Is this the year of the Blue Jays?

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This could be the year of the Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays were one of the best teams in baseball in 2021. They had two of three finalists for American League MVP, AL winner Cy Young, a strong supporting cast around those players and the fifth-best race differential in the majors. They also closed the season on a 22-9 streak. This is the profile of a true World Series competitor.

And yet, Toronto didn’t even make the playoffs, losing a game to AL East rivals Boston and New York in the wildcard race. The combination of a tough schedule, being forced to play the majority of their “home” games at U.S. minor league parks due to Canadian COVID-19 restrictions, and simple bad luck ultimately sinks the Blue Jays.

But now it’s time for a fresh start. Thursday is Opening Day, that great symbol of optimism for everyone in baseball. And the Jays, who open Friday night at home against Texas, may be more optimistic than most. Chances are they won’t just make the playoffs this year, but fight for their first World Series title since going back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.

Here’s a quick catch-up ahead of what should be another exciting season for Canada’s only Major League Baseball team:

Two star players left. AL MVP runner-up Marcus Semien and Cy Young winner Robbie Ray both got offers they couldn’t refuse in free agency. Semien turned his unusual 45 homers from second base into a seven-year, US$175 million mega-deal with Texas (which now has a half-billion-dollar middle field after drawing the stop- runs Corey Seager from the Dodgers for 10 years and $325 million). Ray earned a five-year, $115 million contract from Seattle after leading the Majors in strikeouts and passing the AL in the ERA.

But the Jays have held firm this offseason. They replaced Ray with another potential ace in Kevin Gausman, who got an almost identical contract. Gausmann, 31, helped San Francisco to baseball’s best record last year by finishing in the National League’s top six in wins, strikeouts and ERA+. Toronto further bolstered its rotation by signing late-season acquisition Jose Berrios to a seven-year, $131 million extension and signing southpaw Yusei Kikcuhi (formerly of Seattle) to a three-year, $36 million contract. dollars. The Jays also helped their pitchers by trading for All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman. The triple Gold Glover is one of the best defensive players in baseball and provides power at home plate (when he’s not hitting, which often happens).

And the rest of the core remains intact. It starts with AL MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is one of three co-favorites to win this year’s award, along with 2021 winner Shohei Ohtani and Angels teammate Mike Trout. Guerrero’s potential seems almost limitless after a stellar season where he hit 48 homers with a .401 on-base percentage before his 23rd birthday. The young first baseman is the crown jewel of a superb batting team that also includes 24-year-old shortstop Bo Bichette (29 homers, 25 stolen bases last year) and powerhouse outfielders Teoscar Hernández (32 homers, 12 interceptions) and George Springer, who clubbed 22 dingers in just 78 games. If the Jays’ flagship acquisition from the previous offseason can stay healthy this year, he could be the biggest “add-on” of them all.

Some smart people really like the Jays’ chances. Respected, analysis-focused website Fangraphs projects Toronto will go 92-70 this year – the best in the American League and the third-best record in all of baseball (just slightly behind the Dodgers and World Series champion Atlanta ). Fangraphs’ projection system also gives the Jays a 12.1% chance of winning the World Series. That’s behind just 14.1% of the Dodgers, suggesting Toronto vs. LA is the likeliest matchup for the Fall Classic. Betting markets are also bullish on the Jays. The odds differ depending on the bookmaker, but highly rated Pinnacle ranks Toronto as a slight favorite to win the highly competitive AL East, and co-favorite with Houston to capture the AL pennant. Consistent with Fangraphs’ projections, Pinnacle has the Jays as the No. 2 favorite behind the Dodgers to win the World Series.

The Jays could also have a hidden advantage. As long as current Canadian COVID-19 regulations remain in place, unvaccinated players will not be permitted to travel to Toronto. It’s hard to know exactly who is unvaccinated (mainly because unvaccinated athletes don’t usually offer this information), but it’s safe to say that some teams might miss an important player or two when visiting the Jays. One of them could be Yankees judge Aaron, who recently evaded the question of whether he fired or not.

