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Takeaways: Raptors get needed break after streak-ending loss to Nets – Sportsnet.ca

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Though it may have felt like it was going to last forever, as the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end.

The Toronto Raptors saw their 15-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night after they fell to the Brooklyn Nets 101-91 Wednesday night at Barclays Center.

This was Toronto’s final game before the all-star break, and while entering the mid-season respite riding a 16-game streak would’ve been really nice, the loss shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of putting together the longest-ever winning streak by a major Canadian professional sports team.

With that said, the performance the Raptors put up Wednesday night, while scrappy, was rather uninspired, to say the least.

Here are a couple takeaways from Toronto’s streak-ending loss in Brooklyn.

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Could’ve used more scarves

Hey Raptors, what about scarves?

Or mittens? Or a space heater by the bench? Or just about anything to help warm this team up, because the Raptors’ shooting Wednesday evening was, to put it nicely, frigid.

The Raptors shot an abysmal 37.8 per cent from the field and 30.2 per cent from three-point range. When compared to the 50.4 per cent from the floor and 40.6 per cent from deep the team was shooting during the 15-game streak, it really puts into perspective why the Raptors finally lost.

Over the course of Toronto’s previous 15 games, it was customary that when one or two guys had an off night, others would seamlessly step up and fill the void. That didn’t happen Wednesday, as Pascal Siakam (6-for-17 from the field), Kyle Lowry (4-for-13), Terence Davis (0-for-6) and Patrick McCaw (1-for-6) were all dreadful shooting the ball.

Specifically, the two Raptors who will be playing in the big game this Sunday, Siakam and Lowry, were quite bad. Siakam left a number of shots short and went 1-for-6 from deep. Lowry, who did impact the game in other ways by dropping a game-high 12 assists and collecting a team-high 11 rebounds, got himself into foul trouble and seemingly tried to goad and irk the officials – who had established a whistle that wasn’t apparently favourable to him – every trip down the floor, like that was going to help matters more.

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But as poorly as the Raptors shot the ball, and as tilted as the officials’ calls against the team may have seemed to Lowry, the Raptors were always in the game Wednesday, just barely knocking on the door before Brooklyn would then pull away and create temporary separation.

This was because if there’s one thing that’s defined the Raptors this season – streak or no streak – it’s been their commitment to the defensive end of the floor.

The Nets only shot 40.9 per cent from the field and 25.7 per cent from outside themselves, and that’s a credit to the Raptors’ defence.

Additionally, the Raptors had a guy with a hot hand in Serge Ibaka, who finished with 28 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including five three-pointers made. This was arguably Ibaka’s best offensive performance of the season, and while defensively the team was there, the rest of the squad just couldn’t provide enough support with their own shot-making to help with some of the load Ibaka was carrying.

And this is why, even with all the goodwill built up with the winning streak, this loss does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Parts of the Raptors’ winning formula was there, they just didn’t hit enough shots to get to that usual win condition.

A needed break

As mentioned before, this game was the final one before the all-star break, and if Wednesday’s performance was any indication, the Raptors really need this time off.

With the exception of Lowry and Siakam, players now have eight solid days off before the they get back to action on Feb. 21 and begin the final stretch towards the post-season.

During Wednesday’s game, a number of Raptors were leaving shots short – Siakam most noticeably – with players committing silly turnovers either because they were a little too slow making cuts or even recognizing open guys in the corner. In other words, this was a tired-looking group that, not unlike you the day before you start your vacation, was probably more or less looking ahead to any number of plans made over the next week.

Of course, there are no excuses here and fatigue especially isn’t much of a reason to play poorly, but that does seem to have been the case Wednesday, as off-putting as it may be to hear.

But with this game behind the Raptors, the R&R that’s to come will expectantly get them back and fully healthy. It’s been stated that Marc Gasol will be back after the break and hopefully this extra time off will help accelerate Norman Powell’s return to the floor, too.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

It’s not even just injured players this time off could help. Any additional rest for Lowry – even if it’s less because he’s participating in the all-star game – has to help, as the fresher he can be entering the playoffs, the better Toronto’s chances.

The vacation time could also do wonders for a young player like Davis, who is the only Raptor to get into all 54 of Toronto’s games this season. He’s already played 20 games more than what he saw during any of his four years at Ole Miss. The grind of the NBA season is among the toughest things for rookies to adjust to and it wouldn’t be surprising if Davis was feeling that now.

