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SIMMONS: Blue Jays needed to sign Hyun-Jin Ryu to let baseball know they're back in the game – Toronto Sun

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Hyun-Jin Ryu is huge.

As in heavier than David Wells. As in 75 pounds more than Marcus Stroman. Huge, as in the largest signing and most significant gamble made by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the previous baseball twins of do-nothing and say-nothing, who suddenly have something to say and sell and something to be proud about.

Ryu is a giant from South Korea who doesn’t just pitch. He conducts the orchestra. He controls the environment. He throws what some baseball people call the best changeup in the game.

He doesn’t walk people. He doesn’t give anything away. He’s the ace the Blue Jays haven’t had since that moment in time when Aaron Sanchez led the American League in earned-run average. Ryu led the National League in the same category this past season, which at the age of 32 was his healthiest, strongest, and most complete big-league season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. wanted him back, but he opted not to return after the Blue Jays dangled $80-million U.S. at him.

There were other teams chasing Ryu. The Los Angeles Angels had interest, as did the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.

And this is where Shapiro and Atkins need to be congratulated: They beat somebody to the finish line. Finally. They weren’t just chasers of Ryu. They won the gold medal in this race.

Being in the race is meaningless off-season talk, especially around here. We’ve heard too much of it over the years. Who cares who is chasing whom? Winning the race — getting your man — that’s all that matters, an indication to Blue Jays fans that they are at least serious about becoming competitive.

Before this signing, with all the garage-sale junk the Jays have accumulated in recent years, it was hard to take Shapiro and Atkins all that seriously. It was hard to believe they weren’t doing anything but paddling in circles.

The Ryu signing may not be a ticket to the post-season, but it is an indication of the credibility of management. This signing paints the Blue Jays as players. This signing brings a certain respect we haven’t seen since 2015. Not unlike the Russell Martin signing in Toronto, this is an overpay, a Lou Lamoriello signing — to use his terminology, too much money, too much term. But to get free agents to come to Toronto, at this time in Blue Jays history, to get them as the Jays languish near the bottom of the American League, they have to overpay and oversell.

And they have done that here.

Ryu,  by the way, is not a sure thing. No free agent ever is. But here’s what we’ve been able to find out about him. He’s considered both a good guy and good pitcher, and he was very popular with Dodgers players and management.

What some wonder about now is the adjustment he will have to make from pitching at Dodger Stadium to pitching at Rogers Centre.

It’s not just National League to American League. The free outs are gone with the switch of leagues. The earned-run average always goes up with that kind of move.

It’s throwing in a pitcher-friendly stadium to throwing at the home-run haven we have in downtown Toronto that will represent a challenge for Ryu.

At home, last season, Ryu was 10-1 with an earned-run average of 1.93. On the road, his ERA rose to 2.72.

He started 29 games: The Dodgers won 20 of them and he ended the season with 182 innings pitched, the most he had thrown since he was a rookie. And the question with Ryu has always been about health. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, he made just 40 starts. In three of his six big-league seasons, he pitched from beginning to end. In between, he couldn’t be relied upon.

One of the two National League scouting eyes I talked to about Ryu said he can really pitch, he really challenges hitters and, in his words, he called him “legit.” But then he listed three words as his cons: Durability, durability and durability.

Was 2019 an indication that he’s gotten past his arm and shoulder troubles.

“How healthy is he doing to be? How many innings is he going to log?” He meant this season and the years that follow.

We don’t care how much it cost to sign him. It’s not our money. We care that Rogers and Atkins and Shapiro are finally using the necessary money to enhance the Blue Jays’ roster and reputation, both of which are in need of some repair.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is not the saviour of anything that doesn’t happen every fifth day during the upcoming season. But he’s a message that Toronto can be a destination. He’s the front end of an improving starting staff on an improving team.

Finally, the Blue Jays stopped chasing, stopped stalling, started spending and came home with a giant-sized, left-handed gift for the holidays.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

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Manitoba's Gunnlaugson moves into first place at Brier – TSN

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CALGARY — Only two unbeaten teams remain in the 18-team field at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Pool leaders Kevin Koe of Wild Card Two and Jason Gunnlaugson of Manitoba remained perfect on Monday. But there were some unexpected team placements below them in the standings as the preliminary round reached the midway point.

New Brunswick’s James Grattan, Wild Card Three’s Wayne Middaugh and Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald have all enjoyed solid starts while Canada’s Brad Gushue, Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs have work to do to make the cut.

It’s shaping up to be a rather interesting midweek stretch at the WinSport Arena.

Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A after an 8-5 victory over McEwen to improve to 3-0.

“It’s a good start but it’s a long, long week,” Gunnlaugson said.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Middaugh 5-3 and Grattan edged Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end. That left Alberta and New Brunswick even at 3-1 while Middaugh fell into fourth place at 2-1.

Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end when Middaugh was light on his draw.

“It’s early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Bottcher said. “You need to win them while you can.

