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Blue Jays firing on all cylinders as playoff chances skyrocket – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Theoretically, the MLB season is the ultimate marathon where success and failure is determined by consistency, and small slices shouldn’t determine any team’s fate.

For the Toronto Blue Jays, though, the last 12 games have flipped the script on their entire season.

On the morning of Aug. 28, the team was coming off a brutal 2-1 loss at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, and had lost 11 of its last 17 — largely against less-than-impressive competition. Not only were the Blue Jays 6.5 games out of a wild-card spot, FanGraphs gave them playoff odds of just 5.2 percent. They weren’t officially dead, but if they were wandering through the desert, vultures would’ve been taking notice.

Now the odds sit at 51.5 percent, and they are just half a game behind the New York Yankees, and one back of the Boston Red Sox. A week ago there were two teams between the Blue Jays and a playoff spot, now there are two playoff teams they’re on the verge of overtaking.

Taking three from the Oakland Athletics at home over the weekend got the club’s chances out of neutral. Laying a four-game sweep on the Yankees in New York changed the race:

The tangible benefits of the dominant performance are clear to see. While it’s harder to place a specific value on the intangible upside of the Blue Jays’ momentum or confidence levels in the midst of this streak, it wouldn’t be wise to dismiss them completely. Going into New York and thrashing a team that looked like a sure playoff bet just days before can’t be bad for the psyche. Toronto has also put itself in a position where every loss from here on out doesn’t feel like a deathblow to its chances. That should help take the pressure off a touch.

Not only is the magnitude of the team’s recent results massive, the way they’ve compiled them is encouraging.

That starts with the return of the offence, which went into a deep slumber for much of August. The Blue Jays have scored at least five runs in every game of September, getting impressive production up and down the lineup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is back after a midseason slump, and he’s hit .412/.459/.676 so far this month. Marcus Semien is slugging nearly 1.000 (.968) during the team’s eight-game win streak. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is the MLB leader in RBIs in September (14), delivering clutch hit after clutch hit. The list of guys swinging the bat well right now is long.

Meanwhile, the current rotation doesn’t have a weak link. Since the beginning of August, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz have combined for 86.1 innings of 1.56 ERA ball. Trade deadline acquisition José Berríos had a rough patch in mid-August, but found a mechanical adjustment that’s helped him, allowing just five runs in his last three outings — with 26 strikeouts.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is coming off a brilliant scoreless outing that saw his fastball velocity spike to 91.8 mph, his second-highest total since 2014, and by far the hardest he’s thrown as a Blue Jay. If his forearm is OK after experiencing some stiffness, he has a chance to find a new gear. Alek Manoah is the only guy who’s scuffled a bit lately, but the rookie wields some impressive stuff and his season-long numbers are impressive.

Both the lineup and the rotation have been strengths for the bulk of the year — albeit not always at the same time — but one thing differentiating the team’s current streak from most of the season is that the bullpen finally seems in order. Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza have been an excellent right/left pairing at the back of the relief corps, Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards have allowed two runs between them since Aug. 22, and even Joakim Soria is back from injury.

The wild cards of the group are fireballers Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather. While Pearson has been wobbly in the early going of his return, his stuff is so good that he seems likely to find his footing. We haven’t seen Merryweather yet, but he was close to unhittable in his early-season appearances.

This group is far from elite, but at times this year it was far from functional. Now the Blue Jays bullpen isn’t just solid, it has significant upside, too.

It’s easy to see the best in a team when it is in the midst of a run like this one. It’s also easy to become intoxicated by the concept of momentum and assume that an upward trajectory is a guarantee of future success. It’s possible that this is the high point of the Blue Jays’ playoff pursuit, and there’s a losing streak just over the horizon. After all, the team seemed destined to take off after returning to Toronto with a dramatic 9-2 homestand.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Outfielders Jarrod Dyson #1, Teoscar Hernandez #37 and Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after defeating the New York Yankees 5-1 in a game at Yankee Stadium on September 7, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: (L-R) Outfielders Jarrod Dyson #1, Teoscar Hernandez #37 and Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrate after defeating the New York Yankees 5-1 in a game at Yankee Stadium on September 7, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The Blue Jays look like serious threats to make the playoffs. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

There’s a lot going for Charlie Montoyo’s group, though. Even if you put aside all notions of momentum and assume their run of excellent play is nothing but a blip, the dice is weighted in the Blue Jays’ favour.

Toronto’s next challenge — and that’s a loose use of the term — is a four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles. That series includes two shortened doubleheader games, which suit the Blue Jays thanks to their superior starters, and they won’t see Orioles ace John Means. Of the 23 games Toronto has left, 14 are against the Orioles or Minnesota Twins, whose combined record is 107-172. The schedule also has another gift for them in the form of a late-September series between the Yankees and Red Sox, which guarantees one of the two teams the Blue Jays are chasing will experience a 1-2 record, or worse.

Another advantage Toronto has is the benefit of good health. The Yankees are missing three starters (Luis Severino, Domingo German, and Jameson Taillon) and three high-leverage relievers (Zack Britton, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Darren O’Day), while the Red Sox have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak that’s put major contributors like Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, and Matt Barnes on the shelf.

