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Everything you need to know about the Blue Jays this year

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The Toronto Blue Jays open the 2021 baseball season Thursday at 1 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium. Here’s a quick catchup on Canada’s only major-league team:

They’re not coming back to Canada any time soon

The Jays announced Wednesday that they’re extending their stay in Dunedin, Fla., through at least their May 14-24 homestand. They still want to return to Toronto at some point this year. But if Canadian government pandemic restrictions don’t soften, they’ll continue playing their home games in the United States — either in Dunedin or, if Florida gets too hot and humid, in Buffalo.

2 key new players should bolster the lineup

Toronto’s big off-season catch was slugging centre-fielder George Springer, who it lured from Houston with the richest contract ($ 150 million US over six years) in team history.

The 31-year-old leadoff man won the World Series MVP award in 2017 and averaged 31 home runs in the last four full seasons. But he’s out for a bit because of an oblique strain.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin joins John Northcott to preview Jays’ season: 

Jamie Strashin of CBC Sports joins John Northcott on CBC News Network to talk about the kick-off to the Toronto Blue Jays season today. 3:18

New second baseman Marcus Semien, 30, will be in the opening day lineup and looking to recapture his form from 2019, when he hit 33 homers for Oakland and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Springer and Semien join a talented young team

Corner outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández are both coming off excellent seasons and are still on the right side of 30. Ideally, 22-year-old Alejandro Kirk can soon take over at catcher after hitting well in his cameo appearance last year.

But the Jays’ future — and present — hinges on their three core young guys.


A big year by a smaller Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be huge for the Jays. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Shortstop Bo Bichette, 23, should be a line-drive machine again after a knee injury sapped him of his power last year. Cavan Biggio, 25, is a good hitter who can steal bases and play almost anywhere on the field.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though, could ultimately be the make-or-break guy. The 22-year-old hasn’t lived up to the massive hype yet. But he’s still very young, very talented and he’s in better shape now. If Guerrero becomes the all-star-calibre slugger everyone expects, he can push the Jays to the next level.

The pitching looks a little shaky

Opening day starter Hyun Jin Ryu is a legit ace who finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year. Behind him are a lot of journeymen and question marks.

The Jays hope prospect Nate Pearson can become the No. 2 guy after he showed flashes as a rookie, but he’s hurt again (strained groin).

The bullpen is pretty deep, but Toronto’s gamble on closer Kirby Yates went bust. The one-time 41-save man suffered a season-ending elbow injury in spring training, leaving the job up to a committee that could be led by Canadian righty Jordan Romano.

Another post-season trip is in reach

Last year’s appearance by the Jays in the post-season was a product of the field temporarily expanding from five teams to eight in each league.

The added randomness of a 60-game season may have helped, too, as the Jays gave up more runs than they scored.

But they’re a good, young team that made some solid additions, and there are objective reasons to think they can make the playoffs in a normal season.

Fangraphs’ projection model has Toronto finishing 88-74 — seven games behind the Yankees in the AL East, but good enough to claim the top AL wild-card spot from a tightly packed handful of contenders.

The Jays are also trendy in the betting market, which has them as the No. 3 favourite to win the AL pennant, behind the Yankees and White Sox.

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NASA and Blue Origin Will Simulate Lunar Gravity With Spinning Rockets

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Jeff Bezos recently announced he would step down as Amazon’s CEO, allowing him to devote more time to building rockets. That’s what billionaires do these days — just ask Elon Musk. Bezos’ Blue Origin rockets are still taking shape, but the company has announced a partnership with NASA to improve artificial gravity testing. Basically, they’re going to make rockets spin. 

In the course of planning space missions, NASA sometimes has to test something under non-Earth gravity. That could mean weightlessness or perhaps lunar gravity, which is one-sixth of Earth’s. NASA’s Limited Gravity Program currently uses a Navy C-9 aircraft, which executes steep dives to simulate lower gravity environments. The drawback is a plane can only remain in a dive for a few seconds before it has to level out. The maximum payload on the aircraft is also very limited. 

These shortcomings encouraged NASA to look into more robust methods of simulating low gravity, and it’s starting with the Blue Origin partnership. So far, Blue Origin has demonstrated that its New Shepard rocket can take off and land reliably, but it hasn’t entered orbit. It has, however, crossed the Kármán line (100 kilometers) where it is generally agreed that space begins. That means it can fall through the atmosphere for much longer than your average airplane. 

To make New Shepard into a gravity testing chamber, Blue Origin and NASA will have to make some changes to the hardware and software. Usually, a rocket’s reaction control system (RCS) just controls attitude and stabilizes rotation. NASA’s plan is to leverage the RCS thrusters to make the rocket spin like a giant centrifuge. Thus, anything inside can experience artificial gravity as a consequence of the centrifugal force. 