“We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W.”

In the other afternoon game, British Columbia’s Steve Laycock dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2.

Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.

“It’s hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team,” said Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. “Everything is so planned out and when he’s hitting well, it’s very hard to stop us.”

Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were tied in fifth place at 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2. The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.

In Pool B, Koe dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 11-3 and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone made a draw for a piece of the button in a 6-5 win over Gushue.

“A great team shot,” Dunstone said. “To do it at the Brier against Team Canada is a great moment for us. Hopefully we carry this momentum moving forward.”

Koe was 5-0 while Dunstone moved into a second-place tie at 3-1 with idle Ontario skip John Epping.

Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald made a brilliant triple takeout in the 10th end of a 9-6 win over Quebec’s Michael Fournier that left both teams at 3-2.

“You live to make big shots to win games,” McDonald said. “We made a couple big ones today and we’re really happy to pull out the victory.”

Gushue, who has won the Brier in three of the last four years, was alone in sixth place at 2-2.

Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-4) earned his first victory with an 11-7 win over P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie, who remained in last place with Nunavut at 0-4.

The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.

The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men’s curling championship next month at the same venue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

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Alberta's Bottcher hands Wild Card Three's Middaugh his first loss at the Brier – TSN

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CALGARY — Only two unbeaten teams remain in the 18-team field at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Pool leaders Kevin Koe of Wild Card Two and Jason Gunnlaugson of Manitoba remained perfect on Monday. But there were some unexpected team placements below them in the standings as the preliminary round reached the midway point.

New Brunswick’s James Grattan, Wild Card Three’s Wayne Middaugh and Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald have all enjoyed solid starts while Canada’s Brad Gushue, Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs have work to do to make the cut.

It’s shaping up to be a rather interesting midweek stretch at the WinSport Arena.

Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A after an 8-5 victory over McEwen to improve to 3-0.

“It’s a good start but it’s a long, long week,” Gunnlaugson said.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Middaugh 5-3 and Grattan edged Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end. That left Alberta and New Brunswick even at 3-1 while Middaugh fell into fourth place at 2-1.

Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end when Middaugh was light on his draw.

“It’s early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Bottcher said. “You need to win them while you can.

“We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W.”

In the other afternoon game, British Columbia’s Steve Laycock dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2.

Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.

“It’s hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team,” said Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. “Everything is so planned out and when he’s hitting well, it’s very hard to stop us.”

Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were tied in fifth place at 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2. The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.

In Pool B, Koe dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 11-3 and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone made a draw for a piece of the button in a 6-5 win over Gushue.

“A great team shot,” Dunstone said. “To do it at the Brier against Team Canada is a great moment for us. Hopefully we carry this momentum moving forward.”

Koe was 5-0 while Dunstone moved into a second-place tie at 3-1 with idle Ontario skip John Epping.

Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald made a brilliant triple takeout in the 10th end of a 9-6 win over Quebec’s Michael Fournier that left both teams at 3-2.

“You live to make big shots to win games,” McDonald said. “We made a couple big ones today and we’re really happy to pull out the victory.”

Gushue, who has won the Brier in three of the last four years, was alone in sixth place at 2-2.

Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-4) earned his first victory with an 11-7 win over P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie, who remained in last place with Nunavut at 0-4.

The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.

The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men’s curling championship next month at the same venue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

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Player grades: Adam Larsson leads Edmonton Oilers with stifling defence in 3-2 over Ottawa Senators – Edmonton Journal

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The Edmonton Oilers came out in iffy fashion, with goalie Mikko Koskinen letting in a nothing shot, but the team battled back.

The Oilers got an outstanding defensive effort from most players, Adam Larsson in particular, and thwarted the Ottawa Senators and most every turn in a 3-2 win, a score that flattered the Sens somewhat.

Edmonton had more Grade A chances in the second period, 10, than they had in any one game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in three losses.

Overall, the Grade A chances were 15 for Edmonton, and just six for Ottawa (running count).

Connor McDavid, 7. The power line had its moments, including a thrilling McDavid breakaway in the third. It was his ninth breakaway chance of the year. After a solid first period, McD also took a Draisaitl pass hard to the net on the power play early in the second. He made a swift pass to send Alex Chiasson in on his goal, his second assist of the game. Overall his Power Line out-shot the Sens 16 to 8 at even strength. McDavid made six major contributions to Grade A chances in the game, which is about his average on the season.

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Leon Draisaitl, 7. He and McDavid threatened to score all game. He made a gorgeous backhand pass to free McDavid for a rush in the first. Beat Joey Daccord with a sniper’s snipetty snipe snipe in the second, where the puck was on and off his stick in a tick. He did some great forechecking when Ottawa had pulled its goalie but missed a near open net shot.

