaniard, whose 25 ½ career points earned is a Ryder Cup record, has played in nine of these matches. His debut came in 1999, and he teamed with Jesper Pernevik to go 3-0-1 in team play, though the Euros lost by one at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

But when it came to his number, Garcia had no clue until Monday night when Harrington played a short, inspirational video before presenting each player his number and bag.

“I’ve always known that being a part of the Ryder Cup team is very difficult, but I didn’t know that only that little amount of players have made it,” said Garcia, who is No. 120. “So, that showed you how difficult it really is. That’s why every time I’m a part of a team or the rest of our teammates, that’s why we give it the respect that it deserves, because it’s so difficult to be a part of it.

“It’s an honor, and we treat it like that.”


Harrington using numbers to inspire Team Europe


McIlroy, No. 144 (behind just Westwood, Garcia, No. 130 Paul Casey and No. 134 Ian Poulter), described some of the video presentation, which featured the theme, “Make it count.”

“To put it into context: 570 people have been into space. I think over 5,000 people have climbed [Mount] Everest. 225 have won a men’s major. When you sort of break it down like that it’s a pretty small group and it’s pretty cool,” McIlroy said.

“It’s a small collection of people that have played for Europe in the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy added. “I think that’s what brings us very close together, and that’s been one of our sort of big focus points this week is just being here is very special and being part of a European team. Very few people can call themselves a European Ryder Cup player.”

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Blue Jays-Rays data card scandal a new case study for sportsmanship in MLB – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Among the office equipment the Toronto Blue Jays travel with is a paper shredder, and every document they print off with any sort of data is run through it before ending up in a trash bin.

That’s not a new practice, as different coaching staffs have been doing it for about a decade now. A newer habit for one of the team’s pitchers is to double-check that all info cards have been removed from his hats before they get packed up, lest someone find one of the cheat sheets and feed it to a rival front office.

Such is the degree of caution, bordering on paranoia, big-league clubs have around their proprietary information and it helps explain, in part, why the Blue Jays are so upset that Kevin Kiermaier grabbed the catcher’s card jarred loose during a play at the plate Monday.

What matters is not so much the specific game-plan information that the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder carried back to the dugout and clandestinely passed to field co-ordinator Paul Hoover, but the window into the Blue Jays’ thinking it provides.

Breaking down the card allows the Rays to see what kind of information the Blue Jays give their players, how they present it and extrapolate how they process data for dissemination. The cards used by their catchers contain far more data than those used by pitchers and outfielders, and is the one they most wouldn’t want another team to see, said one person with the club.

So, it is suboptimal that a division rival the Blue Jays face 19 times a season and could meet in the post-season this year has it then.

What some Blue Jays found especially irksome is the way Kiermaier scooped it up after making the third out of the inning at home plate, and then slipped it to Hoover. Once Kirk realized it was missing, manager Charlie Montoyo sent a batboy over to the Rays dugout to ask for it back, and he returned with a message making light of the situation, something along the lines of, “we can’t hit Robbie Ray anyway.”

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins spoke with Rays counterpart Erik Neander on the field before the game Tuesday and later, manager Kevin Cash came out to chat with Montoyo. Cash ended up apologizing to him, Atkins, pitching coach Pete Walker “and if I needed to speak to Robbie Ray, I’d have no problem doing that,” he said. “Charlie and I go back and forth a lot during the course of a game, I actually thought he was joking. Regardless, not ideal, and I’m sorry for that.”

Montoyo called it “agua under the bridge,” and with the apologies in place, Cash replied “I do not,” when asked if he expected any further fallout.

For the moment, perhaps, and while it wasn’t immediately clear if Major League Baseball is involved, it’s an interesting case study for a sport long tied to the adage, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

There’s certainly some grey area in how off-side Kiermaier was, if at all, and given the scandals in recent years around the Houston Astros’ systemic sign-stealing and the Boston Red Sox’s illicit use of smartwatches, there’s room to see this in a sportsmanship-vs-gamesmanship vein.

Shown video of the matter, a veteran scout with a rival club took a harsher outlook on the matter, shaking his head and saying, “that’s bullshit — what’s Kiermaier doing picking that up? I want to beat a guy fair and square. If you’re going to look at that, what’s the difference between banging on a trash can?”

On the other hand, a longtime coach with another organization took no issue with Kiermaier’s actions, saying, “I always play by the finders-keepers, losers-weepers principle… (having the other team get the card) is the chance you take.”

Former Blue Jays centre-fielder Vernon Wells, meanwhile, made a point echoed by others, that the simplest way to avoid losing proprietary information was to not use cheat sheets on the field in the first place.

“This whole thing is ridiculous. Here’s an idea… TEACH THE GAME BETTER AND STUDY THE GAME BETTER! You shouldn’t need cards if you are a student of the game. Stop being robots and play the game!” he posted on Twitter.

Cash defended his player, saying “the card’s on the ground,” and after watching the video, “it looked like he was considering giving back and he just said, forget it, whatever, it’s sitting here, I’m going to pick it up and take it in.”

Kiermaier, when approached by Sportsnet colleague Arash Madani, said initially he wasn’t sure if the card was the one he carries with outfield positioning, as, “they’re all pretty similar.”

“Then as I picked it up, I realized it was that. I never even looked at it, I’ll say that,” he said. “But at the same time I’m not going to drop it or hand it back. I don’t know what their thoughts were about it or whatnot. At the time though, I saw it on the ground and I picked it up nonchalantly, not thinking anything of it and haven’t heard anything of it since.”

“Everything was so quick and after I did it, I was like dang, their scouting reports or whatever was on the ground and I grabbed it,” he continued. “It got to the point that I’m not going to return it or do that. It’s September, whatever. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Maybe, or maybe he saw an opportunity to gain an edge in the heat of the moment and took it. Either way, Kiermaier’s act of subterfuge caused a stir around an industry already paranoid about protecting data and offered up a reason to be all the more cautious.

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