NASA is looking to target 11 rotations per minute to create something akin to lunar gravity. It should be possible to maintain that for a full two minutes as New Shepard plummets toward the ground. The rocket has already shown impressive landing performance — of the 14 New Shepard launches, only the first one resulted in a crash. So, NASA should be able to refuel and launch additional rounds of low-gravity testing on the cheap. 

It’ll be a while before NASA is ready to test this centrifugal rocket tech. The first hardware should be ready for launch in late 2022, based on current projections. In the meantime, Blue Origin plans to launch its first crewed New Shepard this spring.

Now read:

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The Blue Jays are back and looking like a contender

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Spring* is here

*OK, not actually. Most of Canada is still in winter’s grip. But there are signs it’s loosening. One of those comes to us from Dunedin, Fla., where the Toronto Blue Jays are now holding full-squad spring training workouts. Seems like a good time for a quick catchup on the Jays as they prepare for opening day on April 1 at Yankee Stadium:

They won’t be back in Canada for a while.

The Jays announced last week that, due to ongoing health/travel restrictions, they’ll remain in Dunedin for at least their first two homestands of the regular season. That means they’ll be playing out of their spring-training stadium until May 14 at the earliest.

Team president Mark Shapiro said the Jays want to return to Toronto “as soon as it is safe to do so.” But there’s no timetable for the move and it’ll probably depend on the Canadian government easing its restrictions on cross-border travel. So there’s a good chance the Jays remain in Florida (or at least in the United States) past mid-May. Once the summer heat/humidity/thunderstorms bear down on central Florida, the Jays could head north to Buffalo, where they played their home games last season.

There are some new faces in camp.

The big one is centre-fielder George Springer, who was lured from Houston with the richest contract ($ 150 million US over six years) in Blue Jays history. Springer, 31, was one of the top free agents on the market. He won the World Series MVP award in 2017, averaged 31 home runs in the last four full seasons and homered at even higher rate in pandemic-shortened 2020.

Toronto also signed Marcus Semien to be its new second baseman. He played shortstop for Oakland, where he hit 39 home runs in 2019 and finished third in the American League MVP vote. Semien was awful at the plate last year, but the Jays gave him a one-year, $ 18-million deal that should motivate him to rebound.

Toronto took a similar approach to trying to upgrade its pitching behind ace Hyun-jin Ryu, rolling the dice on one-year deals with several players. Those include lefty starter Steven Matz, who’s coming off an atrocious season for the Mets, and potential closer Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves in 2019 for San Diego but had his 2020 ruined by an elbow injury.

But it’s the “old” faces who will make or break this team.

Quotation marks around “old” because we’re talking about the Jays’ young core. Shortstop Bo Bichette, who turns 23 next week, hopes to bounce back after a knee injury cost him a month last season and sapped him of his power once he returned. Twenty-five-year-old Swiss Army knife Cavan Biggio will probably spend more time at third base with Semien taking over at second. Corner outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández are both coming off excellent seasons and are still on the right side of 30. Twenty-one-year-old catcher Alejandro Kirk showed promise last year, and 24-year-old pitcher Nate Pearson could be a godsend for the thin rotation if he taps into his potential.

But all eyes, again, will be on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The almost-22-year-old slugger has shown flashes, but he still hasn’t lived up the hype accompanying his arrival in the majors two years ago. Guerrero appears to be in much better shape this year (with the requisite Instagram workout pics to prove it) but the pressure is on him to start producing like the all-star everyone figured he’d be.

The Jays can build on last year.

Their surprise playoff appearance was more a product of the shortened season and expanded post-season field than the actual quality of the roster. But Toronto is a good, young team that made some solid additions and should challenge for a spot in the back-to-normal playoffs.

It’ll be tough to top the Yankees in the AL East, but here’s a warm thought to help you through the last few weeks of winter: Fangraphs’ respected projection system has Toronto finishing second in the division at 88-74 — ahead of the improving Red Sox and declining AL-champion Rays. According to the model, that would tie the Jays for the second-best record in the AL and would land them a wild-card playoff spot for the second year in a row.


Shortstop Bo Bichette looks to bounce back after a knee injury sidelined him for a month last season. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press)

Quickly…

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts is heating up. It’s the final day of the opening round, and only eight teams will advance to the championship pool, which starts tomorrow. Defending champion Kerri Einarson’s Team Canada (7-0) will be there, and so will Ontario’s Rachel Homan (6-1). They’d already clinched spots heading into their Pool A showdown at 3:30 p.m. ET, which is a rematch of last year’s final. Pool B was more crowded at the top, with Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, six-time champ Jennifer Jones of Manitoba and Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges tied at 5-2 after the morning draw. The wild-card team skipped by Chelsea Carey was just behind at 5-3. Read more about today’s results here. Watch last night’s episode of That Curling Show, which featured a celebration of the 15th anniversary of Brad Gushue’s Olympic gold medal, here. And watch tonight’s show live at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Olympics Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Oklahoma City’s Canadians had a big night. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a career-high 42 points and Lu Dort hit the game-winning three at the buzzer in the Thunder’s 102-99 victory over San Antonio last night. Dort finished with 16 points and is now averaging 12.6 on the season — up nearly six points from his rookie year. Gilgeous-Alexander is seizing the opportunity to be OKC’s go-to guy after the Thunder traded away future hall-of-famer Chris Paul in the off-season. The third-year guard is averaging 33 points over his last three games and now ranks 20th in NBA scoring at 23.5 per game. He’s also averaging 6.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds.

