Under Further Review – September 18, 2021 – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy. This week, the Blue Jays mash the baseball, the Seahawks bash the Colts, while the Canucks get ready to launch a new season with hopes soaring.
Blue Jays This Week – On the morning of August 28, the Blue Jays chances of making the post-season stood at 4.6%. At the start of this week, their playoff chances were 70.1%. What a remarkable turnaround! It’s probably going to take at least 91 wins for the Jays to grab a wildcard spot. The Jays have won 90 games only once in the last 28 years.
The depth of the Blue Jays lineup is frightening. The Jays could finish the season with seven players with 20 or more home runs. What pitching staff can handle that power? The bottom third of the lineup had nine hits on Monday night against Tampa. Good luck to any starting pitcher trying to go three times through that lineup. The Jays run differential is +171. The Yankees, by comparison, are +41. The Mariners are -61. Who do you think deserves to be in the playoffs?
The Jays outscored 14 NFL teams Sunday in their 22-7 drubbing of the hapless Baltimore Orioles. Next time the Blue Jays play the Orioles, they should institute the Mercy Rule like in Little League. Watching the Jays put the wrecking ball to the O’s last weekend, it looked like a men’s softball league. The series against Baltimore and the game on Sunday – 22 runs scored and 7 home runs – broke numerous Blue Jay and MLB records.
On Monday night, Vladdy Guerrero Jr. hit his 45th home run of the season, breaking his Dad’s single-season high. What this kid is doing at just 22 is astounding. Vlad Sr. is a Hall of Famer but you can’t help but think his son will have a better all-around career. Vlad Sr. never earned a World Series ring. He would swing at anything. He once got a base hit on a ball that bounced in front of the plate.
At one point earlier this week, the Blue Jays had eight players in their lineup with an OPS in September above 1.000. That’s nuts! Vladdy is the only player in the American League that has an OPS above 1.000 for the season. He leads the AL at 1.024.
The Blue Jays have to be concerned with veteran lefthander Hyun Jim Ryu. He’s been lit up for 12 runs and 13 hits in his last 4.1 innings covering two starts. His ERA in his last 8 starts is 8.57 with 8 home runs surrendered. Ryu has had multiple arm surgeries and has never been overpowering but the problem now is his command. Extra rest may be the best option. His number of starts (29) and innings pitched (159.2) have evidently has taken a toll. Ryu started 30 games with 192 innings pitched back in 2013, both career highs.
On the plus side, a pair of Blue Jay lefties – presumptive fifth starter Steven Matz and bullpen star Tim Mayza – have exceeded expectations. You have to wonder where the Jays would be without their contributions this season.
MLB Notebook – I’ve come to despise the Tampa Rays. This is a team that has the best record in the American League and is coming off an appearance in the World Series, yet they had 6,800 at a recent game. The Jays out-drew them while playing in a minor league park in Buffalo. The Rays home park, Tropicana Field, is a joke. The Rays are largely responsible for introducing ‘The Shift’ where you have three infielders on one side of the diamond or four outfielders in the outfield. Watch a game and you will see the outfielders looking at a cue card after every out to determine where they should position themselves for the next batter. Do you think Joe DiMaggio needed to be told where he should line up? Ridiculous. An outfielder for the Yankees once remarked “I’ve played with Joe for nine seasons and never once did I see him leave his feet.” Before a series, if someone went into the Rays clubhouse and unplugged all their laptops, they would be panic-stricken.
Canucks Notebook – There’s been no reported movement in new contracts for Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. You would hope both get new deals before training camp starts. Is this the year Pettersson proves to be a point-a-game, top- 10 center? He will be under a big microscope once the new contract kicks in. Being injury-prone tends to get overlooked when you are on an entry-level contract. Not so much when you are earning $8+ million per season. It’s going to be a similar story for Hughes. Yes, he’s an offensive dynamo and a power-play maestro but his defensive game last season was abysmal but any standards. The Canucks need Hughes to take a big step forward defensively if he wants to change the narrative from a year ago.
The Canucks latest uber-rookie Vasily Podkolzin has arrived in Vancouver to get ready for training camp. He just got married and has his new bride with him. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Podkolzin already has an NHL body so he should be able to handle the NHL pounding. Look for Podkolzin to be a top-six fixture by Christmas which would drop Tanner Pearson down to a third line role which he’s better suited for at this point in his career.
The Canucks will play seven pre-season games, beginning on September 26 in Spokane against the newly-minted Seattle Kraken.
NHL Notebook – We are finding out that it’s very easy for an NHL GM to oversee a tear-down but the building back up part is a lot more difficult. Any idiot can send players out of town for a bevy of draft picks. Cashing in on the picks is another matter altogether. Then, developing them properly and augmenting them with the right veterans is the difficult part. Look around the league, there’s a bunch of teams that are in the midst of a so-called ‘rebuild’ and seem to be getting nowhere fast. Case in point – the Buffalo Sabres. What’s this? Their third rebuild in succession?
