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Huge homestand looms after Blue Jays end strong road trip with loss to Rangers – Sportsnet.ca

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ARLINGTON, Texas – The front end of this season-defining stretch couldn’t have gone much better for the Toronto Blue Jays and now the challenge really ramps up with a crucial eight-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles.

A bullpen game in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Texas Rangers, capping an 8-2 road trip that solidified their hold on a wild-card spot, was all about optimizing for the looming clash with the Rays.

Jose Berrios would have been on turn for the Globe Life Field finale before a crowd of 20,984 but facing five games in four days against their arch-rivals, the Blue Jays opted to line up their top four arms for the occasion. Berrios gets the opener, followed by Alek Manoah and likely Mitch White in Tuesday’s day-night twin bill, with Ross Stripling and Kevin Gausman getting the final two games.

The Blue Jays have another hole to fill for Friday’s series opener against the Orioles, and without a viable option at triple-A another bullpen game is a possibility, with Berrios and Manoah to follow.

Time to let it ride.

“It was a great road trip,” said interim manager John Schneider. “Guys are really competing and playing well overall. I really like where we are as a group and looking forward to an exciting week at home.”

The standings remain tight going in, with the Seattle Mariners (79-61), Rays (78-60) and Blue Jays (78-61) all within a half game of one another for the three wild-card spots. The Orioles (73-67) are 5.5 games off the pace and at risk of falling out of the mix.

“Really our season is in this next two weeks with how many head-to-head games we have against the Rays and the Orioles. That’s going to be telling right there,” said Stripling. “We’ve done well as of late of playing in the moment, understanding you’ve got to take care of the Pirates, you’ve got to take care of the Rangers, beatable teams. Don’t look ahead to the Rays. Kind of did that maybe in the last game against the Cubs at Rogers Centre (a 7-5 loss Aug. 31), let that game get away, maybe looking ahead at a winnable series. But for the most part I feel like we’ve really stayed in the moment.”

A three-game sweep of the Pirates, three of four in Baltimore and two of three against the Rangers speaks to that. The Blue Jays had their chances against Martin Perez to secure one more W but couldn’t fight off both the lefty and home-plate umpire Rob Drake’s rather liberal interpretation of the strike zone deep in the heart of Texas.



Questionable calls against Matt Chapman, caught looking at 3-2 and Whit Merrifield, buried 1-2 by two sketch strikes, helped snuff out a two-on, none-out rally in the second, for instance, while Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Alejandro Kirk all ended up looking to the heavens at different points.

Any hitter to walk in this one really earned it.

“We were trying to get Perez out over the plate and he did a good job of pounding it in there. I’m sure Jonah Heim got high praise from (Rangers catching coach) Bobby Wilson on his receiving,” Schneider said in deftly diplomatic fashion. “I was impressed the guys stuck to their approach and their game plan and kept their cool and I think that’s the sign of a really good team that is kind of growing up, too.”

Just as he did a week ago against the Pirates, Trevor Richards started this one but couldn’t escape the first inning, giving up a Nathaniel Lowe RBI double and leaving the bases loaded for David Phelps, who cleverly limited the damage.

Phelps followed with two outs in the second before handing the reins over to Yusei Kikuchi, who got Corey Seager to end that frame before surrendering a two-run shot in the third to Adolis Garcia. The lefty got two more outs in the fourth but also left the bases loaded for Zach Pop, who struck out Garcia and then followed with a three-up, three-down fifth.

Julian Merryweather then threw two scoreless frames before Anthony Bass handled the eighth, giving up a solo shot to Leody Tavares.

All told, it was a solid collective effort.

“We gave our team a chance,” said Phelps. “The goal is to put up zeros, but we’ve seen what our offence can do. Even in that ninth inning there, we were a couple of swings away. I think it’s speaks to the resiliency of our club that when we’re having a bullpen day, it’s one guy after another picking each other up. We’ve talked about that for I feel like the last three or four months now, that it’s going to take 26, now 28 guys to fight for each other, lifting each other up to get where we want to go.”

