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Say What Jays Talk

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Altering History: how politics can shape international sport

I was watching some men’s Olympic basketball the other night and saw a rousing match between Serbia and Croatia. The two bitter foes duked it out, in a back and forth affair. The game saw #6 ranked Serbia narrowly defeat #12 Croatia 86-83. Many of the players had been alive for the fracture of the former Yugoslavia and lived though the chaos of the early nineties - some were not. Some of these players, now on opposing teams, spent large parts of their lives as countrymen. This made me wonder, what if politics hadn’t got in the way?

So here is a list of a three parallel universe, “what if?” sports rosters.

1. What if the Yugoslavians had been able to settle their differences and remained a united country? What would their international basketball team look like?

From 1991-2001 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had a drawn out civil war that involved widespread ethnic cleansing and ultimately led to the country splintering into seven independent states. These new countries range in size from less than a million to 7 million people. But if they stayed united they’d be a nation of roughly 22 million people. The seven united countries would currently have 15 NBA players, surpassing Canada’s 12, for the most international players in 2015-16.

Croatia has four NBA players; Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia each have three; while Bosnia and Herzegovina has two.

Yugoslavia’s roster could look something like this:

C- Nikola Vucevic (ORL) MONTENEGRO -18.2 PPG
PF - Mirza Teletovic (MIL) BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – 12.2 PPG
PF- Nikola Mirotec (CHI) MONTENEGRO – 11.8 PPG
SG/SF - Bojan Bogdanovic (BRK) CROATIA – 11.2 PPG
PG/SG - Goran Dragic MIA SLOVENIA – 14.1 PPG

Obviously they would have to work out their small forward and/or shooting guard situation but these are their top five scorers last season. This may not seem all that flashy but when compared with the World’s #2, Spain’s top five:

C- Marc Gasol (MEM) -16.6 PPG
PF- Pau Gasol (SAS) - 16.5 PPG
PF Nikola Mirotec (CHI) – 11.8 PPG *
PG- Ricky Rubio (MIN) - 10.1 PPG
SG-Jose Calderon (LAL) - 7.6 PPG

*Mirotec was born in and spent his childhood in Montenegro but has Spanish citizenship. He recently represented Spain in Rio. But in this parallel universe we’ll assume that Mirotec would not turn down the chance to play for the powerhouse Yugoslavs.

If Mirotec decided to play for Yugoslavia, they would probably fly past Spain on the international ranking. When you consider that there were only 100 international players in the NBA in 2015-16, Yugoslavia’s 15 would be quite impressive.

So would Yugoslavia staying together have improved their international basketball team? Absolutely! International basketball always seems to be about which club has the best chance to upset the American Dream Team. On paper the US should never lose on the world stage, but lesser teams from time to time shock the Yanks. The Yugoslavs would be a team that America, and the world, would always have to take seriously.

Serbia took home the silver medal in Rio, despite only having 1 NBA player. Yugoslavia would have 15.

2. What if the US Civil War had been won by the South?: A look at a divided house and its affect on USA baseball.

Well we could do this with any sport but since we just looked at basketball and because football is not really an international sport, baseball might be the most interesting. First, I will be basing this on the premise that the Confederacy would have remained the 11 states that seceded during the Civil War, the United States will get the rest. Also, I will assume 151 years later that the Confederacy would have abolished slavery, thus making African-American athletes eligible for the team.

What would professional sport look like if the Confederate states had separated from the USA?

UNION (USA)                                                                     CONFEDERACY

C- Kyle Schwarber OH                                                    C- Buster Posey GA
1B- Paul Goldschmidt DE                                              1B- Anthony Rizzo FL
2B- Ian Kinsler AZ                                                            2B- Daniel Murphy FL
SS- Brandon Crawford CA                                             SS- Ian Desmond FL
3B- Nolan Arenando CA                                                3B- Josh Donaldson FL
OF- Kris Bryant NV                                                         OF- Mookie Betts TN
OF- Mike Trout NJ                                                          OF- Lorenzo Cain GA
OF- Ryan Braun CA                                                        OF- Andrew McCutchen FL
DH- Giancarlo Stanton CA                                           DH- Manny Machado FL 

