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Blue Jays rout Yankees, inch closer to playoff berth – TSN

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BUFFALO, United States — 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 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.

Notes: Ross Stripling threw four shutout innings of relief for his first save. … The game took three hours 39 minutes to play. … The Blue Jays will send ace Hyun-Jin Ryu (4-2, 3.00 ERA) to the mound on Thursday. The Yankees will also start a left-hander in Jordan Montgomery (2-2, 5.12). … The Blue Jays will close out their regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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Toronto Maple Leafs: Projecting the 2020-2021 Forward Lines – Editor in Leaf

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TORONTO, ONTARIO – AUGUST 07: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple . (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs have done an excellent job of filling out their roster. Now, Head Coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff are left with the tough task of determining how to best deploy their forward group.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have added a large group of forwards to fill out their roster, including bringing in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Jimmy Vesey on cheap 1-year contracts. While the merit of these signings can and have been debated, barring any unexpected moves this will be the group that Keefe and Dubas are rolling with.

It’s more than likely that the lines on Day 1 of the season aren’t the lines that the Leafs will end the year with. Expect Sheldon Keefe to mix and match depending on injury, player performance, and matchup. Dubas has done an excellent job providing the coaching staff with a plethora of options on offense, and the onus is now on them to use that depth and flexibility to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Because of the Leafs salary cap situation, roster flexibility is a priority for Dubas and co., expect players who will not be exposed to waivers to be given the first shot at cracking the roster. (per CapFriendly)

Let’s take a look at what the lineup could look like once things get rolling next season, whenever that may be.

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How Rays’ Arozarena stacks up against Dodgers’ Betts in World Series – Sportsnet.ca

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When two No. 1 seeds meet in the World Series, you can be confident you’re going to see some of baseball’s biggest stars fight for the sport’s ultimate prize.

This Fall Classic is no different as it includes former Cy Young winners (Clayton Kershaw and Blake Snell), two former MVPs (Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger) and two former Rookie of the Year winners (Corey Seager and Bellinger again). And yet, for all the star power, the top performer between these two teams over the course of the playoffs has been 25-year-old rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena.

Arozarena has a .362/.422/.810 line, a playoff-best seven home runs, and almost twice as many hits (21) as the next best Ray in that category — Manuel Margot, who’s managed 11. The left fielder has been nothing short of a sensation, which caused his manager Kevin Cash to call him the ‘Cuban Mookie Betts’ during the ALDS.

That felt like an off-hand remark at the time, but not only has the moniker caught on, we are now witnessing a World Series where Arozarena and Betts are arguably the best and most important position players on opposing teams. Betts certainly showed his worth in Game 1 with a two-hit, two-steal performance that drove his club’s offence. As we wait to see if Arozarena has a counter-punch, it’s worth pondering on the validity of the comparison between the two.

First off, let’s get some context out of the way. Betts is a former MVP who was both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at his position in three of the four seasons prior to 2020 — and he could add to that collection of hardware in the off-season. His low point in recent years was a 2017 when he only won the Gold Glove and was worth 5.3 WAR. He just signed an extension worth $365 million dollars, and has a good chance to be an inner-circle Hall of Famer. It’s ludicrous to project Arozarena to reach those heights, no matter how good he looks right now — and to be clear, he looks outstanding.

With that said, it is fair to look at the Rays outfielder and try to tease out the Betts-like characteristics. Those characteristics can be found particularly in the pair’s athletic traits:

Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.

Arozarena vs. Betts as athletes

The Rays outfielder (five-foot-11, 185 pounds) and his Dodgers counterpart (five-foot-nine, 180 pounds) both have relatively similar frames that come with elite speed. Arozarena’s Sprint Speed is in the 93rd percentile whereas Betts clocks in as an 87-percentile runner. The difference between the two comes in how that speed manifests itself on the field.

Betts is an outstanding right fielder, as we’ve seen throughout the playoffs, and the fact he doesn’t play centre every day is a function of the guys he’s played alongside — Jackie Bradley Jr. rightly gets a lot of recognition here, but Bellinger’s Outs Above Average was 99th percentile in 2020 and 94th in 2019.

Arozarena, on the other hand, is a bit of an unknown quantity in the field at this point. He’s been relegated to left by the Rays, but that’s not a scathing indictment of his abilities on a team with Margot and Kevin Kiermaier. In Game 1 the Rays opted to DH him in order to put Hunter Renfroe in the field, which indicates they don’t see him as a defensive ace at this point. Most of his scouting reports see him as a plus in the corner and someone who can handle centre. He looks like someone who will contribute in this area, but maybe not a defensive game breaker like Betts.

On the bases, Arozarena shows a lot of potential — the St. Louis Cardinals even used him in a pinch-running role in the 2019 playoffs — but he has yet to produce significant base-stealing numbers. His highest stolen-base total in a pro season was the 26 he managed in 2018 and his career minor-league success rate is just 69.3 percent. Betts, on the other hand, has 136 MLB steals and has only been caught 27 times — a success rate of 83.4 percent at the highest level. His 10 stolen bases this season were tied for seventh in the majors, and his BsR was fourth. He gave a very vivid demonstration of his capabilities on the bases with two steals on Tuesday night.

The overall takeaway here is that Arozarena has similar explosiveness and athleticism to Betts, but he has yet to convert them into tangible production. Although he can improve on the bases and in the field, matching Betts in those areas is almost certainly unattainable.

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.

Arozarena vs. Betts as hitters

This is where the two players diverge, although not in a way that is 100 per cent negative for Arozarena.

