Sports·The Buzzer

Baseball is a mess, but at least the Jays have hope

Thursday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, covers good news and bad news for the Blue Jays: their weekend series is cancelled, but their future ace may have just arrived.

Their weekend series against Philly was cancelled, but a future ace may have arrived

Nate Pearson has the stuff to be the Jays' best pitcher. (Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

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As baseball's mess grows, the Jays look to the future

A rough week for baseball keeps getting rougher. Today, the upcoming weekend series between the Blue Jays and Phillies was postponed after a Philadelphia coach and a clubhouse staffer tested positive for the coronavirus (all of Philly's players have tested negative). That wipes out a Saturday doubleheader and another game on Sunday. The Blue Jays said they'll remain in Washington, where they're wrapping up a series this afternoon, until Major League Baseball tells them what to do.

The Phillies had already been put on hiatus through Friday because of their recent contact with the Miami Marlins, whose outbreak continues to grow. Another Marlins player reportedly tested positive today, bringing the team's total to 17 players and two coaches since the positives started rolling in during last weekend's series vs. Philadelphia. Like the Phillies, the Marlins haven't played since Sunday and are on ice until at least the end of the week.

Meanwhile, MLB is trying to plug some of the holes in its porous return-to-play plan. From now on, reportedly, compliance officers will travel with every team to make sure they're following the coronavirus protocols, and players are required to wear surgical masks (not cloth ones) while travelling. They're also being "encouraged" to not leave their hotels when they're on the road, which seems like a response to rumours that some Marlins went out during an exhibition trip to Atlanta. 

Amidst all this troubling news, something positive for the Blue Jays: top prospect Nate Pearson made his major-league debut last night. The big 23-year-old right-hander was picked 28th overall in the 2017 draft and spent the last few years pitching pretty well at various minor-league levels.

Pearson delivered on the hype, pitching five shutout innings in a 4-0 loss to Washington. He allowed only two hits while striking out five and walking two. He had a pretty good duel going with Nationals ace Max Scherzer, but the Jays decided to pull Pearson after only 75 pitches (a common, though frustrating, move in modern baseball). He also showed off the power in his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame by approaching triple digits on the radar gun.

Pearson's arrival is another reason to be optimistic about the Jays' future. Last year, the team brought up its three best everyday prospects — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio — and they all impressed at the plate. Now Toronto has its potential ace of the future on the mound every five days. Assuming the entire major-league season doesn't blow up, the young Jays should be fun to watch.

The NBA returns for real tonight

Four and a half months after Utah centre Rudy Gobert's positive test triggered the shutdowns of every North American sports league, the NBA is finally ready to play meaningful games again. Tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET in a spectator-less gym inside Disney World, Gobert's Jazz will face the New Orleans Pelicans. At 9 p.m. ET, the Los Angeles Lakers take on the L.A. Clippers.

Both matchups are part of the so-called "seeding games." Each of the 22 teams who qualified for the restart will play eight of these. They'll be added to the teams' regular-season records to determine seedings for the standard 16-team playoff tournament that follows. The one catch is that if the No. 8 team in either conference leads the No. 9 by four games or less at the end of the seeding games, those teams will square off for the final playoff spot. The 9 seed has to win two straight games, while the 8 only needs one win.

One of the teams playing tonight hopes to force a play-in series with the help of its electrifying rookie. Zion Williamson arrived in the NBA with tremendous hype after New Orleans picked him first overall in last year's draft. A knee injury delayed his debut until late January, and the Pelicans have limited his minutes, but Zion still looks like a superstar in the making (if he can stay healthy, which has been a problem dating back to college). He's averaging 23.6 points per game, scoring efficiently and showing off the jaw-dropping mix of athleticism and bulk that makes him so interesting. Catch him while you can, though. The Pelicans are 3½ games out of a playoff spot, so Zion might not last past the seeding games.

The late game tonight, Lakers vs. Clippers, features two of the top three title contenders (Milwaukee is the other), two of the very best players in the world (LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard) and two of the best sidekicks (Anthony Davis and Paul George).

The defending-champion Toronto Raptors, who are generally considered to be in the tier just below that top three, open Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. ET vs. the Lakers. Read more about how the Raps stack up in this piece by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.

If you want to catch up quickly on the teams, players and storylines from around the league to watch, read our NBA restart primer from yesterday's newsletter.

Zion Williamson's New Orleans Pelicans play the Utah Jazz in the first NBA game since March on Thursday. (Michael Ainsworth/The Associated Press)

Quickly...

Major League Baseball came down hard on Joe Kelly. The Dodgers reliever was suspended eight games for his actions on Tuesday night, which included throwing behind the head of Astros hitter Alex Bregman and also nearly beaning Carlos Correa. Kelly also traded profanity-laced insults with Correa, resulting in both benches emptying before cooler heads prevailed. Eight games is a lot in a normal year. In this shortened 60-game season, it's the equivalent of 22 — way longer than any suspension in recent memory for such an incident. But whatever Kelly is losing in playing time and pay, he might be making up for in prestige. Some baseball fans are hailing him as a hero for exacting revenge on two of the players involved with the Astros team that cheated its way to a championship in 2017, when they beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Read more about Kelly's suspension here.

The almost Super Bowl MVP opted out of the NFL season. If Patrick Mahomes hadn't won the award, it probably would have gone to Kansas City running back Damien Williams. He scored two touchdowns and gained a combined 133 yards rushing and receiving in the win over San Francisco. K.C. took a running back in the first round of the draft this year, but the job looked like it was still Williams' to lose until he decided yesterday to skip the season because of coronavirus concerns. Williams is the second starter from the defending champs to opt out. K.C. also lost Canadian offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical-school graduate who said he'd rather risk his health by continuing to work with patients in his native Quebec than on the football field.

Kia Nurse is back, but maybe not quite herself yet. The Canadian national-team star left Saturday's WNBA season opener early after suffering an apparent ankle injury. She returned to start the New York Liberty's next game, which was last night, but scored only two points on 1-of-6 shooting. New York rookie Sabrina Ionescu, who was picked first overall in this year's draft, dazzled with a game-high 33 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists. But the Liberty still lost 93-80 to Dallas to fall to 0-2. Read more about the game here.

And also...

This is a special date for Canadian swimming. On July 30, 1984, Alex Baumann became the first Canadian in 72 years to capture an Olympic swimming gold medal when he won the 400-metre individual medley in world-record time at the boycotted Los Angeles Games. Half an hour later, Anne Ottenbrite became the first Canadian woman ever to win Olympic swimming gold when she took the 200m breaststroke. Exactly eight years after that, on July 30, 1992, Mark Tewksbury pulled off a big upset to win the 100 backstroke in Barcelona. CBC Sports' Scott Russell caught up with all three swimmers to relive those moments for their anniversary, and you can read his piece here.

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