The Scott Rintoul Show
Shi Davidi discusses the Blue Jays off-season so far
December 18 2019
TORONTO – Tanner Roark played on five different minor-league teams across two different organizations, along with an independent and a winter ball club, before debuting with the Washington Nationals on Aug. 7, 2013. Five years of reliability for the Nationals followed before a two-stop year with the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics set him up for free agency.
Able to pick his next destination for the first time, the 33-year-old right-hander from Wilmington, Ill., wanted some stability and some good catchers to work with, finding both with the Toronto Blue Jays, who formally announced his $24-million, two-year deal Wednesday.
The way they pursued him helped tip the scales, he said during a conference call with media.
“They were the first ones to initiate contact with me. Right off the bat, they were really interested. So I knew that they wanted me and I talked to the pitching coach, Pete (Walker), and the bullpen coach, Matt Buschmann, we had a great conversation. Talked to Walker for like 25 minutes, that’s the first time I’ve ever talked to him,” said Roark. “They knew what they wanted and they wanted me and it’s exciting to have someone want you like that.”
Roark joins trade acquisition Chase Anderson as a stability post in a Blue Jays rotation that, at minimum, will feature legitimate major-league pitching after a miserable 2019 season best encapsulated by Charlie Montoyo’s memorable description of an opener and a guy ahead of one of many TBA days.
Japanese righty Shun Yamaguchi, who agreed to a two-year deal worth slightly more than six million with the potential for up in excess of a million more per season in incentives, is another possibility to start, although he could potentially be used as an opener, bulk-pitcher or leverage reliever, too.
Along with incumbent rotation candidates Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki, the Blue Jays should now be able to give their young core of position players a chance in most games.
They continue to seek higher-end impact for the rotation – the bidding for Hyun-Jin Ryu, believed to be pushing past $80 million over four years, may end up outside their comfort level – and an internal debate now is whether to bite the bullet now, or wait for a shot at Trevor Bauer or James Paxton in free agency next fall.
David Price is one possibility on the trade market right now, while underperforming teams looking to escape big contracts may present a fresh set of options ahead of the next July 31 trade deadline, too.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
Roark’s steadiness opens up all kinds of possibilities for the Blue Jays, who in addition to wanting to present a more watchable product on the field, also sought to protect their young arms from overexposure. He’s made at least 30 starts and logged a minimum of 165.1 innings in five of the past six years, and having him take the ball every five days should make Montoyo’s life easier.
The dependability that has become his calling card is no accident.
“I think what keeps me on the field is I work hard,” said Roark. “It can be a long, arduous season, repetitive, travel-wise, all that stuff, and the mental part of it can just crush you. Working hard and doing what you need to do to prepare yourself for every fifth day, that’s the biggest thing. The stuff in between the starts is the real work and the fifth day is the actual enjoyment of it all, of what all the work that you put in those previous four days rewards you with, the start to go out there and hopefully kick some butt.”
The Scott Rintoul Show
Shi Davidi discusses the Blue Jays off-season so far
December 18 2019
Doing it in the American League East will present a new challenge, one Roark both embraced and played down, saying, “keep the ball out of the air I guess is the big thing – because often they go out for a home run.”
“Just make your pitches.”
That’s a pretty sound mantra for any division and his experience and path to the majors should serve both him and his young teammates well. Roark joked about being one of the oldest players on the roster now, but he’s eager to share his knowledge when called for.
“I was a late bloomer of some excitement, some five and a half years in the minor-leagues, and the biggest thing was the mental part,” he said. “I knew I could always make it to the big leagues and be a big-leaguer and having the underdog mentality I’ve had my whole entire career – underrated, not getting the most respect – has made me mentally tougher and stronger. Going through tough times is what got me to armour my mind to get through big situations and not let the name on the back of the jersey or the front of the jersey bother me or get in my head. …
“Especially with the young core group of guys coming up and what we have at the big-league level, give them some knowledge, teach them some things, answer any questions that they want to know,” Roark added later. “I’m here for them.”
After running for his second 1-yard touchdown of the contest to bring New England within one score with 2:16 remaining, Newton again advanced his new team to the goal line, this time with three seconds left.
But Seattle was ready for Newton’s run. The defense swarmed to stuff the quarterback and seal the 35-30 victory.
“I just didn’t make everybody right and that’s the only thing I regret,” Newton said after the game, according to USA Today’s Mark Daniels. “In that type of situation, it’s humbling to be able to have the respect of a team to have the ball in my hands. I just have to deliver. I saw a clip of it; I could’ve made it right by just bouncing it (outside). I was just trying to be patient. Just thinking too much, man. Or even just diving over the top. There’s so many things that flashed over me.
“Playing a fast defense like that, as soon as you guess, you’re wrong. I’ll definitely learn from this. The play was there. The play was there all game.”