Using six relievers ahead of five games in four days isn’t optimal, but part of the Blue Jays’ calculus is that Berrios, Manoah, Gausman and Stripling are reliable enough to expect six innings from, allowing them to spread the bullpen innings around. Tuesday’s doubleheader will challenge that, but that’s the situation forced upon them by their lack of rotation depth and it’s meant a heavier toll on their core four starters.

“We’ve tried to strategically get guys an extra day here or there and rotate that through the four main guys,” said Schneider. “You power through and all the games are big, especially when you get home and it’s a doubleheader mixed in there against Tampa. Hopefully we get through that and we can line up who we want with the proper rest. That’s kind of the plan right now.”

The Blue Jays are 4-6 thus far against the Rays and 6-7 against the Orioles and beyond keeping pace in the standings, tiebreaker advantages will be at stake, too. Beyond the coming week another four games in Tampa Bay loom while another three games against the division-leading New York Yankees remain and though unlikely, a run at the AL East isn’t out of the question.

“The next two series are going to be key for us,” said Teoscar Hernandez, who returned from paternity leave with two hits, including an RBI double, and a walk. “That’s going to determine if we’re going to be fighting for a playoff spot or if we’re going to be in a spot that we say, OK, we just have to play hard and try to stay in the spot we’re in.”

Still, coming on the heels of a three-city, 10-game road trip, eight games in seven days against fellow contenders will be a grind. The Blue Jays, after a 6-1 road trip to New York and Boston in late August, returned home and played one of their worst series of the season, a three-game sweep by the Los Angeles Angels.

They’ll dive into the clash with the Rays after a cross-continent flight.

“Everybody in the major leagues is tired right now,” said Chapman. “What really separates guys is how mentally tough you can be. We have high expectations but you don’t go out there and try to force yourself on the game. You let it come to you. Stay in the moment. Control what you can control and trick yourself into finding ways to get the job done.”

Added Phelps: “Every man in the clubhouse knows what this team can do. At the end of the day, we have spent the entire season in a playoff spot. We know what we’re capable of. We know what we want to do. If we can keep winning series, we’re in a really good spot.”

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Flames’ Elias Lindholm adjusting to life without old linemates – Sportsnet.ca

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CALGARY – There had to be moments this summer when Calgary Flames centre Elias Lindholm wondered if it was something he said.

After anchoring the NHL’s hottest line last season, the Swedish star watched from overseas this summer as both his linemates took turns departing the organization.

And while Flames fans rejoiced when Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were replaced by the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri, the orphaned centre knew he’d return to Calgary with plenty of unknowns surrounding his new wingers.

While the hockey world is expecting the man on his left will be Huberdeau, coach Darryl Sutter said a few weeks ago the first piece of the puzzle will be determining if the longtime Panthers playmaker fits better with Lindholm or Kadri.

Huberdeau, Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli have spent the first three days of camp together, and while all three are optimistic they’ll find chemistry together, Lindholm shrugged when asked if he’s felt it yet.

“Honestly, the drills we’re doing out there, it’s tough to create the chemistry, ” he said.

“But he’s a good player and good players are easy to play with. It’ll be kind of fun to get games going soon. And we’ll see from there.”

The trio didn’t get much going in Saturday’s scrimmage and is hoping to start the process Sunday night when the Flames host Vancouver to open the pre-season with a split-squad game.

So, what’s the key to trying to find some semblance of the magic Lindholm had with his previous pals?

“Just have fun out there, get it going and get Johnny used to the new system and stuff like that,” said Lindholm, who had a career-high 42 goals and 82 points last season.

“You can tell he’s a top player in the league, with that extra poise with the puck and making plays. He seems like a real nice guy, too. I’m excited to start with him.”

Sutter believes part of building that chemistry involves getting to know one another off the ice as well.

“It’s no different than having your friends at school – same idea,” said the coach.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the club’s summertime calamity, Lindholm was asked what he thought of losing both his wingers.

