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Blue Jays, Red Sox players discussing whether to play tonight – TSN

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Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the players were comfortable playing Wednesday after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game against the Orlando Magic and will have discussions leading up to today’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

“Having thought through what was going on in the community, guys were comfortable playing yesterday, Atkins said. He added the team will have more discussions on whether to play with the players and the Red Sox leading up to today’s game.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the Red Sox are strongly considering not playing Thursday’s game to join in the protest against social injustice.

Passan added the two teams are currently talking and have offered one another support regardless of whether they decide to play or not.

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Blue Jays continue to buck baseball tradition, start Shoemaker in Game 1 – CityNews Toronto

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Little of what the Toronto Blue Jays did with their pitching staff this season was conventional.

The club asked starters to cover fewer than half of its innings, seldom letting a pitcher not named Hyun Jin Ryu face a lineup a third time. One-time starters like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, Ryan Borucki and Shun Yamaguchi piggy-backed off current starters, chewing innings in the middle of games with elevated stuff that played up in shorter stints. After Ken Giles was lost to injury, manager Charlie Montoyo went without a defined closer, using his best relievers in the highest leverage spots regardless of which inning those spots occurred in.

It was anything but traditional. And yet, in the end, it helped the club qualify for the postseason with a 32-28 record a year after losing 95 times. So why would you expect the Blue Jays to follow the pack now?

“Putting our ace in the middle makes sense to us for several reasons”

Montoyo confirmed Monday that they won’t, announcing Matt Shoemaker will start Game 1 of this week’s wild card series with the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by Ryu in Game 2 and Taijuan Walker if there’s a Game 3.

“In a three game series, the goal is to win two of them. So, putting our ace in the middle makes sense to us for several reasons,” Montoyo said. “We said we were going to be creative from the beginning – that’s how we got here, being creative. And to beat one of the best teams in baseball, we’re going to have to be creative.”

All three of Toronto’s starters were rested enough to pitch in Game 1, and baseball orthodoxy states that a club ought to start its best pitcher in the first game of a postseason series. That’s unquestionably Ryu, who pitched to a 2.69 ERA over a dozen starts this season, with sparkling peripherals of 9.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9.

But there isn’t much orthodox in playing a three-game, no-days-off, winner-take-all series in the other team’s ballpark. And there isn’t much regard for tradition among Toronto’s decision-makers. The combination of this pitching staff, this series and this front office invited an innovative approach. If you’re surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a risk. In the wild card era, teams that win the first game of a postseason series have a 126-49 record. That’s a .720 winning percentage. And you’d expect the odds to be even steeper in a three-game series. Winning the first game is extremely important.

But the Blue Jays are betting that Shoemaker and the club’s bullpen can be good enough to prevail against the Rays on Tuesday, setting up Ryu to start what will be an elimination game either way in Game 2. Assuming he can get deep into his start — Ryu has completed six or more innings in 29 of his past 41 starts — the club’s Game 1 relievers ought to be rested enough to come back for a potential Game 3. And if things turned particularly dire, Montoyo probably wouldn’t hesitate to use them again in Game 2. There are multiple days off between the wild card round and the next. It’s all hands on deck.

And Ryu pitching on five days rest is nothing new. It’s actually his norm. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Ryu have made 40 of his 80 starts on five days’ rest and has pitched only 21 times on four days. That’s spanning two organizations. Clearly there’s a reason for it, whether it’s Ryu’s personal preference or two separate training staffs relying on objective measures of fatigue and recovery telling them that’s what’s best.

There’s also a slight statistical case for it. This season, Ryu has pitched to a 2.29 ERA in the seven starts he made on five days’ rest, versus a 2.74 mark in his four outings on four days. The sample is certainly small, but you can’t fault the Blue Jays for going with what has worked.

And if there was ever a time to do it, it’s with Ryu coming off his two longest outings of the season. He threw 99 pitches over six innings on Sept. 19 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies and 100 over seven in Toronto’s postseason-clinching victory against the New York Yankees on Thursday.

“When you look at their starters, they all got the extra days off because they clinched before we did,” Montoyo said of the Rays. “So, we’re also giving our ace an extra day off. We’re actually doing the same thing they’re doing. Except our ace is pitching in the second game. And, actually, they’ve got four aces over there.”

Plus, Shoemaker matches up well with the Rays — certainly better than Walker. For his career, Shoemaker has been equally effective against both sides of the platoon, holding right-handers to a .716 OPS and lefties to a .712 OPS. Walker, meanwhile, has been susceptible to lefties so far this season, allowing an .869 OPS against them — versus a .515 OPS when facing right-handers.

