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Friday's FTB: New Year, New Leafs – Pension Plan Puppets

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In the proud tradition of New Years resolution-ers around the globe, I have decided to start 2020 by completely disregarding the failings of the previous year(s), and pretend that the goals that the Toronto Maple Leafs have for 2020 are brand new, and not at all even a little bit a retreading of their 2019 goals.

Make the playoffs? Hell yeah we’re on track to make the playoffs, and that definitely was not something that we were deeply worried about for a significant potion of the fall!

Facing the Bruins in the first round? First time we’ve ever discussed it! A brand new and not at all nauseating possibility! Zero history there to even begin to think about!

Sign all of our players to great value contracts? I mean, did you see the Holl signing?!

Execute a killer powerplay? For sure bud, the Leafs powerplay is sitting at 23.89%, fifth in the league! Successful from the start! No bumps along the way!

And of course all of this with our fearless head coach Sheldon Keefe in charge, just as he always has been!

ICYMI

Falling behind on the Marlies? Don’t worry, we’ve got you, with a recap of their last three games from Hardev Lad:

Report card time!

January always feels like a good time to take a look back at how players on the Leafs performed over the first half of the season. From the reasonable to the comical, here’s who’s handed out grades (and superlatives) so far:

Offside Toronto:

The Toronto Sun:

The Athletic:

And if you’d prefer to know what a random selection of people on twitter think, twitter user @rahef_issa has the results of her annual polling of the people:

Elsewhere

CBS Sports has the Leafs rising four spots in their power rankings – and also took the opportunity to suggest New Years resolutions for every team:

An inside look at what the Leafs get up to on road trips:

Kristen Shilton breaks down Keefe’s recent experimentations with the Leafs’ lines:

And finally…

The best goals of December to enjoy alongside your morning coffee:

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Happy Friday everyone! Vote for Mitch as the last man in for the Atlantic Division for the 2020 All-Star Weekend!

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Mirtle: Ilya Mikheyev is signed. What that means for the Maple Leafs and the cap – The Athletic

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That picture at the top of this story is interesting.

That’s Ilya Mikheyev sitting between Alexander Burkov and Alexander Krylov a few weeks ago at a KHL game in Balashikha Arena. Burkov is the governor of Omsk region, a heavy hitter in Mikheyev’s hometown. And Krylov is the owner of Avangard Omsk, Mikheyev’s former KHL team, where he was a superstar until the Leafs signed him away last spring.

The pressure on Mikheyev to go back home, to star for his former team again, was immense. The team wanted him, and it lobbied for that over the past little while. The pay would have been substantial — likely several times the two-year, $1.645 million a season deal he signed with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, avoiding arbitration.

That, more than anything, speaks to Mikheyev’s mindset here.

It explains why he filed for arbitration, even though doing so meant locking in at a relatively low salary for two more years.

It…

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World Series Takeaways: Betts proves he’s an offensive threat in Game 1 – Sportsnet.ca

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If only it were always this easy. The Dodgers’ best starter pitched like an ace and their best position player looked like an MVP.

As for the Rays, their flamethrower struggled to throw strikes and their breakout post-season star was held hitless.

After an 8-3 win over the Rays, the Dodgers now hold a 1-0 World Series lead. Here are some takeaways from the series opener…

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

Not bad for a guy who can’t pitch in the playoffs

Three batters into Game 1, Clayton Kershaw found himself in a precarious position. Thanks to a Yandy Diaz single and a walk to Randy Arozarena, the Rays had two on with just one out against a pitcher who has often struggled in October.

But Kershaw escaped the first with a strikeout and a groundout, and from that point on he looked like the guy who posted a 2.16 ERA this season. After some early troubles commanding his slider, that pitch became a weapon for Kershaw, who used it to induce 11 swinging strikes. Those whiffs contributed to eight strikeouts for Kershaw and the only run he allowed came on a Kevin Kiermaier solo homer.

Inning by inning, Kershaw pushed back against the notion that he’s ineffective in October. More importantly, his team’s now three wins away from winning it all. And after throwing just 78 pitches in Game 1, he should be well rested for his next appearance.

Betts at his best

To this point in the post-season, Mookie Betts‘ most memorable contributions have come with the glove. He’s been hitting well enough – .311/.407/.444 through 12 games – but nothing he’s done at the plate compares to the series of memorable catches he made in the NLCS.

On Tuesday, Betts showed off the rest of his skillset. With the Dodgers leading 2-0, he led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a walk before stealing second and third. Then, when Max Muncy hit a grounder to first, Betts broke for the plate, challenging Diaz’s arm and narrowly beating the throw.