“It was a rollercoaster for sure,” he laughed.

“Obviously Johnny had an opportunity to go somewhere else and Chucky wanted a new challenge and to try something else. That’s the NHL, that’s the business part of it.

“I thought the management did a really good job to put us in a good position and have a really good team this year again.”

BIG FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The Flames have their first standout of training camp, and not just because he’s six-foot-eight and 245 pounds.

Adam Klapka picked up from where he left off at the team’s prospect camp by opening Saturday’s first red and white scrimmage with a snipe that had the dozens in attendance murmuring.

Entering the offensive zone with plenty of speed, the towering right winger stuttered the defenceman with a sweet move before roofing a snapper short side on Dustin Wolf, a netminder he has 75 pounds on.

The sequence had everyone on Team White’s bench buzzing.

“He was pretty awesome out in Penticton too — he was the best player in that camp for our group,” said Sutter of the 22-year-old Czech winger, who was signed to a two-year entry level deal this summer.

“For a big man he moves really well. Usually big guys like that, when you think of NHLers that size, a lot of times it takes two or three years for their skating to catch up with their body, and vice versa. Right now that doesn’t appear to be an issue.”
Shockingly high praise from the boss.

Klapka was signed in May after scoring six goals and adding 12 assists in 44 games for Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Republic League.

Prior to that, the undrafted Prague native spent two seasons with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.

As green as he is, no one is expecting him to challenge for an NHL roster spot this season, but his size and right shot make him an intriguing add for the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers this year.

SCRIMMAGE NOTES

The game ended 2-1, with Clark Bishop and Sonny Milano scoring for Team Red, with Cody Eakin making a nice play behind the net to set up Milano, his fellow PTO participant. Klapka’s goal was the lone marker for Team White … Goalies Dan Vladar, Oscar Dansk and Wolf rotated at both ends of the ice throughout the scrimmage, including several changes on the fly … After a full period of 5-on-5 play the two teams played a shorter second period of 4-on-4 before returning to 5-on-5 for an abbreviated third … Nikita Zadorov drew plenty of attention with his physicality, while Klapka’s goal and hands stood out in the skill department … Matthew Phillips, who is still listed at an unfathomable 140 pounds, still has the silkiest of mitts, and is a pleasure to watch with the puck … Notables who didn’t dress included Chris Tanev and Kadri, who will be used sparingly throughout camp, as well as injured Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington (absent from camp due to personal reasons). Jacob Markstrom was also given the day off … Only a smattering of fans were in the building, as the organization held a seat purchasing event for Wranglers tickets.

SATURDAY’S LINE COMBINATIONS

Team Red
Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli
Dube-Backlund-Coleman
Eakin-Zary-Milano
Sutter-Bishop-Duehr
Hanifin-Andersson
Mackey-Weegar
Poirier-Poolman

Team White
Lucic-Rooney-Ritchi
Pelletier-Ruzicka-Phillips
Pospisil-Schwindt-Lewis
McLain-Jones-Klapka
Zadorov-Meloche
Valimaki-Stone
Gilbert-DeSimone

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‘The right guy’: Blue Jays’ Manoah shuts down Rays for much-needed win – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – That Alek Manoah stepped up at a moment of need for the Toronto Blue Jays is no surprise. All he’s done since debuting May 27, 2021 is pick up his club with gutsy outing after gutsy outing, unfazed by the circumstances around him. It’s why, when asked if too much was expected of a young pitcher, John Schneider pointed out that the 24-year-old has already proven he’s up for big games.

“We have the right guy on the mound,” added the interim manager.

Hours after that pre-game comment, Manoah took the mound at the low-end outlet mall doubling as a baseball stadium that is Tropicana Field and demonstrated why, throwing up zero after zero after zero. Still, as good as he was, the ace right-hander could only prevent runs, not score them, which is why the fate of his gem hung in the balance deep into Saturday night.

