TORONTO — Just one year after losing 95 games, the Blue Jays are back in the playoffs despite never playing a game in their home ballpark. Sure, they got some assistance when MLB expanded the post-season, but every team had that opportunity and not all of them made the most of it.
It’s an accomplishment to savour — and also an opportunity to seize. The playoffs are notoriously unpredictable, after all, and that’ll be especially true in a year that begins with a best-of-three series. It’s a good time to be an underdog.
Now that the Blue Jays have clinched, they have four days to prepare for their next test, but the last three regular season games are significant in themselves. In theory, the Blue Jays could pass the Yankees and overtake the No. 5 seed in the American League. And if nothing else, these last few games will inform roster moves and playing time decisions for the wild-card round that begins Tuesday.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake for the Blue Jays between now and Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale…
In theory, Nate Pearson has the pitches to become an important high-leverage arm for the Blue Jays, but translating that potential to results with limited time to spare is another matter. That adds significance to his late-season appearances as the Blue Jays consider how to use him in the playoffs.
“I wouldn’t mind using him in high-leverage, but he could also open for us if we need him,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after officially activating Pearson Thursday.
Either way, it stands to reason Pearson will be on the Blue Jays’ playoff roster as long as he makes it through his upcoming tune-up session healthy.
Can anyone else return from the injured list?
Along with Pearson, Jordan Romano (finger), Julian Merryweather (elbow) and Rowdy Tellez (knee) are each working their way back from injuries as well. All would be big additions, and the coming weekend offers a perfect chance to get some reps in at game speed, yet it’d be a surprise if any of those three see game action against the Orioles.
Romano, who will throw a bullpen session Friday, may be furthest along of those three. And while the Blue Jays were set on seeing Pearson in a regular season game, Romano doesn’t have a new role to get used to, so he doesn’t necessarily have to pitch in a game over the weekend to be a candidate for a playoff roster spot.
As Montoyo said, “They’re different cases.”
How does Shoemaker look?
In his first start back after missing a month with a lat strain, Matt Shoemaker pitched well against the Yankees, holding them to one run over three innings of work. He did walk two in the second inning, but was otherwise effective on a night his fastball topped out at 96 m.p.h.
On Saturday, he’ll have the chance to build off that start and strengthen his bid to start Game 3 of the playoffs should there be one. After throwing 54 pitches in his first start back, it’s reasonable to assume Shoemaker could be stretched to 70 against the Orioles this weekend. If all goes well, he could earn himself a playoff rotation spot.
“If we can stretch him out enough, he’ll be in the conversation for sure,” Montoyo said. “You can count on that.”
The alternative to Shoemaker would likely be Robbie Ray, but the Blue Jays might also like the idea of having Ray available in relief earlier in the series, especially if they play Tampa Bay. Against a lineup including left-handed hitters like Brandon Lowe, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Kevin Kiermaier, Joey Wendle and Nate Lowe, Ray has the potential to be a difference maker.
How much can they expect from Kirk?
The Blue Jays promoted Alejandro Kirk because they wanted offence, and he has delivered so far, making consistently hard contact while putting together quality at-bats against big-league pitching. At this rate, Kirk is likely to get at-bats in the wild-card round, but he could cement his case for regular playing time with a strong final weekend.
Of course, Danny Jansen reminded the Blue Jays of his own offensive ability with a four-hit game including two home runs Wednesday, but Kirk could also factor in at designated hitter. For example, if left-hander Blake Snell starts Game 1 for the Rays, the Blue Jays might prefer to have Travis Shaw, a left-handed hitter, on the bench. That would mean Vladimir Guerrero Jr. starts at first and leaves the DH spot open, potentially for Kirk, who has shown the ability to hit high-velocity pitchers like Snell and Tyler Glasnow.
When it comes to determining playing time for their catchers, all kinds of variables are in play — who do pitchers prefer throwing to? Does the schedule include a day game after a night game? Is Tellez an option at DH? — but the better Kirk hits down the stretch, the more options he gives the Blue Jays.