The Canadian women’s soccer team ended its comeback tournament on a sour note. Playing for the first time since the pandemic hit nearly a year ago, Canada scored only one goal and won only one of its three matches at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. After an encouraging 1-0 loss to the juggernaut United States, Canada beat Argentina 1-0 before getting blanked 2-0 by Brazil yesterday. Seven key Canadian players were absent from the mini-tournament, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions about the team’s chances of winning a third consecutive Olympic medal this summer. We might learn more when Canada plays its next match, an away friendly vs. No. 6-ranked England, on April 13. Read more about Canada’s performance at the SheBelieves Cup here.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League will tip off its third season in June. The start was pushed back from mid-May and the number of games cut from 20 to 14 for each team in hopes that fans will be allowed in arenas when the season opens. Last summer, the seven-team CEBL became one of the first North American leagues to return after the pandemic shutdown when it played a month-long tournament in St. Catharines, Ont., to crown a 2020 champion. This year, seven consecutive Saturday games will be broadcast on the CBC TV network, starting with the June 5 season opener between defending champion Edmonton and Fraser Valley. Games will also be streamed live on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Read more about the CEBL’s 2021 season here.

Coming up from CBC Sports

Alpine skiing: Watch a World Cup women’s downhill race in Italy live Friday at 5:45 a.m. ET here.

CBC Sports U: Anyone pursuing a career in sports media might want to check out this free, interactive virtual summit on March 3. CBC Sports is bringing together some well-known sports-media personalities to give students an inside look at their experiences and an opportunity to ask questions. Get more details and sign up here.

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Why George Springer is such a big get for the Blue Jays

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Blue Jays gave out their richest contract ever

Toronto has lured centre-fielder George Springer away from the Houston Astros with a six-year agreement reportedly worth $ 150 million US. Here are the key things to know about Springer and the deal, which is awaiting a physical to become official:

This is the largest contract in Blue Jays history. The only other one to hit nine figures was the seven-year, $ 126-million extension signed by Vernon Wells in December 2006. The previous Jays record for a free agent was the $ 82 million given to Canadian catcher Russell Martin before the 2015 season. At $ 25 million per year, Springer’s average annual pay eclipses that of pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, who signed for $ 20 million a year for four years last off-season.

But this isn’t the biggest free-agent signing in Jays history. In terms of sheer “Holy s—! I gotta tell everyone I know!” impact, that would be the Roger Clemens deal in December of ’96. The four-year, $ 40-million pact worked out pretty well too, at least to start. Clemens won the Cy Young in his only two seasons with the Jays before demanding a trade. The signings of Jack Morris (two years, $ 10.85 million before the ’92 season) and Paul Molitor (three years, $ 13 million prior to ’93) were also very big at the time and helped propel the Jays to World Series titles.

Springer was one of the top free agents on the market. This list on MLB.com ranked him third, behind Philly catcher J.T. Realmuto and Cincy pitcher Trevor Bauer. Not the greatest class, but Toronto can say it got the best non-battery player available.

Springer is a very good player. His best years were 2017 and ’19, when he averaged about 36 homers and an OPS+ of 145 — meaning his on-base-plus-slugging percentage was 45 per cent better than the average hitter’s in his league when adjusted for ballpark. He hit well in the shortened 2020 season too, smashing 14 homers in 51 games with an OPS+ of 140. Springer was named the MVP of the 2017 World Series after hitting five home runs in seven games vs. the Dodgers. The Astros won that year with the help of their infamous signal-stealing scheme that allowed them to tip off their hitters about what kind of pitch was coming.

He’s a bit old, though. Six years is a lot to commit to a 31-year-old, so the Jays might end up regretting the last few years of the deal. But that’s the price teams usually have to pay to land a player of this calibre.

The Springer signing adds excitement to an already-promising Jays team. Last year’s post-season appearance may have been a pandemic-induced fluke — as much a product of the shortened season and expanded playoff field as the actual skill on Toronto’s roster. A (presumed) return to a full 162-game regular season would probably benefit stronger-looking AL East rivals New York and Tampa Bay, and another 16-team playoff tournament is unlikely. But baseball seems interested in expanding from the old 10-team field, which would give the Jays more hope of making it through their tough division. And Springer joins a talented lineup of hitters whose returning core — Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — are all currently between the ages of 22 and 28. If the pitching can just not be a trainwreck again (prospect Nate Pearson might help there) this team has a lot of upside.


