What to Watch Now That the Jays are Gone

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s official: the long cold baseball-less winter is upon us.

Despite any amount of hope fans may have had, the Blue Jays were unable to rally back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series last week.

But the end of the baseball season means we can now turn our collective attention to the other teams in this city. And, for what it’s worth, this is turning out to be as good a winter in Toronto as we’ve had in a few years.

Raptors

Let’s start with Toronto’s most successful team as of late. The Raptors ended last year on a high having made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Although the team was outmatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some joy found in taking two games from the eventual champs in between four blowout losses. Winning a playoff series was the main goal last year, and, though they struggled to do so, they won two of them.

This year, gauging the team’s success might be a bit more difficult.

A repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be appreciated but can hardly be expected. Multiple teams in the East have improved in the offseason, including division rivals Boston and New York, so the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything like last year.  But a first round elimination would feel like a step backwards for a team that overcame so much in terms of shaking the franchise’s monkeys off their backs.

Perhaps the team’s success will be determined by the actual product on court, rather than the mile markers the team passes on their way to being eliminated. The team, and particularly newly minted Olympic Gold Medallists Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have been criticized for playing “hero ball” in the past that has been a detriment to the team. If the team can play in a more effective way – one that doesn’t leave fans burying their face in their free giveaway t-shirt – elimination won’t feel as bad and might provide more hope for the future.

Leafs

The Leafs have not been must-see TV for a few years now. If you opened up the fridge of Toronto sports and all you saw was the Leafs, you’d complain that there was nothing to eat. But this year’s version of the Buds is already way more appetizing.

The only thing the Leafs have won in recent memory was the draft lottery at the end of last season. With that came the arrival of Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old American centre has been anointed the saviour of the Leafs and so far, he’s lived up to the high praise. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored four goals, a feat that had never been accomplished before by anyone in their first game.

And he’s not the only youngster getting in on the action. Mitch Marner has also been turning heads, notching three points through five games, including a great goal against Boston in the Leafs home opener. And William Nylander has nine points through six games, including a two-goal night against Chicago this past Saturday.

Unfortunately, the goal scoring has not led to success for the Leafs as of yet. They have just one win this season and have blown third period games in four of their six games so far this season. But at least they are starting to look relevant again, right? A team that scores goals but can’t prevent them is more enjoyable than the opposite any day of the week.

Toronto FC

And finally, we have TFC. The butt of many jokes in Toronto sports, TFC have actually put together their most successful season to date. Gaining a franchise high 53 points, the Reds have secured a home playoff match for the first time in the team’s history. They will take on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field in a win-or-go-home match with a spot on the Eastern Conference semi-finals on the line.

Once again, it has been a spectacular season for Sebastian Giovinco. If it wasn’t clear after his first season with the club, we can say for sure that he is the best player in team history after his second. He scored 17 goals and racked 15 assists without even playing a game in September.

A win on Wednesday and a somewhat deep playoff run could finally give TFC their fair share of the media attention. It’s hard to think that a team sitting near the top of their conference for most of their season and an MVP candidate on their roster – kind of like the Blue Jays of the last two years – would be relegated to the middle of the sports section or to the latter part of a Sportscentre broadcast, but that’s where TFC often find themselves. TFC have the best chance to bring the city a championship and deserve to be treated that way.

Featured image via Toronto Star

Why You Shouldn’t Jump Off the Jays’ Bandwagon Yet

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

This weekend was not great for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Jays scored one run in 18 innings in the two games in Cleveland, going 0-5 with runners in scoring position in Game One and going hitless after the third inning in Game Two. They squandered solid starts from Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ along the way. Both pitchers gave up two earned runs, falling victim to timely hits from Cleveland second baseman Francisco Lindor.

The team now faces the same scenario they faced in the American League Championship Series last year: coming home down two games to none. As Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet points out, 27 teams have fallen behind 0-2 in a League Championship Series and only three have advanced.

So, yeah, not great.

But, let’s not give up on the boys of summer just yet. There are more than enough reasons to believe that this season is not over.

Pitching

When it comes to the pitching matchups, you’d have to think the Jays have the advantage for the next two games.

Game Three has Marcus Stroman pitching for the Jays against Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. Bauer and his 4.26 ERA were supposed to pitch in Game Two but he injured his finger—and this is true—fixing his drone. On paper, it would seem Stroman, coming off a good start in the Wild Card game, would be better than someone with an ERA higher than four and has stitches in his finger.