Kailer Yamamoto, 6. Went to the kill floor where the damage is done and tipped in Darnell Nurse’s shot in the first. Otherwise played a quiet game, effective but quiet.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6. A high-event game for Nugent-Hopkins. He had some good work on the power play, but not so much at even strength. If he’s going to lead his own line to success, he’s going to have to dig in a bit harder. His line got worked over by Ottawa’s vicious cycle in the first, culminating in two rapid Grade A chances against. Took a hard slash to the face from Mike Reilly. He worked his way in for a sneaky hard wrist shot on the power play that rang off the post in the second. A moment later he set up Alex Chiasson near the crease for two jam shots. Nugget then somehow failed to cash in on a stupendous steal and feed from Puljujarvi in the second, with the Ottawa goalie Joey Daccord on his belly. His line got outshot four to eight.

Jesse Puljujarvi, 6. He led the team with five hits. He came out fast and feisty, throwing a hard hit early on. He took an ill-advised penalty for putting the puck in the stands, even as he wasn’t under great pressure just then. He made a gritty puck protect move on a board battle in the second to get out the puck from Edmonton’s end. A moment later he came close to jamming in a shot off an Adam Larsson rush. Excellent hustle and skill play to set up RNH in the second, but Nuge couldn’t score.

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Tyler Ennis, 4. Quiet game, kind of like the guy he replaced in the line-up Dominik Kahun. Too quiet. He was out of position to stop a wicked third period point blast that was almost deflected in.

Jujhar Khaira, 6. Part of a solid defensive effort with his customary physical play. His semi-legal hit on Josh Norris led to a hard fight with nasty Erik Gudbranson. The refs called him on a super iffy trip call in the third.

Kyle Turris, 7. He made his sweetest play of the season setting up Alex Chiasson for a one-time cross-seam shot in the first. Turris followed that up by winning a battle and setting up Khaira for a Five Alarm slot shot. He kept the good times rolling early in the second, driving a Devin Shore cross-seam pass on net. He got some justice for all that good work, setting up Draisaitl’s goal with a clean feed. His run of good play ended when he gambled for a steal and allowed a three-on-two in late in the second, with Stutzle scoring on a hard wrister through a double screen.

Devin Shore, 6. He and Bear got beat by a Brady Tkachuk pass leading to a dangerous Tim Stuzle power play chance in the first. Hustled hard all game and was in on a few good plays.

Gaetan Haas, 6. Lots of speed, lots of hustle, not much in the way of results. Some solid work on the PK, including a key third period clearance.

James Neal, 5. Hustled hard, won some battles.

Alex Chiasson, 7. A typically solid game from Chiasson, where he played to his strengths, screening, battling and. shooting. Failed to score on a golden chance in the first, and also on two jam shots on the power play in the second. But the fourth time pays for all, as he lasered in a wrister a moment later, the sixth Grade A chance of that particular power play, so a bit of justice in the dice there. He led the team with six shots.

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Darnell Nurse, 8. Twenty-six solid minutes where he gave up pretty much nothing to the Sens, but made numerous strong plays with the puck. Doug Harvey in his rocking chair.

Tyson Barrie, 7. His eyes-up stretch pass kicked off Edmonton’s third goal scoring sequence. He deflected in Ottawa’s second goal, but a bit of hard luck play there.

Adam Larsson, 8. He’s playing excellent shut-down defence, game after game.  He also submarined in on a rush in the second to set up Puljujarvi for a Grade A shot. He got a key clearance on the kill in the third. A moment later he wiped out Tkachuk with a body blow on a late Ottawa rush.

Kris Russell, 7. He’s now in mid-season form and is looking faster again just now. Another fine defensive game.

Caleb Jones, 5. He was hammered hard with a check in the first. His puck handling and defending was a bit shaky, but to give him credit, he was generally in bend-but-do-not-break mode. He made a nice pass on a scoring chance sequence early in the second.

Ethan Bear, 6. Looked a bit more solid than his partner on defence, Jones. He won a board battle on the kill in the third, leading to a Haas clearance. Looks like he’s finding his “A” game again, which is big for the Oilers, especially if he’s going to play ahead of Evan Bouchard.

Mikko Koskinen, 5. In terms of this game, that first Ottawa goal against was the Titanic hitting an iceberg. It was the second time this year he’s let in that same kind of goal where he’s failed to hug the post on an easy outside shot. But he didn’t sink, making a rebound save off Stuzle a few shifts later. He fought off a Stuzle’s power play chance late in the first as well. He almost made up for that early gaffe with a heads up pass on the power play that kicked off the Chiasson’s scoring drive. Ottawa’s second goal was tough as it deflected off Barrie’s stick. In the third he stopped a tough redirected shot Ryan Dzingel. A moment later he put up a wall on a tricky Matthew Peca shot. He did enough for his team to win.

At the Cult

STAPLES: Mysteries of the Edmonton Oilers revealed! Who is the team’s top power couple and how can they drive success?
STAPLES: Ennis is back
LEAVINS: 9 Things, including memories of Walter Gretzky and other hockey dads
MCCURDY:  The Oilers snap a 3-game skid with a BOA win – Player Grades

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