SP- Max Scherzer MO                                                   SP- Clayton Kershaw TX
SP- Jake Arrieta MO                                                      SP- Chris Sale FL
SP- Mike Fulmer OK                                                      SP- Madison Bumgarner NC

RP- Zach Britton CA                                                      RP- Andre Miller FL
RP- Dellin Betances NY                                                RP- Wade Davis FL
RP- Mark Melacon CO                                                  RP- Craig Kimbrel AL

Even with team USA split down the Mason-Dixon line, these would still be the best two clubs on the international stage. But what’s interesting is that the Confederacy may be able to sport an even better team, with their 11 states, than the US, with their 39 states. With Florida and Texas being such hot spots for baseball, the South would have more than enough depth to compete with the World’s best, including the North.

Surely the universe in which the South won the war, not all things would be the same. Would the MLB exist? If so, would it have US and Confederate teams? How would the South have evolved on its own? But this is supposed to be a light, fun piece, so we won’t go there.

But could you imagine that World Baseball Classic matchup? It would get FIESTY! Imagine the United States versus the Confederate States for gold, in the 2020 Summer Games.

So would this breakup negatively impact Team US? Yes. But only in the sense that the Confederate States would give them a competitor that on paper could challenge them for #1.

Giancarlo Stanton would be one of the stars for Team USA, but the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Manny Machado and Mookie Betts would've all been born in the Confederate States.

3. What if Quebec had successfully won the 1995 Sovereignty Referendum and separated from Canada? How would Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team look?

Canada in hockey is much like the United States in baseball. They are both powerhouses that produce the majority of big league talent in their respective sports. But what would happen if Canada had lost its second most populous province, a province that accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s population?

Although the separatist movement has cooled since ’95 there still remains a strong secessionist voice, represented by the Parti Quebecois, provincially, and the Bloc Quebecois, federally. In 2006, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe proposed that Quebec have its own Olympic team (much like England, Wales, North Ireland and Scotland do in soccer). The idea was quickly shot down but it made us all wonder, would Team Canada be crippled by the departure of our francophone brethren?

Modern hockey was born in Quebec, as the first indoor game was played in Montreal in 1885; It is the province that has the most decorated and victorious hockey club in NHL history (the Montreal Canadians) and has churned out elite players such as Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ray Bourque. So one would assume that removing Quebec from the Canadian equation would be a mighty blow to Canada’s international standing.

Well let’s look at the last three Olympic Canadian Men’s teams and the Quebecois representative.

2006: G-Martin Brodeur
           G- Roberto Luongo
           F- Simon Gagné
           F- Vincent Lecavalier
           F-Martin St Louis

Canada’s two best goalie options and alternate captain Simon Gagne, alongside top-tier forwards made up a solid Quebec representation. But alas, this was not a proud moment for Canadian hockey as this club finished an unimaginable seventh in the Turin Olympics.

2010: G-Martin Brodeur
           G- Roberto Luongo
           G-Marc-Andre Fleury
           F-Patrice Bergeron

Roberto Luongo (Montreal) took the reigns for Team Canada in 2010 in Vancouver. Quebec has historically produced GREAT goaltenders for Team Canada..

Canada won gold on home ice, in Vancouver, thanks to the phenomenal play of Montreal’s Roberto Luongo. All three goaltenders were Quebecois but the roster would not have been drastically altered.

2014: G- Roberto Luongo
           D-Marc-Edouard Vlasic
           F- Patrice Bergeron
           F- Martin St. Louis

Canada defended their Gold title beating Sweden in the finals. But Quebec played little part, as Corey Price took over between the pipes.

Canada defended its Olympic gold in 2014, but this time BC's Carey Price stole the show in between the pipes.

The roster that Canada has put out for the 2016 World Cup has only four Quebecois players, goalie Corey Crawford, Vlasic, Bergeron and Claude Giroux. Bergeron was seventh in points by a Canadian in 2015-16, while Giroux was right behind him in eighth. Also worth noting that Canada’s highest scoring defenseman Kris Letang is from Quebec but was off the World Cup roster for some reason.