And Aaron Sanchez will take to the mound for the Jays in Game Four against Mike Clevinger, who is starting because of injury to two other Cleveland pitchers. Sanchez did not look great in his last start but should still be favoured over a pitcher that only started 10 games during the regular season.

Home Sweet Home

A return home might give the Jays offence a much needed boost.

As a team, the Jays have hit .260/.341/.444 at the Rogers Centre this year, but only .236/.318/.408 on the road. The team who has suddenly seen their offensive production suddenly disappear will be happy to return to their notoriously hitter friendly ballpark.

None will be happier than Jose Bautista. He struck out five times in eight plate appearances in the last two games and has voiced his displeasure with the strike zone so far in the series. While still uncharacteristically high for him, Bautista has struck out less at home this year than on the road and will be looking to have some of his power return.

Well, If It Happened Last Year…

While it may not mean much, the Jays were in this position last year.

In the third game of the ALCS last year, the Jays returned home after only scoring two runs in Kansas City. The Jays scored 11 runs and Marcus Stroman picked up the win. Who’s to say a similar result isn’t in order this time around?

And this year, the Jays don’t have to rely on R.A. Dickey in Game Four. Dickey gave up five runs in that game last year, but this year the Jays will have Sanchez, their ace, to carry them into a Game Five. A Game Five that will feature Marco Estrada starting for the Jays…just like last year. If you ask me, things are lining up too perfectly.

While things aren’t great for the Jays, it’s not all doom and gloom. So don’t despair, Toronto, the boys of summer still have a shot this fall.

Featured image via CBC News

Jays Look to Seize the Moment One Year After Bat Flip

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

October 14, 2015 holds a special place in the hearts of Toronto sports fans. It was on this day that Jose Bautista took a 1-1 pitch from Texas Rangers reliever Sam Dyson deep into the left field seats, lifting the Blue Jays to a series win in the American League Divisional Series. He paused and watched it leave the park for a moment before throwing his bat in the air and rounding the bases. When speaking to anyone about it, you just have to say “the Bat Flip” and they know what you’re talking about.

That moment meant a lot to a franchise that had not seen the postseason or much of any important baseball since the back to back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Fans who were in diapers or had yet to be born—like myself—finally had a memory to tell future generations about.

What was even better about that game was that it numbed the pain of Toronto’s eventual elimination to Kansas City in the following round. Toronto blew a lead in Game Two of that series and got shellacked in Game Four at home. But who cared? That could not take the Bat Flip away from us.

And here we are, a year later, with the Jays in a similar position. Having eliminated the Texas Rangers once again, they kick off the American League Championship Series tonight against Cleveland. Already this year, we have new stories to tell. Edwin Encarnacion’s walk off home run in the American League Wildcard game and Josh Donaldson’s dash for home plate in Game Three of the Divisional Series were incredible finishes to incredible games. However, one would have to imagine that they will not be enough to get the fan base through the long, hard winter this time around.

There is too much uncertainty surrounding the team to have fans react the same way they did last year.

At least eight members of the Blue Jays will be entering free agency this offseason, including Bautista and Encarnacion, two players that have been mainstays in the Jays offence for years and are regarded as two of the franchise’s all-time greats.

There is a very real chance that all eight of those players will be gone next year, leaving this team looking a lot different and quite possibly a whole lot less competitive. If that happens, and this team fails to play at the level they did this year, those great moments and warm feelings might not be enough to escape the feeling that this was a wasted opportunity.

With that said, there are enough positives with this team to think that they won’t squander this.

For one, the troubles the team ran into in the playoffs last year have come and gone already. The team went 13-16 in September and lost their lead in the American League East, but have bounced back and gone undefeated in six October games. The starting pitching has fewer questions than it did this time last year, and the offence looks as potent as ever.

Coupled with that, their opponent is hurting. Cleveland will be without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two starting pitchers that would have made the Jays road to a championship a lot more difficult.

A lot of things are going the Jays way at this point, even more than when they were setting the baseball world on fire last year. And for the sake of the fans and a franchise that does not know what coming years might look like, hopefully the moments we have been given in the past will not be the final ones.

Featured image via SB Nation

How to Cheer for Toronto Teams on a Budget

If there’s one thing the last year has shown us, it’s that Toronto teams are working hard to make their fans proud.