Either way, rostering a third catcher such as Caleb Joseph or Reese McGuire would allow Montoyo to use Kirk as a pinch hitter without having to worry. Otherwise, the Blue Jays would be an injury away from losing their DH.
“That’s never easy because if someone gets hurt it becomes a National League game,” Montoyo said.
Who pitches Sunday?
At this point, Tanner Roark lines up as the likely starter for Sunday’s season finale — a game that will likely have no bearing on the standings. With that in mind, the Blue Jays face a decision. Do they save Roark for the playoffs or let him contribute by soaking up some innings for the rest of the staff?
Considering Roark recently expressed frustration with the short leash starters often find themselves on, he might embrace the opportunity to pitch seven or eight innings.
“Just because the computers are saying something different — I hate it,” he said after a game earlier this month. “I’m old school. They signed me here for a reason, to not go three, four innings and throw only a certain amount of pitches. I throw a lot of pitches. I try to go as deep as I can.”
Soon, Roark may get his chance. The conversation would be different if Roark were pitching better, yet with a 7.01 ERA and 14 home runs allowed in just 43.2 innings, it’s hard to imagine him pitching high-leverage innings in the wild-card round. But by saving the rest of the staff on Sunday, he could still contribute and potentially re-join the active roster for the ALDS should the Blue Jays advance.
Canada's Claypool shines again as Steelers paste Browns – Ottawa Sun
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On the lone sour note for the Steelers was the loss of linebacker Devin Bush to what ESPN’s Adam Schefter was told is a ACL tear that requires season-ending surgery. Bush is a good one, the play-caller on defence. Before the injury he had been on the field for every defensive snap of the season. The Steelers will miss him, but mostly because his replacement, Robert Spillane, had played just one defensive snap before this season.
Speaking of pain, Browns QB Baker Mayfield entered the game with bruised ribs and exited in the third quarter, pulled for Case Keenum, after being sacked four times and intercepted twice, one a pick-six.
“That was varsity ball,” Tomlin said about his team’s dominant display. “They stepped up and stepped up big all across the board.”
While Connor carried the ball 20 times for 101 yards and a score, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have to do much. He completed just 14-of-22 passes for only 162 yards and a touchdown.
He did, however, continue building on his chemistry with Claypool, the 22-year old from Abbotsford, B.C. who last week set a franchise record for freshmen by scoring four TDs against the Eagles.
Versus the Browns, he pulled in all four of his targets for a team high 74 yards, and also scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter.
His longest reception, a 36-yarder down the right sidelines, set up a touchdown plunge by Connor.
The 11th receiver selected in what has to be one of the strongest classes ever at the position when he was taken 49th overall eight months ago, Claypool is just the fifth NFLer in the last 50 years to score six touchdowns in his first five games.
Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 Offseason: Where have they improved, and where do the question marks remain? – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
Entering the offseason, there were a number of needs that were easily identifiable from the outset for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“…improve the defense with legitimate defenders who can be trusted to handle tough minutes (at least one, ideally two), improve the bottom six, and add some center depth (not sure Alex Kerfoot – Pierre Engvall is the one-two punch you want on that side of the roster).”
To hash it out a little further, at least one top-four defenseman was needed as well as a depth blue liner so that Martin Marincin didn’t have to be the go-to guy after one injury in the top six. At forward, there was a need for additional center depth to challenge Alex Kerfoot, as well as a fourth-line option knowing Pierre Engvall projects more as a winger, where he can best utilize his speed.
We also discussed diversifying the forward group – yet again – as well as adding some checking forwards to help free up the Leafs’ skilled players to focus on offense, particularly in playoff matchups. More on this later.
We would be remiss if we didn’t touch on goaltending as well. There was heavy speculation about what the Leafs would do with Frederik Andersen, who is entering the final season of his contract and is coming off unquestionably his worst season with the Leafs. While the concerns about him are valid at this point, I noted at the time it was hard to envision a scenario playing out where the Leafs could make a series of moves that involved trading Andersen and acquiring a legitimately better goalie. Ultimately, the Leafs stuck with Andersen and added a quality third goalie in Aaron Dell to bolster their depth.