Memo to Flames pest Matthew Tkachuk. Keep your trap shut when it comes to your brother’s contract talks with the Ottawa Senators. No one asked and no one wants your opinion. Try having a better season, because last year, you stunk!
We have mentioned it before but the Maple Leafs entire ‘Shanaplan’ was based on the assumption the NHL salary cap would continue rising. Leafs brass figured the massive deals for Tavares, Matthews and Marner was the right call. Before the shutdown in 2020, the Leafs believed the salary cap would rise as much as $5-6 million for 2021 and another $6 million for this coming season. That would have allowed them to keep Zach Hyman and extend Morgan Reilly instead of trimming their roster to the bone. Massive miscalculation! Let’s all shed a tear!
Don’t look now but the Montreal Canadiens could have another gem in budding young Swedish defenseman Mattias Norlinder. The rookie may end up back in Sweden this season but he could be the power-play quarterback the Habs have been seeking.
Seahawks Notebook – The Seahawks play the Tennessee Titans at home on Sunday. The 12’s should be a big factor. It will be the first time the Seahawks will have fans in the stands since 2019. The Titans O-line allowed five sacks to Arizona Cardinals standout rush end Chandler Jones in Week 1. Bet on Seattle’s defensive front to apply plenty of pressure this week. Should the Hawks knock off Tennessee following the opening weekend win against the Colts, they should go 4-0 against the AFC South this season with games remaining against Houston and Jacksonville.
Hard to find fault in Seattle’s opener at Indy. The offense under new coordinator Shane Waldron looked outstanding. Russell Wilson was in full control. He almost had as many touchdown passes (4) as he had incompletions (5). The offense showed great balance. The Seahawks ran the ball 27 times and Wilson dropped back to pass 26 times. Wilson also got rid of the ball quicker. Last season, Wilson held the ball for 2.97 seconds on average, one of the worst rates in the league. According to Next Gen Stats, he got rid of the ball in 2.71 seconds in week 1.
Chris Carson was a battering ram with close to 100 yards rushing against a very good Colts defense. Tyler Lockett was electrifying. They targeted the tight ends five times and each attempt results in positive yards. In fact, Gerald Everett had another 20-yard catch that was called back by penalty. It would be great to see the tight ends more involved in the offense this season. The jet sweep looks like it’s going to be a big factor in the offense. Rookie Dee Eskridge had two nice gains off that play. The only negatives were concussions to Eskridge and Penny Hart and a calf injury to running back Rashaad Penny. Looks like Penny will never stay in the lineup long enough to produce. To think the Seahawks passed on Nick Chubb to draft him. It may have been John Schneider’s biggest ‘miss.’
The Seahawks defensive line looks like a major strength. After an outstanding pre-season, Rasheem Green had a sack and two quarterback hits and looks like he’s going to break out this season. Second-year end Darrell Taylor has the daunting task of replacing K.J. Wright. He missed all of his rookie season with a leg injury. In the opener, he looked more than ready for the job. The pass rush looks formidable with an eight-man rotation. It’s so deep, former first round pick L.J. Collier didn’t even make it onto the opening week roster.
NFL Notebook – Can football scribes stop trying to make quarterbacks into superstars before they accomplish anything? Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield are the next-best thing. Watch them last Sunday and you would not be counting them among the top QB’s in football. Stop anointing these guys before they’ve won anything. Until a young quarterback can prevent the big turnover and chalk up a bundle of fourth quarter comebacks, I’m sorry, but he has not arrived yet. Case in point – Lamar Jackson’s critical fumble in overtime that cost Baltimore the Monday night game in Vegas. There are four quarterbacks in the NFL – Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, Russell Wilson and Pat Mahomes – who are absolutely elite and head and shoulders above the rest. Everybody else can get in line. You can bet that one of the main reasons these young quarterbacks are overrated is due to Fantasy Football. In Fantasy Football, Kyler Murray is more valuable than Tom Brady. Same with Jackson. Same with Allen. These guys run and score touchdowns with their legs and chalk up bigger Fantasy numbers than some of the more decorated greats.
The next-best-thing is more likely to be San Diego quarterback Justin Herbert. He is going to be an absolute star. How could teams pass on a guy who had a 4+ GPA at Oregon? Sometimes teams look too hard for warts and overlook a player’s strengths.
Patrick Mahomes is now 11-0 in September in his young NFL career. He has 30 touchdown passes and no interceptions in September. The game against Cleveland was his 47th start. In that game, he broke the NFL record for passing yards (14,489) and touchdowns (117) through a player’s first 50 starts. He is rewriting the NFL record book as we speak.
Give a bouquet to Jameis Winston of the New Orleans Saints. He looks like a different player after spending a year on the bench in the Big Easy and learning from Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Five TD passes and no picks in the Saints shocking 38-3 rout of Green Bay last Sunday opened up a lot of eyes. Looks like he’s finally matured. This is a guy who was run out of town in Tampa Bay. There has never been any question about Winston’s arm talent. He had 30 TD passes just two seasons ago. It was the 30 interceptions that was the cause for alarm. If he can improve his decision-making and cut down on the picks, the Saints may have another playoff season when most people, myself included, thought they were headed for a major downturn.