“The last time he pitched, he was really sharp”

Walker’s career-long splits are more even, but still favour left-handers, of which the Rays have several. Of course, Tampa has dangerous hitters from either side of the plate, making them difficult to match up with regardless. But Shoemaker’s career numbers — which is the tip of the iceberg of data clubs rely upon, it must be said — paint a more promising picture for success.

And, for whatever it’s worth, Shoemaker has been effective in three starts against the Rays this season, holding them to six runs on 10 hits with 17 strikeouts and four walks over 15 innings. The Rays hit .192/.250/.404 against Shoemaker in those games.

“We feel good going with Shoemaker in this game,” Montoyo said. “The last time he pitched, he was really sharp. He was throwing 94, 95. And he’s rested now. So, I really feel good about him taking the mound. He’s been one of our best pitchers all year.”

Still, to say Game 1 is Shoemaker’s game is a misnomer. The 34-year-old came off the injured list only a week ago after missing a month due to a lat strain. He has made only one start since — a three-inning, 54-pitch outing against the Yankees. He threw a bullpen on Saturday instead of appearing in another game, and while it’s fair to expect him to be somewhat more stretched out than he was against New York, he won’t be built up to a full starter’s workload.

Does that mean 60 pitches? Maybe 65? We’ll see. But if Shoemaker is still pitching by the fourth or fifth inning, things will have gone extremely well. More likely, he’ll air it out for two or three max-effort frames before turning the game over to an arm out of Toronto’s bullpen.

An obvious candidate for that assignment is Robbie Ray. The big-armed southpaw would match up well with the many left-handed hitters the Rays are likely to stack in their lineup against Shoemaker.

Ray has struck out nearly a third of the lefties he has faced in his career, holding them to a .223/.280/.370 slash line. His command is an obvious concern, but even as he has struggled to find the zone consistently this season, Ray has remained extremely effective against left-handed hitting.

Think about it this way: Shoemaker isn’t starting the game, he’s just … beginning it. If he gets through three innings allowing only a run — as he did last week against the Yankees — he’ll have done his job. Then it’ll be Ray’s turn to throw his hardest, nastiest stuff for two innings or more before passing the baton.

Presumably, the Blue Jays hope that will force Rays manager Kevin Cash to dip into his bench early for pinch-hitters, trying to gain the platoon advantage against Ray once he takes over. If Cash does, he’ll have sacrificed flexibility later in the game, which will allow Montoyo to deploy his bullpen arms with more certainty. If Cash doesn’t, he’ll be allowing Ray to pitch in the best possible position for him to succeed.

Once Ray has done his job, the Blue Jays can play matchups to the finish line. See some dangerous right-handed bats — like Yandy Diaz, Willy Adames, or Randy Arozarena — due up? Here’s Nate Pearson throwing 101 mph or Rafael Dolis spinning splitters that fall right off the table. Staring down a run of lefties — like Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi or Yoshi Tsutsugo — next inning? Enter Ryan Borucki, ready to pound fastballs inside and work cutters away.

At least that’s the design. The best-laid plans of research and development departments often go awry. But it’s a baseball game. Anything can happen. You enter with a strategy, hope it goes well and adapt on the fly if it doesn’t. Whatever the results, the Blue Jays can live with their process. And no one should have expected them to do anything else.

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Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn's heartbreaking interview is hard to watch: 'It was a good run' – USA TODAY

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Jimmy Hascup
 
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Should Stanley Cup winner get an asterisk? Former goalie weighs in

SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmons sits down with former NHL goalie and NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes to discuss the level of play during the Stanley Cup Finals= and whether or not the winner should have an asterisk in the record books.

NHL players entered the playoff bubbles sans fans in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, on July 26, and on Monday night, the journey that was spent for the majority without friends and family nearby ended with the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisting the Stanley Cup.

For the Western Conference champion Dallas Stars, who finished third in the Central Division, it was a surprising run that came up just short, losing the Cup in six games. And for their captain, the emotions following defeat were too raw to put into words.

Here’s how the post-game news conference via Zoom went for Jamie Benn:

“What’s the feeling like for you guys right now?” a reporter asked Benn, 31. 

“It sucks. Uh … you go through a lot with that group and …” Benn said as he looked around.

“Jamie, I know it’s tough right now, but what will you remember about this group of guys?” the next reporter asked.

Benn didn’t respond, sitting still as he stared down.

“Hey, Jamie, are you able to even think about the run you guys had, or is this too much for you right now at this moment?” a different reported asked.

Benn sat quiet for several seconds. “It was a good run. Umm … it’s tough. You’re two games away from a Stanley Cup, so …” Benn said, clearly struck with emotion.