Baseball will be a little different this year. It may have crushed everyone’s soul, but the 99-day lockout had minimal impact on the regular season schedule. Even though the opening day has been pushed back a week, each team will play the normal 162 matches. However, the post-season will be more important after the new collective agreement widened the field from 10 teams to 12 (in each league, the three division winners plus now three jokers). The other big change is that the designated hitter has become universal, so pitchers will no longer hit in games played at National League parks. You will also now see referees announcing video review decisions to the crowd, NFL-style. Some of the most aggressive changes proposed during labor negotiations are not happening yet, but could happen as early as next year: a step clock, bigger bases and a ban on the despised shift.

And, of course, some familiar faces are in new places. Besides Semien and Seager in Texas and the others we’ve already mentioned, former NL MVPs Freddie Freeman and Kris Bryant jumped from Atlanta to the Dodgers and San Francisco to Colorado, respectively. Three star shortstops have changed teams, with Carlos Correa going from Houston to Minnesota, Javier Baez from the Mets to Detroit and Trevor Story from Colorado to Boston. Batter Kyle Schwarber went from Boston to Philadelphia, while Nick Castellanos took command in deep left field from Cincy to Philly.

Kevin Gausman was Toronto’s biggest offseason acquisition. (Steve Nesius/The Canadian Press)

Quickly…

Looks like Tiger Woods is going to play in the Masters. The five-time green jacket winner, who nearly lost a leg in a car accident just over a year ago, seemed very optimistic today about his chances of starting in Augusta on Thursday. He will make the final call after playing nine more practice holes on Wednesday, but Woods said “for now I feel like I’m going to play.” He added: “I can hit [the ball] It’s okay. I have no qualms about what I can do physically from a golf perspective. “The ‘hardest part,’ according to Tiger, is walking the hilly course. But, he said, it’s ‘a challenge I’m up for. The only thing coming close to a competitive tournament Woods has participated in since the devastating February 2021 crash was a 36-hole father-son scramble event alongside his son Charlie in December. a flat course, and Tiger was allowed to use a golf cart.If he finally decides he’s ready for the uphill battle that is the Masters, Woods will tee off Thursday at 10:34 a.m. ET with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann Read the latest news on Tiger’s return here.

One of Canada’s most resilient Olympians has retired. Laurence Vincent Lapointe was the most dominant female canoeist in the world and one of the favorites to win Olympic gold in Tokyo until she tested positive for a small amount of a banned muscle-building drug in July 2019. Insisting that she did not knowingly ingest the substance, Vincent Lapointe won reinstatement – but not before missing out on the 2019 world championships, which she needed to qualify. The Canadian canoe/kayak team found a solution by reallocating one of its Olympic kayak spots to Vincent Lapointe, who went on to win two medals in Tokyo: a silver in singles and a bronze in doubles with teammate Katie vincent. Learn more about Vincent Lapointe’s retirement here and his Olympic odyssey here.

Brad Gushue’s team remains well above the pack at the world men’s curling championship. Yesterday’s win over Italy brought Canada’s record in Las Vegas to 5-0. No other team is better than 3-2. Gushue Rink will face one of them, Germany, at 5 p.m. ET in its only game of the day. The 13-team round robin ends Friday, followed by the six-team playoffs starting Saturday.

Coming soon on CBC Sports

Canadian swimming events: The six-day competition, which opened today in Victoria, will be used to select Canada’s team for the world championships in June. Some of the Olympic stars involved are seven-time medalist Penny Oleksiak, 100m butterfly champion Maggie MacNeil, four-time medalist Kylie Masse and 15-year-old phenom Summer McIntosh. Learn more about the trials in this preview from CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux and follow his tweets from Victoria here. Each practice race is streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem, continuing tonight at 8:45 p.m. ET. See the full broadcast schedule here.

You are aware. Speak to you tomorrow.

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