Like everyone else, sometimes even professional athletes need time to get away to recharge and come back to work strong.

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Five takeaways from Toronto Blue Jays' Game 1 loss to Tampa Bay Rays – TSN

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1. Shoemaker yanked early but pitching plan worked

Much was made of the Toronto Blue Jays’ decision to push ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to Game 2 and go with Matt Shoemaker as the Game 1 starter.

It was clear Shoemaker would be limited to some sort of pitch count and on a very short leash if things went awry, but the 34-year-old was brilliant across three frames, throwing 27 of 35 pitches for strikes, allowing just two hits, and keeping the baseball away from the barrel of Tampa Bay Rays hitters.

But three innings would be all Shoemaker would get before he’d be given the hook, throwing 19  fewer than he did in his return from a lat injury on Sept. 21, so it wasn’t a pitch count issue.

To lead off the fourth inning, manager Charlie Montoyo and the front office computers brought in lefty Robbie Ray to face right-handed hitter Randy Arozarena, who came in batting .400 with four home runs in just 20 at-bats against southpaws this season.

Arozarena promptly tripled and would later score on a Ray wild pitch, giving the Rays an early 1-0 lead.

After the game, Montoyo said they didn’t consider leaving Shoemaker in and the reason was Ray has been one of their best pitchers lately.

It was the only hit Ray would allow, but considering the lefty has allowed a 1.012 OPS to righties this season, bringing him in to face Arozarena when Shoemaker was dealing was a curious decision.

Shoemaker seemed to be unhappy in the dugout, and while Montoyo said that the original plan for his starter was one trip through the Rays’ batting order and two innings, the veteran right-hander expressed his competitive disappointment with the early hook, saying he thought he’d go four or five innings, but wasn’t really sure.

“It’s playoff baseball,” Shoemaker said. “Physically, I felt great. I wanted to go seven, eight, nine innings. That’s just how we internally compete. Of course, I wanted to keep going, but I had an idea of the plan, somewhat, going into it.”

Despite that, an overall line of six one-run innings and just three hits allowed from Shoemaker and Ray makes the decision to push Ryu to Wednesday look like a smart one in the grand scheme of things.

2. Bats go cold

While the pitching decision got all of the attention pre-game and most of it early on in-game, as well, it was far from the reason the Jays are in a one-game hole and facing elimination.

The bats, however, were a different story.

Coming into the series, the Jays had quietly put together the seventh-best offence in baseball this season, scoring 5.03 runs per game, one year after finishing 23rd in baseball.

Against Blake Snell, it took until the sixth inning to get a hit, a leadoff single off the bat of 21-year-old DH Alejandro Kirk.

They’d threaten in the eighth inning, but ended up leaving six men on base on the night and could never really solve Snell.

When the Jays’ bats were hot this year, they weren’t chasing as many pitches out of the zone, but that’s exactly what they did Tuesday.

Montoyo’s club struck out 12 times and could only muster one extra-base hit, an eighth-inning double by Cavan Biggio.

3. Snell completely dominant

The 2018 Cy Young winner ended up only going 5.2 innings, but those frames were completely dominant as he carried a no-hitter through five innings.

Coming into the game with a career 2.81 ERA across 13 starts against the Jays, everyone knew it was a tough assignment, but Snell had four pitches working and ended up getting 18 whiffs from Toronto hitters on just 82 pitches.

Snell’s curveball was swung through eight times on just 27 pitches, while the lefty’s four-seam fastball got five whiffs, the changeup got three and his slider got two more.

The 27-year-old didn’t even have his peak velocity, but he could still dial it up close to 97 mph when he needed it.

One of the clear separators between these two AL East teams is the rotation, and what a luxury it is for Rays manager Kevin Cash to be able to follow Snell with 6-foot-8 flamethrower Tyler Glasnow in Game 2 on Wednesday.

It’s not getting any easier for the Jays.

4. Ryu now needed to stave off elimination

When the Jays hatched their plan to have their ace sandwiched between two games that are expected to be heavy bullpen days, they obviously envisioned Ryu taking the mound with a chance to sweep the series in Game 2.

But that won’t be the case, so the Jays will send their $80 million southpaw to the mound to help them try to stave off elimination and force a Game 3 on Thursday at Tropicana Field.

