The Blue Jays will have a ball when they get on the field at Rogers Centre
July 02 2020
At last, the Toronto Blue Jays know where the club will be holding training camp. Great. Now all that’s left to determine is who will be at Rogers Centre next week, what an abbreviated three-week camp will entail, where the club will play its home games this season, what its schedule looks like, and how it’ll handle any COVID-19 related absences.
As was always going to be the case when trying to play baseball during a global pandemic, there are more questions than answers. But we do have some information as to how the Blue Jays will proceed from here. And what the build-up to the strangest season anyone has ever seen will look like.
Toronto’s training camp has technically already begun. A small group of Blue Jays players who have cleared MLB’s intake protocol and produced two negative COVID-19 tests are currently free to use club facilities in Dunedin, Fla, where the team has gathered.
But many of their teammates are still waiting for clearance. While MLB only requires one negative COVID-19 test as part of its intake protocol, all Blue Jays players must pass two before they’re permitted to enter training camp. That extra step was necessary in order to satisfy public health concerns from the Canadian government. And all that testing takes time.
But the club expects the majority of tests to be returned by the weekend, at which point the club will fly to Toronto on a private charter. That plane will arrive at a private extension of Pearson International Airport, where players and staff will disembark and travel directly to Rogers Centre on private buses that have been cleaned to standards set forth by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Once players are on-site at Rogers Centre, more formal, organized workouts will begin. Those will be staggered throughout the day in order to encourage physical distancing, with players broken up into groups.
High-touch surfaces — door knobs, faucets, dials, handles — will be disinfected hourly, and all areas will be thoroughly cleaned daily. The club will utilize four different locker rooms in order to distance players, with every other washroom sink taped off and communal toiletries removed.
Hitters will have access to both the home and visitors batting cages, while pitchers will be spread across five different mounds — the game mound plus the pair in each outfield bullpen. The Blue Jays have explored the possibility of adding temporary mounds, but club President Mark Shapiro said the team was leaning against it.
“I think we’ll have the capability of getting our work in,” he said. “Particularly looking at us not working out as one group of 60 players, but as two groups of 25-30 players.”
Throughout training camp, all players and personnel will live at the hotel connected to Rogers Centre within a dedicated room block isolated from the general public. Hotel staff will wear masks and undergo daily health assessments and temperature screenings prior to their shifts.
Players and staff will not be permitted to leave the premises during training camp, travelling between their rooms and the ballpark within the stadium’s boundary. This will obviously require a high degree of discretion and discipline. But if someone was caught leaving the stadium, they could potentially be punished under Canada’s Quarantine Act, which can carry six-figure fines or imprisonment.
That alone ought to be dissuasion enough to ensure no one within the Blue Jays party violates training camp rules. And Shapiro says he and Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins have been encouraged by the feedback they’ve received from players during consultations as they worked to move training camp north of the border.
“They were part of the process. We did not unilaterally make the decision. We made the decision with them,” Shapiro said of Blue Jays players. “It was collaborative and cooperative from the start. They’ve been educated. There are clear penalties in place beyond anything we would do for a violation of a quarantine — which have been communicated to them. But I don’t expect those to be an issue because we’ve been talking to them from day one and they understand their responsibility and the expectations coming in.
MLB has permitted clubs to play up to three exhibition games towards the end of training camps against nearby teams or its first opponent of the regular season. But Shapiro said the Blue Jays will forego that option, instead relying on intrasquad games played within Toronto’s player pool. There is no limit on the number of intrasquad games a team can play during training camp.
Shaprio also said MLB is closing in on setting its schedule for the 2020 season, and that the Blue Jays would adhere to it regardless of where the club’s home is. Toronto’s primary options for its home games remain the Rogers Centre in Toronto and TD Ballpark in Dunedin, two facilities the club owns, eliminating the possibility of any scheduling conflicts. But as of now, the location of Toronto’s home schedule is TBD.
So far, five MLB players have chosen to opt-out of the 2020 season: Mike Leake, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Tyson Ross, and Ian Desmond. Last week, Shapiro indicated he didn’t expect any Blue Jays to exercise their right to do so, and on Thursday he said that expectation remains the same.
Of course, things can change as training camp wears on and the pandemic evolves. There is also the potential of staff opting out, as some members of Cleveland’s organization have chosen to do. But Shapiro said he wasn’t currently expecting any opt-outs among Blue Jays staff, either.