If we can learn anything from the current NFL COVID-19 season, it’s that players go down at random, and adding a third quality goaltender could become quite important.
As for the rest of the moves, here is the overall picture:
- Kasperi Kapanen
- Andreas Johnsson
- Cody Ceci
- Tyson Barrie
- Frederik Gauthier
- TJ Brodie
- Joe Thornton
- Wayne Simmonds
- Zach Bogosian
- Joey Anderson
- Travis Boyd
- Jimmy Vesey
The blue line: Logical additions, clear fits
On defense, the team did about as well as could have been expected. We covered before free agency why paying big for Alex Pietrangelo would have been questionable, and Pietrangelo signed a contract in Vegas that affirmed that.
The only top-four defenseman acquisition that leaves you wanting is Nate Schmidt for a third-round pick to Vancouver, but nobody could have predicted the market softening to that extent. The Leafs certainly could not risk waiting around and praying for a shoe like this to drop.
You could quibble on the cost of Trevor van Riemsdyk and even Ryan Murray (very good when he’s playing, but can’t count on him to actually stay healthy). That’s about it, though.
Their moves on defense make complete sense and the fits are clear. Last offseason, we wondered about the Tyson Barrie fit and even speculated that he could become a sheltered power-play QB. The Brodie fit, on the other hand, makes sense on paper. He has generally played tough minutes and plays on the right side. The Leafs have a need on right defense and for a defender who can play tough minutes. He also offers potential second-unit power-play potential and is good in transition.
There is some risk that’s worth pointing out with Brodie, too. His time on ice per game last year was his lowest since the 2012-13 season, as was his shots per game output, and his points per game was his lowest since the 2013-14 season. He and Mark Giordano were straight-up bad in the playoffs this year. The final year — or even two — of that contract could prove to be an albatross. For now, it’s an upgrade to a unit that desperately needed it — a clear, logical addition.
Zach Bogosian as well as Mikko Lehtonen provide options (note: I’m not sure how Lehtonen will hold up without steady power-play time; 13 of his last 23 goals were on the power play, and I can’t see him walking into PP time here). Even including Martin Marincin, the Leafs have options in terms of the power play, penalty kill, and handedness.
Last season, the coaching staff was handcuffed when injuries struck, but now they have a number of pieces they can move in and out of the lineup. They don’t need to rush in or rely on Rasmus Sandin/Timothy Liljegren unless they force their way into the lineup. That is a desirable setup.
Overall, the Leafs did well here.
Forward: Intriguing additions, less clear fits
This is where it gets a little more interesting. You can’t question the names or veteran experience the Leafs are adding into the dressing room. Last offseason, the Leafs said goodbye to some solid veterans — although you can obviously question their actual play — in Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, and even Tyler Ennis. Sheldon Keefe repeatedly called out the maturity of the team. All of this cannot be a coincidence.
It’s not an indictment of the veterans from last season, either. You can’t expect a few players to carry the room off the ice. It takes a solid group, and the Leafs didn’t have it.
In terms of on-ice play, though, the conversation is a little more interesting.
Wayne Simmonds hasn’t been great the past few seasons. Last season, he scored three goals at even strength and his goals per game dropped to the two lowest mark since the 2010-11 season. His 5v5 play has never been a strength, and while I’m sure he could play on the top power-play unit, moving out any of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, or William Nylander for Simmonds, at least to start, seems questionable at best. If Keefe continues to overload his top unit with full two-minute power plays, how much value is Simmonds going to bring playing almost purely at 5v5?
Jimmy Vesey is coming off a season with a career-low goals per game, points per game, and a career-high PDO. He has never had a positive shot share relative to his teammates (this past season was his highest, and it was an even 0.0). He is 27, so the potential to improve drastically is low at this point.