TEAM CANADA                                                TEAM QUEBEC

G- Braden Holtby WSH                                  G- Corey Crawford CHI
G- Carey Price MTL                                         G- Roberto Luongo FLA
G- Brian Elliot STL *                                        G-Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 

D- Brett Burns SJS                                           D- Kris Letang PIT
D- Drew Doughty LAK                                    D- Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJS
D- Duncan Keith CHI                                      D- Francois Beauchemin COL
D- Jake Muzzin LAK                                        D- David Savard CBJ
D- Alex Pietrangelo STL                                D- Marco Scandella MIN
D- Shea Weber MTL                                       D- Alex Biega VAN
D- PK Subban NSH *                                      D- Jason Demers FLA

F- Jamie Benn DAL                                         F- Patrice Bergeron BOS
F- Jeff Carter LAK                                           F- Claude Giroux PHI
F- Sidney Crosby PIT                                     F- Paul Stastny COL
F- Matt Duchene COL                                   F- Derick Brassard OTT
F- Ryan Getzlaf ANA                                     F- Jonathan Huberdeau FLA
F- Brad Marchand BOS                                F- Anthony Duclair ARZ
F- Tyler Seguin DAL                                      F- Mike Ribeiro NSH
F- Steven Stamkos TBL                               F- PA Parenteau NYI
F- John Tavares NYI                                     F- Alex Tanguay ARZ
F-Joe Thorton SJS                                          F- Jason Pominville MIN
F- Jonathan Toews CHI                                F- Mathieu Perrault SJS
F- Taylor Hall NJD *                                      F- Antoine Vermette ARZ
F- Corey Perry ANA *                                   F- Vincent Lecavalier Retired

In May, Sportsnet published an article on the 14 Biggest Snubs from the World Cup rosters. Taylor Hall, Corey Perry and PK Subban were all on it and could reasonable replace Bergeron, Giroux and Vlasic on the roster. Brian Elliot could step in as the team’s third-stringer. Elliot had the best Goals Against Average and Save Percentage among any Canadian in 2015-16 and would serve well as a backup option.

Quebec would also be able to sport a respectful team with a roster full of NHL talent, but this team would probably be more of a middle-of-the-pack. Team Quebec would lack the depth of teams such as Canada, USA, Russia and Sweden, but would matchup nicely with middle-tier clubs like the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovakia.

So how would a successful referendum in 1995 have affected Canada’s international hockey ranking?

It would appear as if Canada would win the breakup (at least in hockey terms). The remaining nine provinces could still manage, on paper, to make up the best team in the world whereas Quebec would see a mighty drop off in its international standing.

Quebec was extremely divided about separation, but narrowly chose to stay in Canada in 1995 Referendum.

During the Olympic games we see great national unity all in the name of sport. Countries compete on the international stage with grace and respect, in a way that we could only dream of in the real life. During the games we don’t focus on our differences. A medalist is not a Quebecker or Ontarian, not an Anglophone or a francophone but a Canadian. A medalist may be a proud Southerner but when they win, they win it for the red, white and blue of America, not for the Confederacy.

Unfortunately, the Olympics are only two-weeks every two years. But imagine if your country had its medal count split in two (or seven)? The former Yugoslavia would have 23 medals from the Rio Games (which would be ninth highest in the world) but now Croatia has the highest single amount with only ten. In these three cases we saw history unfold in three drastically different ways. In the Yugoslavian states we saw a complex and bloody civil war that saw tremendous bloodshed in the name of ethnic nationalism, leading ultimately to the implosion of the state. In America we saw countrymen turn their backs on one another, as thousands died in a war centred on human rights and the freedom of men. But ultimately they remained unified. In Canada, we saw a bitter historical ethnic tension boil to the top and although the referendum was conducted with no bloodshed, Canada was half-a-percentage point away from being permanently splintered along ethnic lines.

As a Canadian I understand the sibling rivalry that exists in a multi-ethnic state and admittedly sometimes get lost in comparing our differences. But sport can be a great unifier, as we all put down our individual identities to play for a nation. Too bad the Olympic spirit doesn’t last.    

Team Canada as a united nation at the Rio Games. "United we stand, divided we fall."

    

© 2016 SportsBlog.com. All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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Toronto's Terrific Trio Destined for October Glory?

So, if the playoff started today, the Blue Jays would have the best rotation in the AL. If you had to go back and reread that sentence, I don’t think you’re alone.