After the season the 33-year-old just put together, the Jays are expecting — and will need — another ace-like performance from Ryu, who posted a 2.69 ERA this season, the lowest single-season mark for a qualified starting pitcher that spent a full season with the Jays since Roy Halladay’s 2.79 mark back in 2009.

Ryu was hands down the club’s MVP this season, accumulating 1.9 fWAR, the most of any player regardless of position, and the Jays went 9-3 in his 12 starts.

Without him, the Jays are not a postseason team.

And if he doesn’t perform Wednesday, the Jays won’t be a postseason team any longer.

5. Wild-card roster features handful of surprises

Through all of the injuries the Jays had to endure this season, the biggest loss in the end may be Jordan Romano’s freak finger injury in late August.

The Jays thought the 27-year-old Markham, Ont., product had a chance to make it back for the postseason, but he was left off Tuesday’s wild-card roster when it was announced.

GM Ross Atkins said Romano is closing in on a return, but the fact he hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 29 made them hesitant to throw him into the postseason fire.

If the Jays advance, Romano will likely be available, but that doesn’t help Montoyo match up with the Rays’ power bullpen in this series.

One surprise addition to the wild-card roster was first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who was able to do enough in live BP sessions over the past couple of days to convince Jays’ decision-makers he was ready, and then went out Tuesday in Game 1 and dumped a pinch-hit single into centre field.

With Alejandro Kirk giving Montoyo a DH and pinch-hit option with some pop from the right side, Tellez gives the Jays one from the left side.

One not-so-surprising omission from the roster was veteran right-hander Tanner Roark, who despite a 6.80 ERA this season is still owed $12 million in the final year of the two-year, $24-million deal the Jays gave him last winter.

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Blue Jays’ Game 1 loss hinges on lifeless offence, not pitching moves – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Keep debating the merits of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching strategy all you like, but for Game 1, at least, it worked. Matt Shoemaker and Robbie Ray combined for six innings of relatively uneventful one-run ball, and if ace Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches similarly with his team’s season on the line Wednesday everyone will be thrilled.

That isn’t what cost them their first post-season game since 2016, and it won’t be what costs them the series.

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

The more glaring concern coming out of Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays is the way lefty Blake Snell overpowered Toronto with a fastball that averaged 95.3 mph, and mixed in his secondary weapons to induce 15 swings out of the zone that led to a foul ball or a miss.

Relievers Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks also got the Blue Jays to chase, and the departure from the more-disciplined approach is something they’ll need to address before stepping in against Tyler Glasnow with win-or-go-home stakes.

Shoemaker, pitching for the first time since throwing three strong innings against the New York Yankees on Sept. 21, shoved right out of the gate, and was so in control that he needed only 35 pitches to skip through three innings on two weak hits.

That’s why he had to be calmed in the dugout when pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo told him he was done. He eventually calmed, perhaps when reminded that this is certainly what looked like the club’s predetermined plan, and Ray took over.

The first batter he faced, Randy Arozarena, ripped a leadoff triple, and after a Nate Lowe strikeout, Ray ripped off a full-count slider to Willy Adames for ball four that just barely squirted through catcher Danny Jansen’s legs as he slid over to block it.

The ball rolled away just far enough for Arozarena to scamper home for a 1-0 lead.

Ray settled in from there with two shutout innings and the Rays were held quiet until the seventh, when Joey Wendle worked a one-out walk off A.J. Cole, who served up a middle-middle cutter that Manuel Margot lined over the wall in left.

The Rays got creative with their pitching deployment, too, pulling Snell with two outs in the sixth despite him allowing only one hit and a walk while striking out nine.

Alejandro Kirk led off the sixth with a single, but was stranded by Castillo, who put on a pair with one out in the seventh. That’s when the Rays turned to Anderson, who got Teoscar Hernandez and pinch-hitter Joe Panik to end the threat.

Toronto finally broke through in the eighth, as pinch-hitter Rowdy Tellez – a surprise addition to the post-season roster – singled, Cavan Biggio doubled and Bo Bichette brought Tellez home with a sacrifice fly. Randal Grichuk followed with a liner to Adames at short, placed well by the Rays, for the final out.

Fairbanks triple-digit fastballed his way around a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. double in the ninth to close things out.

The decision to go with the Shoemaker/Ray tandem over Ryu in Game 1 is among the most polarizing in recent Blue Jays playoff history. A good comparable came in Game 4 of the 2015 AL Division Series, when then-manager John Gibbons pulled R.A. Dickey with two out in the fifth and a 7-1 lead over the Texas Rangers, bringing in David Price in a call that locked in Marcus Stroman as the starter in the decisive fifth game.