But team pride and coming together means a lot of bars and, you guessed it, high bar tabs. And when you have an entire city getting hammered with you in the name of team spirit, blowing money on drinks somehow seems justified.

But it really isn’t, and your bank does not offer city pride rebates. Being smart with your money while supporting Toronto teams doesn’t mean you have to sit at home with a meal of bread and water while you wait for updates on the radio. You can definitely feel the team spirit without forcing your wallet to feel it, too.

Read the Drink Specials and Spend Accordingly

Even if you are not a big sports fan, any bar when a Toronto team is in the playoffs is infectious. Some might say this is being a bandwagoner. I call it having a good time. But that doesn’t mean you have to order the most expensive items. Take a moment to read over the drink specials. Hell, you might find you like something different (and cheap!) And even if you insist on getting your usual, you can search for drink specials based on day and drink online. 

Sip Slowly – Your Drink Isn’t Going Anywhere

If you are somebody who feels anxious about the server coming over and asking you if you want another drink, sip slowly. They are busy, and they are about their tips. So long as your glass isn’t empty they have nothing to say to you aside from a routine quality check to “see how everything’s going”. Nurse your drink. That way you won’t feel tempted to order multiple rounds just to have something in front of you throughout the evening.

Order Appetizers and See If Anyone Else Just Wants Something To Nibble On

Do a quick survey of your friends to see if people are actually hungry. Most of the time people just want something to nibble on, but convince themselves they should order a full meal. If your appetite is not feeling up to a $15 burger, ask if anyone wants to split an appetizer. Apps are less expensive, and if you are splitting it with someone it will be even cheaper.

Pick a Few Evenings to Be a Teetotaler

You are a hard core “Toronto til the death of me” sports fan who needs to watch virtually every game in a bar surrounded by your people. It’s cool. So choose a few nights to be a temporary teetotaler. Pick a few games where you just don’t drink. Even if you grab some food, your bill will still be significantly lower than a bill that includes several rounds. Your liver thanks you.

Find That Friend With Cable and Parents Who Don’t Give a Damn

I don’t think anyone with their own apartment who is under the age of 25 has cable, but this is Toronto, people. That means a large number of your friends or classmates are from the city or the suburbs and are commuters. You know what this means: houses owned by old people (love you, parents!) with cable. Now, most of those people will have parents who do not want a bunch of rowdy sports fans tearing up their living room, but there is always one with parents cool about it – or at least a friend who is willing to risk a cussing from their parents.

Buy some stuff from the grocery store, make an LCBO run, and watch the game without paying restaurant premiums. Thank their mom on the way out. Don’t spill anything.

Order a Pitcher

Go out with people who like the same drinks as you, and then order a pitcher. If you’re gonna spend money drinking, might as well be in bulk.

AND REMEMBER: Don’t drive drunk. Better passed out on the TTC than dead or a murderer. Cheers xo

10 Notable Toronto Moments of 2015

This year has seen Torontonians bond over its baseball team, and become divided over Uber and taxis. Whether you were for Kanye performing at the Pan Am games, or secretly felt bad for Meek Mill, at least one item on this list caught your attention in 2015. In no particular order, here are some of the moments that had Toronto’s tongues wagging.

 Liberals Paint the Town Red

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In October, the Liberals formed government in the country’s 42nd election. Canadians weren’t expecting the red wave that swept across the nation, but what was even more surprising was the Liberals’ dominance in Toronto, a key battleground for votes in the country. The Liberals managed to win all 25 ridings in Toronto. They not only grabbed seats in areas that typically vote NDP, they even managed to oust formidable opponents like former Eglinton-Lawrence MP, Finance Minister Joe Oliver. The MP for Eglinton-Lawrence is now Marco Mendicino.

Kanye West Performs at the Pan Am Closing Ceremony

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Pan Am organizers announced that Kanye West would be performing at the closing ceremony. Naturally, many Torontonians were excited about the rapper’s planned appearance, but there were also people who expressed displeasure about the choice. Their criticism stemmed from West’s controversial actions and the belief that the organizers should choose a Canadian performer. Torontonians were also concerned that taxpayers would foot the bill for the star, but organizers were quick to assure everyone that Live Nation covered the cost of performers, and dealt directly with them. At the end, West threw what seemed to be a faulty microphone and walked off the stage. We still don’t know for sure if that was genuine or planned.