That’s where Whit Merrifield, the trade deadline addition who struggled upon arrival but has warmed of late, stepped in, delivering a three-run shot in the seventh inning off Brooks Raley that carried the day in a 3-1 Blue Jays win that ended a three-game losing streak.

“That was huge, I kind of got a little light-headed there with how much I was yelling,” Manoah said of Merrifield’s decisive swing. “That’s a big-time hit right there and he’s been coming through for us the past few days. That fueled everybody to finish this one off.”

Manoah finished with seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts on a season-high 113 pitches, as the Blue Jays (85-67) moved a game up on the Rays (84-68) for top spot in the wild-card race. They’re still 1.5 games ahead of the third-place Seattle Mariners (83-68), who beat Kansas City 6-5, while an 11-10 loss by the Baltimore Orioles (79-72) to Houston cut Toronto’s magic number for clinching a playoff spot to six.

“Bulldog, man,” Merrifield said of Manoah. “Gets the ball when the team needs him, this is a big game for us coming off the loss of Philly, first two dropped here, we know that this place has given us trouble this year – it’s a big game for us. … So it was nice to do enough to get a win.”

As always at the Trop, there was late drama before a crowd of 22,169 as Tim Mayza, taking over in the eighth, allowed consecutive singles after recording the first two outs, prompting Schneider to bring in Jordan Romano.

The closer, coming off blown saves in his previous two appearances, surrendered a high chopper to Harold Ramirez that resulted in an infield single that brought home one run when Bo Bichette’s throw to first sailed high, but recovered to strike out Manuel Margot.

Romano wrapped things up with a clean ninth for his 35th save.

Merrifield’s home run was his third of the series and his emergence from an extended cold spell that coincided with his arrival to sporadic playing time comes at an opportune time. Santiago Espinal’s oblique strain, along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s continued absence, has left a void and a pathway to consistent at-bats.

He came in with hits in five of his past seven games and collected two more Saturday.

“He’s getting hot at the right time and brings a lot of other variables into your lineup with speed and versatility and things like that,” said Schneider. “I know it hadn’t been great for him the start he got off to here and not playing consistently, but he’s going to be in there and I love the way he’s swinging it right now, for sure.”

The homer followed Teoscar Hernandez’s one-out double that ended the night for Drew Rasmussen, who had been nearly as suffocating as Manoah through six. Pinch-hitter Danny Jansen then worked a walk off Raley before Merrifield dropped the hammer on a first-pitch slider.

“Jano had a great at-bat right before me, coming off the bench and working a really good at-bat to get a walk,” said Merrifield. “So I was fortunate being on deck to see all of his pitches from the side and stepped in and tried to pick up the ball early, see something I could get the barrel on and got enough of it to get it out.”

Manoah, who’d been charging up his teammates all game long, came back out for the seventh, allowed a one-out single to Miles Mastobuoni and then got Francisco Mejia on a grounder to second before inducing a soft chopper from Ji-Man Choi, that Bichette charged across second to collect and relay for the final out.

As he did, Manoah had his arms up in the air and shouted out his shortstop, just as he had for several others throughout the game.

“I don’t know if they needed it, but just from my own point of view, we were down 2-0 (Friday) at one point and it felt like we’re down five-zero,” said Manoah. “It’s a tough place to play and a good ballclub over there, so I just wanted to make sure I came in with a lot of energy and kept those guys going. They keep me going, big plays, big at-bats – that’s what fuels me. Being able to give them some fire back, it’s been amazing.”

Manoah’s previous season-high in pitches was 107, over 5.2 innings of a 4-2 loss to Baltimore Aug. 16. He’s thrown seven consecutive quality starts since, going at least seven in four of them, and was pushed in this outing after being given an extra day of rest coming in.

“I feel amazing,” said Manoah. “So for all the haters that say I’m slowing down, good luck.”

Like anyone facing him this season, they’ll need it.

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Canada look World Cup-ready in commanding win over Qatar | MLSSoccer.com – MLSsoccer.com

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