TORONTO – John Schneider, tell us that Alek Manoah is starting the wild-card series opener without telling us that Alek Manoah is starting the wild-card series opener.
“May have made (the decision) last night,” the interim manager, his voice a touch raspy from the previous night’s clinch party, said Saturday before a 10-0 Toronto Blue Jays pounding of the Boston Red Sox. “It’s great to have options. And we would feel really good with him on the mound in Game 1 of a wild-card series.”
Rightly so, and at this point it’s hard to fathom the Blue Jays using him on turn in next Wednesday’s regular-season finale, thereby ruling him out of the wild-card round, even if home-field advantage is on the line.
Given that Yusei Kikuchi followed the big righty with three innings and 45 pitches of relief Friday, a good platform outing ahead of a start, it certainly looks like the Japanese lefty is set up for Game 162, locking Manoah in for Oct. 7.
“You’re getting good, man,” quipped Schneider. “It definitely gives you that option. (Kikuchi) has the ability to do that. So, yeah, it definitely gives you another option, for sure.”
Options aside, a second straight beatdown of the Red Sox moved the Blue Jays (89-69) closer to rendering the whole Manoah-to-lock-up-home-field-advantage discussion moot, shrinking their magic number to four over the Seattle Mariners (87-70), who beat Oakland 5-1, and two on the Tampa Bay Rays (86-72), who were at Houston.
In some ways, the more intriguing discussion right now is about who should start in Game 2 of the wild-card round. And as is their way, the Blue Jays have left themselves options on that front, too, with both Ross Stripling and Kevin Gausman set up for the occasion.
Based on the current rotation order, Stripling, who threw six shutout innings to close out a strong regular season that was vital to the club’s success, would actually be on turn to follow Manoah in the wild-card round, with Gausman to follow.
That gives the Blue Jays the flexibility to be creative, like using Stripling in Game 2 to try and close out a series with Gausman ready to start the first game of the division series if they win the opener, or going Gausman to try and force a decisive third contest should they drop Game 1.
Back in the 2020 post-season, the Blue Jays showed they aren’t afraid to make unorthodox calls by pushing Hyun Jin Ryu back to the second game of their series against the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping Taijuan Walker to an if-necessary Game 3 for a Matt Shoemaker/Robbie Ray piggyback in the opener.
There’s peril in getting too cute during the post-season, of course, beginning with the possibility of disrupting the routines of their starters.
But a two-game sweep with Stripling starting the second game would at least give the Blue Jays a chance to optimize for the division series, with Gausman in Games 1 and 4, Manoah handling Game 2 and options on Stripling/Jose Berrios for Games 3 and 5.
If Gausman pitches Game 2 with Stripling in Game 3 to advance, Berrios ends up lined up for 1 and 5 if needed in the division series with Manoah, Gausman and Stripling in between.
A flip of the Manoah and Gausman spots in the above scenarios is also on the menu of options for the Blue Jays, all of which put an enormous amount of importance on Game 1, and underscores the importance of Stripling, whose emergence helped underpin the club’s success.
“How much he’s helped us goes unnoticed sometimes,” said Schneider. “Today was the best capper for what he’s been doing all year.”
Starting the season in the bullpen until Hyun Jin Ryu’s season-ending elbow injury, the pending free agent ended up posting career-bests in starts (24), innings (136.1), earned-run average (3.01) and WHIP (1.005). Against the Red Sox, he scattered four hits and didn’t allow anything resembling a rally.
“Mostly staying healthy, and physically, this is probably the best I’ve felt in the months of August and September, which have always been my hardest months,” Stripling said when asked what he’s happiest about. “As I approached a workload that I’ve never had before, I’m still really happy with the way I feel and to finish on a strong note like that and carry that into the post-season feels good for sure.”
The offence, meanwhile, banged out 21 hits before a Rogers Centre crowd of 44,612 and the real victory for the Red Sox is that they managed to avoid an even less flattering scoreline.
Teoscar Hernandez, who had four hits, and Danny Jansen, with three knocks, both went deep, every Blue Jays starter reached and after Bo Bichette went 4-for-4, Otto Lopez hit for him in the seventh and collected his first major-league hit, a groundball single up the middle.
On a personal level, Jansen said he’s felt calmer in big-game moments this year and believes the experience of last year’s one-game-short post-season chase has helped the team as a whole stay more even-keeled.
“When we’re at our best – that’s where we’re at,” said Jansen. “The offence can put up numbers like today and do these things. We have full trust in our bullpen and the rotation. It’s about just trying to be calm and knowing that we can do it.”
No day-after hangover for them, just another step toward the wild-card round and in sorting out their array of options and possibilities.
Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)
The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.
Tale of the Tape
|45.8% (24th)||Scoring-chances-for %||50,5% (17th)|
|2,78 (26th)||Goals per game||3,42 (9th)|
|3,39 (22nd)||Goals against per game||3,63 (7th)|
|15,7% (29th)||PP%||27,6% (5th)|
|82,3% (6th)||PK%||71,6% (27th)|
|1-1-0||H2H Record (’21-22)||1-1-0|
On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.
Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.
Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.
Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.
McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.
His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.
Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.
Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.
One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.
NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com
Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.
Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.
The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.
Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.
“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”
Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.
Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.
Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).
Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.
Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.
“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.
“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”
Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).
Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.
“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman
World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca
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