The New Orleans Saints 2017 draft class may be the best in NFL history. Here’s the Saints seven selections as per SI’s Peter King in Monday Afternoon Quarterback.
CB Marshon Lattimore (11th pick) signed a five-year, $97.6 million contract.
OT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd pick) signed a five-year, $96 million contract.
S Marcus Williams (42nd pick) on a $10.6 million franchise tag.
RB Alvin Kamara (67th pick) signed a five-year, $75 million contract.
LB Alex Anzalone (76th pick) is starting and named a team captain in Detroit.
DE Trey Hendrickson (103rd pick) signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Bengals.
DE Al-Quadin Muhammad started Week 1 for the Colts.
If you’re a fan of the San Francisco 49’ers, and there’s lots of them, you have to be concerned with the continuing raft of injuries. The team can simply not stay healthy. The 49’ers lost 151-man games to injury last season among starters. They have had 24 players go down with ACL injuries since 2014. The latest? Running back Raheem Mostert and cornerback Jason Verrett. Injuries in the 49’er secondary allowed the Lions to stage a late rally last week in Detroit.
The Buffalo Bills announced that fans attending home game will be required to be vaccinated. By October 31, they must have full vaccines complete – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose. This comes after reports many fans ignored mask mandates during Sunday’s home opener. Meantime, Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, a vocal anti-vaxer, announced he is willing to buy tickets to away games for unvaccinated Bills fans who will not be able to attend home games. Beasley is a complete nutter! We’ve got a solution – how about we cut your dumb ass!
Capital Punishment – The Ottawa RedBlacks are an absolute tire fire. General Manager Marcel Desjardins inherited a strong roster and has turned it into a dog’s breakfast. This team will be lucky to win one game this season. Desjardins would be better off managing the Verdun Shamcats. That’s about his level.
Golf Notebook – Patrick Cantley was awarded PGA Tour Player of the Year honours. There’s no doubt Cantley had a breakout season including back-to-back playoff wins in the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship on route to the FedEx Cup title. He had two other victories including the 2021 Memorial but here’s the thing. The Memorial was handed to him after Jon Rahm was forced to withdraw after three rounds with an insurmountable lead due to COVID-19. Rahm led the Tour in scoring, strokes gained and earnings, and finished T-8 or better in five of the season’s six most important tournaments—highlighted by winning the 2021 U.S. Open. Rahm was named Player of the Year in voting by the PGA of America. He should have won both awards.
The average player on the PGA Tour this season earned a tidy $1,485,055 for their efforts. Not too shoddy!
Sad to learn of the death of Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald after a long battle with cancer at the age of just 61. The “Saturday Night Live” legend was a huge golf fan. He loved following Tiger Woods and often went to watch major championships. Macdonald was born in Quebec City and grew up in Ottawa. Another in a long line of brilliant Canadian comedians.
Get ready for the 2021 Ryder Cup. It gets underway on Friday at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin. Steve Stricker will captain the American team. There were six automatic qualifiers on the U.S. team – Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantley. The captain’s picks were Daniel Berger, Harris English, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Speith and Scottie Scheffler.
Padraig Harrington will captain the European team. There were nine qualifiers for the European side – Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Victor Hovland, Jon Rahm, Lee Westwood and Bernd Weisberger. The three captain’s picks were Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter. Team Europe is entering this year’s Ryder Cup as defending champion. They blew out the U.S. 17-1/2 to 10-1/2 at the last Ryder Cup in France in 2018. Should be fun. Go Europe!
U.S. Open Leftovers – She may not have finished the job at the U.S. Open, but Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez demonstrated poise, class and maturity well beyond her 19 years. To have had the presence of mind to thank the New York crowd and reference 9/11 on the 20th anniversary of the horrific act of terrorism was truly remarkable.
“I know on this day it’s especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States,” she said, her voice shaking. “I just want to say I hope I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”
The rise of Britain’s Emma Raducanu was equally unpredictable. Just a few months ago, she wasn’t even among the top 10 players in her own country. She was playing on the minor league tennis circuit. At only 18, she has a bright future.
Novak Djokovic may have fallen short in the men’s final to Daniil Medvedev but what he has done this year in the majors is spectacular. He is now 27-1 in major matches this year and has recovered from a set down eight times. It doesn’t matter what surface he plays on, the guy is arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time and that’s saying a lot.
Spotify Song of the Week – Our feature artist this week is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a 22-year-old blues guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Mississippi. His mother, Princess Pride, is first cousin to country musician Charlie Pride. Ingram’s debut album “Kingfish” was released on Alligator Records in 2019 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category “Best Traditional Blues Album.” Off that album, we recommend “Fresh Out” with Buddy Guy, “Trouble” and “That’s Fine By Me.” From his follow-up release, “662,” we recommend the title track and “I Got To See You.” Billboard Magazine was right. Kingfish is a blues prodigy.
We hope you are enjoying Under Further Review. If you have friends or family members who enjoy sports, please take a moment and direct them to the website at https://underfurtherreview.ca/ and encourage them to subscribe.