Now I realize this may be getting ahead of ourselves, with over 40 games left and the Jays in a tight pennant race, looking forward to October may be jumping the gun a bit. Also assuming that this rotation will stay healthy and effective, is a tad naïve. But with that said, the Jays look primed for a stellar playoff run in 2016 (assuming they can make it). They look ready for arguably a better shot than the 2015 club, thanks to their rotation.

Toronto's Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez were both picked as All Stars in 2016 and JA Happ certainly should of been right there with them.

Toronto roared on to the scene in 2015, with a .690 winning percentage (post trade-deadline). The Jays quickly became the League’s darling and unanimous favourites to win the World Series. With an elite offense and a rented ace in David Price, the sky looked the limits - but the holes were there. As the playoffs began the lack of rotation depth became apparent, and that team that appeared unbeatable for the last two months of the season finally faltered.

The Jays relied HEAVILY on David Price in 2015 playoffs, and when he faltered the team did too

Many of us learned last season, that playoff teams really only need three or four starters in October. As we saw with the NL Champion, New York Mets, having a handful of elite starters can go a long way. With travel days and breaks between series, the fourth starter is only used when necessary and the fifth man is irrelevant. In 2015 the Jays sported an intriguing trio in David Price, Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada, with special guest appearances by RA Dickey. But this year, Toronto will have an ace caliber starter pitching in nearly every single playoff game.

So let’s first compare the 2015 Jays’ rotation to this years’. To demonstrate how impressive the rotation has been.

2015:

David Price - 220.1 IP, 18-5, 2.45 ERA, 271 K
Marcus Stroman – 27 IP, 4-0, 1.67 ERA, 18 K
Marco Estrada – 181 IP, 13-8, 3.13 ERA, 131 K
RA Dickey 214.1 IP, 11-11, 3.91 ERA, 126 K

The 2015 rotation looked solid, but Price had his playoff demons (6.17 ERA in 4 games) and Stroman had only a month of work prior to October (4.19 ERA in 3 starts).

2016 so far:

Aaron Sanchez 152.1 IP, 12-2, 2.84 ERA, 127 K

Marco Estrada 132.1 IP, 7-5, 3.20 ERA 121 K
JA Happ 150.1 IP, 17-3, 3.05 ERA, 133 K
Marcus Stroman – 153.2 IP, 9-5, 4.63 ERA, 126 K


The 2016 rotation features two All-Stars and JA Happ (who certainly looks like one). The fourth spot would be a clear downgrade, as Dickey, Stroman and Liriano have all had poor showings in 2016. But I’d pick Stroman just because he has had flashes of brilliance and has a far greater upside than the other two. Even with the weak fourth spot the Jays rotation looks destined for playoff greatness.

Making a combined $21.5 million this dynamic trio has Jays fan forgetting about their $30 million ex, David Price

But when compared with other AL clubs, you can really start to appreciate how elite Toronto’s rotation truly is. Last years’ team was all about the offense, and if the bats were in a slump so was the team. But this season the starters have taken control.

If the playoffs were to start today the Jays would have the best rotation ERA of any AL club. With only the Cleveland Indians being close among current playoff teams.

Toronto Blue Jays - 3.67
Cleveland Indians - 3.93
Boston Red Sox – 4.39
Baltimore Orioles – 4.82
Texas Rangers – 4.15 

The difference in rotation ERA is highlighted even more when you segregate the Earned Runs Average of the teams’ top-3 starters.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
(Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ) – 3.02 ERA
CLEVELAND INDIANS
(Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar) -3.23 ERA
TEXAS RANGERS
(Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Martin Perez) – 3.37 ERA
BALTIMORE ORIOLES
(Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy) - 3.55 ERA
BOSTON RED SOX
(David Price, Steve Wright, Rick Porcello) - 3.56 ERA

The Jays find themselves well ahead of the AL pack. The other four teams are separated by only 0.23 ERA, while the Jays are 0.21 ahead of the second rank Indians.

Some may say it’s too early to talk playoffs but FanGraphs has Toronto’s playoff odds at 89.5%, with a 42.4% chance of winning the division, so maybe thinking about October isn’t all that absurd. The greatness of Toronto’s big-3 starters has been noted but I’m not sure if this fan base appreciates how special they really are. Sanchez, Estrada and Happ may not be as flashy as some fearsome trios from the past (theyre certainly not Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, or Lee-Halladay-Hamels) but it is getting to a point in the season where we must recognize that this more than just a flash in the pan, or a lucky streak.