Newton couldn’t finish the job, but the 31-year-old arguably produced one of his best career performances.
In addition to the two short touchdown scampers, Newton finished with 397 passing yards – his highest total since 2011 – and one passing touchdown against one interception. He also added a team-high 47 yards on the ground.
Russell Wilson ultimately outgunned Newton, pushing himself to the front of the early MVP race with a five-touchdown outing.
While New England sent a clear message to the rest of the league that it can contend without Tom Brady and a host of key defenders who departed this offseason, Newton isn’t satisfied with a moral victory.
“It’s many ways you can win in this game. We don’t want to become one-dimensional,” Newton said. “We had our opportunities. Just moving forward, we have a lot of things about being optimistic about but yet, we still have to get better.
“The reason why you play this game is for (one) stat and one stat only. We didn’t get that statistic today and that’s the win. For us, this is a disgusting taste in my mouth. I’ve just got to grow and get better in this offense and hopefully have a better result next week.”
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The kid will live to fight another day.
Matthew Wolff, the 54-hole leader by two, just didn’t have it for the final round of the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot on Sunday. He shot a final-round 75 to finish even par and in solo second, six behind Bryson DeChambeau (67), who shot the low round of the day by three.
“I played really tough all week,” Wolff said. “I battled hard. Things just didn’t go my way. But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for.”
Wolff blinked first when he hit a wild hook and bogeyed the third hole. DeChambeau caught him with a birdie at the fourth hole, and took a lead he would never relinquish with a par at the fifth. Both eagled the par-5 ninth to remain separated by just one shot, but it was no contest from there as DeChambeau kept the pedal down while Wolff shot a 39 coming in.
“My advice?” said Zach Johnson (74, T8) “Leave this parking lot with the positives because, my guess, there’s a slew of them. Whatever he’s doing right now is not ineffective.
“… He’s going to slice and dice today,” Johnson added, “and he needs to really focus in on some of the things that he did the previous three days, I think more so than today.”
The two main combatants have a history of butting heads. When Wolff won the 3M Open last year, DeChambeau tied for second. When DeChambeau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, Wolff was second. Both tied for fourth at the PGA Championship last month.
DeChambeau said he expects to run into Wolff again in the future, and it seems likely. Wolff is too good to just go away, and he’s also irrepressible, approaching golf as a game, not science. While DeChambeau had ear buds in prior to the final round, Wolff was on the phone cracking up laughing. Although he said he would play his usual “rip dog” game, he was just a little off.
“I really didn’t feel that nervous out there,” he said. “Maybe at the start I did, but at the start I played pretty well. I don’t think it was nerves that were holding me back. I just think it wasn’t meant to be.” A few breaks here and there, he said, and he might have made it closer.
The final pairing further accelerated a youth movement that was already in gear. Wolff (21) and DeChambeau (27) combined to make up the second youngest final pairing in the last 50 majors, behind only Jordan Spieth (22) and Smylie Kaufman (24) at the 2016 Masters Tournament.
Wolff’s youthful exuberance will almost certainly come away from Winged Foot unscathed.
“He’s just a kid,” said fellow Oklahoma State product Rickie Fowler (79, 17 over). “Some of the things he’ll say, you sometimes forget that you’re around someone who’s – you look at him as one of our peers, someone you play against and compete against, but he’ll say something and you’re like, yeah, he’s still a kid. He’s 10 years behind us.
“There’s really no course that doesn’t suit him,” Fowler added, “just because he’s able to work the ball both ways easily. He’s a great ball-striker. His extra length, with the way the rough is, it helps on a lot of holes out here because you’re going to miss fairways, and to potentially have between two and four clubs less out of the rough, that makes a big difference.”
That’s the case on any course, and Wolff will almost certainly be a force on many of them.
Midway through the third quarter, it looked as though Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals was going to be another laugher.
The Los Angeles Lakers, holding a 16-point lead with 8:11 to go in the period, appeared to be emulating their Game 1 performance, containing the Denver Nuggets’ go-to actions and scoring with relative ease on the back of LeBron James (who scored his club’s first 12 points) and transition opportunities.
And then the Nuggets tweaked their offence, won key minutes against the Lakers’ small ball lineups, and found some help from unexpected places (hello, PJ Dozier!) to go on a 24–12 run to close the quarter and set up a spectacular, nail-biting finish.
What follows here are some of the key takeaways from the game, including, yes, that marquee Anthony Davis shot.
ANTHONY DAVIS CALLS GAME!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 21, 2020
It was no secret coming into this series that the Jamal Murray–Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll was going to be difficult for the Lakers to defend, even with their surplus of (legitimately athletic) big men. And for the first half of this one, they did about as admirable a job as possible, having the big (whether that be Davis, JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard) drop back initially, ready to burst towards the arc if Jokic popped for a potential triple, while the guard fought through and over the ball screen to deter Murray pull-up threes and funnel him into the paint towards help.