The Blue Jays will have a ball when they get on the field at Rogers Centre
July 02 2020
MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual introduced a new term into baseball’s large lexicon: the COVID-19 Related Injured List.
A positive test for COVID-19 would obviously necessitate placement on that list — but one is not necessarily required. Players can also be placed on the COVID-19 Related IL due to exhibiting symptoms associated with the virus or having confirmed exposure it.
There is no minimum or maximum length of placement on the list. But in order to be removed from it individuals must produce two consecutive negatives tests at least 24 hours apart, be without fever and respiratory symptoms for 72 hours, complete an antibody test, undergo a cardiac evaluation, and be deemed by a committee of physicians as no longer presenting a risk of infection to others.
With nearly 2,000 players being tested this week during the intake process for training camps across the league, it’s fair to expect a large number of individuals will be placed on the list. Last week, when the NBA tested 344 of its players, 25 returned positive — a 7.3 per cent infection rate. It’s not unreasonable to anticipate a similar number across MLB.
Where things get tricky is in how these cases are reported. As New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman outlined earlier this week, teams have not been permitted to disclose which players are on the COVID-19 Related IL because Infections are not “employment-related” as outlined in MLB’s Basic Agreement. It will be up to individual players who test positive to approve whether that information is made public or not.
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.
But the flaw in this design — which surely someone, somewhere identified as MLB was conceptualizing its 2020 Operations Manual — is that clubs are still announcing all players who are placed on an injured list in order to free up roster space. Thursday, the Blue Jays official transactions page showed four players being placed on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to June 30) without explanation: Jonathan Davis, Brandon Drury, Elvis Luciano, and Hector Perez.
In turn, Toronto added four individuals to its player pool: Bryan Baker, Patrick Kivlehan, Josh Palacios, and Breyvic Valera, who was claimed off waivers from the San Diego Padres. Toronto’s player pool, which is capped at 60, stood at 58 prior to those transactions. So, at least two spots were opened. And aside from placement on the COVID-19 Injured List, the only way to remove a player and create room in the pool — according to the 2020 Operations Manual — is as follows:
For 40-man roster players: trade, waiver claim, return of Rule 5 selection, release, outright assignment, designation for assignment, placement on the 60-day injured list, or placement on one of the suspended, military, voluntarily retired, restricted, disqualified, or ineligible lists.
For non-40-man roster players: trade, release, or placement on the military, voluntarily retired, restricted, disqualified, or ineligible list.
Considering none of the Blue Jays players who went on the injured list Thursday were subject to any of the transactions above, it’s fair to speculate that at least two of them were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL, if not all four. (It’s worth reiterating that placement on the COVID-19 Related IL does not require a positive test.)
A similar scenario played out in Philadelphia on Thursday, in which four players popped up on the Phillies official transactions page as being placed on the 10-day injured without explanation. It was later reported that all four were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL.
One imagines situations like this will continue to arise throughout the season, as some players are placed on the injured list or unavailable to compete for explained reasons such as broken bones or muscle strains and some are not. And that raises the question as to whether MLB’s attempt to protect the privacy of its players is actually doing the complete opposite.
Asked to comment Thursday on the inevitable speculation over unexplained absences, Shapiro pointed to the challenges of operating a professional baseball league during a global pandemic. The club will do everything it can to protect the privacy of its players. But it also has to play by MLB’s roster rules.
“It’s a challenging environment. Not just for the media, not just for our fans, not just for our players, but for us as well,” Shapiro said. “Privacy and respecting the privacy of our players and understanding regulations and laws that exist is going to govern my no comment on that. I think over time players are going to be capable of commenting for themselves.
“Until then, those are going to be things that are going to have to be one more piece of a world that we’re living in that is full of uncertainty — and I can’t help you any more than that. Obviously, I’ve dealt with a sea of uncertainty for the last two-and-a-half months and that’s just one more piece that we’re all dealing with.”
TORONTO — Uncle.
The Toronto Maple Leafs need defencemen. Plural. And, God bless Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, but they need some defencemen who are proven.
Yes, that means they might cost more than $700,000. Yes, that means subtracting some cap-allotted dollars from the most expensive top-nine forward outfit in the sport.
Do you know what the NHL’s top nine defensive teams in 2019-20 all have in common?
They’re all alive and well in the playoffs. The real ones that start Tuesday. And that group includes the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Do you know what the bottom 10 defensive teams in 2019-20 all have in common?