Vesey also has a 16-goal season and two 17-goal years. He can chip in offensively, and he has started to feature on the PK in the past two seasons. However, in New York, he was considered a net negative player. In Buffalo, they were wondering if he was the least effective forward on the team at 5v5.
Joe Thornton is just an overall win at the $700k price. It can’t possibly be a loss at the minimum. The fit will be interesting, though. He was still a solid 3C last season and he did play on a terrible team. With Thornton more than anyone else, you can imagine a boost just by virtue of him playing on a better team. His points per game dropped to his lowest since his sophomore season, but it was still a respectable .44.
Thornton’s ice time, as Kyle Dubas noted, has now settled into that 15-minute range. It’s impossible not to note that he’s turning 42 next July, and his skating could be a concern. But when he gets the puck down low, Thornton is still a mountain to move (his possession numbers were still good), and I think you can envision a scenario where he moves up the lineup and plays on the left wing.
I’ve already talked about Travis Boyd, so I won’t get into much more here. He’s a depth option that could provide some scoring, in theory. Joey Anderson is intriguing; he is at an age and games played total where he still has potential, and he understands his role based on his comments regarding Zach Hyman. He could hypothetically give the team a much-needed different look in the bottom six. I think he could become sneaky important for the Leafs given the potential element he could add.
You can look at the additions and fairly argue that for next season and onwards, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen will be the two best players among that group. At the same time, the Leafs needed to clear cap space and they clearly did not want to touch their core. If the team comes up short again in the playoffs, the pressure to do so will only increase.
Looking at this “new” group and trying to form the lines becomes particularly challenging. It’s fair to suggest Kerfoot moves back to the wing and Thornton plays 3C – he has been steady there, and if they lower the ice time to 14 minutes or so per game, he should be able to handle it. If the right-wing options are Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and perhaps Alexander Barbanov (if he is a pleasant surprise, which would be huge), that line will likely need to be sheltered with a heavy dose of offensive zone starts.
Nicholas Robertson is a big wildcard, but any emergence from him would be a bit of a game-changer, potentially allowing them to push Ilya Mikheyev down the lineup, too.
The fourth line is a question mark at this point. Pierre Engvall? Jimmy Vesey? Joey Anderson? No matter how you configure it, it would be hard to trust such a line with anything more than chipping in the odd goal. There isn’t much potential among this group for a checking line unless there are some surprises.
We’ve seen some top players come up huge against the Leafs in recent playoff matchups. David Pastrnak posted a 13-point series against them a few seasons ago. Brad Marchand tallied nine points last season. While Columbus didn’t have anyone put up a monster series offensively, Pierre Luc Dubois scored the big hat trick to put Columbus up 2-1, and his linemate Cam Atkinson recorded five points in the five-game series.
The options to game plan this are plenty:
- They could go head to head with their star players and attempt to win the matchup straight up (the Kings used to do this with a prime Anze Kopitar; the Wings did, too, with Pavel Datsyuk).
- They could split the matchup by rotating in a decent checking line with the top line to take the matchup (the Bruins do this).
- They could create a true checking line to take on the matchup almost exclusively (the Cup-winning Ducks did this, as well as Pittsburgh with Jordan Staal).
- They could hedge their top line against the other team’s top line, expecting a draw and relying on the team’s depth to outscore the opposition’s (Pittsburgh with Phil Kessel is an example).
Right now, the Leafs can only really use Matthews head to head in these matchups. John Tavares can take those shifts, too, but he hasn’t been at his best in those scenarios unless the Leafs pair him with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner to do it. You’re not trusting Joe Thornton at 42 or Pierre Engvall at any age to take shifts against Brayden Point or Patrice Bergeron.
This dilemma also isn’t the end of the world at this time. Tampa Bay made huge changes at the deadline that helped them win the Cup. Players emerge throughout the season. The Leafs are also looking to set themselves up to accrue cap space for once instead of extending themselves deep into LTIR. In the meantime, they’ve added a collection of veterans and leaders who can chip in, and we’ll see if they can help bring along some of the younger players around them at the same time.
