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Blue Jays facing ill-timed pitching questions as home stretch looms –



TORONTO — At a time when the Toronto Blue Jays need to start solidifying their plans for the home stretch and set themselves up for the post-season, they’re suddenly facing fresh questions about the pitching staff.

A second straight thumping from the New York Yankees — this one a 13-2 beatdown Wednesday, which featured four homers in four innings off Tanner Roark — isn’t cause for alarm, although it does raise some questions about their ability to contain a truly elite offence.

The Yankees hit six home runs in Tuesday’s 20-6 shellacking and added a season-high seven more in the follow-up, making them only the fifth team in baseball history with consecutive games of at least six homers (the Blue Jays did it Aug. 12 and 14 this year, too). The 13 homers over two games matched a franchise record, as well, while the Blue Jays allowed at least six homers in back-to-back games for the first time in club history.

“We haven’t pitched well, we’ve pitched behind in the count, and their lineup is pretty good,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what happens, scoring that many runs.”

Roark was far blunter: “They’ve kicked our ass.”

Bigger picture, though, given what we know to this point, who should start a potential playoff series decider for the Blue Jays behind ace Hyun-Jin Ryu and Taijuan Walker, lined up to pitch Games 1 and 2 of a post-season series as things stand?

If everyone stays on turn, Roark would get the ball, and he’s still trying to find a rhythm and regain some velocity, saying that the shortened season has the physical feel of mid-May amid September stakes.

“I don’t mean that as an excuse by any means, but over the course of 162 games, guys figure things out,” he explained. “For myself personally, I start to feel certain things clicking, staying over the rubber longer, driving certain pitches down and away, getting that feel for all my pitches. It’s crunch time now, so there’s no excuses.”

Beyond him there’s Chase Anderson, who starts Thursday’s series finale in the Bronx against Masahiro Tanaka and has been chasing his season since opening on the injured list with an oblique strain. He’s allowed 10 runs in his last 6.2 innings.

Lefty Robbie Ray, due to start one of the two games in Friday’s doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies, has front-of-the-rotation stuff and pedigree, but is still trying to get untracked after a miserable opening to the season. Ross Stripling, also tentatively slated to pitch in part of the twin-bill, seems to be settling into a swingman role.

So, no clear answer, which makes the live batting practice sessions thrown by Matt Shoemaker and Nate Pearson on Wednesday all the more intriguing. The next steps for them will be determined based on how they feel Thursday, but Montoyo said the Blue Jays had Shoemaker throw some extra pitches after he completed his two innings to position him for a quick return.

There isn’t enough runway to properly build him up for the rotation at this point, but he could potentially return as a starter capable of logging 3-4 innings, and the Blue Jays could then piggyback Pearson, who’d be in a similar boat, or Stripling behind him.

Given that there will be no off-days between games in each post-season series, the Blue Jays won’t necessarily be able to bullpen through a round in quite the same way they’ve gamed the regular season. None of their relievers have pitched on three consecutive days yet, and the loss of Ken Giles back to a recurrence of his elbow troubles, combined with Jordan Romano’s ongoing absence, significantly thins out their late-game leverage options.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Shoemaker and Pearson could help in that regard, too, as some regression for Ryan Borucki and Anthony Kay, optioned Wednesday for rookie righty Hector Perez, means Montoyo doesn’t have the stable left-on-left weapons he did earlier this season. Thomas Hatch and Julian Merryweather have been terrific but are still relatively untested.

Hence, as the Blue Jays work to lock down a post-season berth — four losses in six games have allowed the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles to sneak back onto the radar — they also have to rethink how to most effectively distribute their innings.

“We’ve got to get to that point sometime,” said Montoyo, “but we’ve got to cover (Thursday), and go from there to the doubleheader.”

A correction by Roark would go a long way, as the right-hander has now allowed six home runs over his last seven innings, all against the Yankees, who have won seven straight since avoiding a sweep in Buffalo last week. He’s also slated to face them again next week at Sahlen Field.

Roark gave up two homers on four-seam fastballs and two more on sinkers, with DJ LeMahieu going deep on one of each. Clint Frazier also got into a four-seamer while Kyle Higashioka turned on a middle-up sinker for the first of his three homers.

Courtesy Baseball Savant.

That’s now 14 homers in 39.1 innings for Roark, who last year gave up 28 in 165.1 frames. His velocity had been down about two m.p.h. on his fastballs so far this season, but he was closer to normal Wednesday, at 91.7 on his four-seamer and 91.3 on the sinker — up about one m.p.h. on both pitches, but still down a tick at from the 92.1 and 91.9 he averaged last year.