The Installation of the Toronto Sign

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Torontonians weren’t completely sure how they felt about the Pan Am games. Public opinion shifted back and forth between anticipation for Toronto’s hosting gig and condemnation of the spending, not to mention frustration about the HOV lanes. One thing city dwellers across the board loved was the installation of the Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square. We may have built new stadiums and swimming pools, but those colourful seven letters were the most delightful addition. The sign will remain up and serves as a nice photo background for Toronto natives and tourists alike.

The Taxi-Uber showdown

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The taxi industry has been up in arms over Uber’s creep into the city. Uber’s lack of regulation allows it the luxury of cheaper prices while cab drivers have to follow city rules which prevent them from being as competitive as the new ride-sharing service. Uber’s refusal to cease operations until City Council can draft new regulations, and the city’s unwillingness to enforce existing bylaws in the meantime, has resulted in mounting frustration from the taxi industry leading to protests. Proponents of Uber rave about its lower costs, focus on customer satisfaction, and the ability to track your ride. Critics point to its illegal operations and the risk to passengers who would only be able to deal with a driver’s private insurance in the case of an accident.

Trudeau’s Welcoming of Refugees at Pearson Airport

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson. He was joined by Ontario premier, Kathleen Wynne. The move drew international praise and media attention, and served as a refreshing contrast to the hateful and divisive rhetoric south of the border. Trudeau and the Liberals campaigned on the promise of bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of the year, but they have backtracked on that number saying they will only be able to bring in 10,000 by the end of December.

The City Finds a Father Figure in a Councillor

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Councillor Norm Kelly waded into this summer’s feud between Drake and Meek Mill. Meek Mill accused the Toronto rapper of using a ghostwriter. Kelly came to Drizzy’s defence, famously tweeting that Meek Mill was no longer welcome in Toronto and consistently trolling the Philadelphia rapper over the next few weeks with everything from pithy jabs to Simpsons memes. His foray into hip-hop culture has earned him a younger audience that has taken to referring to the 74-year-old politician as “daddy”. Kelly regularly tweets helpful information about city services, important questions like “is white chocolate really chocolate?” and “what kind of monster buys half a pie?” Kelly even won the title of Canada’s Most Valuable Tweeter beating the likes of Justin Bieber and P.K. Subban.

The Blue Jays’ Wild Ride

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The Blue Jays whipped the city into a frenzy with their successful season, securing their first playoff berth in 22 years. After months of crazy ticket prices and an increase in commuters sporting Jays merch, the boys in blue ended their season with a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Nevertheless, it was still a terrific season and images like Jose Bautista’s triumphant bat flip will remain imprinted on the city’s heart for quite some time.

Opening of the Union Pearson Express Line

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In June, the Union Pearson Express train officially opened for business. The line that runs from Union Station to Pearson gets travelers from the downtown core to the airport in 25 minutes. Though decidedly more comfortable than lugging your bags on the subway, many balked at the price: $27.50 or $19 for Presto cardholders. The train also boasts amenities like food services and free WiFi.

First Leaders’ Debate

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The Maclean’s National Leaders’ Debate took place in Toronto at City’s downtown studio. It was notable not only for being the first debate of the campaign period, but also for the performance of the leaders. Harper was his usual collected self, working through his talking points. Trudeau, though also quite reliant on repetitive talking points, performed better than expected. The most talked about candidate was Mulcair due to his demeanour that came across at best amusing and at worst, uncomfortable. Whoever suggested he tone down the aggressive tactics he employed in Parliament and adopt a kindly uncle approach clearly miscalculated, leaving viewers a little weirded out by his wide eyes and constant smiling. Elizabeth May was the most knowledgeable and eloquent of the four presenting smart, interesting ideas, but she was shamefully excluded from future debates including the Globe and Mail debate on the economy.

Peegate

In what was arguably the most cringe-worthy story of 2015, former Conservative candidate Jerry Bance left the Tory party in disgrace after a video of him urinating in a homeowner’s mug surfaced online causing confused Twitter users to click on the trending topic #peegate to figure out what the hell was going on. Bance, a service technician by trade, was caught on hidden camera in a 2012 episode of CBC’s Marketplace casually peeing into a cup and then rinsing it out sans soap. He was responding to a call to replace a leaky sink. As if the situation wasn’t comedic enough already. Bance, who was running in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, released a statement saying the video “does not reflect who I am as a professional or a person.” One Twitter user responded by tweeting, “Sorry Jerry – if you pee in someone else’s mug, that is who you are.”