They’re all eliminated. And that group includes the Maple Leafs, who lost Sunday’s decisive Game 5 by a score of 3-0.
We’ve beat this drum before, like on the night Mitch Marner signed a contract rich enough to give Kyle Dubas’s lottery-bound squad the top three highest-salaried forwards in hockey. But circumstances have changed.
First and foremost, Dubas’s hefty financial commitments to John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Marner were all made on the (reasonable) assumption that the salary cap would not only continue to rise with each passing Canada Day but that it could take a dramatic spike when the next U.S. broadcast deal kicked in.
That, of course, is no longer the case. The cap will remain flat until the virus decides otherwise.
Second, instead of taking a step forward, the Leafs — as a whole — have stumbled back. More than half the NHL is still bubbled up and playing for the Stanley Cup. They are not.
The Nazem Kadri trade, though explainable at the time, was a whiff. When push came to shove, rookie coach Sheldon Keefe took Tyson Barrie off the No. 1 power-play unit and replaced him with Morgan Rielly. Alexander Kerfoot’s third line wasn’t awful, but he and Kasperi Kapanen were both handed nice raises last summer. Neither scored a playoff goal, despite Keefe’s proclamation that he expected production throughout the lineup.
During the regular season, Toronto has been one of the most dangerous clubs at even strength that money can buy.
The post-season is a different beast. One that has gnawed on this core for four years in a row, no matter who’s behind the bench or how much ice time the stars are handed.
As the buzzer sounded in a hollow home arena Sunday night and Toronto joined the budget-conscious, punchline Florida Panthers as the only two franchises of the salary-cap era yet to survive a single playoff series, a few snapshots spoke volumes:
• Matthews, Marner and Tavares bent over their sticks, gasping for breath after playing 21-plus minutes apiece and still failing to score a fourth even-strength goal for Toronto over five games.
• A dour Matthews — arguably the series MVP in a losing cause — politely saying he didn’t want to explain the trend he saw in the core’s 0-for-4 performance in playoff series.
• And Keefe praising the Blue Jackets forwards for being so good and bringing up luck. “A little more luck, and it might be a different result,” Keefe said, noting his team scored on fewer than two per cent of its shots 5-on-5.
Because Dubas built his roster as the counter argument to “defence wins championships,” Keefe spent three months of quarantine and the entirety of reset camp tweaking his system and urging his players to buy into improved own-zone play by all five guys.
For the most part, it worked. The Leafs did a decent job keeping Columbus out of the danger areas and shut the Jackets out in Game 2. Yet it came at the expense of their identity, their strength.
“I’ll be thinking about this one for a while,” a sombre Keefe said post-game.
The Leafs will pack their Louis bags and carry a 5-on-5 goal drought of 182:46 in game clock into 2020-21.
A desperate Keefe tried to make William Nylander a centre. He bumped one of the game’s best forecheckers, Zach Hyman, to Line 2, and stacked his top line. He threw surprise Andreas Johnsson into the mix, even though the winger hadn’t played since before Valentine’s Day.
The coach second-guessed his own decisions and deviated from the centre depth that was supposed to attack in unrelenting waves.
That’s what solid, committed defences do to their opponents. They frustrate them. Make ’em blink.
“We can’t lose sight of who we are as a team,” Keefe said prior to Game 1, prophetically. “We need to be really good offensively.”
Conversely, John Tortorella’s group rolled out the same game plan night after night. No secrets to the recipe: Hard work. Heart. Two good goalies. And plenty of quality defencemen who couldn’t care less about their point totals.
“We’re not changing,” Tortorella said of Game 4’s epic collapse. “We pissed it away on a couple of bad plays and just within a couple of minutes, [but] we thought we played a good game. We’re going to go play the same way.”
And they did.
Not only did Toronto’s regular-season deficiencies on the blueline have Keefe and the Leafs second-guessing their own game plan, but the loss of Jake Muzzin — the club’s best pure defender — for Games 3, 4 and 5 underscored an organizational crisis.
If you truly have Stanley Cup expectations, one injured defenceman should not be a critical blow against a middle-of-the-pack opponent.
For 2020-21, Dubas has already committed $52 million to NHL forwards. On defence? Just $15 million.
That gap has to close. The Maple Leafs’ blue line needs more depth.
