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Scott Mitchell: Dissecting optimal lineup configuration options the Blue Jays could use this season – TSN

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TORONTO — Over the course of a long, 162-game schedule, a team being able to field its optimal lineup is going to happen a lot less than we initially expect at the outset of the season when everything is rosy.

Injuries happen, players disappoint, and things change quickly.

With playing it safe when it comes to George Springer’s Grade 2 oblique strain the likely scenario, the Toronto Blue Jays may not even have theirs in place on opening day.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll ignore the fact that the $150-million man may not be available for the first few games and instead keep things big picture heading into Thursday’s matinee against the New York Yankees, the clear favourite to claim the American League East pennant this season.

Let’s break the lineup down into thirds and take a look at the options manager Charlie Montoyo has at his disposal this season.

1. CF George Springer (R)
2. 3B Cavan Biggio (L)
3. SS Bo Bichette (R)

If paying attention to Grapefruit League lineups was your thing, it became quite apparent which way Montoyo is leaning when it comes to the top of his stacked lineup.

Springer at the top, followed by Marcus Semien, the other high-profile veteran addition this off-season.

Despite that being Montoyo’s early lean, that’s not the configuration I’m going to call optimal.

That doesn’t mean having Semien in the No. 2 hole is wrong when he’s wielding a hot bat, but it’s a right-handed-heavy lineup and Cavan Biggio’s lefty bat and extreme on-base profile make him an intriguing wedge between Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette.

On days Springer hasn’t been available, Semien has usually been installed atop the lineup, which is the likely look Montoyo uses against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to begin the season.

It’s clear Semien is going to hit high in the order more often than not at the outset, giving Montoyo four chess pieces to move around early on.

There’s also a good chance we’ll see lineups with Bichette hitting second at some point, pushing one of Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. into the three-hole.

That’ll work, too, and that might be the correct analytically-driven lineup.

4. RF Teoscar Hernandez (R)
5. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
6. LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)

Behind those top-of-the-order options, Montoyo seems to have settled on Hernandez in the cleanup spot, which makes sense given his 2020 production and the 42 homers he’s bashed over his last 671 plate appearances.

If Hernandez continues that, he could be in line for a monster run-producing season and the first 100-RBI campaign for the Jays since Edwin Encarnacion drove in 127 in 2016.

This is the area where the Jays could get really scary as an offence if Hernandez, Vladdy Jr. and Gurriel Jr. all get hot at the same time and enjoy the type of full seasons that many expect.

All three have shown the ability to go on extreme heaters and Montoyo should probably consider moving them up into the No. 3 spot, pushing Bichette to the two-hole, when they catch fire.

7. 2B Marcus Semien (R)
8. DH Rowdy Tellez (L)/Randal Grichuk (R)
9. C Danny Jansen (R)

Whether it’s Semien or Biggio in the No. 7 spot, this lineup has more depth than Jays fans have seen since 2015.

While Semien will take his walks, his career on-base percentage sits at just .322, compared to Biggio’s .368 mark over his first two seasons.

But in handing Semien $18 million to play second base this season, the Jays are clearly chasing his 2019 slash line of .285/.369/.522, an MVP-calibre season that also produced 33 homers and 10 steals.

If that’s the version of Semien the Jays have on their hands, he’ll stick in that No. 2 spot on most days. He’ll definitely be there when a lefty is on the mound.

For what it’s worth, the difference between the No. 2 and No. 7 lineup spots over the course of a full, healthy season is about 69 plate appearances (586 vs. 517).

After looking at seven close-to-every-day players in the first seven spots, Rowdy Tellez and Randal Grichuk will pick up DH, first base and right field at-bats at their respective positions.

Tellez will get an opportunity to face right-handed pitching early in the season, but the big first baseman will need to show his mini 2020 breakout was real in order to stay in the lineup on a consistent basis.

In other words, the leash isn’t long if the numbers aren’t there in May or June and there’s a scenario where Hernandez is getting DH at-bats and Grichuk is in right field on many days.

At the bottom of the lineup, Jansen is a glove-over-bat play, but Alejandro Kirk looms and is clearly the superior offensive option, one that could lengthen this lineup even further when his name is pencilled in.

BENCH

Tellez or Grichuk
C Alejandro Kirk (R)
2B/3B Joe Panik (L)
OF Jonathan Davis (R)

This bench configuration, one that may be in flux all season long with Davis having a minor-league option remaining, has a little bit of everything.

With Semien around, he’s now the primary backup to Bichette at shortstop — and a very good one — which will allow Panik to slide in at second base and the hot corner on occasion.

Kirk will play a late-game pinch-hitting role, while Davis profiles as a late-game speed-and-defence option for Montoyo to turn to.

The two key Triple-A depth chart names to remember are infielder Santiago Espinal and corner outfielder Josh Palacios, who will both see time this season when injuries strike.​

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Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just misses podium after gruelling 234-km ride – CBC.ca

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In a race that lasted nearly six hours and traversed more than 200 kilometres, in the end it came down to a matter of inches for Canadian cyclist Michael Woods.

With Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz capturing gold, Woods was among a group of five riders who were in a flat sprint over the final 100 metres, jockeying for silver and bronze. With a few metres to go, Woods appeared to get boxed out by two other riders, ultimately finishing fifth and missing out on a medal by less than a second.

“I am really happy with how I rode but just off the podium which was my big goal,” Woods told CBC Sports after the race. “I tried to get some separation as much as I could but it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Woods final time was six hours, six minutes and 33 seconds, 1.07 behind Carapaz.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert captured silver. Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar took the bronze.

Woods overcame gruelling conditions, on what riders called the toughest Olympic course ever, to be in contention at the finish.

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The 34-year-old was barely mentioned during this race before, like a coiled spring, thrusting himself into the top group with about 30 kilometres left of the 234-kilometre race.

Coming into this race, the Toronto native and Ottawa resident said the brutal course, full of deadly climbs, “really suited him.”  He was right.

“I thought I was the strongest climber today, but I had to roll the dice [and] it didn’t play out as I’d hoped,” Woods said.

“I really didn’t want it to come down to a sprint. I tried to attack several times and I wanted to get away like Carapaz did, but I just wasn’t as lucky as him and able make the move that he did.”

This race had an Olympic feel that’s been lacking here in Tokyo as for the first time athletes had a crowd cheering them on. Thousands of fans welcomed the riders as they entered the Fuji Motor Speedway two hours from Tokyo, where the race finished. Riders also received strong encouragement from locals who lined parts of the course as the race snaked through the mountains, where COVID-19 protocols aren’t as restrictive as in Tokyo.

A pack of riders goes past Yamanaka Lake during the men’s cycling road race on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

While countries like Italy and Belgium and France had five riders who were able to control the pace throughout the race before launching waves of co-ordinated attacks, Woods did much of the work on his own.

About 80 kilometres into the race, it appeared that Woods might have been involved in a crash that sidelined a pair of British riders, but he escaped contact. He did have to drop back from the pack momentarily as he appeared to have issues with one of his shoes before getting a fresh pair from his team car.

With the iconic Mount Fuji looming over many parts of the course, the 130-rider field had to navigate a series of five gruelling climbs adding up to nearly 5,000 metres, a more arduous challenge than even the most difficult mountain stages at the Tour de France.

As one commentator put it: add in the humidity and it will feel like they are climbing Mount Everest.

The toughest challenge of this race came near the end, after nearly 200 kilometres of racing, called the Mikuni Pass, the steepest climb in cycling.

Woods said before the race that the steep ascents made it a “good course for him.”

“It is a really challenging climb, really steep, but it really suits my skill set. I think with the heat, particularly with the amount of climbing in this race, it really does suit my abilities,” Woods told CBC Sports.

WATCH | The Olympians: Mike Woods

Watch CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature, on Mike Woods. 3:06

Beyond the brutal climbs, riders also had to endure the searing heat. Early this month, Woods actually decided to leave the Tour de France early so he could come to the Olympics early to help acclimate himself to the heat.

“I did three hours in the peak heat of the day, sweating profusely, and I was really happy that I got that in. I think I need a couple more days of that heat exposure and I think I’ll be good in terms of actual race day preparation,” Woods said.

The Olympic road race is usually held on a circuit, but at these Games, riders began at Tokyo’s Musashinonomori Park then passed through Kanagawa and Yamanashi Prefectures before finishing at the Fuji International Speedway. As riders wound their way through the Japanese countryside, they were treated to small slices of Japanese culture, including ancient temples and ornate fountains.

Just two weeks ago, Woods was involved in a crash at the Tour de France, where he suffered a severe road rash. But coming into these Games, Wood said he felt healthy and in great spirits.

Back home, his wife Elly is just about to have a baby boy. Despite changes coming at home and a career that has now included two Olympics, in the moments after this narrow defeat, Woods said that you may see him in Paris, the site of 2024 Olympics.

“We will have to see what the course in Paris is like,” he said. “I will be 38 at the next Olympics, So it’s difficult to say. But this has me all the more motivated and if the course in Paris is challenging, I will be there I think.”

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Canadian medal hopefuls Humana-Paredes, Pavan start beach volleyball with easy win – CBC.ca

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Under a scorching sun, brilliant blue sky and temperatures that soared above 38 degrees Celsius at the Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Canada’s dynamic beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes wasted no time taking it to their Dutch opponents. 

The No. 1-ranked and defending world champions took a few minutes to get their footing in the golden sand at the venue, but when they did, they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Netherlands duo of Katja Stam and Raisa School in straight sets (21-16, 21-14) on Saturday to open their Olympics. 

“I think today we made it clear that everything we’ve been working on has paid off,” Pavan said after the victory. “The three times we’ve played that team it’s gone down to the wire. Today we took care of it.”

