The Toronto Blue Jays have reached an inflection point in their history. After three seasons of skittering backward in the standings, the coming year should be better. It needs to be.
There are signs that after the past few seasons’ strategic retreat, the collection of young and emerging talent assembled by the Blue Jays will be prepared to step up and move the team’s fortunes in a positive direction. Maybe not into contention just yet, but something better than 67 wins.
You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find much optimism for the state of the team among the fanbase lately. Maybe it’s the echo chamber of snark and negativity that thrives on social media, but the overriding sentiment is frustration, and maybe even worse, a growing disheartenment and apathy with where the Blue Jays stand.
Some of this is simply the turgid rot of modern sports fandom, where a segment of every team’s fans believes that if they aren’t in ecstasy, then they should be affecting agony at the top of their voice. But some of it runs deeper, and some of it is less cynical and more true, and it should be a concern for the brain trust and stewards of the franchise.
The public trust in the Blue Jays is bottoming out, to a point where the management team can seemingly do no right. If they add starting pitchers like a Tanner Roark, or a Chase Anderson, it’s viewed as bargain shopping to raise the floor. And there’s not much reason to get excited about that.
If the Blue Jays take a serious run at players who may be slightly more skilled or revered, but come up empty, it feeds into the negative perception of the team. Either Toronto didn’t do enough to lock the player down, or nobody wants to come play for them. Both explanations leave fans demoralized and frustrated.
It has created a situation where, if the Blue Jays aren’t able to lock up a top player by the time they report to Dunedin in February, the season will begin to feel like another failure before it even begins.
This crisis of consumer confidence didn’t happen all at once. While there are arguments to be had over the team’s transactions in the past year, the messaging around the deals that sent long-serving players out of town for uninspiring returns helped to feed into a bitter pessimism about the team and those managing it.
From a purely rational perspective, one can’t blame the management team if they walk away from the off-season and pocket the “payroll flexibility” until a better player becomes available. But with the current perception of the team as low as it is, it’s hard to imagine how they could get away from the winter without making at least one big splash.
This isn’t an unprecedented situation. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Alex Anthopoulos found himself in the same spot. Following a disastrous 2012 season, in which manager John Farrell left for his “dream job” with a divisional rival, shortstop Yunel Escobar walked onto the field with homophobic slurs written on his eye black and the team’s future core seemingly imploded in unison, something needed to change to save the perception of the team.
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.
By Christmas of that offseason, Anthopoulos had pulled off two mega deals to bring veterans, league-leaders, all-stars and a reigning Cy Young laureate. They brought back a well-liked manager (John Gibbons) and those blue uniforms — and their offseason boldness was rewarded with a level of reinvigorated fervor from the fans.
It didn’t actually work so well on the field, mind you. Not initially, at least, as the 2013 Blue Jays won just one more game (76) than the shambolic 2012 team. It took two more seasons before some of that massive haul could contribute to the moment when the team’s fortunes truly turned. But the big deals at least created the impression that the team could be bold if it needed to be.
There is some hazard in attempting to turn around the public perception all at once. The free agent market this year ran hotter and faster than any in recent memory, which left the Blue Jays – and many other teams – chasing after a scant few players at the top of everyone’s lists. It has left them in a situation where the decision of a single player could make or break their offseason, potentially sinking the customers’ trust that much more.
This is likely an argument for why teams shouldn’t wait until the perfect moment to begin adding substantively all at once when they are “ready”, and why they should always be looking to make their team better. But that’s another treatise for a another day.
It’s one thing to sneer at the notion of “winning the off-season,” but there comes a moment where if you don’t do something notable, you risk losing more fans’ faith.
Astros erupt for seven runs in ninth, beat Red Sox to tie ALCS – Sportsnet.ca
BOSTON — Six outs from falling behind 3-1 in the AL Championship Series and facing elimination in Game 5 in Boston — where the Red Sox had yet to lose this postseason — the Houston Astros offence awakened.
After tying it in the eighth inning on Jose Altuve’s solo homer, the Astros bullied the Boston bullpen for seven runs in the ninth to win 9-2 on Tuesday night and even the best-of-seven playoff at two games apiece.
“This is one of the great things about baseball,” said the Astros’ 72-year-old manager, Dusty Baker. “When you’re dead in the water and things aren’t going good, and then all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, and you got seven runs.
“That’s what they’ve been doing to us this whole series,” he said. “And we’re capable of doing that as well.”
Jason Castro looked off a potential third strike from Nathan Eovaldi before driving in watch-tapping Carlos Correa with the go-ahead run in the ninth, then the AL West champions kept on scoring to guarantee themselves at least one more game back home.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston, with Games 6 and 7 back in Houston on Friday and, if necessary, Saturday.
The Red Sox are 5-0 after playoff losses under manager Alex Cora.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” said Eovaldi, the Game 2 winner who made his first relief appearance since 2019. “That’s been one of our strengths is being able to turn the page and come in tomorrow.”
In a series that had been dominated by offence — especially Boston’s, which has hit 10 homers in the series, including a record-setting three grand slams to turn Games 2 and 3 into routs — the teams traded first-inning home runs.
Alex Bregman hit a solo shot into the Green Monster seats, then Xander Bogaerts topped it with a towering, two-run drive onto Lansdowne Street in the bottom half to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
Then, the pitchers took over.
It was still 2-1 when Altuve homered against Garrett Whitlock to tie it in the eighth. It was his 21st career postseason home run, breaking a tie with Derek Jeter for third-most in baseball history and trailing only Manny Ramirez (29) and Bernie Williams (22).