SYLVANIA, Ohio – Five shots behind with six holes to play, Danielle Kang won her second straight LPGA tour event on Sunday when Lydia Ko made double bogey on the final hole in the Marathon Classic.
Kang began her rally with consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes at Highland Meadows, and then all she needed were pars the rest of the way for a 3-under 68, all because of Ko’s shocking collapse.
Ko was poised to end two years and 44 tournaments without a victory. She made bogey on the 14th hole, and with Kang’s birdies, the lead suddenly was down to two. Ko dropped another shot on the 16th, and caught a break when Kang was in position for birdie on the par-5 17th and had to settle for par.
But on the closing par 5, Ko fell apart. She hit her chip through the green. With a slightly uphill lie in patchy rough, Ko muffed the chip and watched it roll into a bunker. She blasted that out to 10 feet and missed the putt that would have forced a playoff. She wound up with a 73.
Jodi Ewart Shadoff, in contention for the second straight week but still without an LPGA victory, played bogey-free after the opening hole for a 67. She wound up in a tie for second with Ko.
Ko reached No. 1 in the world as a teenager and now is outside the top 50. Her back had been troubling her all week, but this appeared to be more about nerves.
Kang finished at 15-under 269 in winning for the fifth time in her LPGA career.
The two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion won last week when the LPGA resumed its schedule at tough Inverness Club in nearby Toledo, site of next year’s Solheim Cup.
Now, Kang is a back-to-back winner and has established herself as the top American player.
Minjee Lee finished eagle-birdie for a 68 to finish alone in fourth.
The LPGA, which resumed after six months because of the pandemic, now heads to Scotland for two weeks for the Ladies Scottish Open and the Women’s Open Championship.
The St. Louis Blues will play the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
St. Louis, which won the Stanley Cup last season and finished first in the Western Conference during the regular season, was 0-2-1 in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to finish as the No. 4 seed in the West. Vancouver eliminated the Minnesota Wild in four games in a best-of-5 series and will be the No. 5 seed.
Game 1 is Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Vancouver has a lot of young guys who are really good players, (have) a lot of speed,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “They’re a dangerous team offensively, they really come at you with speed. We’re going to have to do a good job of checking, doing the right things. And they also have a good power play. We took too many penalties (in the round-robin), so it’s important we have to stay out of the penalty box.”
[RELATED: Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round schedule]
Ryan O’Reilly led the Blues with three assists, and David Perron and Colton Parayko each scored two goals in the round-robin. Jordan Binnington was 0-2-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. Jake Allen allowed one goal on 38 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
Quinn Hughes scored six points (one goal, five assists) for the Canucks in the Qualifiers, which Vancouver entered as the No. 7 seed. Bo Horvat (two goals, two assists), Elias Pettersson (one goal, three assists) and Christopher Tanev (one goal, three assists) each scored four points. Jacob Markstrom was 3-1-0 with a 2.27 GAA, .926 save percentage and one shutout.
“They’re both really good teams,” Canucks coach Travis Green said prior to knowing their opponent. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious when you’ve watched them play the last few years, a Stanley Cup winner (St. Louis) and a team that was on the verge of going to the Stanley Cup (Dallas), so whatever team we play it will be a good matchup, a hard matchup.”
St. Louis was 1-1-1 against Vancouver this season. Five players scored two points each, including a goal and an assist each from Tyler Bozak, Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz. Binnington was 1-0-1 with a 1.87 GAA and .939 save percentage. Allen allowed two goals on 25 shots in a 3-1 loss on Jan. 27.
“We definitely didn’t play our best in these three (round-robin) games, but I think we progressively got better,” Allen said. “… We need to home in on Vancouver. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
J.T. Miller led the Canucks with four points (three goals, one assist) against the Blues, and Horvat scored two goals. Markstrom allowed two goals on 27 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss on Nov. 5. Backup Thatcher Demko was 2-0-0 with a 1.92 GAA and .946 save percentage.
“You look at it, both teams, St. Louis, Dallas, one is a Stanley Cup champion team, so they definitely know what it takes, and Dallas has a lot of experience, and both definitely more than us,” Canucks forward Tanner Pearson said. “So whoever it is, it’s definitely going to be a big task and hopefully a pretty good series.”
This will be the fourth playoff series between the teams. Vancouver won each of the previous three, including the most recent in four games in the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
This is Vancouver’s first postseason appearance since 2015. The best-of-7 series will be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference.
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers and independent correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report
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