The duo fell behind early to the Dutch, trailing 5-2 in the first set and looking somewhat frustrated. But after an end change Canada rallied, stringing together four straight points, the fourth a huge Pavan block at the net, to take a 6-5 lead.

She pumped her fist in the air before sharing a high-five with Humana-Paredes.

“Regardless of the empty stadium I was shaking like a leaf,” Humana-Paredes said. “I was so nervous and so excited and put on a brave face.”

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The team talked about needing to feed off one another’s energy on the court because they normally thrive on the crowd. So any chance they get to ignite one another here at the Olympics, they take full advantage of it. 

Thousands of blue seats around the venue sat empty because of COVID restrictions — a similar scene at every Olympic venue in Tokyo, still in a state of emergency.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win opener in straight sets:

Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan opened their Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball campaign with a straight-sets (21-16, 21-14) win over the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa School. 5:34

The Canadians started to pull away slowly from the Dutch. Pavan’s 6-foot-5 frame was a huge advantage at the net, blocking another Dutch smash to make the score 14-10. 

The Dutch were visibly frustrated by Pavan’s daunting presence at the net and started making unforced errors. The Canadian duo then cruised to a 21-16 opening-set victory.

“We came out a little slow just getting used to the environment, nerves, excitement, everything. We settled in pretty quickly,” Pavan said. 

The Dutch weren’t about to go away too easily in the second set, going shot for shot with the Canadians. Canada mounted a 12-9 lead before a technical timeout for crews to rake the sand court.

Humana-Paredes then took her defensive game to a different level and at times was seemingly all over the court, digging up balls that seemed destined to touch sand. 

Pavan’s presence at the net continually frustrated the Canadians’ Dutch opponents. (AFP via Getty Images)

The experience, poise and power of the Canadians proved to be too much for the Dutch duo. Pavan and Humana-Paredes finished off the match winning the second set, 21-14. 

“Our game plan was on point. We executed our serving game very well and our defensive system. We were very prepared,” Pavan said. 

She finished with four block points and 11 attack points. 

One of the key strengths to Humana-Paredes and Pavan’s game is their ability to communicate. Because of the silent venue their strategy could be heard very clearly throughout the venue. They were constantly talking to one another and sharing information to each other and it slowly wore down the Dutch. 

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes headed for history:

On this week’s episode of Team Canada Today, we go behind the scenes at training while Andi Petrillo tells you all you need to know about Olympic beach volleyball. 7:57

“That’s something we’ve been working on and it’s a cornerstone of our team,” Humana-Paredes said. “Our communication on and off the court, we put so much work into that. Communication is what we always come back to.”

Pavan and Humana-Paredes now take on Germany in their second match of the tournament in Pool A. 

There are 24 teams competing at the women’s beach volleyball tournament, including another Canadian duo made up of Heather Barnsley and Brandie Wilkerson. They play China in their first game on Saturday night in Tokyo. 

There are six groups made up of four teams. The top two teams from each group advance, with four more joining them in the round of 16. Then that gets trimmed down to eight teams, four teams and then the gold medal game. 

That’s the game Pavan and Humana-Paredes are targeting and are off to a perfect start. 

“It’s such an honour to be here and surreal. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl. I just want to soak it all in.”

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Coyotes trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland to Canucks – Arizona Sports

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes traded captain and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Vancouver Canucks, as well as forward Conor Garland, the team announced Friday.

Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro first reported talks of the deal.

In return, the Coyotes will get forwards Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft that was used to select Dylan Guenther. Arizona also receives a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 seventh-round selection.

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Oliver for everything that he has done for the Coyotes the past 10 years,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said in a press release. “He is a tremendous player and person and we wish him and Conor the best of luck in the future.

“We are very pleased to acquire the ninth overall draft choice in this year’s NHL Draft along with Loui, Antoine and Jay. Loui and Jay are both Stanley Cup champions and along with Antoine, they are all solid veterans who will provide us with great leadership and experience.”

Ekman-Larsson, 30, has spent the entirety of his NHL career with the Coyotes after being selected sixth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. The defenseman has 128 goals and 260 points over his Arizona career, for a total of 388 points.

Last season, Ekman-Larsson recorded three goals and 21 assists in 46 games. He has been the captain of the team for the last three seasons.

The Coyotes signed Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million extension in the summer of 2018, a deal that has six more seasons left on it for $8.25 million each year. According to Gambadoro, Arizona will pay for roughly $1.2 million of that salary each of the next six years.

The 25-year-old Garland has been one of the Coyotes’ primary goal scorers in the previous two seasons. The winger had a team-high 22 goals in the 2019-20 season and 12 last season.

Garland is a restricted free agent this offseason.

Beagle, 35, had five points in 30 games last season while the 31-year-old Roussel contributed four points in 35 games. Lastly, the 36-year-old Eriksson played in only seven games.

Roussel is on an expiring deal worth $3 million next year, as are Beagle ($3 million) and Eriksson ($6 million).

The 2021 NHL Draft takes place on Friday.

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