The Leafs have done well to add low-risk players and contracts, but I also won’t sit here and say they perfectly filled their needs, either. In a perfect world, I’d still argue the team needs a real 3C (the Mikko Koivu contract and fit, in particular, is tough to ignore).
By my count, there are at least nine players who can viably compete for a bottom-six role. The beginning of the season will be a trial-and-error experiment for the team to evaluate. At some point around the deadline, Kyle Dubas will likely have to look to add to (and subtract from) the group. That is not a bad spot to be in, by any means.
Ultimately, as we quibble about the bottom of the roster, it is clear that the Leafs’ core is on notice. They’ve changed the supporting cast around them — quite drastically so — and there was hardly any noise about moving any of their top players to reshape their roster in any capacity.
The team can’t have another up-and-down season followed by a first-round exit. I’d expect next offseason to be much more dramatic if it plays out that way again.
In the meantime, kudos to Leafs management for trying to mix it up — not only putting themselves in a position to succeed at the start of the season, but giving themselves the flexibility to make additions around the deadline, too.
NLCS Takeaways: Dodgers prevail in Game 7 classic, earn World Series berth – Sportsnet.ca
Sunday’s NLCS Game 7 between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers had multiple lead changes, a pinch-hit home run, a runner gunned out at the plate, a home run pulled back from over the wall, an unfathomable double play, an escape from a bases-loaded jam, a home run celebration injury, a home plate collision, and maybe a half-dozen other dramatic moments no one will even remember.
It was nothing less than a classic. A tense, thrilling, back-and-forth contest between two uber talented teams fighting for a World Series berth. A lot of Game 7’s don’t meet the expectations placed upon them coming in. This one exceeded them.
In the end, the Dodgers prevailed, 4-3. They will take 48 hours to catch their breath before playing the Tampa Bay Rays for the World Series starting Tuesday. After seven consecutive days of intense post-season baseball, an off-day has never been more welcome.
Let’s take a moment as well to look back at a wild night of baseball. Here are your takeaways from an epic Game 7.
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.
The upside and downside of an opener
Let’s try to work somewhat chronologically before we get to the insane leverage moments that came late in this game. Because, remember, the first is a leverage inning, too.
The score’s tied, the top of the opposition order is up, and, in the 2019 season, it was MLB’s highest-scoring inning. That’s one of the reasons why you’re seeing more and more teams do what the Dodgers did Sunday, turning to a short-stint opener ahead of a more traditional starting pitcher in consequential games.
But good process doesn’t always lead to good results. Just as a high leverage reliever is liable to struggle with their command upon entering a game in late innings, an opener could take the mound in the first and do the same. That’s what happened to Dustin May.
The Dodgers right-hander began Game 7 throwing eight consecutive pitches outside the strike zone, walking the first two batters of the night. Two pitches later he left a breaking ball on the inner-half to Marcell Ozuna, who gladly ripped it to left to plate Atlanta’s first run.
Marcell Ozuna delivers and the @Braves are off to a start!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
That’s the downside of an opener. The upside is what May did next, quickly inducing a double play groundball with a well located cutter before blowing away Ozzie Albies with a 100-m.p.h. fastball to end the inning.
Dustin May. pic.twitter.com/CIOfy2DtpX
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 19, 2020
That right there is why May was on the mound. His stuff is electric and once he got it in the zone Braves hitters were completely overmatched. But leverage innings are leverage innings because there’s little margin for error. And that’s how the Dodgers found themselves facing a Game 7 deficit before their first plate appearance.
Not how they drew it up
As much as the Dodgers wanted a smooth first inning from May, they needed efficient outs from Tony Gonsolin, who was earmarked for around 12-15 of them as his club entered game 7 short on pitchers who could be trusted to throw a bulk of innings effectively. It’s another reason why it made sense to use him behind an opener, as it meant Gonsolin would begin his outing against the bottom of Atlanta’s lineup rather than the top, putting him in the best possible position to succeed.