The very next inning, Betts led off again, this time with his first home run of the post-season. In the span of those two at-bats, the 28-year-old showed why he’s such a dynamic offensive threat.

It’s because of that ability that the Dodgers acquired him from Boston and promptly signed him to a 12-year extension last off-season. The Red Sox may have payroll flexibility, but the Dodgers have one of the game’s best players and he’s doing it all when it counts the most.

A study in depth

The best teams have stars, of course. But as the Dodgers and Rays can both attest, depth is just as important as star power. In Game 1 of the World Series, it was the Dodgers who showcased their depth in especially memorable fashion.

Consider these examples and decide for yourself which one is most remarkable:

AJ Pollock, who tied Betts for the team lead with 16 home runs this season, was not in the starting lineup. Sure, he had an .881 OPS during the regular season, and would be hitting toward the top of most batting orders, but for the Dodgers that’s not quite enough to crack the starting nine.

Kike Hernandez, who has a lifetime .820 OPS against lefties, is perhaps most valuable when he doesn’t start. On days he’s available off the bench, manager Dave Roberts just has to wait for a left-handed reliever to enter the game before deploying Hernandez. On Tuesday, that led to a pinch-hit RBI single for Hernandez against Ryan Yarbrough.

Cody Bellinger, who won the MVP last year and hit a game-winning home run in the Dodgers’ most recent game, was batting sixth in Roberts’ lineup. Again, just so many elite hitters to choose from. And again, Bellinger homered. Only this time he celebrated more cautiously after dislocating his shoulder in the series clincher over Atlanta.

A rough debut for Glasnow

Sometimes, the Rays are accused of tinkering too much with their pitching staff. Rarely do they veer far in the other direction.

Yet in Game 1 on Tuesday, Rays manager Kevin Cash showed plenty of faith in Tyler Glasnow, sticking with him for 112 pitches – the most by any Rays pitcher in more than two years. This time, despite a blazing fastball that helped the 27-year-old generate eight strikeouts, he struggled. The patient Dodgers lineup worked six walks against Glasnow on their way to six earned runs in just 4.1 innings.

Next time around, Cash won’t leave him out there as long, but the Rays will need Glasnow again if they’re going to rebound from this loss and win the series.

Keeping the powder dry for Game 2

It took five games out of a possible five for the Rays to beat the Yankees and seven games out of a possible seven for them to beat the Astros. To say the last couple of weeks have taxed their bullpen heavily would be an understatement.

With that in mind, there’s a potential silver lining to the Game 1 loss for Tampa Bay. Because the Dodgers took a big lead early, Cash didn’t use Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson or Pete Fairbanks, which means all three are candidates to pitch in Game 2 when Blake Snell’s slated to start.

Of course the same logic holds true for the Dodgers, as Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen all got the night off too.

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Betts, Bellinger power Dodgers to Game 1 win over Rays in World Series – Sportsnet.ca

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts — the Los Angeles Dodgers stars all shined.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, even if the setting was surreal.

Baseball’s best team during the pandemic-shortened season showed off its many talents in the first World Series game played at a neutral site, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 8-3 Tuesday night.

With the seats mostly empty, Kershaw dominated for six innings, Bellinger and Betts homered and the Dodgers chased a wild Tyler Glasnow in the fifth inning and coasted home in the opener.

A crowd limited by the coronavirus to 11,388 at Globe Life Field, the new $1.2 billion home of the Texas Rangers, marked the smallest for baseball’s top event in 111 years.

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

Los Angeles hopes to go home with a title that has eluded the Dodgers since 1988 but tried to guard against focusing ahead.

“It’s hard not to think about winning. It’s hard not to think about what that might be like,” Kershaw said. “Constantly keep putting that in your brain: tomorrow, win tomorrow, win tomorrow, win tomorrow. And then you do that three more times, and you can think about it all you want.”

A regular season star with an erratic post-season history, Kershaw looked like the ace who so often stars on midsummer evenings with the San Gabriel Mountains behind him at Dodger Stadium. With these games shifted, the 32-year-old left-hander wound up pitching not far from his off-season home in Dallas.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner allowed one run and two hits, struck out eight and walked one. He induced 19 swings and misses among his 78 pitches — more than his three previous Series starts combined.

“You can appreciate and totally see why he’s heading to the Hall of Fame one day whenever he’s done,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Kershaw threw nine balls in the first, when he stranded a pair of runners, then threw just nine more over the next three innings.

“He had a game plan to try to really quiet down things from there and he executed,” said Kevin Kiermaier, who ended Kershaw’s streak of 13 retired in a row with a fifth-inning homer on a hanging slider that cut the Rays’ deficit to 2-1.