The Blue Jays’ prized free agent signing joins a budding young core ready to take the next step. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)

Quickly…

The Calgary ski and snowboard bubble burst. The plan, announced two weeks ago, was to hold the world championships for freestyle skiing and snowboarding there in February and March. Some World Cup competitions were also part of the pitch, which was awaiting approval from various authorities. But the world governing body for skiing and snowboarding decided today to pull the plug on the idea, with the backing of the Canadian federations for those sports. Read more about the decision here.

The NHL postponed two more Hurricanes games. Five Carolina players have been placed on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list, resulting in the postponement of last night’s game at Nashville and now a pair of home dates vs. Florida on Thursday and Saturday. These are the first three games to be postponed since the NHL season began. Dallas’ first few games were postponed before the season started. Read more about the Carolina outbreak here.

Marielle Thompson won another medal. Today’s silver in Sweden is the 2014 Olympic ski cross champion’s 45th career World Cup podium spot. This one came in a “sprint” event, where the course is shorter than the standard one. Read more about it and watch highlights here.

Tiger Woods needed another back surgery. This makes five, and it’ll keep the 45-year-old out for at least the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing, which starts this week and runs through Feb. 21. The operation was to remove a disc fragment that Woods said caused him pain during the event he played with his 11-year-old son last month. Tiger’s friend and fellow tour star Rory McIlroy said he thinks Woods will be out of action “for the next couple of months” but will return in time for the April 8-11 Masters “if not before that.” Read more about Tiger’s latest setback here.

Also…

Philip Rivers retired.

He never made it to a Super Bowl, and he didn’t make it look pretty, but the fiery Alabaman owns one of the best quarterback resumés ever. Rivers’ awful-looking, shot put-style throwing motion should not have worked in the NFL. But he overcame it (and then some) with supreme accuracy and a savant’s understanding of how to attack defences. He spent 17 years in the NFL (all but the last one with the Chargers) and ranks eighth in wins and fifth in completions, yards passing and touchdown passes.

Two other numbers essential to the Rivers story: nine (how many kids he has) and zero (how many games he missed after becoming an NFL starter in 2006). Rivers played his only conference championship game on a torn ACL on Jan. 20, 2008 — one of the reasons he chose today to announce his retirement with a charmingly down-home statement that included the word “dadgummit.” Read more about Rivers’ career here.

And finally…

Donald Trump isn’t the only polarizing Republican we’ll be hearing less from now.

As the 45th President left the White House today, Kelly Loeffler also appeared set to vacate her most public-facing roles. The pro-Trump U.S. Senator recently lost her seat to Raphael Warnock in one of the two high-profile Georgia run-offs that resulted in Democrats grabbing control of the Senate. As Warnock was sworn in today, a sale of the Atlanta Dream was being finalized that would presumably see Loeffler give up her 49 per cent stake in the WNBA team.

If that goes through, it will fulfill the wish of the WNBA players who openly campaigned for Warnock and called for Loeffler to sell her piece of the Dream after she criticized the league for embracing the Black Lives Matter movement. Read more about Loeffler’s potential departure from the league here.

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‘Out of the blue’: Canada Basketball blindsided by FIBA sanctions, $227K fine

Canada Basketball president and CEO Glen Grunwald says he was blindsided by sanctions levied against the program on Wednesday.

The International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, fined the Canadian governing body for the sport up to $ 227,138 and threatened to dock Canada’s national team a point in the standings after it chose not to attend a FIBA AmeriCup qualifier in November on the advice of medical experts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to try and be positive,” Grunwald told CBC Sports. “We’re going to appeal this because we do think it’s unfair and wrong. But we’ll play by the rules as they’re dictated. And I hope FIBA can be bigger than what they’ve been here instead of, you know, trying to be strong arming teams to violate public health protocols.”

The third and final stage of AmeriCup qualifying is scheduled to be held Feb. 18-22, with Canada’s group — including Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands — playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The games have no bearing on qualification for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. However, failing to qualify for the AmeriCup would end Canada’s Paris 2024 Olympic bid.

Even after missing two games, Canada could still clinch its AmeriCup spot with two wins in February. One victory would still open the door, while two straight losses spells the worst-case scenario.

‘I didn’t expect this’

In November, Canada Basketball said it was working with FIBA to reschedule the games it would miss. Grunwald said progress was made on that front in the interim.

Just two months later, the 62-year-old former Toronto Raptors executive says the program was surprised by its punishment.

“I didn’t expect this, actually,” Grunwald said. “So then for this to come out of the blue, when I had been advised earlier that if we were not participating because of medical reasons, it would not be any penalties. So, again, very disappointed and a bit disillusioned with the approach.”

As of publication, FIBA had not responded to a CBC Sports request for comment.

In its statement, FIBA said that Canada would only be fined half the amount and would not lose a point if it attends the February tournament. If not, those sanctions would remain in place.