While few understood that call, before that game Gibbons watched the Kansas City Royals rally from a 6-2 deficit to stave off elimination with a 9-6 win over the Houston Astros, and was determined to not give the Rangers any life.

This time, the Blue Jays were dealing with vastly different circumstances, facing an opponent eight games better than them in the standings and deeper on a number of levels. That prompted the club to holistically examine how to attack a three-game series – a first for Major League Baseball – and they determined that “in this scenario, Game 1 seemed much less significant than in a traditional scenario, significantly different,” Atkins said.

“We viewed the advantage (in) being able to put our most consistent piece in the middle of those potentially 27-plus innings, as we thought through our strategy, with the added benefit of getting an extra day rest for Hyun-Jin Ryu, an extra day of rest for Taijuan Walker, and then giving our bullpen the chance to be its strongest on Game 1 and Game 3.”

That bucks conventional thinking, fuelling the debate. Since the wild-card era began in 1995, teams that win Game 1 are 126-49 in the series, regardless of round or length, which is why Ryu seemed like an automatic, if he didn’t physically need an extra day.

The Blue Jays and Ryu both said that wasn’t the case, but part of their calculations was that an inability to bring the Game 1 starter back again in a best-of-three – as opposed to making two starts in a longer series – minimized some of the incentive. Another factor was that pitching in Game 2 would still allow Ryu to pitch the opener of the division series, should they get that far.

Also, the Blue Jays felt that if the Rays stacked their lineup with left-handed bats against Shoemaker, putting in Ray would force them to surrender platoon advantage against the lefty, or the righty relievers to follow him later.

Cleverly, Rays manager Kevin Cash countered that by only stacking left-handed batters – Yoshi Tsutsugo and Brandon Lowe – in the first two spots of the order, alternating righties and lefties from there. They only made one move during Ray’s three innings – hitting Hunter Renfroe for Tsutsugo in the fifth.

These types of machinations are part of why the Blue Jays hired Montoyo, after first pursuing his staff-mate on the Rays in Rocco Baldelli, who instead opted for the Minnesota Twins’ managerial opening.

Montoyo brought with him a window into the Rays’ highly respected methodology, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Blue Jays sought to emulate it.

“That’s one thing I got in every interview I did, it was about the opener and the Rays and the things that they did,” Montoyo said. “So it wasn’t only Ross, it was also with the other teams that (I) interviewed with because credit to the Rays, they’re so creative and what they do is different. At first it looks like, ‘What are they doing?’ But they’re not afraid to take a chance. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re trying to be creative playing one of the best teams in baseball. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

In terms of giving themselves a chance, it worked, but in the way it really matters, the final result, there’s going to be little solace in that for the Blue Jays.

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GameThread – Wild Card Game #1: Jays at Rays – Bluebird Banter

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The Blue Jays have somehow made it to the postseason, and as someone who wasn’t around here during the 2015 and 2016 runs, I’m thrilled to be here for this one (as strange as it is).

We have some added info and updates:

Here are today’s lineups. Kirk will DH, Villar gets the start at 2nd Tesocar bats 6th.

Poll

Will this series make it to a game 3?

  • 59%

    Most definitely

    (62 votes)

  • 20%

    Nope, Jays in two

    (22 votes)

  • 20%

    Nope, Rays in two

    (21 votes)



105 votes total

Vote Now

Poll

How many innings will Matt Shoemaker pitch tonight?

  • 42%

    0-3

    (40 votes)

  • 38%

    4

    (37 votes)

  • 15%

    5

    (15 votes)

  • 3%

    6+

    (3 votes)



95 votes total

Vote Now

Poll

Who will have the best offensive night tonight?

  • 6%

    Biggio

    (6 votes)

  • 15%

    Bichette

    (15 votes)

  • 9%

    Hernandez

    (9 votes)

  • 26%

    Kirk

    (25 votes)

  • 19%

    Guerrero

    (18 votes)

  • 19%

    Gurriel

    (18 votes)

  • 0%

    Jansen

    (0 votes)

  • 2%

    Villar

    (2 votes)

  • 1%

    Grichuk

    (1 vote)



94 votes total

Vote Now

GO JAYS GO

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