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