Major League Sports

Blue Jays home favourites Friday when they host the Phillies

The Toronto Blue Jays will be looking to extend their stretch of early-season success in interleague play when they kick off a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night as -135 home favourites on the MLB odds at sportsbooks monitored by

Toronto returns to Dunedin after completing a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a decisive 8-4 win on Thursday afternoon, which marked the club’s sixth win in eight contests going into Friday night’s matchup at TD Ballpark.

The Blue Jays have now swept the Braves in a pair of three-game sets this season, and sport an 8-1 record in their past nine meetings with National League opponents. The club has also enjoyed historical success when battling Philadelphia in interleague play. Overall, Toronto has claimed victory in 20 of 28 meetings with the Phillies since July 2011, going 13-4 in 17 home dates over that stretch, according to the OddsShark MLB Database.

However, they have work to do to overcome their shaky performance against the Phillies while falling to defeat in three of four meetings late last season.

Despite those recent woes, there is plenty of reason for Blue Jays fans to feel good about the club’s fortunes entering the weekend. Toronto outscored the Braves by a wide 17-8 overall margin during this week’s sweep, and scored eight or more runs on four occasions over the final eight games of its recent road trip. That steady production has contributed to an increasingly reliable run for the OVER, which is 11-4 over the Blue Jays’ past 15 outings.

The Blue Jays’ success on their recent road trip has also lifted them to within striking distance of first place in the AL East standings. However, the club’s continued steady play has yet to be reflected on the MLB futures at online betting sites, where Toronto remains off the pace as a +475 wager to claim the division, and as a lengthy +2000 bet on the World Series odds.

While the Blue Jays surge, the Phillies will try to rebound as they look to Friday night’s matchup as +115 road underdogs. Philadelphia is coming off a 5-1 loss in Washington on Thursday afternoon, marking their third defeat in five outings, all on the road.

The Phillies remains in the heat of a tight NL East division race, sitting just 1.5 games back of the first-place New York Mets. However, Philadelphia has been a consistent disappointment on the road in 2021, going 7-12 so far this season, with their lone road series win coming in this week’s three-game set against the Nationals.

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Major League Sports

When could Blue Jays consider calling up Alek Manoah?

Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith discuss the possibility of the Toronto Blue Jays calling up pitching prospect Alek Manoah after a pair of promising starts in triple-A.

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Maple Leafs’ Andersen feeling confident despite loss in return from injury

Is this how it ends?

With a whimper, not a bang?

With not the slightest hint of controversy?

Without a single fan in attendance to chant “Fred-die!”?

With the name “Rittich” — a goaltender who didn’t so much as dress Wednesday night — trending on Toronto Twitter, for goodness sakes?

While we are certainly not ready to proclaim the Frederik Andersen’s Maple Leafs era over before the puck drops on the post-season — playoff runs can unravel best-laid goalie plans faster than you say “Jake Oettinger” — there is no doubt that for the first Leafs series in five years, the crease will no longer be Andersen’s to lose.

Making his first NHL appearance in 60 days, the 31-year-old’s rehabilitation pitch was the most meaningful story in the otherwise meaningless game.

Andersen and the organization have gone to great lengths to set him up as best as possible for success when he is called upon.

First, GM Kyle Dubas first made use of an AHL conditioning stint with the Marlies. Then he stretched the salary cap to its limit (and sacrificed game reps for skaters Rasmus Sandin, Zach Hyman and Riley Nash) in order to accommodate one last regular-season NHL start for Andersen, an overworked anchor in this city for half a decade.

Andersen allowed four goals on 28 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, who squashed the Leafs’ Presidents’ Trophy bid and deserved full marks for riding out their season on a high note.

“He got through the game. He moved well. I would say that’s what stood out,” coach Sheldon Keefe assessed. “That’s really what the game was about is just getting him through the 60 minutes and feeling good. By all accounts, it seems that that was the case.”

Andersen finishes 2020-21, his critical UFA contract season, with a 13-8-3 record, 2.96 goals-against average, and .895 save percentage. All these numbers are career worsts.

There is no more runway to get Andersen’s knee feeling strong and get the goaltender feeling confident – two intertwined goals since his mid-March hiatus.

If he appears in a Maple Leafs net again, it’ll be under the bright lights of a pressurized playoff series. For the first time in Andersen’s tenure, Toronto will be a heavy favourite when it opens its series versus Montreal at home next week. And for once, the defence deployed in front of the Leafs’ crease will rank among the league’s best.

Yet it appears only a significant stumble from Jack Campbell — seizing the No. 1 role with a franchise-record-breaking 17-2-2 record and a sparkling .923 save percentage — will pave the way for an Andersen redemption tale.

“He’s put in so much work. We’ve witnessed it every single day at the rink, just to get himself prepared and back as healthy as possible to obviously get in the net and get a feel for it,” said close friend Auston Matthews.

“I thought he played really, really well tonight. At times, we weren’t good enough for him. We didn’t really give him, on a couple of those, that’s purely on us. I thought he looked good. He looked confident. I think that’s all you can really ask for from a big piece like him for this team.”

Former Leafs Nikita Zaitsev (a screened point blast) and Connor Brown (a hardworking shorthanded strike, his NHL-best fifth) solved Andersen with excusable goals. But rookie call-up Parker Kelly, making his NHL debut, beat him from a tough angle, and Josh Norris twisted the knife nine seconds into OT.

Andersen chalked up the goals to “some weird plays and some unfortunate bounces.”

“Maybe that’s rust. Maybe I could do a few things differently [and] those would be saves, but overall felt really good,” Andersen said. “I felt like I was moving really well. Felt confident out there making some plays. Just calm in the net.”

To be fair, the Leafs in front of Andersen were playing cautious. Probably too calm.

“Just no life, no energy,” Jake Muzzin said.

Surely, the mind cannot help but wander to Game 1. Self-preservation is natural.

“That’s the biggest mental hurdle right now,” Keefe said. “Guys want to play well; they want to win the game. But our guys know what’s around the corner here, and nobody wants to be going into it too banged up. So, you’re a little shy on everything that you’re doing and you’re just not quite into it mentally. But it’s a 56-game season and we’re only through 55.

“We don’t have the [cap] flexibility to be able to make sweeping changes and sit multiple people. We’ve got to find a way to stay in it mentally enough to make sure that we don’t let our guard down. That’s when bad things tend to happen, injuries and such.”

Yes, Keefe only need look at his goaltender to see the toll injuries and such can exact.

During his five regular seasons in Toronto, Andersen has started 267 games, faced 8,466 shots, made 7,740 saves, and stood in that crease for 12,625 minutes. Only Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg has seen more work during that span.

So, no, Andersen’s Leafs days won’t end like this. If anything, they’ll end with more labour — even if that’s behind the scenes.

“Just keep working in practice, like I have been,” Andersen said of his next step.

“I’m looking forward to this journey with this team. Every day is fun to be around this team and battle with the guys. Everyone can do their best and contribute. That’s what I’m going to keep doing.”

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