“It is kind of a threat. We’re working really hard and our medical staff has been awesome,” Grunwald said. “One of the great things about the Canadian sport community is we’re all working together in this very difficult time.”


Nick Nurse says he agrees with Canada Basketball’s decision not to send players to November’s qualifier and is disappointed by the sanctions imposed by the International Basketball Federation. (Will Russell/Getty Images)

Exploring more testing, longer quarantine

Head coach Nick Nurse agreed with Grunwald’s sentiments about FIBA’s sanctions.

“I back the decision [not to play] by Canada Basketball,” he said.

“It was all about player safety for us. And we just didn’t feel like we could execute it and keep our players as safe as we wanted to at that point, which I think is understandable.

“We look forward to getting playing hopefully in February and getting on to the Olympic qualifier and going from there.”

Grunwald said Canada Basketball is hopeful to participate in that February window and is working with health experts to stiffen protocols from what they were in November. Those measures could include more frequent testing, verification of those tests and longer quarantine periods.

The program is working with lawyers to sort out the next step in the appeals process. An official appeal must be filed within the next 14 days.

“Ideally, we will win the appeal, and we won’t have to pay it, but if we do have to pay it, I would hope that FIBA contributes that money to COVID-19 front-line workers and other people that are working in this area where they really do need support instead of pocketing the cash,” Grunwald said.

Canada currently sits 1-1 after splitting a pair with the Dominican in February 2020. Games against Cuba and the Virgin Islands had been scheduled for November, with the same opponents set for February 2021. The top three teams in each group qualify for the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup.

WATCH | Vivek Jacob of CBC Sports breaks down Raptors’ outlook:

After a rough start to the season, could the Raptors finally be finding their footing? Vivek Jacob takes a look at the next 5 games and what they mean for the season. 2:58

‘Dangerous precedent’ set by ruling, says COC

Canada Basketball said in a release Wednesday that not only would its participation have directly contradicted the mandates of the federal government “but also the directive of our chief medical officer and other medical professionals throughout Canada’s sport system, including those with Canada Basketball, Sport Canada, Own The Podium, the Return to Sport Task Force, and the Canadian Olympic Committee.”

As for the COC, CEO and secretary general David Shoemaker said the organization is “extremely disappointed with this ruling.”

“Canada Basketball should not face punitive sanctions for prioritizing the health and safety of its athletes, coaches and staff during a pandemic of this magnitude.”

Shoemaker went on to say the COC is very concerned with the decision.

“It sets a dangerous precedent and sends the wrong message to sport organizations while the world remains locked in a battle with COVID-19,” Shoemaker said to CBC Sports.

“In essence, FIBA is saying that Canada Basketball should have sent its team into harm’s way, notwithstanding clear medical and public health advice.”

Shoemaker said the ruling could also negatively impact Canada Basketball’s finances, which, he said, were “already decimated by COVID-19.” That could have lasting consequences for its operational capacity and “funding for programs that grow the game of basketball across Canada.”

Shoemaker said the COC continues to stand by Canada Basketball’s decision not to travel to the November qualifier in the midst of a pandemic.

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Blue Jays unceremoniously swept out of AL wild-card series by Rays

The Toronto Blue Jays’ brief playoff appearance came to an end in blowout fashion on Wednesday evening.

The Tampa Bay Rays scored seven runs on Blue Jays ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, chasing him in the second inning of an 8-2 rout at Tropicana Field.

Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer and Hunter Renfroe belted a grand slam as the Rays advanced by winning two straight games in the best-of-three series.

Danny Jansen was one of the few bright spots for the visitors with two solo homers.

Tampa Bay will play Cleveland or New York in the American League Division Series. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead into Game 2 on Wednesday night.

The Blue Jays benefitted from Major League Baseball’s expanded 2020 post-season structure by taking the eighth and final seed in the American League. The team’s young core made strides this season in order to qualify for the playoffs but were overmatched upon arrival.

WATCH | Analyst Mike Wilner breaks down Blue Jays vs. Rays:

Blue Jays analyst Mike Wilner joins CBC News Network to discuss the Blue Jays first playoff appearance since 2016. 6:22

Tampa Bay had control in a 3-1 Game 1 victory a day earlier despite managing just four hits. The Rays had four hits in the opening inning of Game 2 alone.

Ryu was out of sorts from the start. His fastball didn’t have its usual zip and his control was suspect.

The Rays took advantage with Manuel Margot driving in Randy Arozarena with an RBI single to open the scoring in the first inning. Ryu fanned Willy Adames with the bases loaded to limit the damage to one run.

Kevin Kiermaier led off the second with a single and scored when Zunino went deep on an 0-2 pitch. Ryu gave up a double and a two-out walk later in the frame and should have escaped when Margot hit a ground ball to Bo Bichette.