Davis in particular showcased why he was voted All-Defensive First Team this year when involved in those actions, freely switching onto Murray if necessary and gobbling him up on drives or using his otherworldly athleticism to recover to Jokic to contest shots that typically would have been open.
Then, in the second half, the Nuggets not only adjusted well by aggressively forcing more switches than they had in the 24 minutes prior, they executed on those adjustments by attacking those switches, finding mismatches at every turn.
Suddenly, their offence roared back to life, with Jokic in particular finding himself pitted against smaller players who he could easily take advantage of.
On top of this, Denver’s two stars simply began doing what great players do, drilling tough shots against high quality defenders. Murray managed to squeeze past Davis a few times for some acrobatic layups, and Jokic hit some tough hooks and turnaround shots in the post against the opposing bigs.
In the end, of course, it wasn’t enough to get them across the finish line, but if they are able to continue to exploit the Lakers in the pick-and-roll going forward, Los Angeles is in for a tougher fight than they’ve had through the totality of two games.
Again, this really was a tale of two halves.
After the first 24 minutes, the Lakers were leading the points in the paint battle 24–12. By the time the game finished, the Nuggets wound up outscoring them 38–34.
It’s not so surprising that the Nuggets gave up so many points inside—during the regular season, they had the 10th-worst mark (64.1) for defended field goal percentage at the rim in the league. They simply don’t have any particularly formidable rim protectors, and while their defence has been marginally better throughout the playoffs, the athleticism of the Lakers was always going to be problematic.
In a microcosm of these issues, the Lakers have found a pet play in backdoor lobs, with a big man (or even James, who completed the play Sunday night, for example) appearing to come up towards the arc before quickly spinning back towards the baseline and rising for a lob from a guard (often Rajon Rondo) standing up top.
The Nuggets’ interior dominance, however, was far more unexpected, as the Lakers house multiple big men who are plus-defenders. In stark contrast to their opponents, Los Angeles was the sixth-best team in terms of defended field goal percentage at the rim (61.7) this past season.
But Jokic finding his touch inside, cutters making smart reads whenever doubles appeared, and Murray managing to weave and glide his way to the hoop out of the pick-and-roll despite some tight defence surrounding him allowed Denver to erase Los Angeles’ edge in that category completely.
There would seem to be a fair amount of things that the Nuggets can take away from this game, despite the loss, and be pleased with, and their interior play will be high on that list.
The Lakers bench was FIRED UP after Alex Caruso’s dunk.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 21, 2020
It looked as though Jokic was going to be stuck in the mud once again throughout the first half, finding it difficult to score with the Lakers doing a good job of keeping him matched up against an opposing big (Howard has been particularly good at getting beneath Jokic’s skin) to equal his size and strength, and guarding him in single coverage, thereby staying home on his teammates and lessening the chances of any potential cuts that would allow him to make use of his otherworldly passing.
In the latter half, though, that all changed, with Jokic getting loose as the Nuggets created more opportunities for him via switches, allowing him to match up with smaller players whom he could easily see over and score against. Once he’d scored once or twice in those scenarios, the Lakers’ resolve faltered, and they began to send double teams which he immediately capitalized upon, spraying pinpoint passes all across the half-court.
Once the fourth quarter came, he also simply began to nail extremely difficult looks he’d missed before and that the Lakers could only shrug at, including a massive three-pointer against a swiftly closing Davis to cut the lead to one point with 1:04 to play.
If it had been Jokic with the ball in his hands for the last shot of the game rather than Davis, the discussion right now could be about him instead (he finished with 30 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals). He’s as potent an offensive force as there is in the league today, and if he’s able to dictate the terms of Denver’s offensive possessions, this series could turn around in the blink of an eye.
As great as Jokic was in this game, Davis seemed to have answers at every turn.
Not only was he exceptional with his individual and team defence (flying around the floor to contest shooters and switching whenever necessary without giving up an advantage), Davis found his offensive rhythm in the second half after a rough early start and closed out the game by scoring Los Angeles’s final 10 points.
And, oh yeah, he hit a pretty nifty buzzer-beating three, too.
That triple was only the second time Davis has hit a buzzer-beater in his career, and the first time he’s done so in the playoffs. It was also the first time a Lakers player had hit such a shot in the post-season since Metta World Peace back in 2010.
Davis’s performance (he finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and two blocks) was perhaps made even more enthralling by the fact that the vast majority of his buckets came either against Jokic or in response to him, generating a classic clash of superstar versus superstar. He worked Jokic in isolation all game long, taking him off the dribble to muscle his way to the rim or pulling up for mid-range jumpers and sticking them in his grill.
These are exactly the kinds of battles that elevate NBA basketball beyond any ordinary limitations, fabricating something ethereal that will stick in one’s mind forever after. And with at least two games remaining in this series, there’s plenty of room left for more.
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