WHAT’S NEXT: Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars had great playoff runs; what awaits this offseason?

The NHL reported no positive coronavirus tests for nine weeks in a row since the teams entered the bubbles — a total of 33,174 tests. But that didn’t come without sacrifice as some family members — only those from Canada — could join players at the start of the conference finals. That means a lot of time spent away from family and friends for the majority of players.

Benn, who was drafted by the Stars in 2007 and now their second-highest paid player,  has been used to criticism in recent years. He was blasted along with teammate Tyler Seguin by Stars president Jim Lites in a profanity-filled tirade in December 2018 for not “getting it done.”

Since Benn entered the league in 2009, Dallas has reached the playoffs four times, with this one being the first time it got past the second round.

Benn had 39 points in 69 regular-season games, but was dominant in the playoffs with eight goals and 19 points in 27 games.

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2020 NBA Finals: Lakers vs. Heat Predictions and Picks – Sports Illustrated

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Will LeBron James earn his fourth NBA championship ring? Can Jimmy Butler and the Heat upset the Lakers? The Crossover staff makes their predictions.

The Lakers and Heat are set to play in the NBA Finals on Wednesday. LeBron James will make his 10th Finals appearance, and this marks the Lakers’ first Finals appearance since Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles to a win over the Celtics in 2010.

The Heat last appeared in the Finals during the 2014 season, when James was part of the team. Miami has embraced the underdog role after defeating the favored Bucks and Celtics. Now it faces its toughest challenge yet.

Can Jimmy Butler & Co. get past the Lakers to win the title? The Crossover staff makes their Finals predictions.

Chris Mannix: Lakers over Heat in five

There comes a point when betting against LeBron James just becomes foolish, like hunting for leprechauns at the end of rainbows or believing scratch tickets were the path to eternal wealth. James has played in ten—ten—Finals now and only special teams have beaten him. The Spurs were the Spurs—in 2007 and 2014—the Warriors were a mini dynasty and even Dallas, in 2011, had a little team of destiny thing going for it. The Heat are very good, with Jimmy Butler a bonafide closer and Bam Adebyo a rapidly developing star But they are young—very young—at key positions and don’t really have anyone that can slow James down. Miami is a vastly improved team from the one the Lakers beat twice in the regular season, but L.A. is playing better, too, perhaps its best basketball of the season, with Rajon Rondo emerging in a key role and Dwight Howard turning back the clock. Miami will compete in every game this series. It says here they only win one of them. 

Michael Rosenberg: Lakers over Heat in six

This is a good matchup for the Heat. Bam Adebayo can guard anybody on the floor, and Jimmy Butler is fearless and capable of giving LeBron James problems. The Heat also have more guys capable of going off for 20 points a couple of times—Adebayo,
Butler, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic—and so it would not shock me at all if Miami wins the series. It’s just very hard to pick against James and Anthony Davis right now. They are the two best players in this series, and they have been locked in for weeks.

Rohan Nadkarni: Heat over Lakers in five

La Spoelstra Nostra. Culture. The Godfather. The (More Recent) Block. We Got Shooters. How many more Heat platitudes do I have to throw at you? After sheepishly picking the Celtics in the conference finals, I’m going with my heart over my head for the championship round. (I grew up in South Florida, and I’m one of maybe six people who own a pair of Dwyane Wade’s “Biscayne” Jordans.) All of this means I’m picking the Heat. 

Erik Spoelstra has never lost to Frank Vogel in the playoffs, I’m supposed to believe he’s going to start now? Pat Riley will come down from his plexiglass case of non-emotions and Armani suit-up as an assistant coach if it means taking down LeBron in the Finals. The Lakers were built to win a championship, acquiring top-flight talents in James and Davis and surrounding them with mostly veteran mercenaries. The Heat were built for the bubble, a close-knit group with a comical (and frankly, overwrought) dedication to the grind. This series is a clash of styles, both on the court and in the front office. The Heat have already knocked out the MVP (88 first-place votes, baby!) and the No. 1 seed in the league. I’m not going to fight them anymore. 

Give me Rick Ross over Ice Cube. Give me Udonis Haslem over Wilt Chamberlain. Give me South Beach Riley over Malibu Riley. Give me the Heat over the Lakers.

Michael Shapiro: Lakers over Heat in seven

This is a legitimately problematic matchup for LeBron James and the Lakers, and we could very well have a 2004 Finals redux with an underdog Heat squad in place of the Pistons. Miami sports a deep collection of quality playmakers, and there should be enough size to at least battle Los Angeles’ double-big lineups. Coach Erik Spoelstra will likely lean heavily on the Heat zone. Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler should feast in the pick-and-roll against Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Miami is by no means a pushover as James pursues his fourth title.