The biggest names on the Blue Jays IR are Cavan Biggio, who’s in the midst of a tough season, Ross Stripling, who wouldn’t crack the rotation right now, and utility man Santiago Espinal. The elephant in the room is George Springer, but he could play as soon as Friday. The Blue Jays could experience a rash of injuries at any time, but their roster is more intact than the teams they’re chasing.

In a remarkably short span, Toronto has gone from a team on the outer fringe of the race to one of its top contenders. Every part of this club is functioning at a high level, they’re as complete as they’ve been all season, and the schedule ahead is ripe with opportunity. Just a week ago, it was far easier to doubt the Blue Jays than believe in them.

For the first time in a long time, the opposite is true.

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Blue Jays beat Twins; stay two back in AL wild-card race – TSN

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Teoscar Hernández, Marcus Semien and George Springer homered, and the Toronto Blue Jays held their position in the playoff chase by beating the Minnesota Twins 6-1 Saturday night.

Robbie Ray (13-6) scattered three hits in six innings as the Blue Jays ended a three-game slide.

Toronto stayed two games behind Boston and New York in the AL wild-card race with seven games remaining.

Semien hit his 43rd home run in the sixth for a 3-1 lead. That tied him with Dave Johnson of Atlanta in 1973 for the most home runs in a season by a second baseman.

Springer snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a two-run shot in the seventh. It was his 18th of the season and first since Sept. 11.

Ray, who leads the AL with a 2.68 ERA and tops the majors with 244 strikeouts, gave up one run and fanned six.

Minnesota scored on a sacrifice fly in the first and had runners on in four of the next five innings. Ray escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth, ending his outing by getting Miguel Sanó to foul out and Nick Gordon to line out. The Twins were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

Hernández homered and Santiago Espinal scored on a double by Randal Grichuk, coupled with an error by right fielder Brent Rooker, for a 2-1 lead in the second.

Out since Sept. 14 with a left abdominal strain, Minnesota starter John Gant (5-10) came off the 10-day injured list and allowed two runs — one earned — in three innings.

MINNESOTA’S MORNEAU

Former 1B Justin Morneau was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame.

The native of New Westminster, British Columbia, hit .278 in 11 years with the club. Morneau ranks second on the Twins all-time list in games played at first base (1,124), third in home runs (221), sixth in RBI (860), and eighth in hits (1,318) and walks (501). The American League MVP in 2006 also was a four-time All-Star. He finished his 14-year career with stints in Pittsburgh, Colorado and with the White Sox, and was inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. He remains with the Twins as a special assistant to baseball operations and part-time analyst on the team’s television broadcasts.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Joakim Soria was placed on the COVID-related injured list and LHP Kirby Snead was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo. … Manager Charlie Montoyo said OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might not return to the lineup until Tuesday. Gurriel’s hand was stepped on by a teammate during an outfield play Thursday and he received stitches in his middle finger.

Twins: To make room for Gant, RHP Joe Ryan was placed on the family medical emergency/bereavement list.

UP NEXT

Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (7-2, 3.36) and Twins RHP Griffin Jax (3-4, 6.75) are Sunday afternoon’s scheduled starters. Manoah has allowed just two earned runs and six hits over 14 innings across his past two starts.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Canadiens @ Maple Leafs recap: Most certainly a pre-season game – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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After what felt like an eternity, the Montreal Canadiens were back on the ice for a game. The team they faced was the club they embarrassed in the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, Toronto blew a 3-1 series lead in the post-season, but it’s a new (pre-)season now and the Canadiens are a much different club.

Of course, this is also the first game of the pre-season, so it’s not like we were seeing the final product for Montreal or Toronto. However, this game was a chance to see the return of the Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield line. It also saw Alexander Romanov playing alongside Jeff Petry, in addition to the debuts of Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette for the Habs after signing in the off-season.

Toronto came out with the early chances, including William Nylander dangling around Gianni Fairbrother, but Cayden Primeau stood tall to deny the chance in tight before the Canadiens drew the game’s first power play.

The man advantage was far from finely tuned, but the top line created a few looks as Toffoli and Caufield worked into the inner slot against the Leafs’ penalty kill. A few errant passes kept the Habs from establishing any sort of real zone time. Toronto continued to amp up the pressure at even strength, but some heady defensive work from Brandon Baddock helped to defuse the Toronto attack.

A Rich Clune hit from behind on Lukas Vejdemo sent Montreal to another power play and Vejdemo to the Habs’ locker room. Dominique Ducharme opted to just roll his lines as the man advantage took effect, but there were no goals to find.

As the play once again returned to five-on-five, Toronto’s top line got a favourable matchup against Montreal’s third pair and took full advantage. Arber Xhekaj drifted off his assignment behind Xavier Ouellet, leaving a swath of open ice for Nylander to feed a pass to a pinching Jake Muzzin. The veteran defender had all day to uncork a laser shot past Cayden Primeau and give the Leafs the lead.