John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were together in Atlanta from 1993-99. During this time the Braves won the World Series once, made it to the finals two other times, and made it to the Championship Series the other 3 years. Happ, Estrada and Sanchez are not QUITE this dominant but good pitching goes a long way in October.

Shapiro and Co. have diversified the make up of this team and the results are clear. Toronto currently has the best ERA, 3rd in runs and 2nd in home runs in the AL. So let's focus on taking the East, keeping this team healthy, and let the count down to October begin! 

© 2016 SportsBlog.com. All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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Your move Rogers! Will soaring attendance affect payroll for 2016 and beyond?

Since taking over baseball operations in 2001, Rogers has always had a rough relationship with Toronto’s fan base. Many thought that Rogers would operate as a dedicated and deep-pocketed ownership group, one that would bring back championship baseball to the city. Some envisioned Ted Rogers would become the Ted Turner of the North and, as Turner did for the Braves in the 1990s, Rogers would reignite the baseball flame in Toronto. Alas, Rogers did not deliver. Their business model has seemed to be a bizarro Field of Dreams - “if you come, then we’ll build it”, demanding that the fans give them the money up front before they put up a contender.

When Rogers took over many thought this media juggernaut would return the club to its glory days.

This created a vicious-cycle of losing in Toronto, in which fans would not come out to support a bad team and in turn Rogers would throw up their hands and say “we can’t afford it.” Every once in a while they would inject additional cash into the club (2005, 2013), but they would quickly retreat if there weren’t immediate results. But now the Jays and Rogers find themselves in a peculiar position. The Jays are playing playoff-calibre baseball and the fans and their dollars are filling up the Rogers Centre.

Rogers threw a ton of money at Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells in hopes that this injection of cash would let them compete with the Yanks and Red Sox. It did not

So will management be forced to eat their words, or will Rogers finally cut loose the purse strings? With the trade deadline fast approaching and many pivotal free-agents-to-be on the Jays’ roster, will the spike in attendance alter the bottom-line?

The popularity of the Blue Jays this season comes as no surprise to Jays fans that remember the 90s. From 1991-93 Toronto set MLB attendance records, as they broke the 4 million mark in all three seasons. The city was more than ready to support a winning baseball club and ownership returned the favour with the highest payrolls in the league in both ‘92 and ’93 (did I mention they won the World Series in both those years?). So could we expect more of the same from Jays ownership two-and-a-half decades later? Is 2016, year two in the Blue Jays renaissance or is it just the end of a brief and passing window? Are we destined for another 25 years of darkness? Or could there be something special and sustainable happening in TO?

Toronto was once a baseball town. Before the Raptors were the North it was the Jays putting Toronto on the map.

The Jays currently find themselves number one in attendance among American League teams (trailing only the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants in the MLB), with an average of 40, 036 fans a game. And as anyone who has been down to Rogers Centre recently knows, there is a real buzz in this city. With slightly over 2 million fans so far this season, the Jays are on pace to draw just under the 4 million mark - which was a staple of the glory days at SkyDome. So with all the money flooding into Rogers’ coffers, through tickets, merchandise and TV ratings, should a drastic increase in payroll be expected?

Fans are returning to the Rogers Centre after a 22 year absence

Rogers knows that the Blue Jays are not a golden goose; the fans will not blindly support this team as they do with our Maple Leafs. Ownership must understand that the bandwagon is at max capacity right now. If the winning stops, the attendance will surely decline.

So the organization finds itself at a crossroads. The Jays’ free-agent crop this off-season is staggering. Michael Saunders, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil and RA Dickey are all free-agents next season and if Rogers decides not to retain or replace these players, Toronto would be posed for a dramatic decline in 2017. We know the formula in Toronto is:

less wins = less fans
less fans = less payroll

There is an ominous feeling in BJ Nation that this may be the end. With core players like Bautista and Edwin nearing free-agency, this off-season could shape the future of this ball club for years to come, or it could just as easily slam shut the Jays’ competitive window. Blue Jays fans have done their part, it’s now Rogers’ turn to return the favour.   

With Bautista and Edwin about to hit the free-market, Rogers has some serious payroll issues to address.

      

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