However the Toronto shortstop bobbled it for his second error of the game, leaving the bases loaded. Renfroe made the Blue Jays pay with a no-doubt grand slam.

That was more than enough cushion for Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow, who opened the game by striking out Cavan Biggio on three pitches. The hard-throwing right-hander needed just seven pitches to retire the side.


Glasnow struck out eight over six innings, giving up six hits, two earned runs and a walk. Ryu lasted one and two-thirds  innings and allowed eight hits, three earned runs, four unearned runs and one walk while striking out two.

Toronto rookie Nate Pearson struck out five of the six batters he faced over two clean innings. The Rays outhit Toronto 12-7.

Tampa Bay entered Game 2 with a 7-4 edge in head-to-head matchups with Blue Jays this year although Toronto had outscored the Rays 49-47 overall.

Ryu had an extra day of rest after the Blue Jays gave Matt Shoemaker the surprise start in Game 1. Shoemaker and Robbie Ray were effective over six innings but the decision left Taijuan Walker — the team’s clear No. 2 starter — on the outside looking in.

Travis Shaw started at first base Wednesday while Alejandro Kirk, the Game 1 designated hitter, returned to the bench. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who misplayed a foul pop-up in the opener, handled DH duties.

Tampa Bay made it to the ALDS last year before being eliminated by the Houston Astros. The Blue Jays were last in the post-season in 2016.

The top-seeded Rays were 40-20 in the regular season. The Blue Jays were 32-28.

WATCH | Blue Jays clinch 1st post-season appearance since 2016:

For the first time in four years, the Toronto Blue Jays will play in the MLB postseason. The team of young stars surprised many in the baseball world by clinching a playoff berth with a victory over the New York Yankees. 1:52

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Joonas Korpisalo, Blue Jackets shut out Maple Leafs in Game 1 goalie duel

The Maple Leafs have known since late May the Columbus Blue Jackets were on the docket to begin the NHL’s restart.

Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure.

Seeing it up close was an entirely different matter.

Joonas Korpisalo made 28 saves in his first post-season appearance, Cam Atkinson scored in the third period, and the Blue Jackets downed the Leafs 2-0 on Sunday to take an early lead in their best-of-five qualifying round series.

Sure, Toronto had chances, but not nearly enough. The Leafs weren’t able to get to the inside against a tough blue-line corps led by Seth Jones and Zack Werenski that mostly neutralized Auston Matthews’ line with the help of Pierre-Luc Dubois up front.

“I don’t think anything really surprised us,” said Matthews, who was third in the league with 47 goals in 2019-20. “They play a pretty straightforward game, and you know what to expect every night. They’re gonna compete, they’re gonna play physical.”

Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for Toronto, but was fooled on Atkinson’s innocent effort from the top of the right circle 65 seconds into the third.

WATCH | Korpisalo, Atkinson lift Blue Jackets past Leafs:

Joonas Korpisalo made 28 saves and Cam Atkinson scored in the third period to propel the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. 1:14

“His initial release looked to be a little bit higher,” said the Leafs netminder, who was beaten under his blocker. “I reacted up and obviously made a mistake.

“That cost us a goal and eventually the game, unfortunately.”

The Leafs were designated as the “home” team inside the friendly confines of a cavernous, empty Scotiabank Arena as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed in the NHL’s 24-team restart to a campaign halted by the COVID-19 pandemic 4 1/2 months ago.

Alex Wennberg scored into an empty net with 18.2 seconds left for ninth-seeded Columbus, which will now look to grab a stranglehold with a victory in Tuesday’s Game 2.

‘Fun to play’

“I felt pretty confident from the get-go,” said the 26-year-old Korpisalo. “The boys played really good in front of me, battling for me to see the puck.

“That was awesome. That was fun to play.”

After the Blue Jackets nudged ahead early in the third, the Leafs tried to get their high-octane offence going, but were unable to get many second and third opportunities, and were held without a shot over the final 6:12 of regulation.

Andersen kept the Toronto in it with a toe save on Alexandre Texier with under three minutes to go, but his teammates couldn’t find a way through to Korpisalo before Wennberg sealed it.

“They did what they do best, and what we were prepared for,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who played for Columbus bench boss John Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early 2000s. “We knew it was going to be difficult.

“Now we’re out on the ice and you feel it.”

Goaltender duel

Following a scoreless opening 20 minutes that featured a couple of clear-cut chances, the goalies stole the show in the second.

Korpisalo, who got the nod ahead of first-year sensation Elvis Merzlikins, denied Matthews at the side of the net on an early power play, while Andersen stopped Eric Robinson on a break and Texier from the slot.

WATCH | Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe on matchup with Columbus:

Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Shledon Keefe spoke after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0 in the first game of their Qualification Round. 12:59

The Columbus netminder had his bench up banging their sticks on the boards later in the period when he robbed Matthews with the glove on a one-timer.

“He played unbelievable,” Blue Jackets defenceman David Savard said. “He made some key saves, I think on Matthews there in the second was a turning point for us.