Muzzin nearly added another goal late in the period as he drew out Primeau from his net, but overhandled the puck before firing a weak wrist shot right into Primeau’s pads.

Montreal’s best look came off a big rebound from Michael Hutchinson that Mathieu Perreault swatted back on net. The period ended with Toronto still leading, and the game clearly being the first in a long time for both sides.

The second period start was far from what the Canadiens wanted as Paquette was called for a hook in the offensive zone. On the ensuing power play, it took the Leafs 10 seconds to score on a John Tavares tip in front of the net to double the Leafs’ lead.

Kurtis Gabriel brought the temperature of the game to a mild simmer as he drilled Brandon Baddock with his head down in the offensive zone. Baddock didn’t take kindly to the hit, springing up and tossing Gabriel to the ice along with his gloves, and for his trouble was given an extra stay in the penalty box.

The Habs were able to fend off the power play, but it wasn’t long before a J.-C. Beaudin slash sent them right back to the penalty kill. Primeau did well to fend off a strong Toronto attack, but by the time the kill was over the shot advantage had grown to 19-5 for Toronto.

Montreal made a switch in net at the game’s midpoint, giving Michael McNiven some well-earned game time. McNiven was tested immediately as Toronto nearly bounced a shot off the end boards and then the back of McNiven’s pads, but the netminder was able to flop back and stop the puck.

Not long after that, Michael Bunting broke in alone, but McNiven tracked him well and denied the forward with a nice pad stop. The Habs somehow managed to find themselves in a three-on-zero situation shortly thereafter. Cole Caufield fired his shot, but wide of the net.

With that miss the Canadiens went to the second intermission trailing by three and looking to find a few positives in the final 20 minutes.

The start to the third was much better than the previous 40 minutes. Toffoli fed a perfect cross-zone feed to Caufield, but new goalie Ian Scott was able to get across and blocker the puck out of play.

Montreal as a whole was much stronger as it peppered Scott with chances, but the young goalie stood tall on all of them. Then, with was later revealed to be a groin injury, Scott left the game, with Hutchinson once again popping up in the net.

At the other end, McNiven put together a highlight reel of great saves. Josh Ho-Sang was able to sneak behind the defence on a breakaway, but McNiven met his challenge with a shoulder save to keep Toronto’s lead at three.

Then it was Jake Muzzin finding space in front of the net again, but McNiven got his blocker on that for another outstanding stop on the Leafs’ veteran blue-liner. Unfortunately for McNiven, he also ended up with the biggest blooper of the night when he came out to play the puck, but set it up on a tee for Gabriel. The Leafs’ tough guy had no issue launching it into the open cage to put the game well out of reach late in the third period.

Montreal was able to get themselves on the board late in the game thanks to Toffoli. Romanov fired a pass from his own zone that Suzuki bumped along to Toffoli. The Habs’ leading goal-scorer from last year buried it past Michael Hutchinson to break the shutout bid.

That was the only goal the Canadiens ended up scoring, as Toronto saw the game out in Montreal’s zone. The Leafs also “won” the post-game shootout for the fans as Ilya Mikheyev bested McNiven in the fourth round, while Mathieu Perreault could not solve Hutchinson at the other end.

The Habs have their annual Red vs. White scrimmage today at 3:00 PM EDT, and their next actual preseason game is a rematch against Toronto on Monday evening.

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Lewis Hamilton wins 100th GP, becoming first F1 driver to hit century mark – Sportsnet.ca

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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton became the first Formula One driver to win 100 races with victory in the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday to retake the championship lead from Max Verstappen.

Hamilton dropped to seventh place when he was boxed in at the first corner but fought back and passed Lando Norris for the win when the McLaren driver stayed out on slick tires in late rain and slid off the track.

“It’s taken a long time to get to 100 and at times, I wasn’t sure it would come,” Hamilton said. It was Hamilton’s fifth win of the season and his first since the British Grand Prix in July.

Hamilton turned Verstappen’s five-point championship lead into a two-point lead of his own as the Dutch driver finished second after a dramatic drive from last on the grid. Carlos Sainz was third for Ferrari.

Verstappen started last after a penalty for an engine change in his Red Bull but sliced through the field and had Hamilton in sight by the halfway stage. Hamilton’s Mercedes worked better on the hard tires in the second half of the race and Verstappen’s charge seemed to have stalled when he was overtaken by the Alpine of Fernando Alonso and stuck in seventh.

But then the rain came and Verstappen switched to intermediate tires early, allowing him to claim an unexpected podium finish and limit the damage to his hopes of a first title.

“We didn’t lose so many points today, so that’s really, really good,” Verstappen told his team over the radio.

Norris trailed in seventh after his gamble to stay on dry tires against the advice of his team failed. If not for the rain, Hamilton said, “it would have been tough to get past Lando. He had great pace.” Norris had been aiming to give McLaren back-to-back wins after Daniel Ricciardo took victory at the last race in Italy when Hamilton and Verstappen collided.

Hamilton has now won the Russian Grand Prix on five of eight occasions, and his victory Sunday continues a clean sweep of victories in Russia for Mercedes cars.

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