Baseball is heating up for Canada's teams (big-league and Little)
Jays hope to find their gear while Little Leaguers start their World Series
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The dog days of August mean the stakes are getting higher for Canada's baseball teams, both big-league and Little. Here's what's up:
The Blue Jays are running out of time to flip the switch.
The mid-July firing of manager Charlie Montoyo seemed to electrify the meandering World Series contenders. But the energy was fleeting: since winning 12 of their first 15 games under John Schneider, Toronto has gone 3-9 to fall to a disappointing 61-54 on the year.
With fewer than 50 games left, the Blue Jays can probably forget about catching the juggernaut Yankees, who are 10 games ahead atop the American League East. The Jays still hold the third and final AL wild card for the newly expanded post-season, but just barely. If they get swept this afternoon by Baltimore, they'll drop a half game behind the Orioles for that last wild-card spot. That's a humbling scenario when you consider that the low-budget Orioles' total payroll ($43 million US) is quite a bit less than what the Jays are paying for just two players (George Springer and Kevin Gausman).
So, what's the problem? Let's start with starting pitching. Cy Young winner Robbie Ray left for Seattle and former ace Hyun Jin Ryu is out for the year with an elbow injury, but two other starters have stepped up. Newcomer Gausman is earning his five-year, $110M contract with sparkling underlying stats that belie his unlucky 8-9 record, while second-year man Alek Manoah (12-6) has also pitched brilliantly. But the back end of the rotation is a disaster, with Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi performing at well below replacement level. Berrios, who's in the first year of a seven-year, $131-million contract (gulp), looked like he'd put his first-half struggles behind him with a solid July, but he's been lit up for 13 runs in his two August starts. Kikuchi has pitched so erratically that he's in danger of being demoted to the bullpen. As a whole, Toronto's starters rank 19th in the majors in ERA. Last year, they were sixth.
Meanwhile, the batting order isn't generating as much power as it did last year, when the Jays led the majors in home runs and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Toronto has fallen to seventh and fourth in those categories as Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., has regressed from his MVP-calibre 2021 while Bo Bichette is having the worst offensive year of his young career. Springer's production has also declined and he's (once again) battled injury. Ditto for Teoscar Hernandez. The Jays also miss their other 2021 MVP finalist, Marcus Semien, though Texas is probably regretting that $175-million contract they handed him as his numbers have dipped considerably.
Despite all this, the Jays aren't done. If they can grab a wild card, they could be the proverbial Team No One Wants To Face In The Playoffs, with the talent to take down higher seeds and even go all the way. But the revamped wild-card round, with its best-of-three format, will be a crapshoot. Not exactly what we had in mind for a team that looked like a good bet to reach its first World Series in almost three decades.
Canada plays its first game at the Little League World Series today.
It's opening day for the annual youngsters' tournament in Williamsport, Pa., where Canada faces Australia at 5 p.m. ET. The Vancouver-based Little Mountain Baseball All-Stars earned the right to represent Canada by winning last week's national championship tournament in Calgary, where they played as Team B.C.
The LLWS follows a double-knockout format. If Canada beats Australia, it will play Japan on Friday. If Canada loses its opener, it'll face an elimination game on Saturday.
Canada has never won the LLWS. The closest was a team from Stoney Creek, Ont., that reached the championship game in 1965. Even though they lost, a great catch by one of the Canadian players made an impression on Jackie Robinson. Read about that here.