“That was huge for our game.”

Jones then fired a shot off the crossbar before Andersen robbed Oliver Bjorkstrand — both players are from Herning, Denmark — with an exceptional toe stop that the deserved a standing ovation, not the din of canned crowd noise.

“I’d expect more of these games moving forward,” Leafs blue-liner Morgan Rielly said of the defensive struggle. “And I would also expect for us to be able to handle them better.”

Robertson makes NHL debut

Rookie winger Nick Robertson suited up for Toronto after scoring 55 goals in 46 games in 2019-20 with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, becoming the first 18-year-old to make his NHL debut in the post-season since Jarome Iginla in 1996.

Robertson had a terrific opportunity on his first shift, but Korpisalo was there with his right pad. The Leafs, who were back in their home locker room after making way for the Montreal Canadiens in Tuesday’s exhibition game, were otherwise on their heels the rest of the first half of the first period.

Andersen made a good stop on a Dubois breakaway before Matthews stole the puck and chimed a shot off Korpisalo’s crossbar. Werenski then did the same off the near post at the other end moments later.

Healing during the hiatus

Both teams were close to full health after the schedule was suspended March 12. Jones would have been a serious question mark with an ankle injury had the playoffs started as usual in April, while Toronto blue-liner Jake Muzzin (hand) and Ilya Mikheyev (wrist laceration) are also back. Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson (knee) continues to work his way back and could be available as the resumption of play progresses, should his team advance.

Prior to Sunday, the Leafs last played a meaningful game March 10 — a stretch of 145 days — while the Blue Jackets’ last suited up for real March 8.

Toronto and Columbus sat with identical points percentages (.579) when the novel coronavirus shuttered the season, but the Leafs secured the eighth seed with 28 regulation wins compared to the Blue Jackets’ 25.

“Two teams that were tight together in the standings, two teams that are very competitive,” Keefe said. “I thought we played a good enough game to win.

“But obviously, you can’t win when you don’t score.”

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Blue Jays manager says weekend series against Phillies is postponed

In a regular season that has had its share of uncertainty, hurdles and challenges, the Toronto Blue Jays were dealt another curveball Thursday when their weekend series in Philadelphia was postponed after the Phillies reported that two staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo confirmed the postponement on a video call before Thursday afternoon’s game in Washington. Montoyo said the team plans to stay in the U.S. capital until new travel plans can be finalized.

“We’ve got to deal with it, it is what it is,” Montoyo said. “Hopefully MLB works through this. We’ve got games coming up. But that’s all I know right now.”

Montoyo said the Blue Jays will ask the Nationals if they can continue to work out at Nationals Park until next steps are finalized by Major League Baseball. Toronto has an off-day Monday and a three-game series at Atlanta is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the Phillies announced that all activity at Citizens Bank Park has been cancelled until further notice.

Tests conducted Wednesday returned a positive result for a member of the coaching staff and a member of the home clubhouse staff, the Phillies said. All players tested negative.

WATCH | Virus continues to cause concern amid MLB’s return:

Less than a week after Major League Baseball returned, a COVID-19 outbreak among the Miami Marlins is raising alarm bells about MLB’s strategy, along with accusations that the league dropped the ball by allowing teams to travel in the first place. 2:02

The Blue Jays were scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday and a game Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies haven’t been in action since Monday’s discovery of a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins, who played a season-opening series in Philadelphia last weekend.

Another player with the Miami Marlins — who recently played at Philadelphia — tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, bringing their total outbreak to 17 players, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Two Marlins staff members have also tested positive.

The Phillies’ four-game, home-and-home series against the New York Yankees was postponed this week.

WATCH | MLB’s rocky road to resumption of play:

Major League Baseball is back without fans in the stands, but while the return of baseball may be a comforting distraction for a country almost completely overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, politics now permeate every aspect of the game in the U.S. 2:07

The Toronto-Philadelphia series was originally set to begin Friday, but the opener was pushed back to Saturday afternoon.

MLB said Wednesday the series would go ahead after Phillies players and on-field staff tested negative for the coronavirus for a second straight day. A message left Thursday afternoon with an MLB spokesperson was not immediately returned.

Toronto was scheduled to be the home team in Philadelphia. The Blue Jays are playing home games in their opposition’s parks until their temporary home in Buffalo, N.Y., is ready on Aug. 11.

In Thursday’s series finale against the Nationals, the Blue Jays are set to be the home team for the second straight game.

Earlier this month, the Blue Jays made a proposal to play home games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre during the shortened 60-game season but the federal government shut down the plan due to concerns about COVID-19.

Several Blue Jays players and staff members at the team’s spring-training facility in Dunedin, Fla., reportedly tested positive for the virus last month.