“That definitely makes me take a positive out of a negative. Now it’s needing to establish that fastball down and away at the knees and go from there,” said Roark. “My next bullpen, I might just throw all fastballs down and away and get that right.”

A bit more offence, especially with the Yankees back at full strength after activating Aaron Judge on Wednesday, would help too, allowing the Blue Jays to use their better relievers rather than the mop-up crew. Their activation of Teoscar Hernandez earlier than expected should also lengthen the batting order in the days to come.

They hadn’t planned to bring Hernandez on Wednesday but when Derek Fisher got hit in the knee by Shoemaker during the afternoon’s live batting practice session, the outfielders swapped spots on the injured list.

“Hopefully he feels good (Thursday) morning and he has a chance to be in the lineup,” said Montoyo.

The Blue Jays need all the help they can get, as they have 12 games remaining, with Anderson set to start three of them. Still, even after a pair of lopsided losses, they remain in control of their own destiny, although they increasingly have things to figure out along the way.

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Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees –



The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.

Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.

“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”

Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.

Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.

The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.

With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.

Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.

Ray earns timely outs

Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.

New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.

“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”

Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.

The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.

“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”

New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.

Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.

Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

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Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter



Yankees 1 Blue Jays 14

Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.

It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.

We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.

Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.

Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.

We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:

  • Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
  • Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
  • Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
  • Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
  • Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Joe Panik only managed a walk.
  • Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).

Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).

No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.

Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.

We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.

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Lightning’s Stamkos secures place in Cup lore with Game 3 goal vs. Stars –



EDMONTON — Seven seconds.

That’s how much time the puck spent on Steven Stamkos’s stick blade on this night, and perhaps that’s all it will spend there throughout the entirety of this Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run.

That’s all the hard-luck captain needed to secure his place in Stanley Cup lore. Seven freaking seconds.

Somehow, after spending 60 days as a practice-only player inside the NHL bubble and going 210 days between games, Stamkos scored the biggest goal of a career overflowing with them.

He was in full stride down the right boards when Victor Hedman hit him in the neutral zone. He blew past Esa Lindell, who defended the play poorly and managed to settle a bouncing puck in time to tuck it up under the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin.

The Lightning bench exploded. Jon Cooper said the reaction was “just a little bit louder” than any of the others during a playoff run that has included five overtime goals. The coach saw it as a sign his team wouldn’t be denied, and they weren’t while grabbing a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 5-2 victory Wednesday.

“It was pretty damn cool,” said Cooper.

Stamkos called it a dream come true.

Forget the unfortunate timing of the injuries that have cost him big playoff games and a chance at playing for Team Canada at the Olympics in recent years. Just being trapped inside the bubble with no guarantee of playing would be agony for someone who has given as much to the Lightning as Stamkos.

And then to get in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and only be able to play five shifts and score on one of them after not playing for seven months?

Hollywood might not accept that script.

“At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win,” said Stamkos. “I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys. And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.

“It was great to be part of.”

Quickly, the backstory: Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be recovered in time for the second round of a normal playoffs. Then we had the COVID-19 pause, he had some kind of setback while preparing for the NHL’s return to play and the Lightning have gone on a run without him.

But he’s remained a large figure in the shadows.

You could see him dousing Brayden Point with water after he scored a quintuple overtime goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 and he was summoned to the ice to help the Lightning accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after they eliminated the New York Islanders.

Everything he had to endure in order to even play for two minutes 41 seconds of Wednesday’s game has happened behind the walls. And based on the fact he sat on the bench while not taking a shift for the final 46 minutes here suggests we might not see him in uniform again for the rest of this series.

So that goal? That was something.

“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”

Added Victor Hedman: “This is how much he means to us as a teammate and as a leader and as a friend. We were just super happy for him.”

Stamkos played six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Final and didn’t manage to score. In this situation, the Lightning put him on the fourth line alongside Cedric Paquette (zero goals this playoffs) and Pat Maroon (one goal this playoffs) and he produced one in limited minutes before his injury forced him to become a spectator.

What happens next will determine what this means historically.

But what it meant to Stamkos and the Lightning won’t change no matter what. He’s only going to get so many chances like this one.

“It was amazing to be a part of a huge win for us,” he said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”

This was a kid who used to go to shooting school twice per week and fire 500 pucks per session. That’s a skill that endured the injuries, the layoff, everything.

It made this moment possible.

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