Things could get shaky for Los Angeles, but their size and defensive upside should be enough, especially in a potential Game 7 dogfight. Davis is cementing himself as the next great Lakers’ big man. James remains near the peak of his powers as he not-so-quietly reminded us on Saturday night. The strangest playoffs in league history should pave the way for a thrilling Finals. James’s next ring will be hard fought against his former franchise.

Jeremy Woo: Lakers over Heat in seven

I was extremely tempted to pick against the Lakers in a third straight series for the sake of the bit, but I won’t do it. I do think this is going to be close. The Rockets were ultimately too small for Davis, and the Nuggets, despite the ascendant Murray-Jokic combo, didn’t have enough different ways to close games. On paper, the Heat don’t have a glaring weakness for the Lakers to exploit. Frank Vogel will have to be flexible in his approach at center, and his team hasn’t dealt with anything close to Adebayo’s degree of physicality in these playoffs. I’d expect Davis to take that matchup when it matters, despite his strange hatred of playing the five, which should be a treat. Miami will almost definitely wall off the paint and break out its oddly successful zone again in spurts, which will force the other Lakers to make threes. But at the end of the day, LeBron and Davis are the best two-man combination in the league, and they appear to be on a mission. If that’s not enough, what is? Miami’s resolve should extend this series to a breaking point, but it’s hard not to pick L.A.

Elizabeth Swinton: Lakers over Heat in seven

Neither team has needed seven games to win a playoff series so far, but the Finals may change that. The Lakers have the advantage in star power, but the Heat have proved tough to beat in silencing opponents offensively and relying on their balance of young and veteran talent. Still, the Lakers seem to be clicking at the right time with Davis stepping up alongside James. Jimmy Butler will likely make some noise in his first NBA Finals, and Herro is proving his value, but it will be up to the Lakers to wrap up an emotional season with the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Robin Lundberg: Lakers over Heat in five

I love the Heat. I really do. They play hard, are unselfish and are extremely well coached. And they’ve proved throughout these playoffs to be legit. So I don’t make this pick taking them lightly or to be cute. I’m just not sure how they’ll deal with the length of the Lakers or whether they have the bodies to keep James out of the paint. On the other end, Miami can certainly shoot but it doesn’t have those players (as big a fan as I am of Butler) who command the attention of the entire defense, like L.A. has already faced. Once the Lakers adjust, I envision their defense swarming and stifling them. Adebayo and what he can do to slow down both of L.A.’s superstars is probably the biggest wild card, but overall, I think the Lakers will be too much. And I don’t see LeBron losing to his former team.

Melissa Rohlin: Lakers over Heat in five

The Lakers are in their sweet spot. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have perfected a reciprocal on-court relationship in which they alternate taking over in stretches and quarters. They’ve done this seamless dance throughout the playoffs, covering for each other as though they’re passing an invisible baton back and forth. That coupled with the way Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and other reserves have stepped up makes the Lakers unstoppable. The Lakers breezed through each of their first three series in five games, and I don’t see anything changing that this time around. The Lakers are a handful of games away from their first title in 10 years. 

Shandel Richardson: Lakers over Heat in five

The Heat had a nice run behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but this is James’s chance to solidify his legacy among the league’s greatest players. He won’t be denied as he inches closer to Michael Jordan’s GOAT status.

Ben Pickman: Lakers over Heat in six

There’s no doubt that the Heat have both the roster talent and depth to beat the Lakers. Five times throughout the Eastern Conference finals, at least five Heat players scored in double figures, the lone time without five double-digit scorers coming in Game 4, which was still a Heat win. But more than just having a plethora of scoring options, Miami’s wing depth will also make a major difference on the defensive end of the floor, where the Heat have a number of wings to throw at LeBron James, including Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, Butler and Adebayo. Still, with how James has played in recent rounds (and recent playoffs) it’s fair to question just how consistently any of those players will be able to contain the four-time MVP.

How the Heat handle Anthony Davis might also have more of an impact on the series’ result. Adebayo will likely spend the majority of the time guarding AD man to man, and you can expect the Heat to play a healthy serving of zone to try to bait the Lakers’ inconsistent shooters into firing from three and not feeding AD inside. But if Adebayo gets into foul trouble, who else will guard AD? Kelly Olynyk? Meyers Leonard? That’s a potential mismatch as the series progresses. The Lakers have the series’ two best individual players and a core that is at times inconsistent, but has also made timely plays on both ends.

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