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Canada’s St. Georges shines in Red Stars’ Challenge Cup semis win over Sky Blue

Bianca St. Georges and Rachel Hill scored early and the Chicago Red Stars held off determined Sky Blue 3-2 on Wednesday night to earn a spot in the Challenge Cup final.

The Red Stars, who played last year in the National Women’s Soccer League championship game but fell to the North Carolina, will meet the Houston Dash on Sunday in the tournament’s title game.

The Dash, who had never made the playoffs in seven seasons in the league, defeated the Portland Thorns 1-0 in the earlier semifinal.

The sixth-seeded Red Stars built a 3-0 lead in the game but No. 7 Sky Blue scored a pair of goals late.

WATCH | Red Stars outlast Blue to reach final:

Bianca St-Georges of Saint-Charles-Borromée, Quebec, scores her 1st career NWSL goal to put Chicago Red Stars up 1-0 over Sky Blue FC. 1:37

The match had looked like it could be a battle of the goalkeepers after both teams went scoreless in the quarterfinals and advanced to the semis on penalty shootouts.

Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan went into the game leading the field with 20 saves in the tournament. Chicago counterpart Alyssa Naeher had 18 saves, but rested for a game during the group stage.

St. Georges got past Sheridan early, finding her out of place with a shot to the far post in the eighth minute. It was her first professional goal.

WATCH | St. Georges puts Red Stars out to early lead:

Bianca St-Georges sets up Savannah McCaskill for Chicago’s 3rd goal of the match. With a goal and an assist, St-Georges of Saint-Charles-Borromée, Quebec, leads the Red Stars to a 3-2 victory and a spot in the NWSL Challenge final. 1:20

Some three minutes later Hill, who was traded to Chicago from the Orlando Pride in the off-season, scored.

Savannah McCaskill scored on the counter to pad the Red Stars’ lead in the 60th minute.

But Sky Blue closed the gap on rookie Evelyne Viens’ header in the 72nd minute, and some five minutes later an own goal got the New Jersey team closer.

The Red Stars did not start Casey Short, who had one of the Chicago’s two goals heading into Wednesday night’s semifinal. The team announced shortly before kickoff that she had picked up an injury in training the day before.

WATCH | Canadian Viens scores for Blue:

Evelyne Viens from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, scores with a header to cut Sky Blue FC’s deficit to 2 goals. 0:51

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Blue Jays will play ‘majority’ of home games in Buffalo

The Toronto Blue Jays will play most of their home games at their top minor-league affiliate’s stadium in Buffalo, N.Y., this season.

The Blue Jays announced the decision Friday, hours before their season opener at Tampa Bay.

The team’s home opener was scheduled for Wednesday against the Washington Nationals, but that game and the game the following day both will be played in the U.S. capital with the Jays as the home team. Toronto plays two road games against Washington on Monday and Tuesday.

Toronto’s first game in Buffalo will either be July 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies or Aug. 11 against the Miami Marlins.


Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team was forced to find a new home for 2020 after the federal government last week rejected the club’s proposal for the Blue Jays and visiting teams to stay in the hotel inside Rogers Centre and never leave the facility during stints in Toronto.

The Blue Jays would have needed an exception from the federal government for the traditional 14-day quarantine to play in Toronto during the coronavirus pandemic.

Team shut out of Pittsburgh, considered Dunedin

On a video conference with reporters last Sunday, reliever Anthony Bass said the players expressed a desire to the team’s front office to play home games at a major-league stadium this season.

But the state of Pennsylvania also didn’t clear the Blue Jays to play home games in Pittsburgh.

Before the federal government’s decision, the Blue Jays were considering their spring-training facility in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo.

But surging COVID-19 rates in Florida and a lack of space and lighting concerns in Buffalo raised questions about both of those options, leading the Blue Jays to look at other major-league sites.

Several Blue Jays players and staff members reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 last month while working out in Dunedin.


In the end, the Blue Jays couldn’t find another major-league stadium, and settled on Buffalo.

Opened in 1988, Sahlen Field has a capacity of 16,600. But no fans will be in attendance this season.

The Buffalo Bisons became the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate for the start of the 2013 season. Minor-league baseball has been cancelled this year, which created the opening in Buffalo.

Sahlen Field is in downtown Buffalo, minutes from the Peace Bridge connecting the city to Fort Erie, Ont.

WATCH | MLB adjusts to the ‘new normal’:

Major League Baseball is back without fans in the stands, but while the return of baseball may be a comforting distraction for a country almost completely overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, politics now permeate every aspect of the game in the U.S. 2:07

Several of the top young Blue Jays have spent time playing for the Bisons, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson.

The federal government did agree to the modified quarantine at the Rogers Centre hotel for the Jays’ summer training camp, but said concerns about regular cross-border travel along with road games in hard-hit American states made the regular-season plan a no-go.

It won’t be the first time a Canadian MLB team will play an extended stretch of home games outside the country.

The Montreal Expos, owned by the league at the time, played 22 home games a season in Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004 before relocating to Washington.

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