Eovaldi, making his first relief appearance since he was coming back from an injury two years ago, came on for the ninth and gave up Correa’s leadoff double.
The Red Sox thought they were out of the inning when Eovaldi’s 1-2 breaking ball appeared to catch the plate for strike three on Castro. Still alive, Castro singled in Correa to give Houston the lead.
“Yeah, a lot of people thought it was a strike,” Cora said. “It was a good game until the end, right? We were one pitch away from ending that inning, and it didn’t happen, and then they scored seven.”
Michael Brantley hit a three-run double off Martin Perez. Yordan Alvarez added an RBI single. Perez’s throwing error on Correa’s infield single allowed a run to score, and Kyle Tucker singled in another run.
Houston has scored 36 runs with two outs in the postseason, including 18 of its 22 in this series.
“We knew with this team that we’re playing we wanted to pad the lead,” Baker said. “And pad the lead we did, you know what I mean? That one run might not have stood up, especially in this ballpark.”
The Red Sox, who were the first team in major league history to have double-digit hits six straight times in a single postseason, had just five on Tuesday — two of them when already trailing by seven in the ninth.
Nick Pivetta allowed just one more hit after Bregman’s homer before leaving with a 2-1 lead through five innings. Eovaldi took the loss, allowing four runs while getting just two outs.
Kendall Graveman, the fifth Houston pitcher, threw two scoreless innings for the win. The Astros had special praise for Cristian Javier, who pitched three scoreless innings to get them through five as Houston’s bullpen delivered 7 2/3 shutout innings.
“What the relievers did today was amazing,” Altuve said.
It was the third straight game the Red Sox got five or more innings from a starter, and the third straight that the Houston starter didn’t make it out of the second inning; Zack Greinke got just four outs on Tuesday.
Astros: CF Jake Meyers, who injured his left shoulder crashing into the wall in the Division Series clincher, was originally listed in the starting lineup but “wasn’t quite ready yet,” Baker said. Chas McCormick started in centre instead.
Red Sox: Schwarber appeared to tweak his left hamstring on a swing in the fourth inning. He limped out a groundout and remained in the game.
Game 5 is Wednesday at 5:08 p.m. Chris Sale will start for the Red Sox after allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings in Game 1. Framber Valdez goes for Houston. He gave up two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings during the series opener.
Golf-Olympic gold medallist Schauffele pumped for Zozo Championship in Japan
AmericanXander Schauffele returns this week for the Zozo Championship in Japan nearly two and half months after winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Games and the 27-year-old said he is looking to grab a “special” victory at the PGA Tour event.
The tournament returns to Japan at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club on Thursday after last year’s edition was moved to California due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The $9.95 million event will feature Asia’s first Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and Schauffele, who won gold for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics in August with a one-stroke victory.
Schauffele, whose grandparents reside in Japan, said winning at the Zozo Championship would be a huge honour for his family.
“I’m very excited,” Schauffele, who also won the Ryder Cup with the United States last month, said on Wednesday.
“Winning here would be really cool. It would be really special to sort of win twice in Japan, especially since I don’t live here.
“I think it would be a huge honour for my family if I was able to do that and I’m going to do my best this week.”
American Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, said he is looking forward to playing in front of an energetic crowd with 5,000 spectators allowed each day.
“These are some of the best fans,” Morikawa said. “I remember my first tee shot out here two years ago when there were fans on stools and lined up five, six people deep.
“They would cheer for you walking to tee boxes, hitting every tee shot whether it’s good or bad.
“They bring so much energy. I’ve said it since we returned from COVID, it’s just really good to see people out here again.”
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; editing by Kim Coghill)
NHL suspends Evander Kane for 21 games over COVID-19 vaccination status – Global News
The league on Monday announced the suspension without pay and said Kane will not be eligible to play until Nov. 30 at New Jersey. Kane will forfeit about US$1.68 million of his US$7 million salary for this season with the money going to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
The league also announced that a concurrent investigation into allegations of sexual and physical abuse made against Kane by his estranged wife, Anna, could not be substantiated.
“I would like to apologize to my teammates, the San Jose Sharks organization, and all Sharks fans for violating the NHL COVID protocols,” Kane said in a statement. “I made a mistake, one I sincerely regret and take responsibility for. During my suspension, I will continue to participate in counseling to help me make better decisions in the future. When my suspension is over, I plan to return to the ice with great effort, determination, and love for the game of hockey.”
The Sharks have not said what Kane’s status will be after the investigations. Kane had not been around the team since the start of training camp while these investigations were ongoing in an agreement between him and the team.
“While we are encouraged by Evander’s commitment to moving forward, we are extremely disappointed by his disregard for the health and safety protocols put in place by the NHL and the NHLPA,” the team said in a statement. “We will not be commenting further on Evander’s status prior to the conclusion of the NHL’s mandated suspension.”
Kane had previously been cleared by the NHL in an investigation into allegations made by Anna Kane that he bet on hockey games, including some against the Sharks.
Edmonton Oilers fans enter Rogers Place for 1st time amid new COVID-19 protocols
But the league did determine that Kane violated the COVID-19 protocols. A person familiar with the investigation said earlier this month that the league was looking into allegations that Kane submitted a fake vaccination card. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details weren’t made public.
Using a fake vaccination card is illegal in both the United States and Canada, as well as against NHL rules.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that only four players on active rosters hadn’t been vaccinated.
Kane, 30, is three seasons into a $49 million, seven-year contract. He’s with his third organization after being drafted by and debuting with Atlanta/Winnipeg and a stint in Buffalo.
Last season, he had 22 goals and 27 assists in 56 games.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
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