But again — good process doesn’t always lead to good results. And to that end, here’s Gonsolin’s third pitch of the night:
Dansby Swanson goes YARD
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
Giving up a bomb to the No. 6 hitter certainly was not the design. Neither was walking the No. 9 hitter — Christian Pache — with two outs, extending an already stressful inning. Gonsolin ultimately got out of the second with only the one run in. But the bottom of the Braves lineup that he was strategically deployed against ended up forcing him to throw 22 pitches — a foreboding beginning to Gonsolin’s night considering how much length the Dodgers were hoping to get from him.
Speaking of foreboding, the Braves hit three fly balls with exit velocities of 90-, 97- and 100-m.p.h. in Gonsolin’s next inning. They all became outs, but the contact was awfully loud. And they’d end up being the final outs Gonsolin would record. He started the fourth with back-to-back walks before leaving this splitter up to Austin Riley:
Ironically, at 76-m.p.h., that was the softest contact Gonsolin allowed all night. But that actually ended up being a good thing for the Braves, as Riley’s looper landed in no-man’s land, and got there slowly enough to allow Ozzie Albies to motor home from second. Suddenly, Gonsolin’s night was done, and the Dodgers were facing another deficit.
An unforced error
The Braves were one swing from breaking the game wide open later in that fourth, with runners on second and third, none out, and a run already in. And they can only blame themselves for unfathomably running into a double play that decreased their win expectancy by 16.5 per cent:
Hello, disaster. Swanson running on contact in that situation at all is questionable, although the Dodgers were playing back and seemingly conceding a run. At least he was being aggressive. You can’t say the same for Riley, who was caught in no man’s land between second and third rather than taking either base to ensure the Braves would lose only one runner from scoring position. The right play was to advance to third while Swanson stalled in the rundown. But the least Riley could have done was retreat to second and take the safe way out.
Of course, that’s all easier said than done — especially in Game 7. Which is what makes Justin Turner’s instincts even more impressive. The veteran third baseman not only ran down Dansby Swanson and caught him on the heels, but had the presence of mind to pop up, his hat masking his vision, and rifle a perfect ball to third to nail Riley advancing.
It’s always tough to measure the impact of experience. But the decision-making in that spot from a 35-year-old Turner and a 23-year-old Riley paint a pretty telling picture.
For Anderson, not bad, but not good enough
In late August, Ian Anderson had yet to make his MLB debut. He’d pitched just five times above double-A. Only seven weeks and nine big-league starts later, the 22-year-old was jogging out to the mound to start Game 7 of the NLCS.
That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. Anderson wasn’t taking the mound because the Braves were desperate or someone got hurt — he was given the assignment because he followed up six tremendous regular season outings with three scoreless ones in the playoffs. He’d been remarkable over 15.2 post-season innings, allowing only six hits — five of them singles — while striking out 22 and walking eight.
Still, this was easily the most consequential game of Anderson’s life. And an elite Dodgers lineup that had seen him only five days prior posed the biggest challenge he’d ever faced. Which helps explain why Anderson didn’t look too much like himself.
Not that he ever looked bothered. The low-emotion, low-pulse right-hander is a stoic presence on the mound in tough times and good. But the Dodgers were determined to make him work, forcing Anderson to throw 21 pitches in the first inning, 26 in the second, and 26 more in the third.
The rookie was able to dance between the rain drops through the first two innings, scattering some loud contact and several base runners to keep the Dodgers contained. But it caught up to him in that third, as Justin Turner walked, Max Muncy doubled, and Will Smith singled, driving in both to tie the game:
HERE COME THE @DODGERS! TIE GAME!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
Anderson finished the inning, stranding a pair. But Braves manager Brian Snitker wasn’t messing around, opting not to let him return for the fourth.
It’s a learning experience for Anderson, to be certain. He could’ve located some curveballs better and his changeup landed up in the zone a little too often. But what did him in was the Dodgers’ approach. They refused to chase curveballs and changeups anywhere off the plate, forcing him into the zone with fastballs.