Kershaw, a five-time ERA champ, improved to 2-2 in the World Series and 12-12 in post-season play, a shadow of his 175-76 regular season record. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did not pitch him after Game 4 of the NL Championship Series last Thursday.

“I think we were going to stay away from him in Game 7 just for this particular reason,” Roberts said.

Game 2 is Wednesday night. The Dodgers, who posted the best record in the majors during the shortened season and showed off all their stars in Game 1, plan to throw a collection of pitchers started by Tony Gonsolin against Rays ace Blake Snell.

Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP who began the opener with a career .114 batting average in 12 World Series games, had put the Dodgers ahead in the fourth with a two-run homer off Glasnow, having no trouble driving a 98 mph pitch into the Dodgers bullpen in right-centre.

Bellinger, whose seventh-inning homer put the Dodgers ahead in Game 7 of the NL Championship on Sunday, shuffled his feet, tapping gently as he crossed the plate and celebrated by toe tapping teammates while dancing back to the dugout, a sign he remembered popping his right shoulder during raucous revelry two nights earlier.

Bellinger capped his evening by leaping at the 6-foot centre field wall in the ninth, robbing Austin Meadows of a possible home run.

“I said it today before the game: If I hit one I’m not touching anybody’s arm,” Bellinger said. “I’m going straight foot, and it was pretty funny.”

Betts, brilliant throughout October but slumping at the plate, added his first post-season homer for the Dodgers, an opposite-field solo shot to right in the sixth off Josh Fleming.

Betts had two hits, scored two runs and stole two bases in the four-run fifth, when Corey Seager swiped one as Los Angeles became the first team to steal three bases in a Series inning since the 1912 New York Giants in Game 5 against Boston.

“That’s a weak spot of my game, holding runners,” Glasnow said. “Has to be something I focus on more in the future. “

Betts became the first player to hit a home run, steal two bases and scored twice in a Series game.

“Stolen bases are a thing for me. That’s how I create runs and create havoc on the basepaths,” he said.

Los Angeles is in the Series for the third time in four years but seeking its first title since the Kirk Gibson- and Orel Hershiser-led team of 32 years ago. Coming off an unusual LCS of games on seven straight days, the Dodgers planned an all-bullpen outing for the next game.

Tampa Bay was held to six hits. Its only previous Series was a five-game loss to Philadelphia in 2008.

Glasnow was chased after 4 1/3 innings with an ominous pitching line that included three hits, six runs, six walks and eight strikeouts. He threw a career-high 112 pitches and became the first to walk six or more in a series game since Edwin Jackson of St. Louis in Game 4 of 2011. Glasnow went to three-ball counts on 12 of 23 batters.

Los Angeles expanded its lead to 4-1 in the fifth, when Cash left Glasnow in to face left-handed-hitting Max Muncy with runners at the corners. Muncy hit a one-hopper to first baseman Yandy Diaz with the infield in, and Betts beat a strong but slightly offline throw with a headfirst slide past catcher Mike Zunino.

Will Smith finished Glasnow with an RBI single, and Chris Taylor and pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez followed with run-scoring singles off Ryan Yarbrough for a 6-1 lead.

Justin Turner and Max Muncy doubled on consecutive pitches in the sixth.

Pinch-hitter Mike Brosseau and Kiermaier singled in runs in the seventh against Victor Gonzalez, who snagged Zunino’s line drive and doubled Brosseau off second base for an inning-ending double play.

After a regular season played without fans, MLB resumed selling tickets with a limited amount for the NLCS at Globe Life and kept that up by allowing about 28% of capacity to be filled at the 40,518-seat ballpark, where the roof was open. The crowd was widely dispersed throughout and was the smallest for the Series since 10,535 attended Game 6 between the Pirates and Tigers at Detroit’s Bennett Park in 1909, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

An overwhelming majority of fans wore Dodger blue.

“They’re everywhere. They always come out,” Kershaw said. “And so for as much as a game as we would have liked it to have been at Dodger Stadium and the 56,000 chanting, after everything that’s gone on this season, to have 10-, 11,000 people in the stands and a good bit of them being Dodger fans is pretty cool.”

WHIFFING

Kershaw raised his career post-season total to 201 strikeouts, passing John Smoltz (199) for second behind Justin Verlander’s 205.

UP NEXT

Snell lost Game 6 against Houston on Friday, throwing 42 pitches over two innings. The Dodgers said they were headed to an empty-the-bullpen game rather than use Walker Buehler on three days’ rest.

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