Between the 2020 season and the playoffs, Arozarena has slugged .786 in 35 games, a number Betts has only matched during one such span in his career, during his MVP season. The rookie’s home run total in those games (14) almost matches the total Betts managed (17) in 68 contests. Arozarena’s max exit velocity of 113.1 m.p.h. during the regular season is one that Betts has only topped once in his 3,662 plate appearances since the beginning of the Statcast era — and it was a groundout to third.

The ball explodes off Arozarena’s bat, and it would not be a shock to see him exceed Betts’s career high of 32 home runs in a season some day. It’s also worth noting that 50 per cent of the flyballs he’s hit in 2020 have cleared the fence — a wildly unsustainable rate — so his power probably isn’t as world-beating as it looks right now. For context, since 2002, when batted ball stats started to be publicly tracked, the highest home run rate on flyballs in a full season is 39.5 percent, a feat Ryan Howard managed in his 2006 MVP season.

Where the biggest separation between these two lies isn’t raw power, it’s discipline. Betts knows the strike zone inside and out. He has no objection to taking a base and his ability to restrain himself from swinging at bad pitches also helps drive down his strikeout rate, which has been exceptional for his entire career.

In these playoffs, Betts has done a particularly good job of getting on base for his teammates, drawing nine walks against 10 strikeouts, good for a 0.90 ratio that’s even better than his career average of 0.79. Although Betts possesses good power, he has a leadoff hitter’s approach and profile.

Arozarena looks more like a typical power hitter at the dish. Although he’s not a wild hacker, there’s plenty of swing-and-miss in his game — even on pitches in the zone — which has driven up his strikeout rate. His BB/K ratio during the season was a below-average 0.27, and it sits at 0.31 during the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean he’s doomed to fall off a cliff at the plate. There are plenty of hitters who put up similar K/BB numbers in 2020 like Luke Voit (0.31), Jose Abreu (0.31), and A.J. Pollock (0.27) who had outstanding years. The issue with profiles like these is that they put a ton of pressure on a hitter’s power tool. If they’re not hitting balls over the fence, they struggle to create value offensively. Betts has hit just one home run during the playoffs, but he’s still been extremely effective for the Dodgers. It’s hard to imagine we’d be talking about Arozarena without the long balls.

Drawing a direct parallel between Arozarena and Betts was probably not a wise move on Cash’s part. The Cuban outfielder is winding down his age-25 season with 62 MLB games played between the regular season and playoffs on his resume. In Betts’s age-25 season, he won the MVP and put up 10.4 WAR. The bar is simply too high.

Even so, there’s every reason to be excited about what Arozarena is doing right now, and in the short term he may well go hit-for-hit with Betts in the World Series. That’s the kind of heater he’s on right now. Should he rise to that challenge — a proposition that got even tougher after Game 1 — it will mean that he’s had a playoff run for the ages. It won’t make him the ‘Cuban Mookie Betts’.

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Pacers hire Raps assistant Bjorkgren – TSN

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana wanted its next coach to take the franchise in a new direction.

The Pacers were seeking someone who could communicate with today’s players, who was open to a new offensive philosophy and who could win some post-season games.

On Tuesday, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard found his man in Toronto assistant Nate Bjorkgren.

“Nate is the right coach for us at the right time,” Pritchard said in a statement released by the team. “He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous.”

Terms were not immediately available though several reports said the 45-year-old Bjorkgren agreed to a multi-year deal.

He comes to Indiana after spending two seasons as an assistant on Nick Nurse’s staff in Toronto. There, Bjorkgren helped the Raptors capture their first NBA championship in 2018-19 and was part of a team that earned the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed each of the past two seasons.

He also won a G-League title while working for Nurse in 2010-11 with the Iowa Energy.

And though this will be Bjorkgren’s first head coaching job in the NBA, he went 126-74 in four seasons as a G-League head coach with the Dakota Wizards, Santa Cruz Warriors, Energy and Bakersfield Jam.

Bjorkgren is expected to be introduced Wednesday on a Zoom call.

“This is something I have prepared for during my career,” Bjorkgren said in a statement, thanking those involved in the selection process. “I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago. I’m looking forward to working with this great team to achieve our goal as NBA champions.”

Just winning some post-season games would be a start.

Despite making five straight playoff appearances, the Pacers haven’t won a series since defeating Washington 4-2 in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals. Since then, Indy is 8-20 in the playoffs and has endured three first-round sweeps the past four seasons — the franchise’s only four-game sweeps since joining the NBA in 1976.

Post-season losses aren’t the only potential obstacle facing Indiana.

Two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo returned in January after missing 12 months while rehabbing from a torn quad tendon in his right knee. Following the season’s stoppage and restart, Oladipo — worried about re-injuring his knee — announced he wouldn’t return to the court in Florida before changing his mind.

Since the Pacers’ elimination in August, speculation has centred on Oladipo’s future and whether he would remain in Indianapolis if he becomes a free agent after next season. If not, some believe he could be dealt, potentially leading to a major roster overhaul.

Bjorkgren replaces Nate McMillan, who was fired Aug. 26 just two weeks after agreeing to a contract extension through the 2021-22 season. In four seasons with Indiana, McMillan went 183-136, producing the fourth-highest victory total in franchise history. But he was just 3-16 in the post-season.

Bjorkgren, an Iowa native who played college basketball at South Dakota, left the G-League in 2015 to join the Phoenix as player development co-ordinator. He spent two seasons on the Suns staff before rejoining Nurse in Toronto.

“We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward,” Pritchard said,.

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