Biggest game of his life, biggest challenge of his life — and an outing Anderson’s likely going to be ruminating over for quite some time.
A great plate appearance in a huge spot
It’s tough to describe just how impressive Kike Hernadnez’s seventh inning plate appearance was.
He came off the bench cold, pinch-hitting against Braves reliever A.J. Minter, who was throwing 97-m.p.h. and pitched to a 0.83 ERA this season. He laid off a cutter that just missed the zone to get ahead in the count, and fought doggedly with two strikes, fouling off a fastball on the inside black, a cutter on the down-and-in corner, and a changeup on the down-and-away corner to keep his plate appearance alive.
And then, on the eighth pitch he saw, he did this:
Hernandez’s bomb was only the second pinch-hit homer hit in a Game 7. And you’ll rarely see a better plate appearance in a bigger spot.
A just as good plate appearance in a just as big spot
OK, but then there was Cody Bellinger’s in the seventh. Facing Braves right-hander Chris Martin, who was throwing in the mid-90’s and had struck out the first two batters of the inning with ease, Bellinger showed a magnificent approach, fouling off inside fastball after inside fastball.
Finally, on the eighth pitch of the plate appearance, Martin threw Bellinger a heater that didn’t get inside enough, sitting up on the plate for the Dodgers centre fielder to do this:
CODY BELLINGER FOR THE GAME 7 LEAD!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
A home run so ridiculous that StatCast literally failed to measure it. Bat dropped, strutting out of the box, watching it fly for a dozen steps up the first base line. And the man blew up his shoulder celebrating it:
In a game of crazy moments, that was the craziest.
What a relief
Dave Roberts did not want to go to his bullpen as early as he did in this one. He was forced to ride his high leverage relievers just to get his team to this position after falling behind 3-1 in the series, and the bill was coming due. Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, and Kenley Jansen had all pitched Games 5 and 6 — and none of them had appeared on three consecutive days this season.
But that changed in the fourth, when Roberts was forced to call on Treinen in relief of Gonsolin, trying to keep the game from spiralling out of control. And he got an absolute gift when the Braves ran into that unbelievable double play, providing two cheap outs and allowing Treinen to escape the inning on only 10 pitches.
That allowed him to return for the fifth, when fortune was on his side again as Mookie Betts went up to the top of the wall to rob a Freddie Freeman home run. After a nine-pitch inning, Treinen was back in the dugout having given his team more than they ever could’ve expected from him on his third consecutive day.
Brusdar Graterol took over in the sixth, threw his first pitch at 101-m.p.h., and didn’t look back, motoring through his three outs. He turned it over to Julio Urias, who absoutley going nine up, nine down over the final three innings.
Dave Roberts couldn’t have loved the state of his bullpen coming into Game 7. And he couldn’t have felt any better when May and Gonsolin got him only nine outs. But a little defence, a little gusto, and three relievers combining for six no-hit innings got his team to the finish line.
Odds and ends
• If baseball doesn’t work out (it will) Ronald Acuna Jr. could perhaps try high jump:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
• Tyler Matzek gave Braves fans a scare while protecting a one-run lead in the fourth, loading the bases with two out thanks to a single and a couple walks.
But the Braves reliever executed some fantastic pitches against Max Muncy with nowhere to put him, leaning on his fastball for a couple called strikes on the outside black, before blowing a 97-m.p.h. heater — Matzek’s hardest of the night — past him to escape the jam:
• Mookie. Again.
ANOTHER RIDICULOUS CATCH FROM MOOKIE
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
What else is there to say? Mike Trout’s the best player in the game. But that guy right there’s the second-best and he’s worth every nickel the Dodgers pay him.
• NLCS MVP Corey Seager had a quiet Game 7 but a hell of a series, with five homers and 11 RBIs — both NLCS records. The all-time marks for both homers and RBIs in a single postseason series still belongs to Nelson Cruz, who homered 6 times and drove in 13 for the Texas Rangers in the 2011 ALCS.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2020
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